Olimpiu G. Urcan
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The Healing of John W. Brunnemer
by John S. Hilbert
John W. Brunnemer's first love was baseball. He inherited his love from his father. William Henry Brunnemer played professional ball in an age when love of the game was its greatest reward. But his best baseball days were over long before, and by 1914 the forty-four year old William Henry, born January 19, 1870, supported his wife and son by bookkeeping for Manhattan's Consolidated Electrical Telegraph and Subway Company. On weekends and summer evenings, however, he still played ball for the local team, out of Brooklyn's Etna Clubhouse, standing at the corner of Logan and Etna streets. The Etna Club was a natural for William Henry. He, his wife, Catherine, and their son lived across the street.
The club's easy access helped William Henry cultivate a prominence there, and led to his being quite active socially at the Etna. He enjoyed shooting pool, and that fall entered a club tournament. The club's annual reception was coming up in two weeks, and William Henry was on the committee handling it. As a leading player on the Etna Club ball team, William Henry liked to keep his men in shape. November was unusually warm, and allowed for play longer in the season than usual. On Saturday, November 14, 1914, William Henry and his son John were playing a practice game with the team on Jamaica avenue, on the Highland Playground baseball diamond, at the head of Dresden street.
And then the sixteen-year-old John Brunnemer's life changed forever. His father complained of pain around his chest and stomach, tossed the ball to a teammate, and walked toward the park's entrance. He soon staggered and fell. A passing physician offered assistance, but nothing could help. William Henry Brunnemer died of a heart attack on his favorite playing field. John wanted his father's body taken to their home, but an "ambulance surgeon" on the scene from Bradford Street Hospital insisted it pointlessly be taken to a police station half a mile away. The funeral was held Tuesday night, November 17, 1914. The Etna's Club's ball team expected to come as a group. (BDE Nov. 16, 1914)
How John Brunnemer became interested in chess is unknown. That he did, and did so early, is certain. Born January 13, 1898, the day before his father turned twenty-eight, John Brunnemer, until his father's death, played chess prominently on Brooklyn's Commercial High School chess team. But the sudden, sad loss in his life apparently kept him from playing more. Perhaps he quit high school to help support his mother. At least he quit playing chess on the school team.
In time, though, no doubt as he began to heal from the loss of his father, Brunnemer returned to chess. Perhaps chess helped him forget his loss, if only for a few hours at a time. It is one of the game's merciful qualities, as it has a long history of acting as a solace. On Saturday, April 8,1916, he joined eighteen others at a free simultaneous exhibition given by one of Brooklyn's stronger players, Clarence Seamen Howell. Howell finished 16-3, but Brunnemer won his game. More than that, he won Howell's prize for the most brilliant game with the following miniature in which the youth found a form of Philidor's Legacy. Fortunately, another club stalwart, William M. de Visser, took down the score and Helms published it in his Brooklyn Eagle column:
Clarence S. Howell – Brunnemer
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Bc5 5.c3 Qf6 6.0-0 d6 7.Bg5 Qg6 8.cxd4 Nxd4 9.Nxd4 Qxg5 10.Kh1 Qe5 11.Nb5 Bb6 12.N1c3 a6 13.f4 Qc5 14.Na3 Nf6 15.e5 Ng4 16.Ne4 Qe3 17.Qc2 Bf5
18.Nxd6+? 18.Qa4+ Bd7 19.Bxf7+ Kd8 20.Qc4 Bf5 21.Be6 Qxe4 22.Qxe4 Bxe4 23.Bxg4 would have kept the game level. Instead, Howell sees a way to win back his pawn ... 18...cxd6 19.Qxf5?? ...without seeing the consequences. 19...Qg1+ 20.Rxg1 Nf2 mate 0-1 [Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 13, 1916 ]
One suspects Brunnemer enjoyed seeing his game published in the Eagle. Perhaps its publication helped draw him back deeper into chess. One can see the value here of active club members offering exhibitions (Howell), recording worthy efforts (de Visser) and seeing them publicized (Helms). The same can happen today in any club with a newsletter or website.
But in 1916 it happened to young John Brunnemer. In time he would make a specialty out of trouncing visiting masters offering simuls. At this date, he seemed more interested in playing as much club chess as he could, not only at the Brooklyn, but at smaller and newer clubs, too. The Broadway Chess Club, organized just that spring, met Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at its room at Welcome Hall, 185 Chauncey street, near Reid avenue. By May 1916, Brunnemer was dominating the Broadway Chess Club's championship, 10-0, and was about to give his own simultaneous exhibition at its room. (BDE May 18, 1916)
The summer was quiet, but by September the Broadway club announced another simul by Brunnemer, this one to take place Monday night, September 19, 1916. Potential competitors were encouraged to bring their own boards and sets, since club equipment was limited. (BDE Sept. 14, 1916) Whether this event actually took place is somewhat unclear, as the next month an invitation was extended to the Brooklyn public to attend yet another Brunnemer simul, this one October 14, 1916, at the club's room. The newly elected officers planned on informal team matches with other local clubs, and then to apply the following year for membership in the Metropolitan Chess League–an ambitious goal, given the likes of Marshall and Janowski had played in the league the previous winter. (BDE Oct. 5, 1916)
Brunnemer not only won the first championship tournament of the Broadway Chess Club, but he was quickly leading the next. He stood 3-0 after executing his closest competitor in the following attractive miniature. The comments are attributed to J.H. Taft, Jr.:
Brunnemer – L.W. Jennings [C41]
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4.Nc3 Nbd7 5.Bc4 c6 Here 5...h6, as played by Nimzovitch and Kupchik is stronger. If 5...Be7 6.Ng5 0-0 7.Bxf7+ Rxf7 8.Ne6 Qe8 9.Nxc7 Qd8 10.Nxa8 and Black's awkwardly placed pieces may cause him trouble. 6.Ng5 d5 7.exd5 cxd5 8.dxe5 dxc4 9.exf6 Qxf6 10.0-0 Be7 11.Nd5 Qd6 Black has no satisfactory line of play on account of his poor development. 12.Bf4 Ne5 Losing at once, but there was no way to save the game. 13.Bxe5 White finishes in pretty style. 13...Qxe5 14.Re1 Qxg5
15.Nc7+ Kf8 16.Qd8+ Bxd8 17.Re8 mate 1-0 [Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 12, 1916]
Two weeks after Brunnemer's win over Jennings saw print, the young Brooklynite traveled to the prestigious Manhattan Chess Club, there to be one of twenty-eight men facing Capablanca in the latter's Thursday night, October 26, 1916, simultaneous exhibition. The Cuban finished 24-1, with three draws. (New York Evening Post, October 28, 1916) Again Brunnemer's luck held, as he scored the only win off the master, when in an even endgame Capablanca uncharacteristically dropped both his attention and his knight:
Capablanca – Brunnemer
Position after 29…Nc6
30.Ne5?? f5+ 1-0 [Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 23, 1916(reprinted in American Chess Bulletin, December 1916, p.241)]
As Helms reported it, "The Cuban champion was caught napping in an even ending and his inattention cost him a piece."
By June 1917 Brunnemer had also scored notable results in correspondence chess. He competed in the Greater New York League in several tournaments, amassing an impressive score of 19-1, with two draws. The nineteen year old was impressed by the level of play he could achieve through this form of the game. Three of his efforts appeared that month in the Eagle. (BDE June 21, 1917)
Brunnemer couldn't seem to get enough chess. Besides playing at the Brooklyn, Broadway and Ocean Hill clubs, he made excursions elsewhere, such as to the Manhattan for the chance to play Capablanca. But he also travelled to far lesser known chess resorts, such as Jacob Bernstein's Luna Park "chess resort," at Coney Island. Brunnemer drew twice with Bronstein in two hard fought contests, playing Black in both. Helms published both his efforts. (BDE August 2, 1917) On September 14, 1917, he extended his string of victories over simultaneous performers when he defeated Edward Lasker, one of only two out of forty-two to do so. Helms in passing remarked that Brunnemer was one of Brooklyn's most promising young players. (BDE September 20, 1917)
Brunnemer proved to be his father's son. Social life and leading by example were important to William Brunnemer, who had shown such traits by his prowess as a pitcher and his skill in organizing the Etna Club's baseball team. John Brunnemer kept up an active club life, too, as we have seen, although his field was mostly in chess. By January 1918 Brunnemer had been elected president of the Ocean Hill Chess Club. (BDE January 3, 1918) And, of course, he was playing in the club's championship tournament. In the following game, Brunnemer also shows his developing talent as an annotator:
C.A. Larsson – Brunnemer [C30]
1.e4 e5 2.f4 Bc5 This avoids the complications of the gambit and gives Black a perfectly satisfactory game. 3.Nf3 d6 4.Bc4 Nf6 5.d3 Nc6 6.Nc3 Bg4 7.f5 Much better would have been 7.h3 Bxf3 8.Qxf3 Nd4 9.Qg3 after which Black must play very carefully to avoid the pitfalls. The text move is good only when the queen bishop is still home. 7...Nd4 8.Bg5 h6 9.Bh4 c6 10.h3 Bxf3 11.gxf3 g5 12.fxg6 fxg6 13.Bf2 He should have waited until Black played ...g5. 13...Nh5 14.Rg1 Nf4 [More compelling was 14...Rf8 15.Bxd4 Qh4+ 16.Kd2 Qf4+ 17.Ke1 exd4 18.Ne2 Qxf3 19.Qd2 Qf2+ 20.Kd1 Nf4–jsh] 15.h4 Not very good. 15.Rg3 seems to be White's only chance. 15...Nh3 16.Rxg6 Nxf2 17.Kxf2 Qxh4+ Of course, 17...Nxc2+ was considered, but the position did not call for it. 18.Kg2 Rf8 19.Rg3 0-0-0 20.Na4 This move should have been made early in the game, removing the hostile bishop. Now Black gains an important tempo and wins the game.
20...b5 21.Nxc5 bxc4 Removing the menace to g8. 22.Na4 Now the White knight is out of play and Black has also gained a move. 22...Rxf3 An unexpected stroke, by means of which Black completely disrupts his opponent's position. Or he might have continued more prosaically with 22...Rg8 23.Rg4 Rxg4+ 24.fxg4 Rf8! 25.Qd2 Qxg4+ 26.Kh1 Rg8 etc. 23.Rxf3 There is nothing else to be done. If 23.Qe1 then 23...Nxc2 and wins. 23...Rg8+ 24.Kf1 Qh1+ 25.Kf2 Rg2+ 26.Ke3 Qxd1 Black might have announced mate in a few moves from this point. [Before making his last move he had the pretty finish 26...Qe1+ 27.Qxe1 Nxc2 mate–jsh] 0-1 [Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 12, 1918, annotations by John W. Brunnemer]
In 1919 Brunnemer competed for the Brooklyn Chess Club in the Metropolitan Chess League (except when Brooklyn played Ocean Hill, when he played for them) which brought the strongest players in the greater New York City area together in eight man teams for a weekly competition that usually took two or more winter months to complete. Helms published two of his wins and two of his draws, including one against the veteran Albert B. Hodges. (BDE Feb. 20, 1919)
Brunnemer also participated in an unusual team match, when on February 22, 1919, he traveled with three other Brooklyn club members for a four board blindfold match at the Marshall Chess Club. All eight players conducted their games without benefit of men or boards, passing notes back and forth to give their moves instead of calling them out and disturbing the silence. It must have been a curious spectacle. The Marshall lineup included on its top three boards Frank Marshall, Boris Kostic, and Albert Hodges. Play took three hours, with Marshall winning outright against Alfred Schroeder. The other three games had to be adjudicated, with the match ending in the Marshall's favor, 2½-1½. Brunnemer handled himself well against the strongest blindfold expert in the country. He pressed Kostic throughout:
Brunnemer – Boris Kostic [C42]
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Qe2 Qe7 6.d3 Nf6 7.Qxe7+ Bxe7 8.Be2 Nc6 9.Bd2 Bg4 10.Nc3 0-0-0 11.0-0-0 d5 12.h3 Bh5 13.a3 Bc5 14.Rhf1 Rhe8 15.Rde1 d4 16.Nb1 Rd7 17.Bd1 Rde7 18.Rxe7 Rxe7 19.Re1 Rxe1 20.Nxe1 Bxd1 21.Kxd1 Nd5 22.Nf3 f6 23.Ng1 Kd7 24.Ne2 g5 25.Ng3
25…Ke6 26.Ne4 Be7 27.Ke2 h6 28.Bc1 f5 29.Ned2 Nf4+ 30.Kf1 b5 31.Nf3 Ng6 32.Nbd2 Kd5 33.Nb3 a5 ½-½ [Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 27, 1919]
Not long thereafter Brunnemer moved to New Jersey, and his opportunities to play chess in New York diminished as his life took on other duties. Eventually he married and built a career, but the game he returned to after his father's death proved a faithful companion throughout his life. In 1921 he won the New Jersey State championship, a title Chess Review mentioned years later he held from 1921 through 1932. (Chess Review, January 1946, p.28) The game that follows gave him the New Jersey title. The new champion annotated his effort against the reigning New Jersey champion for Helms, who published it in the Eagle and then again in the Bulletin:
Brunnemer – C.E. Armstrong
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 Theory condemns this move; it is held to be disadvantageous to exchange the bishop for the knight, and still more so to retreat it. 4.exd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.Bd3 Qe7+ 7.Be3 Of course, if 7.Qe2 then 7...Qxe2+ 8.Bxe2 Ne4 etc. 7...Ne4 7...Ng4 is of doubtful value to Black. 8.Bxe4 dxe4 9.Ne5 9.Nd2 seems better. 9...0-0 10.0-0 Bxc3 11.bxc3 f6 If 11...b5 at once then White replies with 12.f4. 12.Nc4 b5 13.Nd2 f5 14.f4 Ba6 15.Qb1 The best way of getting the Queen in play. 15...Nd7 16.Qb3+ Qf7 17.Rfe1 Qxb3 17...Nf6 seems better. The exchange of Queens is advantageous to White. 18.axb3 Bb7 19.c4 a6
20.Ra5 White secures a bind on the queenside. If Black should play ...bxc4, White has much the best of it on account of Black's isolated pawn. 20...c6 21.Rea1 Kf7 22.Kf2 Rfd8 23.h3 h6 24.c5 Nf8 25.c3 Ne6 26.g3 g5 Of course if ...b4 White replies with Nc4. 27.b4 Kg6 28.R5a3 Nc7 29.Nb3 The knight enters strongly into the game. 29...Ra7 30.Na5 Ba8 31.Rd1 Nd5 32.Rb3 From now until the end of the 38th move both players were in time difficulties. The time limit was 38 moves in one and a half hours. 32...Kf6 33.Rc1
33…Rb8 [Armstrong in time trouble misses his chance: 33...gxf4 34.Bxf4 Nxf4 35.gxf4 Rg8 36.Rc2 (36.Rg1? e3+) 36...Rag7 and suddenly White, not Black, is in serious trouble.–jsh] 34.Rb2 gxf4 Not good, for now White is able to get rid of his bishop, which has been of very little use to him, for Black's valuable knight. 35.Bxf4 Nxf4 36.gxf4 Rg8 37.Rg1 Rxg1 38.Kxg1 Rg7+ 39.Rg2 Rc7 While ...Rxg2+ immediately would have been much better, it is very doubtful if the game could be saved as White at a proper stage could play d5, making ...cxd5 a forced move and making an entry at d4 for White. 40.Rg8 Rg7+ 41.Rxg7 Kxg7 42.d5 This forces the game. 42...Kf7 43.d6 43.dxc6 would equally win, for if 43...Ke7 44.Nb7 etc. 43...h5 44.Kf2 Ke6 45.h4 Kf6 46.Ke3 Ke6 47.Nb3 White releases the bishop but forces the game neatly before it can come into play. 47...Bb7 48.Nd4+ Kf6 49.Nxf5 Bc8 50.Nd4 Bd7 51.Kxe4 Bh3 A mere flash in the pan, hoping for Nxc6. 52.f5 Bg2+ 53.Kf4 Bd5 54.Ne6 Ba2 55.d7 1-0 [Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 3, 1921, reprinted in American Chess Bulletin, March 1921, p.57]
Although his play was less frequent over-the-board in years to come, Brunnemer did appear when opportunities permitted. He could not miss taking his chances in another simultaneous exhibition, when he sat among twenty-seven others at the Montclair Chess Club in New Jersey when Akiva Rubinstein performed. The visiting grandmaster finished 23-2, with 2 draws. Brunnemer won his game, as did William N. Witt, President of the club. (BDE March 29, 1928; see also The Life and Games of Akiva Rubinstein, 2nd ed., Donaldson and Minev 2011, p.353) Later that same year, Witt won in another simultaneous exhibition … this one by Brunnemer himself, who had the dubious pleasure of seeing from the performing side his loss against Witt published in the Eagle. Brunnemer finished 12-1, with five draws. (BDE December 12, 1928)
Brunnemer mostly played correspondence chess in later years, often with the Correspondence Chess League of America. According to Chess Review, he won the American Correspondence Chess Championship of 1919. His life included many interests, including passionately following the Brooklyn Dodgers as well as in his younger days playing semi-pro baseball. His commitment to chess organizing included a stint as President of the North Jersey Chess League, and working as the first games editor for the Correspondence Chess League of America's Bulletin. He played piano and saxophone, and at one time is said to have led an orchestra. In later years his home moved from New Jersey back to New York, where he died in South Nyack, New York, on December 24, 1948. (Chess Review, January 1946, p.28; January 1949, p.32)
At Brunnemer's death, Jack Straley Battell published one of his wins in Chess Review's postal chess section. The game, a correspondence win over Manhattan Chess Club director W.H. Falling, has suffered several misconceptions over the years. Chess Review in January 1949 gave it as played by correspondence in 1920, apparently relying on Fred Reinfeld's Relax with Chess as a source. Bryce Avery in Correspondence Chess in America (McFarland 2000), p.42, gave it as "circa 1931," clearly indicating uncertainty regarding its date.
The game first appeared in the Eagle on March 3, 1921, and so could well have been played, or completed, at the end of 1920. Helms mentioned it was played in the Hickock Memorial Tournament of the CCLA. Avery tells us that the first annual Hickok Memorial, began in October 1919, was named in honor of that organization's Secretary, who had died of a stroke on August 23, 1919. The memorial event was played annually "through at least 1923." (Avery, p.39)
Another confusion regarding the game is Brunnemer's seventeenth move. Chess Review gave it as 17.Bh6+, and opined following Black's surrender on his eighteenth move that all White really had, with accurate play by Black, was "a slow, but sure, win." In fact, the annotator was working under a misapprehension, as he either incorrectly transcribed the game from Reinfeld's Relax with Chess or else Reinfeld gave a faulty score. The Eagle's (and Avery's) score gives the stronger, and no doubt correct, 17.Ba3+, as White's move. Below only the concluding annotations from Chess Review are included:
Brunnemer – W.H. Falling [B45]
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.Be2 Bb4 7.0-0 Bxc3 8.bxc3 Nxe4 9.Bf3 Nxc3 10.Qd3 Nd5 11.Bxd5 exd5 12.Re1+ Kf8 13.Nf5 d6
14.Nxg7 The total conception is stunning. Of course, if now 14…Kxg7 White mates in four [White can delay the mate a few moves longer, but cannot avoid it.–jsh]: 15.Qg3+ Qg5 (15...Kf6 16.Qg5 mate; 15...Kf8 16.Bh6 mate) 16.Qxg5+ Kf8 17.Qh6+ Kg8 18.Re8 mate. 14...Ne5 15.Nh5!! 15.Rxe5 might be sufficient and neat enough: if 15...dxe5 16.Bh6 Kg8? 17.Qg3 Qf6 18.Ne8+ Qg6 19.Nf6 mate, but if 16...Ke7 the outcome is not so clear. But the offer of the queen is delightful, delicious and decisive: 15.Nh5 Nxd3 16.Bh6+ Kg8 and now White can choose between 17.Re8+ Qxe8 18.Nf6 mate or 16...Kg8 17.Nf6+ Qxf6 18.Re8 mate. 15...Be6 The threat of Bh6+ is too much: e.g., 15...Ng6 16.Bh6+ Kg8 17.Nf6+ (or Re8+) and mate next; and 15...h6 16.Rxe5 dxe5 17.Qg3 Rh7 18.Bxh6+ and White wins. [18.Ba3+, not 18.Bxh6+, in fact wins.–jsh] 16.Rxe5! dxe5
17.Ba3+ [The move that appears in the Eagle for March 3, 1921. Chess Review continued its analysis with the following: 17.Bh6+ Still fatal. 17...Ke8 else loss of queen or mate follows. 18.Qb5+ The resignation seems premature, although sound enough. True, after 18...Bd7 19.Ng7+ Kf8 White seems to have no more than a slow, but sure, win. Chess Review, January 1949, p.32–jsh] 17...Ke8 18.Qb5+ 1-0 [Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 3, 1921]
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Olimpiu G. Urcan is the author of Arthur Kaufmann: A Chess Biography, 1872-1938 (2012) and other chess history books by McFarland Inc. Publishers. Interested readers, authors, collectors, researchers, or librarians are encouraged to contact the author. Follow our chess history updates on Twitter: @PastPieces.
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