Rice Gambit

by Bill Wall


The Rice Gambit is a variation of the King's Gambit Accepted. It was discovered and promoted by New York financier and chess patron Isaac Leopold Rice (1850-1915). Rice used his money to promote his gambit. He paid top players to analyze and play it, and sponsored chess tournaments with the opening theme being the Rice Gambit. He spent $50,000 subsidizing Rice Gambit events.


Isaac Rice was born in Bavaria on February 22, 1850.  He came to Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his parents in 1856.  The family later moved to Philadelphia where Isaac  attended high school.  After high school, he went to Paris to study music for 3 years.  He returned to the USA, moved to New York City and practices music for a few years before going back to school to get a law degree in 1878.


In 1880, he graduated from Columbia College of Law, cum laude.


From 1882 to 1883, Rice was a lecturer and librarian of the political science library of Columbia Law School.  While there, he founded the academy of political science.


In 1883, he was admitted to the Association of the Bar of the city of New York to practice law.


On December 15, 1883, he played and beat Johannes Zukertort a game of chess at the Manhattan Chess Club.  It was one of 12 blindfold games played simultaneously by Zukertort.


From 1883 to 1886, he practiced railroad law and was an instructor at Columbia Law.  His brother was president of the Distillers Company of America.


In 1884, he was appointed attorney for the Brooklyn Elevated Railroad Company.


In 1885, he founded The Forum, a magazine of politics, finance, drama and literature.  He owned the magazine from 1885 to 1910.


On December 14, 1885, he married Julia Hyneman Barnett of New Orleans, who was one of the first female medical doctors in the United States.  They had 6 children and all of them played chess.


In 1889, he retired from active business in law and became more involved in chess as a patron. 


In 1890, Isaac Rice became the president of the Manhattan Chess Club and a chess patron.  He played a long series of practice games with world champion William Steinitz, experimenting with the Kieseritzky Gambit.


In 1895, he discovered a variation of the Kieseritzky Gambit of the King’s Gambit Accepted, which became known as the Rice Gambit.  The opening to the Rice Gambit is 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.h4 g4 5.Ne5 Nf6 6.Bc4 d5 7.exd5 Bd6 8.O-O (Rice’s discovery, sacrificing a knight).  He played this variation in a number of off-hand games with some of the strongest players at the Manhattan Chess Club.


In 1897, he got involved in new emerging companies and became president of the Electric Storage Battery Company.  Rice held a virtual monopoly over the manufacture of batteries in the United States.  He was also a founder of the electric automobile.


In 1898 Rice published a book on the Rice Gambit.


In 1899, he took over the Electric Boat Company, which later became General Dynamics in 1952.  He won a contract to build Navy submarines.  He was the co-inventor of the modern submarine (along with John Holland) and held several patents in submarine design.  During World War I, his company built 85 Navy Subs and 722 submarine chasers.  He was also the president of the first company to make rubber tires.  He organized the first taxi service in New York.


In 1900, Rice’s Electric Vehicle Company was the largest vehicle maker in the world.


In 1900, he designed his mansion, called the Villa Julia, named after his wife Julia.  She was one of the first female medical doctors in the United States.  It took 3 years to build, including a sound-proof basement for chess tournaments.  The fully equipped chess room was made out of solid rock.  The mansion was located at the corner of Riverside Drive and West 89th Street in Manhattan.


In 1901, Rice sold the British Royal Navy its first submarine.  He also was one of the first to manufacture electric refrigerators and the first dried milk products.


In 1902, he was awarded a doctorate in law from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.


In 1903 Chigorin defeated Emanuel Lasker in a Rice Gambit match, held in Brighton, England. Lasker had White in all the games and played the Rice Gambit. Chigorin won 2 games, drew 3 games, and lost 1 game.


In 1903 the Manhattan Chess Club held a Rice Gambit tournament. It was won by Julius Finn.


In January, 1904, a third edition of the Rice Gambit was published.


On February 22-March 3, 1904, a Rice Gambit tournament was held in Monte Carlo, Monaco. It was won by Frank Marshall and Rudolf Swiderski.


In April 1904, Rice gave a dinner for all the competitors of the Cambridge Springs tournament at his mansion in Manhattan.  Rice helped organize the event and was President of the International Chess Congress, held in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania.


On April 30, May 7, and May 14, 1904 a Rice Gambit team tournament was held at the famous Cambridge Springs Chess Tournament in Pennsylvania. Seven consultation games were played between the masters.


In November,1904, a Rice Gambit was held at the Metropolitan Chess Club in London and won by Richard Teichmann (13.5/16). Napier and Leonhardt took 2nd-3rd. Gunsberg took 4th.


In 1904 the Brooklyn Chess Club had a Rice Gambit tournament. It was won by Hermann Helms.


In October, 1904, the Rice Gambit Association was formed at the home of Isaac Rice. Rice was president and world champion Emanuel Lasker was secretary.


In 1905 the American Chess Bulletin, Vol. 2 was published and filled with much analysis and games of the Rice Gambit.


On April 2 to May 14, 1905, a Rice Gambit tournament was held in St. Petersburg. It was won by Mikhail Chigorin.


In 1905 Napier defeated Marshall in a Rice Gambit match, held in London. Napier won 2 games, drew 1 game, and lost 1 game.


In 1905, a fourth edition of the Rice Gambit was published.


In 1906, the Yale vs. Princeton chess match was held at Rice’s residence.  Jose Capablanca was the adjudicator.


In December1907, Rice sold his Villa Julia mansion for $600,000.  The bankers’ panic of 1907 had strained his companies and wiped out most of his assets.  He was forced to sell his mansion for less than it had cost.  The mansion was later an Orthodox Jewish school.  Rice and his family then moved into a 22-room apartment at the Ansonia Hotel.  His mansion was to be torn down in 1980, but saved by Jacqueline Onassis as a historical site.


In June 1910, world champion Emanuel Lasker wrote a monograph on the Rice Gambit.


Isaac Rice died at his residence in the Hotel Ansonia on November 2, 1915.  It is estimated that he spent over $50,000 subsidizing Rice Gambit events.  During his lifetime, he was considered the chess world’s leading patron.  He also built over 15 corporations, which made him a multi-millionaire.  He purchased over 500 patents during his business career.


Family friends included the top chess players in the world, such as Emanuel Lasker,  Jose Capablanca, and Frank Marshall, as well as kings of Spain and Sweden, the Czar of Russia, Madame Curie, President McKinley, and Pope Pius X.  Perhaps he played chess with some of them.


Rice had been a member and president of the Manhattan Chess Club, as well as member of the Brooklyn Chess Club, the Franklin Chess Club in Philadelphia, the Rice Chess Club in New York, and the St. George’s Chess Club in London.


In January,1916, the American Chess Bulletin and Hermann Keidanz published a book called Twenty Years of the Rice Gambit. It was 391 pages of games and analysis from the Rice Gambit.


In 1916, a Rice Memorial was held in New York, funded through his widow’s estate.


Isaac Rice and Rice Gambit References:

Berger, J., ‘Zum Kieseritzky-Gambit, Rice-Abzweigung,’ Deutsche Schachzeitung, 1915

Crespi, E., ‘Gambit Rice,’ La Strategie, Jan 15, 1901

Keidanz, H., Rice Gambit ‘Souvenir Supplement’, American Chess Bulletin, Feb, 1905

Keidanz, H., Twenty Years of the Rice Gambit, 1916

Kemeny, E., ‘The Rice Gambit,’ American Chess Magazine, October 1898

Krejcik, J., ‘Zur Theorie des Ricegambit,’ Wiener Schachzeitung, March-April 1915

Lasker, Emanuel, The Rice Gambit, 5th edition, 1910

Napier, W., ‘The Rice Gambit,’ American Chess World, April 1901

Napier, W., ‘Rice Gambit Explorers,’ Checkmate, July 1903

NN, ‘The Rice Gambit,’ Checkmate, February and March 1901

NN, ‘The Rice Gambit,’ Checkmate, June 1903

NN, ‘Professor I.L. Rice,’ Checkmate, April 1904

NN, ‘The Rice Gambit,’ American Chess Bulletin, June 1904

NN, ‘Rice Trophy for Hamilton College,’ American Chess Bulletin, Oct 1905

NN, ‘The Rice Gambit,’ Lasker’s Chess Magazine, Oct 1905

NN, ‘Professor Rice, His Trophies and Gambit,’ American Chess Bulletin, Jan 1906

NN, ‘The Rice Gambit,’ American Chess Bulletin, Feb 1906

NN, ‘Chess and War,’ Lasker’s Chess Magazine, Nov 1907

NN, ‘Rice Gambit Accepted,’ Chess Amateur, March 1908

NN, ‘The Rice Gambit in Action,’ American Chess Bulletin, March 1908

NN, ‘Etude sur le gambit Rice,’ La Strategie, Aug 1908

NN, ‘Rice Gambit Suffers Relapse,’ Chess Weekly, Aug 22, 1908

NN, ‘The Rice Gambit,’ Supplement in American Chess Bulletin, May 1909

NN, ‘Neue Ideen im Ricegambit,’ Wiener Schachzeitung, May-June 1909

NN, ‘The Rice Gambit,’ Chess Amateur, June 1909

NN, ‘The Rice Gambit,’ Chess Weekly, Sep 18, 1909

NN, ‘The Rice Gambit,’ Chess Weekly, Sep 25, 1909

NN, ‘Rice Gambit in Philadelphia, American Chess Bulletin, Jan 1911

NN, Isaac Rice Obituary, New York Times, Nov 3, 1915

Ranken, C., ‘The Rice Gambit,’ British Chess Magazine, March 1898

Rice, I., ‘The Rice Gambit,’ Chess Amateur, Feb 1908

Rice, I., ‘The Rice Gambit,’ American Chess Bulletin, April 1910

Wall, Bill, ‘The Rice Gambit,’ http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Lab/7378/ricegamb.htm

Winter, Edward, ‘Professor Isaac Rice and the Rice Gambit,’ www.chesshistory.com