The Immortal Sam Gonotsky (1902 - 1929)
by Bob Podoff

Sam Gonotsky Samuel Gonotsky was born in Poland in 1902. When he died in 1929 of pleural Tuberculosis he was only 26 years of age. In his short but meteoric career he was the most feared checker player in the world. He was unquestionably the strongest natural crossboard checker player who ever lived. And arguably the greatest all around checker champion in History! Gonotsky was denied the World Championship because Robert Stewart who held the title was unable to defend his title at that time due to ill health! He had Alzheimer's Disease. Gonotsky challenged Stewart, as did Sam Levy, but Stewart never defended his title in 16 years. For this fact alone I dubbed Sam Gonotsky the Uncrowned World's Checker Champion from 1927-1929. After his performance in the 1927 Second International Match in New York, between The United States Team and the Team from Great Britain and Scotland, Gonotsky's record was 13-0-27. Of course Gonotsky had the best score and was the high man for the US Team. In the First International Match in 1905, Richard Jordan, then the World Champion, also had a high score of 13-0-27, but Gonotsky claimed that his record was better than Jordan's - which it was! Jordan was in several losses and missed several wins, but Gonotsky was in no losses and missed no wins! In 1927 Sam Gonotsky was the best player in the world, a fact that was acknowledged by everyone in checkers at the time.

In 1924 Sam won the 6th American Checker Tourney in New York City thus becoming American Champion. This was the first National Tourney that he ever entered and he won it beating Alfred Jordan. Then in 1925 Louis C. Ginsberg challenged him to a 30 game match for a purse of $500.00 played in Brooklyn, New York, and Gonotsky won 2-0-28. Please note that Alfred Jordan and Louis Ginsberg were two of the World's best checker players at that time - Gonotsky beating both of them handily! In 1928 Mike Lieber, a world class checker master and also a member of the 1927 United States International Team, undefeated with a score of 8-0-32, played Sam a 40 game match for a stake of $1000.00 winner take all. This was unheard of in 1928. This match took place in January 1928 in Long Island, New York, and the result was 40 draws! This was a very famous and important match at that time! Lieber was very well prepared with a whole manuscript of cooks and had a personal coach, Jesse B. Hanson! Gonotsky was not prepared at all and played with very little notice! Sam figured on his great crossboard ability to see him through and it did! Later in 1928 at Cedar Point, Ohio Sam entered his second National Tourney. This one for the 11 man ballot championship of the world. Again Sam won another National Tourney. This time he won 15 games while losing none. In this event he was in three known losses, winning two games in which he was in a loss and drawing the other one, exhibiting crossboard ability of the highest echelon and magnitude seldom seen before or since. Then in 1929 he entered his third National Tourney, which he won as expected. I know of no other American Checker Champion who won every Tournament that he entered. This was the Seventh American Checker Tournament held at the Morrison Hotel in Chicago, Illinois from March 11th to 19th, 1929. This Tourney was also known as "The Rump Tourney." In this Tourney he had to beat Jesse B. Hanson twice in order to win it! In Round 4 he defeated Hanson 1-0-5, then in Round 9, the final Round he defeated Hanson again 2-1-3. In this Tourney Gonotsky was literally a dying man. He was coughing and spitting up blood. The Tourney had to be stopped on six separate occasions due to the severe coughing spasms of Gonotsky. However, this did not stop him from playing magnificent checkers. 17 days later Gonotsky was dead.

Samuel Gonotsky died in Hurley Hospital, in Flint, Michigan on April 5, 1929. When Gonotsky died America lost the greatest natural crossboard checker playing talent ever developed in this country.

Willie Ryan, "The Bronx Comet", knew Sam Gonotsky better than anyone else. They were boyhood chums. They grew up together. They played checkers their whole lives, mostly for money. Gonotsky was Ryan's mentor and teacher. I met Ryan twice and we discussed Gonotsky at length for over two hours. Ryan wrote in his books and told me personally, that Sam Gonotsky was the greatest of the greats! In his estimation the greatest checker player that we would ever see! And I should think that Willie Ryan knew what he was talking about. Of course many people do not know that Sam and Willie played over 800 games together, Sam winning over 100 games from Ryan. However Willie Ryan is always on everyone's 10 greatest checker players of all times lists! Let me tell you that Ryan was never, never in Gonotsky's class! Gonotsky could always easily beat Ryan as could Nathan Rubin! And Ryan would be the first one to admit this!

So why is the name of Samuel Gonotsky never on the 10 greatest checker players of all time lists?