A Gonotsky Gem
by Bob Podoff

Sam Gonotsky When I was 16 years of age I was Junior Checker Champion of Brooklyn. I had played 4 draws with Willie Ryan; I had defeated Ben Boland in a short match 2-1-3; I had won one game from Monte Schleiffer; I beat Louis Burt in a 10 game match 5-2-3. All the games were of course GAYP as I didn't know any other style then! The time was 1946 and I frequented Harold Fisher's (not Fischer) checker club, called "The New York Academy of Chess & Checkers" in Time Square every Saturday. It was there I met my first mentor, AJ Mantell. We soon became good friends. One Saturday we were talking about Sam Gonotsty. We both admired him very much. Abe said to me, "How would you like me to run up a game for you that I witnessed in the rooms of the old Brooklyn Checker Club about 1924 or 1925? This was one of the greatest endgame wins I ever saw in my life." I then proceeded to copy down the moves and put it away in an envelope and completely forgot about it all these years. I was clearing out all my old papers and envelopes full of tons of old checker games (in preparation for the 2001 ID's) when to my surprise and pleasure I ran into this old masterpiece that I had long forgotten about. It is a real beauty. It highlights the pure simplicity and elegance of Gonotsky's brilliant style much better than I can say in words. He was playing Hershkowitz (or Hershkovitz) a well-known member of the club, not known as a book player, but a very dangerous and strong cross-board player who was also famous as a champion Spanish Pool player. It was for 50 cents a game (Gonotsky never played a game unless it was for money), and of course Sam had to give him the draws. Nobody at that time ever played Gonotsky unless he got odds. This game illustrates Gonotsky's clean, clear, simple, open style of play. This game may be the ultimate Gonotsky game, showing his great endgame ability and his superb crossboard prowess for which he was very famous and feared. All I can say is that this game has never before been published, and I am proud and honoured to be the one to finally show this great masterpiece and example of Gonotsky's true great ability and genius to the checker fraternity.

Black: Gonotsky  White: Hershkowitz, Dyke Game  1924

1. 11-15, 22-17, 2. 15-19, 24x15, 3. 10x19, 23x16, 4. 12x19, 27-24, 5. 7-10 24x15, 6. 10x19, 26-22, 7. 8-11, 17-14, 8. 9x18, 22x8, 9. 4x11, 25-22 (a) 10. 5-9, 22-18, 11. 6-10, 21-17 (b), 12. 2-6, 30-26, 13. 19-23* (c), 26x19, 14. 10-14 17x10, 15. 6x22, 32-27, 16. 9-14, 27-24 (d), 17. 1-6, 24-20, 18. 6-9 19-16, 19. 11-15, 16-11, 20. 22-26, 31x22, 21. 9-13, 20-16, 22. 14-17 22-18 (e), 23. 15x22, 16-12, 24. 22-26, 29-25, 25. 26-31, 25-21, 26. 17-22 21-17, 27. 31-27, 17-14, 28. 27-23, 14-10, 29. 23-19, 11-7, 30. 19-16 7-2, 31. 16-11, 10-6, 32. 22-26, 6-1, 33. 26-31, 1-6, 34. 31-27, 6-10 35. 13-17, 10-14, 36. 17-22, 14-18, 37. 22-26, 2-6, 38. 26-31, 6-10 39. 31-26, 18-14, 40. 27-23, 14-9, 41. 23-19, 10-6, 42. 26-23, 6-2, 43. 23-27 9-6, 44. 19-15, 6-9, 45. 15-10, 9-5, 46. 27-23, 5-1, 47. 23-18, 2-6 48. 10-15, 1-5, 49. 3-7*, 5-1, 50. 7-10, 1-5, 51. 10-14, 6-9, 52. 15-10 9-13, 53. 18-15, 5-1, 54. 10-7, 1-6, 55. 7-2, 6-1, 56. 15-10, 28-24 57. 2-6, 1-5, 58. 6-1, 24-20, 59. 10-15, Black wins.


(a)      In this position White could ask "How could anyone lose a game like this?" Gonotsky won many, many games that started out exactly like this!! With great crossboard skill watch how he strives and finally wins this game!! This was his style of play, and the reason Willie Ryan called him Superman Sam, the Polish Wizard.

(b)      29-25 probably draws.

(c)      10-14 looks like a win, but it only draws.

(d)      If 28-24, 3-8! Black wins

(e)      In my opinion this is the crux, the critical point of the whole game. He had two moves to consider, 16-12 or 22-18. They both look terrible and they both look like losses to me! In hindsight Hershkowitz should have played 16-12* which probably draws. Gonotsky's games often presented such critical decisions to his opponents. One move loses and the other draws. In the 7th American Tourney (Rump) 1929, Gonotsky played Jesse B Hanson a total of 12 games in 2 rounds. Gonotsky won 3 games and both rounds! Gonotsky of course won 1st prize with Hanson second. In all three Gonotsky wins, Jesse was presented with the same situation that Hershkowitz was, and in all 3 games Hanson picked the wrong move. After losing an easy 2-mover (like this game) to Sam, Hanson cried publicly and also told Dick Fortman later, "How could I lose a game like that?" Of course he was playing the one and only, the great Sam Gonotsky! Hanson later paid tribute to Gonotsky's wonderful playing ability and dubbed him The Sphinx.

Getting back to the move that Hershkowitz did make (22-18), I think it is a wonderful move, even though it loses. Hershkowitz figured out that the move was wrong for McCulloch's Masterpiece and Bowen's Twins which he could see coming up. And all this for 50 cents (they should have been playing for a dollar at least! Ha! Ha!), this was a terrific try for a draw in my opinion, but Sam's super play defeated this strategy.

Note: 50 cents a game was a lot of money back in those days! However in a great match in the Golden Olden Days, James Wyllie played Robert Martins for 5 pounds a game. The score was 7 to 7.