Correspondence Chess News (CCN), Issue 46
The Mysteries of Morris Freed
By Neil Brennen
Copyright 2001 by Neil Brennen,
All rights reserved.
The early lives of great chessplayers of the past are often a blank slate. Little is known of them. Thiis problem exists in spades for minor players, often who have no life history at all attached to their games. Thus minor figures seem destined to remain a mystery, despite the best efforts of researchers.
But sometimes chance, the chess historian's friend, steps in, and a fascinating minor figure is uncovered. And sometimes a major player is displayed as well.
In January 2001, I received a phone call from Elida Kauffman, granddaughter of a turn of the century chessplayer named Morris Freed. Ms. Kauffman was looking for information on her grandfather, and in exchange for information on his chess activities would share some family material on Freed. I jumped at the chance to do the research, as little is known of the everyday lives of everyday chessplayers from the past.
According to Elida Kauffmnan's research into her family tree, and from various family documents, Freed was born in Poland, on September 28 1871, to Mayer Freed and Esther Freed, nee Steinman. As a young man he was trained as a musician, and also learned the game of chess. Upon reaching adulthood Freed worked as a schoolteacher. The eldest daughter of Rabbi Chiam Lieb-Buchman, Raisel, responded to Freed's attentions and married him in 1898. Isidor, the first child of six, was born in 1899.
In 1904 the Freed family made the trip across the Atlantic, as many thousands had done before them, and arrived at Ellis Island on August 20th after a fourteen day passage on the Columbia.
After completing the usual formalities with the immigration agents, declaring he had one hundred dollars with him, and signing a form renouncing "allegiance to Nicholas the Second, Czar of all the Russias", the Freed family then made their way to Philadelphia, where Morris Freed's brother Isidor lived.
Shortly after arriving, Freed opened a small music store in the Southeast section of the city, not far from the family's home address of 1636 South Sixth Street. With a family to support and a business starting, Freed was too busy to engage in his favorite pastime of chess playing, and so he did not participate in chess events for a number of years.
Eventually Freed felt chess calling him back. His name first shows up in the Philadelphia Sunday Item chess column in March of 1909, listed as winning a game from Samuel Stadelman in a simultaneous exhibition. But this apparently was just a small step towards a bigger goal.
As a family record prepared by David Freed, Morris Freed's third child, many years after his father's death put it, "he set out to restore luster to his reputation by winning the chess championship of the state of Pennsylvania, which he finally accomplished, and had his picture in the paper along that of the former Champion, William Ruth".
Research does not support the claim to the Pennsylvania Championship title made on Freed's behalf As will be seen, however, Freed did have another title, and a non-chessplayer writing after Freed' death may have made an error and confused the two.
A detailed biography on Freed, printed in the Philadelphia Sunday Item on July 31, 1910, confirms part of the family record and adds to it. "Morris Freed .... was born in Rakow, a small town in the Province of Minsk, Russia, thirty-eight years ago, and learned the game of chess in his early years. At the age of twenty-nine he located in Lodz, Russia, a city noted for its chess activity and the strength of its players. There he devoted considerable time to the game and ranked as one of the strong players of Lodz. He played frequently with both Rubinstein and Salwe, who were able to give him odds of pawn and move with only partial success. Freed came to this country six years ago, and locating at Philadelphia, at 1711 South Seventh Street, where he established a musical supply and repair shop, he devoted himself to his business and temporarily gave up the game of chess."
By the time this biographical sketch was published, the readers of the Sunday Item had become very familiar with Freed, as Chess Editor Russell Ramsey had included a number of Freed games in his column. The first appearance of a Freed game in the Item column was his third round loss to Stasch Mlotkowski from the just completed Pennsylvania State Chess Association Championship tournament of February 22. This game helped decide the state title for 1910.
Philadelphia Sunday Item, March 6, 1910
The following week the Item featured a happier effort of Freeds from the PSCA tournament, a win against the strong correspondence player H. L. Bauder. Morris Freed H.L. Bauder [C11] PA Championship (1), 22.02.19 10
Philadelphia Sunday Item, March 13, 19 10
In April the Item featured two games by Freed, this time with his notes. The first was Freed's win from the just-completed match between the two largest chess clubs in Philadelphia. Freed played on behalf of the Mercantile Library Chess Association, the larger of the two clubs, but not considered as strong as its rival the Franklin Chess Club, perhaps the second strongest chess club in the United States at that time.
A word needs to be spoken about the chess club Freed would represent during his Philadelphia chess career. Isaac Ash, like Freed a Polish born player, in the July-August 1970 issue of the Pennsylvania State Chess Federation magazine The Pennswoodpusher, described the two chess clubs as follows:
1. The Franklin Chess Club which had a long and established history. Its rooms were in a central office building and
beautifully furnished. Its members were all distinguished men of the town dominated by Walter Penn Shipley, Wm (sic) Reichhelm, Walter Bampton, and G. Magee, all of whom had national reputations.
2. The Mercantile Library Chess Club which met in a large glass enclosed room in the rear of the Mercantile Library at 10th and Chestnut Sts."
After describing it as "full of life", Ash then continued with a more detailed account of the Mercantile. "The Mercantile Library Chess Club was really a unique institution. Annexed to a library that had been founded by Benjamin Franklin it consisted of three larger rooms in the rear, completely glass enclosed and soundproofed so that the noise of the chess players did not unduly annoy the readers of the Library proper. It was furnished with about 25 large chess tables and (depending on the hour) could accommodate 60 chess players at all times. The chief attractions were: A. no dues and Ban abundance of chess activities.
"The players were roughly divided into two groups:
1. Those who just played chess for want of anything else to do other than to have companionship and
2. Those who took their chess seriously and entered into tournaments; team contests with other clubs; discussions, etc.
"From both a quantity and quality standpoint it was easily the best club of its kind, far exceeding the Franklin C.C. which was the aristocrat in its field, maintaining the old gentlemanly aura handed down from the past traditions of a real club atmosphere. "
Perhaps the struggling businessman and cultural outsider Morris Freed was more comfortable in the plebeian Mercantile Library Chess Association than the exclusive Franklin Chess Club. He also may have found the Mercantile similar to the Lodz Chess Club of his homeland. The following description of the Lodz Chess Society was published on pages 204 and 205 of the May 1909 British Chess Magazine, and quoted by John Donaldson and Nikolay Minev in their book Akiba Rubinstein: Uncrowned King: "It occupies a handsome suite of rooms I am not aware that the club is ever closed. I have personally left it, still going strong, at two o'clock in the morning, and found play in progress there in the forenoon."
No doubt we owe the survival of so many Freed games to his allegiance with the Mercantile. Russell Ramsey's chess column in the Item published many games by local players, and also served as a voice for chess outside the Franklin Chess Club.
The voice of the Franklin Chess Club belonged to Walter Penn Shipley, chess columnist of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Shipley, while he provided some coverage of Philadelphia chess, tended to use the column to extol the merits of the Franklin Chess Club, while slighting the accomplishments of other local chess bodies. Ironically, both the Mercantile Library and Franklin chess clubs still exist today, in merged form, as the Franklin-Mercantile Chess Club.
No doubt this rivalry between the two chess clubs added to the tension of Freed's encounter with Doerr in the FranklinMercantile match.
Philadelphia Sunday Item, April 3, 19 10
The second game published in the Item was from the just begun Mercantile Library Chess Association championship tournament. His opponent Morton Eschner was reported in the Item chess column as posting a request for a match opponent onto the club's bulletin board. The note specified he would play William Ruth, Norman Whitaker, and Aaron Goldberg on even terms, and the remaining championship players at odds. Freed quickly showed that while Rubinstein might have been able to give Freed odds, Eschner couldn't.
In July the Item again featured a Freed game from the Mercantile Library championship, this time a win against former state champion Aaron Goldberg.
Under the headline "Chess Champion Puzzles Experts", the Philadelphia Public Ledger of July 31 announced his winning of the Championship: "By winning the championship of the Mercantile Library Chess Association, M. Freed has furnished the sensation of the year in local chess circles. Among devotees generally Freed was rated below Goldberg, Kind, Ruth, and Whitaker in strength, but he defeated each of these players in turn, as well as Ditmar and Gordon."
The Public Ledger went on to describe Freed's style of play and background: "The new champion's style is very conservative, although he is never loath to profit by an opponent's tactical or strategic errors. Although he has been playing chess in Philadelphia for the past three or four years, this is the first noteworthy feather he has won for his cap."
The following week the new Champion had his photograph published in the Public Ledger chess column of August 7, and the following biographical note: "Morris Freed, the new champion of the Mercantile Library Chess Association, came to Philadelphia from Russia six years ago. During his residence in the land of his birth Freed played frequently with Rubinstein and other Russian masters, but abandon chess for four years on coming to America.
"Two years ago Freed joined the Mercantile Library Chess Association, but only won about half of his games in the tournament of 1909, being out of practice."
The reference to Rubinstein, both here and in the Item biography mentioned previously, is surprising. Unless Freed is being less than truthful, or the columnist is manufacturing the reference out of whole cloth, Freed played with the Polish chess genius "frequently". Did they belong to the same club? Did they play in handicap tournaments? Where did Freed play Rubinstein?
A complicating factor, aside from the destruction of many possible sources of information during Poland's unhappy history in the last century, is that Freed was possibly known under another name. Elida Kauffman believes Freed did change his name on leaving Poland, but there is no proof of this. His Polish name remains unknown, so it may be next to impossible to track down information on Freed and his connection to one of the great figures in chess history. But one possible lead should be pointed out.
On page 18 of their book Akiba Rubinstein:Uncrowned King, John Donaldson and Nikolay Minev include a crosstable from the Lodz Chess Society Handicap Tournament, played in December 1903 and January and February of 1904. The crosstable of this twenty-two player event, published in Neue Lodzer Zeutung, shows Salwe finishing in first with nineteen points, a point ahead of the second place Rubinstein. There, in tenth place, is listed a player named "Friedmann".
Again, it should be stressed there is no proof that "Friedmann" is Freed, or that Freed changed his name at all. But circumstantial evidence suggests it bears investigation.
But thoughts of "Did he play Rubinstein?" were not on the minds of chessplayers in Philadelphia in 1910. Instead, they were reading the chess columns. The PublicLedger gave readers its first Freed game in that August 7 column notes having appeared in the Sunday Item the week before. Freed not only provided the gamescore of his win against William Ruth to the Public Ledger, but annotated it as well.
Philadelphia Sunday Item, July 31, 19 10
Philadelphia Public Ledger, August 7, 19 10
Publication of this game with Bill Ruth, the notice of Freed's winning the Mercantile Library Championship, and the publication of Freeds photograph, all point to this title being the one referred to as the "Pennsylvania Championship" in the family's written history.
A week after the Public Ledger ran the win over Ruth, and two weeks after the Item published the same game, Freed had another annotated game from the championship published, this time against future chessmaster and criminal Norman Tweed Whitaker. The following game does not appear in John Hilbert's recent biography Shady Side: The Life And Crimes of Norman Tweed Whitaker, Chessmaster.
Philadelphia Sunday Item, August 14, 19 10
This new prestige from winning the Mercantile Library Championship meant Freed had a high profile in the local chess press for a period of time. In September 1910 it was reported in the Public Ledger that Freed had given a small simultaneous display at the Rex Chess Club, one of a number of minor chess clubs in the city of Philadelphia. And the January 1911 American Chess Bulletin mentioned Freed had lost twice to American champion Frank James Marshall in simultaneous displays in the month of November. In January 1911 Freed unsuccessfully defended his title of Mercantile Library champion. He finished third behind Ruth and Whitaker. However, a nice win of Freed's from the first round was published in the Item column.
Philadelphia Sundqy Item, January 22, 1911
In April 1911 Freed played for the honor of the Mercantile Library in the first of two matches between the Mercantile and its rival the Franklin Chess Club. The Mercantile Library upset the older and stronger club in the first match on April I by the score of 8-7. The deciding game was Freed's win against the veteran player Samuel Stadelman - the same Stadelman against whom Freed had taken a board in a simultaneous display back in 1909. Both the Public Ledger and the Item published the game, the Public Ledger noting the adjudicator spent ten hours in analysis to reach his decision awarding the game to Freed. The anonymous Public Ledger columnist called this game "the best played on that occasion".
Philadelphia Public Ledger, May 14, 1911
As stated previously, Freed lost the Mercantile Library Championship, coming in third behind William Ruth and Norman Whitaker. And the record of the next few years is a story of near misses and tournament finishes just shy of the top. Freed's goal of the state Championship still eluded him.
During this time Freed was concentrating on raising a family, as well as running his music store and composing klezmer music, a folk-like music for Jewish celebrations and events. But Freed still did play chess. And occasionally a chess game was published and broke the silence.
While on a trip to Baltimore in 1917 Freed played a number of casual games with the Belgian player Isador Turover. Freed thought enough of the following win that he sent it to Public Ledger columnist and chess author David Mitchell for inclusion in the Ledger's chess column.
Philadelphia Public Ledger, April 1, 1917
In 1918 Freed again participated in the Pennsylvania State Chess Association tournament, as in past years held in
Philadelphia in February, on Washington's Birthday. Freed was in good form and finished in a tie for first. Along the way he had the distinction of defeating former state champion Sydney T. Sharp, to this day regarded as one of the strongest players ever born in Pennsylvania.
Freed continued to play in Philadelphia area events. As an example, American Chess Bulletin lists Freed as drawing in a simultaneous display with the Polish child prodigy Samuel Reshevsky, held in April 1921 at the Philadelphia retailer Strawbridge and Clothier. Freed also continued to play in Pennsylvania Championships until 1924, but without matching his near success of 1918. Freed and his family moved to California, although he kept some ties to the Philadelphia area. Freed's third child David became a cello student at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and a classmate and friend of composer Samuel Barber.
In later years Freed was incapacitated by blindness Morris Freed passed away in Los Angeles, California on July 28, 1951, according to his death certificate.
And for now the book closes on the man and his chess career, leaving many questions unanswered. What was his name before coming to the United States? Did he actually play with Rubinstein? Would he have achieved his goal of winning the state Championship if he had won that first match game with William Ruth back in 1918? Will more of his games emerge from yellowing newsprint?
These are the questions that await researchers. For now they remain part of the mystery of Morris Freed.
(for more information about the games of Morris Freed, go to: Correspondence 46
1920 Census Information for Morris Freed:
Morris Freed: 47, arrived 1904, naturalized 1911. Yiddish speaker, born in Russia, parents born in Russia.
Wife: Rose, 45, arrived 1904, naturalized 1911. Yiddish speaker, born in Russia, parents born in Russia.
Son, Isadore: 19, arrived in 1904, naturalized 1911. Yiddish speaker, born in Russia, parents born in Russia. Occupation: piano teacher.
Daughter, Sara: 18, arrived in 1904, naturalized 1911. Yiddish speaker, born in Russia, parents born in Russia. Occ: Piano Teacher
Son, Jacob: 16, arrived in 1904, naturalized 1911. Yiddish speaker, born in Russia, parents born in Russia.
Daughter, F annie: 12. Born in the USA. Parents born in Russia.
Son, David: 10. Born in the USA. Parents born in Russia.
Daughter, ???: 4. Born in the USA. Parents born in Russa.
Ellis Island Info:
Arrived as Chosche (actually "Mosche"/Mosheà Morris) Fried
Had arrived on Columbia. Had come from Brest. Listed as a Merchant with $100. Going to stay with brother Isidor B. Fried at 12 South Fourth (?) St. in Philadelphia, PA.
0013. Fried, Chosche M 34 M Russia, Hebrew Brest
0014. Fried, Rosa F 28 M Russia, Hebrew Brest
0015. Fried, Isaac M 5 S Russia, Hebrew Brest
0016. Fried, Sonia F 3y 6m S Russia, Hebrew Brest
0017. Fried, Jacob M 11m S Russia, Hebrew Brest