19 October 2017

Understanding Lombardy

In my previous post, GM William Lombardy, I promised to 'do a short series of posts on Lombardy', with the objective of getting up-to-speed on the man. It turns out that the fastest way to understand Lombardy is to study his book, 'Understanding Chess: My System, My Games, My Life', which is available via his own site Understanding Chess | Grandmaster William Lombardy (williamlombardychess.com).

'Understanding Chess' (Russell Enterprises, 2011)

The back cover of the book says,

In His Own Words... William Lombardy made his mark early and often. Still in his teens, he became the first American to win the World Junior Chess Championship. His 11-0 record in his 1957 title run still stands today. He followed up by leading the U.S. Student team to the gold at the 1960 Student Olympiad.

He has been a mainstay of chess in the United States for decades, participating in seven Olympiads, many U.S. Championships, and winning three U.S. Open titles.

Along the way, he briefly retired from competitive play when he entered the priesthood, only to return as Fischer's sole second in Reykjavik during the "Match of the Century" against Boris Spassky, where Fischer was crowned World Champion.

The 119 annotated games (including several unpublished games and 37 supplemental appendix games) are embellished by anecdotes and observations drawn from Lombardy's remarkable career, spanning almost 60 years, from the early 1950s to the present.

A short 'Biographical Sketch' ends with an anecdote:-

I was about 10 when I decided to see if I could get a game at Lion's Square Den Park. So I crossed [Faile Street] to PS 75, walked to the end of the playground at Bryan Avenue, crossed that street, turned right to the corner and entered the park where in the afternoon I discovered those I dubbed "the old men in the park." Conservatively, the men ranged in age from their 20s through 70s. Most of them were Jewish, so I not only won a lot of chess games early on, but also learned a fair quantity of Yiddish. "Mach aah moof chal-yee-kah!". One day, an old man approached me, "How come you're not dressed up?" I was wearing my usual dungarees play clothes. As everyone was dressed up, I was reminded that the Jewish High Holy Days in the fall had arrived. Almost everyone else wore shirt, tie and suit coat. The neighborhood was almost exclusively Jewish. So although I was secluded at St. Athanasius Catholic Grammar School, I had learned something of Judaism. I answered the man's question, "I'm not Jewish." Fearful of embarrassing me, the man adroitly exclaimed, "You're not Jewish? You look like such a nice Jewish boy!" Without further formalities, we played chess.

Day after day I came to play chess in the park. About a week later, the same old man singled me out to talk and brought me something that would change my life. He took out a marble design notebook from a brown paper bag. "Here," he said, pushing the notebook into my hands, "You will have better use for this than me. I'm finished with it." I thanked him for the book, put it back in the bag and played chess with the man. When I got home, I looked at my book. For a kid I played better than every other kid I knew and quite a few adults. But I had never even heard that there were chess books, let alone seen one. Back in those days, there were five or six newspapers that carried a chess column. Over many, many years the old man had studiously pasted some two thousand of those chess clippings into his book. I had never asked him whether he had actually played over the games in those clippings. I was about to do what he himself may not entirely have done.

I was very enthusiastic. I had to decipher the games' code by discovering the ins and outs of descriptive chess notation with a trip to the public library around the corner from my school. Once I had grasped the notation, I began enthusiastically playing over the games with a vengeance! I would estimate that within a month of receiving the gift, I had played over some 20% of its contents. The process was necessarily slow. After all, I had to set up the pieces for every game on my little chessboard. But the process was becoming more and more a great and exciting pleasure. Without knowing what really was happening to me, I was becoming a better and better player in the process of reviewing the games. Using that book I discovered the power of eidetic imaging. I had improved to become a very powerful player and I was also a thorough student of the game.

I have never forgotten the "old man" who kindly gave me that awesome gift. I can still see his dear face, although he never thought to tell me his name. I hope he learned that his gift brought me along to make a special mark on world chess. I am not a general but as a "chess general," I will likely never be forgotten. A strange little magical book with lots of chess diagrams transformed me from a wandering kind to a wunderkind! And that wunderkind taught Bobby Fischer from the time the crew cut, blond-haired boy in a flannel shirt and dungarees was six months short of his twelfth birthday. That I was Bobby's only chess teacher from that time, and right through Reykjavik, is a fact. Some may not like hearing this surprising news, but I assume that they will get over the shock. I don't know who taught the Byrne brothers, for example, but it was not Jack Collins. The Byrne brothers were tutored at the Manhattan Chess Club and other chess haunts around New York City, as was I, Bobby and Raymond Weinstein. Thus Spake Zarathustra!

As for Lombardy's claim that he was "Bobby's only chess teacher" starting end-1954, I am astounded!

No comments: