20 Chess Masters Were No Match For 8-Year-Old Samuel Reshevsky

In 2020 and 2021, a perfect storm coalesced around chess, the august and venerable game that dates back a few centuries in its current form, and has roots going back over a millennium, according to Master Class. There were two driving factors in the sudden popularity of chess during this period, per The New York Times: The COVID-19 pandemic, and the Netflix series "The Queen's Gambit." As to the latter, one of the more memorable scenes in the show involves the hero, Beth Harmon, competing in a chess competition as a little girl. Playing multiple people at once, most of them much older than her, Harmon crushed her competition.

Children playing chess against adults is nothing new. As chess YouTuber Levy Rozman explains, it's almost a guarantee that adults and children are going to compete against each other in tournaments. And sometimes, a child — like the fictitious Beth Harmon — will be such a prodigy that they can easily smoke adults, even when playing against multiple competitors at once.

Back in 1920, according to Rare Historical Photos, a young lad named Samuel Reshevsky pulled a Beth Harmon and humiliated several older men, some possibly 10 times his age, in a simultaneous chess exhibition.

Simultaneous chess and children

Before we go any deeper into the 1920s exploits of the young Master Samuel Reshevsky, let's take a look at these types of exhibitions. Basically, a simultaneous chess exhibition is an event in which one player takes on multiple players at once. The main competitor will move from table to table, exchanging moves one at a time, effectively playing 10, 20, or sometimes even 30 chess games at once. Sometimes, for added drama, the main competitor will play blindfolded, effectively being required to memorize the positions of multiple chess sets and play accordingly, without seeing or touching the pieces, according to Chess.com.

Making American children amuse adults by playing simultaneous chess against them is nothing new. Paul Morphy, possibly the greatest American player after Bobby Fischer, did it, according to Smithsonian Magazine. American Josh Waitzkin may or may not have ever been the main competitor in such an exhibition, but he certainly competed in at least one, playing Garry Kasparov to a draw. Jeff Sarwer also did it, according to Lichess, although to be fair he's Canadian.

Even as you read these words, there may yet be a chess exhibition taking place at a chess club near you, in which the next Paul Morphy, or Beth Harmon (she's not real), or Bobby Fischer may be humiliating adults at a simultaneous exhibition.

Samuel Reshevsky takes on 20 Parisian chess masters

Behold the adorable image above, of a little lad dressed in the fashion for boys in the 1920s, surrounded by men old enough to be his grandfather. That lad is 8-year-old Samuel Reshevsky, and those men are masters at the Paris Chess Club, being challenged by their pre-pubescent rival, according to ATCHUUP.

In the exhibition documented above, Reshevsky played 20 men. The results of this particular exhibition aren't known; ATCHUUP notes that he defeated "several" of them. In one of his later exhibitions, at the age of 9, Reshevsky took on 20 military cadets and officers at West Point, according to Rare Historical Photos, and won 19, with one draw.

Reshevsky followed the career path of multiple other chess prodigies, in that his star burned brightly for a while before he became Just Another Player. It happened to the aforementioned Josh Waitzkin, who moved on from chess to martial arts, and it happened to the aforementioned Paul Morphy, who closed the book on chess completely after finding no one who could beat him.

Reshevsky played chess for the next several decades, but never truly as a professional, according to Rare Historical Photos, playing instead as an amateur while supporting himself and his family as an accountant.