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Isaac Rice’s Gambits

Lawrence Bush
February 22, 2018

Isaac Rice, a music teacher, innovator in the game of chess, and businessman who developed the U.S. Navy’s first modern submarines and helped found the company today known as General Dynamics, was born in Bavaria on this date in 1850. He emigrated to the U.S. at age 6, studied music in Paris, returned to America as a musician and music teacher, and eventually became an attorney who made a fortune specializing in expanding railroad empires. In 1899, he bailed out a company scheduled to deliver an electric submarine to the Navy, and by the middle of World War I, he had built 85 Navy submarines and 722 anti-submarine vessels known as submarine chasers. Rice also served as president of the storied Manhattan Chess Club, and in 1895 he posited the Rice Gambit, an opening series of moves championed by Emanuel Lasker, among other masters of the game. Rice wrote books on music and articles on various subjects for The North American Review, among other journals, before his death at age 65.

“It was in 1895 that Mr. Rice had the idea of sacrificing the knight in that manner which brings about the gambit named after him, and ever since that time he has had a lively struggle against those who scorned that move. Within these 15 years Mr. Rice has had to acknowledge defeat as often as Wilhelm von Oranje in his fight against the Spanish, but as often as that great prince has he collected his scattered forces and made an army of them and again given battle, and finally he has achieved the same triumph. The foe was driven, often after a hard and long struggle, from each position that it had hoped to maintain, and the truth finally prevailed.” —Emanuel Lasker

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.