16 November 2023

November 1973 & 1998 'On the Cover'

Last month's 'On the Cover' -- see October 1973 & 1998 'On the Cover' (October 2023) -- was a mixture of U.S. and world events from 50 and 25 years ago. This month is focused on the most prestigious of the U.S. championships, the U.S Closed and the U.S. Open.

By some odd coincidence, if a 25 year separation in time can be called a coincidence, the venues for both events had special meaning for their long, respective histories. See details below.

Left: '?'
Right: 'Hawaiian Portrait of a GM'

Chess Life & Review (50 Years Ago)

U.S. Co-Champions Lubomir Kavalek (standing) and John Grefe. Story and games [inside].

The story inside was titled 'Kavalek and Grefe Tie in U.S. Championship' by Burt Hochberg. It started,

The 22nd United States Championship, the most prestigious invitational event in the country, was held in El Paso, Texas, September 9-27.

That simple sentence hardly does justice to the true significance of the event -- for the first time ever, the U.S. Championship tournament was not held in New York State (in fact, only once was it held outside of New York City: South Fallsburg, N.Y., 1948). The energy and dedication exhibited by the El Paso Jaycees and the El Paso Chess Club fully justified the opinion held by the USCF. administration that it was both possible and desirable to cultivate organizational interest in this event outside of New York.

The Jaycees, the El Paso Chess Club and its President, Dr. Fred Sorensen, are to be heartily congratulated, not only for their fine and important accomplishment but also for proving that such a significant tournament, which almost "belonged" to New York City, could be successfully held elsewhere. It's a good portent for the future of the U.S. Championship.

And what about the winners? The report continued,

Another significant property of this tournament was the excellent performances of four of the six newcomers to the championship. Lubomir Kavalek, in his second try, was considered the favorite, along with Walter Browne. [...] Kavalek, now on his way to U.S. citizenship, can be justly proud of his result, tying for first without a loss. [...]

But the real surprise was the great performance of John Grefe of California, who had to beat Benko in the last round (and did) to be sure of a tie for first place. Playing sharply and accurately, with an excellent command of the opening repertoire and dynamic sure-footedness in the middle game, Grefe won eight games, more than anyone else, and lost only to Kavalek.

At the time, Grefe was untitled internationally. This was the first U.S. (Closed) Championship since Fischer won the World Championship in 1972.

Chess Life (25 Years Ago)

Winning two major events back-to-back is not an easy task, but Boris Gulko from Fair Lawn, New Jersey, was more than up to the challenge. And so was Steven Seward, a portraitist from Cleveland, Ohio.

Winning the Saitek U.S. Masters outright, and tying with Judit Polgar in the Cardoza U.S. Open, is what prompted Boris to hint that he might change his name to Boris Hawaiivich. See [inside].

As we go to press, we must report that the World Championship Tournament, originally slated for Las Vegas, November 29 through December 27, has been postponed as a result of an agreement reached by Anatoly Karpov and FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Karpov had threatened to file for an injunction to halt the event, as he believed that holding the event every year was in direct violation of the agreement he signed last year with FIDE - which also called for the World Champion to be entered into the second round rather than the finals.

By delaying the event until January, Karpov will have held his title for a full year before entering into the knockout tournament. And technically, it will be the "second" year of a two-year cycle. The two had originally agreed to an early January date, but that was in conflict with Wijk aan Zee. The new dates are still being negotiated.

And finally, the U.S. has taken second place in the World Chess Olympiad, held in Elista, Kalmykia. The event ended October 12, 1998, with the Russian A team taking the gold by scoring an uncharacteristic 3.5-0.5 victory over the Netherlands in the final round to surge past the U.S., which could only tie China in the final round.

There is much to unpack here. (1) Gulko in Hawaii: Gulko Wins Hawaii Event As a Prologue to the Open (nytimes.com; Robert Byrne). (2) World Championship in Las Vegas: for the previous news, see the link in the first paragraph for last month's 'On the Cover', i.e. 'October 1973 & 1998' ('FIDE World Championship tournament [...] Las Vegas will be the venue'). (3) Olympiad news: see next month's CL.

The report inside was titled 'Judit Polgar and Boris Gulko Split Cardoza U.S. Open Honors' by Jerry Hanken. It started,

It was a warm, breezy evening on the Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. The bright colors of Hawaiian clothing and the sweet smell of the flowers woven into leis around the necks of many of the 306 participants gave a deceptive air of laid-back relaxation to one of the most pleasant of U.S. Opens.

Deceptive, because the last round of the 99th U.S. Open Chess Championship was about to begin. This was the real money round, and no quick draws were anticipated. Yes, it is true that money was not the major attraction of this restful nine days in what is arguably the prettiest state of the 50, but there were ten grandmasters, all professional players, and each wanted a part of the $22,000 prize fund put up by the Hawaii Chess Federation and the USCF.

Theoretically, all ten had a crack at a good payday. Add that to the swimming, surfing, sunning, and volcano watching and other joys of the Big Island, and the potential for a vacation with pay (something grandmasters just don't get) loomed large.

For GM Gulko's previous cover appearance, see January 1973 & 1998 'On the Cover' (January 2023; 'World Team Championship; U.S. Snags Silver in Lucerne 1997'). With the 1998 Olympiad on the horizon, we might see him again next month.

No comments: