Greater Astoria Historial Society 35-20 Broadway, 4th Floor | L.I.C., NY 11106 718.278.0700 | www.astorialic.org Gallery Hours: Mondays & Wednesdays 2-5 PM Saturdays 12-5 PM Exhibits ~ Lectures ~ Documentaries ~ Books Walking Tours ~ Historical Research Unique & Creative Content For more information visit us on the web at www.astorialic.org This image adapted from an invitation to the Long Island City Athletics 33rd Annual Masque Ball, 1909. 32 SEPTEMBER 2014 i LIC COURIER i www.queenscourier.com legends Herman Steiner, the Astoria Chess Master Thanks to Bruce Monson, who brought Steiner to our attention and wrote most of this profile. Herman Steiner was born April 15, 1905 in Dunaszerdahely, a village in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, present day Dunajská Streda, Slovakia. The family had been in the garment business. But things would never be the same with the outbreak of the First World War. After a brief stay in Budapest, they dreamed of opportunities in the new world. Herman, 16, along with sister Evi, immigrated in 1921. He spoke only enough English to get rubber-stamped through Ellis Island. Luckily, his sister, Charlotte, had settled in America about 10 years earlier. The family lived together at 68 Davidson Place in LIC. Details are vague, but tradition held that he likely attended some sort of Jewish school or synagogue. It is said he was fond of boxing, wrestling and soccer and came to learn chess accidentally. After being “kicked in the shin” while playing goalie, his injury was bad enough to “land him in the hospital,” and, while laid-up in bed, saw two kids playing chess. He learned the game from them. Early on his chess was not good. Herman often told the story of how he was given 10 cents a day by his family for doing various errands around the house. One day he went to a local coffee shop where a man sat at a table with a chessboard. He offered to play Herman a game. Just as they started the man suggested they should make it more interesting by playing for a dime. Herman lost his money. He was so angry that he went to the chess club and took lessons for six months. Years later he recalled with a smile on returning to the shop and getting his money back. That was all it took. He was hooked. From 1924-28, Herman became obsessed with the game and spent his spare time playing at chess clubs. His ambition in life was to become a professional chess player and travel the world like legendary champions Emanuel Lasker, Jose Capablanca and Alexander Alekhine. His attacking style got him noticed by U.S. champion, Frank Marshall. Appreciating Herman’s fighting spirit, he invited the younger man to be on the U.S. “Olympiad” team that competed at The Hague in 1928, then again in Hamburg 1930. A year later, the Americans brought home the gold. LEGENDS OF LIC BY GREATER ASTORIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY LEGENDS OF LIC In 1932, Herman played in the Pasadena Chess Congress. While Herman finished third in the tournament it was his off-the-board activities that changed everything. He met his wife-to-be, Selma, at a party and a few months later they were married. New York had lost out to Hollywood. His professed mantra was well known: “California, chess and California chess!” Being a professional chess player was no easy matter during the Great Depression, but Herman managed it. In 1933 he became the chess editor for the Los Angeles Times. He established an International Chess Club & College at the famous Hollywood Athletic Club. Later his club would move to a studio behind his house and morph into the Hollywood Chess Group, which had famous members such as Humphrey Bogart, Charlie Boyer and Jose Ferrer. Other famous members of Herman’s ‘group’ were Basil Rathbone, Frank Morgan, Shirley Temple, Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price, Gene Tierney and countless others. Herman became a celebrity and became the toast of Hollywood.
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