State chess champions… all states, all years

by admin on November 15, 2012

Last night I started looking online for lists of all the state chess champions in the U.S. since the beginning of time (or since 1878, when the New York State Championship was first held). It will probably surprise no one to hear that the information is scattered and incomplete. History is forever incomplete!

Nevertheless, a remarkable number of state chess organizations keep extremely good records of their past state champions. I counted 37 states that have what appear to be essentially complete records. Possibly a few champions remain unknown from the earliest days of organized chess in those states, but it would take serious historical research and some luck to find out who they were.

That leaves 14 states with records that are either absent or seriously incomplete. And they are not, for the most part, the ones you would expect.

STATES WITH MISSING OR INCOMPLETE STATE CHAMPION DATA

  • New York (!!). That’s right, the state with the oldest championship of all, including past winners like Jose Raul Capablanca, Carlos Torre, Larry Evans, Arnold Denker, and Reuben Fine, does not appear to have an official record on its website. The best thing I could find was a list of champions from 1878 to 1972 on the website of an individual called The Colonel. We owe him a debt of gratitude, but where are the champions since 1972? Why doesn’t the New York State Chess Association keep track?
  • Connecticut
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Georgia
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • Michigan (incomplete)
  • Mississippi (incomplete)
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri (incomplete)
  • Montana (incomplete)
  • Alaska
  • Northern California (!!). The state where I live! By burrowing through past issues of the CalChess newsletter I found a list of winners from 2002 to 2010, but that must be incomplete. I participated in some CalChess championships before 2002. The Southern California Chess Federation provides some interesting back story: California split into two “chess states” in 1977. Before then, “The failure of the state-wide organization to conduct championships for several years… provided one of the reasons for the formation of the SCCF.” Maybe it took northern California a while to get its act together… but surely somebody must know what happened between 1977 and 2002. Enlighten us!

For the delinquent states, it should be possible at least to piece together the recent years fairly easily. The US Chess Federation publishes a yearbook every April that lists the officially recognized state champions. I don’t know quite how far back these yearbooks go, but I would guess at least 20 years. Unfortunately, I sold my Chess Life collection several years ago, so my collection goes back only to 2006.

Also, it’s conceivable that for some of these states I missed or overlooked the list of champions. I put forth a reasonable effort for each state — both by doing a Google search and by browsing through the state federation’s website if the Google search didn’t turn up a hit. But I didn’t want to spend hours on any individual state.

Anyway, let me put out an open request: If anyone from the above 14 states has a complete or near-complete record of the state champions, or knows where I can find one on the Internet, please let me know!

Now, you might be wondering… Why do I want this information? Well, a few months ago Dennis Monokroussos [Nevada, 1984, 1985, 1986; Indiana, 2009] started doing a series of ChessLectures about each of the former World Champions. That’s cool, I thought, but it’s been done before. A lot. A fellow named Garry Kasparov, whom you might have heard of, even wrote a few books on that subject called My Great Predecessors.

But a series of lectures on great state champions… Now there’s something that I don’t think anybody has thought of before! And it’s a topic that is closer to my own capabilities. Being a former state champion myself [North Carolina, 1985 and 1987], I could even call it “My Great Predecessors.”

So my idea is to take one champion from each state — probably someone who won several times and has plenty of games available online — and study ten or so of their games to get an idea of their style, then select one game to lecture on. If I can do that for all 51 chess states, that will keep me busy doing ChessLectures for a long time …

My prototypical example would be John Curdo, the 17-time state champion of Massachusetts, who has been a beast on the regional chess scene since forever but somehow never became as big a force on the national or international level. But I haven’t chosen any others yet. Does anyone have any other nominations?

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

splitleaf November 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm

What a wonderful idea!
A nasty gap in our history indeed, I hope someone responds with some leads. Was able to find out some Sacramento champions for the gap years you listed through this page (http://ecs.csus.edu/~gordonvs/chess/sac.html) so you would think there would be something. Can you possibly provide a list of the Nor Cal champs we do know about? Am excited to see who your home pic is, and look forward to the series! Best of luck! :D

ps Am sure you’re familiar with the chessdryad page and have probably seen the HF page there already but here it just in case, some of these folks could perhaps be contacts to further resources (well, less then half of them are still alive but its an idea anyway, even if it is a bad one XD).
http://www.chessdryad.com/articles/fame/index.htm

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admin November 16, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Hi splitleaf,

Thanks for the links. It certainly seems as if John Donaldson should know where I could get the information on Northern California champions. Maybe he even has it.

The CalChess state champions who were listed in the California Chess Journal were:

2010 – Jesse Kraai
2009 – Sam Shankland
2008 – Sam Shankland
2007 – Josh Friedel
2006 – Josh Friedel
2005 – Alex Yermolinsky
2004 – Vladimir Mezentsev
2003 – Dmitry Zilberstein
2002 – Ricardo de Guzman

The USCF website is strangely incomplete for the CalChess Labor Day Tournament (which is the state championship for northern California). It has crosstables for 2012 (winners: Ray Kaufman, Dharim Bacus), 2002-2007, 1992, 1994, 1995, and 1997. The tournament must have had a different name in the other years. At least this proves the tournament did exist before 2002. I do think that there was one year since 1996 (when I moved here) when the tournament was not held, but I’m not sure which year.

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splitleaf November 16, 2012 at 5:29 pm

That is strange. Good to know, thank you and thanks for the list (those Josh Friedel years reminded me of the great season S.F had in 2006, go Mechanics!). Again, best wishes on the new project, hope you have lots of fun with it. :D

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Robin J. Grochowski November 20, 2012 at 9:11 am

I would like to submit William (Bill) Williams from Wisconsin. I believe he is a five time champion. Thanks.

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Ivan February 9, 2013 at 12:21 am

Where would one go to find the oldest tournaments in the US.

The MN Open will be having its 120th edition this year

Thanks

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admin February 9, 2013 at 8:49 am

While I can’t be certain, the New York State Championship appears to be older. It was first held in 1878 and it has skipped a few years since then (most recently 1944, a war year), but even so I think it has been held at least 130 times.

The reason for uncertainty is that the webpage I cited in my post lists only the past champions but doesn’t say how they were determined. So it’s possible that the tournament might have gone through different formats, or even that the champion might have been determined by a match in some years.

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Pam macy May 16, 2013 at 5:40 am

My father (Mark Pence) was a co-champion of the State of Michigan, and I’m trying to find out what year. He is now 89 and I’m putting together a photo album of his chess years, as a surprise when he moves into assisted living since he won’t have the room for his many trophies. Is he in your Michigan records? Or do you have any links of articles about his chess career? Thanks so much for any help you can offer.

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admin May 17, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Can anybody help? Michigan is one of the states with very poor information. On the Michigan Chess website I could only find information about the state champions back to 2007, which is not far at all.

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David Moody June 10, 2013 at 9:08 am

As for Michigan, I’ll pull something together when I get home tonight. There were official champions dating back to 1931, and the list was often printed in Michigan Chess magazine.

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David Moody June 10, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Here is a list of Michigan Champions. The tournament has been held every year since the establishment of the Michigan Chess Association in 1931.

http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chesscollection?cid=1026313

As for who to choose for your project, Leon Stolzenberg would be an ideal choice–12 championships over four decades. Unfortunately, very few of his games are available. The same would go for Paul Poschel (five titles) and Eric Torman/Vadim Tsemekhman (five titles). Poschel was in some ways the John Curdo of Michigan, though not nearly as active.

Ben Finegold (seven titles) is another possibility, and there are certainly plenty of his games around. However, I suspect few of them will be from Michigan tournaments, if that’s a criteria for you.

I’m going to work a little more on this list, then send it in to MCA in the hope that it may eventually get on their website.

By the way, Mark Pence is not on this list. He may well have tied for first one year, but lost out on the official title after tiebreaks. I have very few details on the touranments before 1973.

David Moody

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Joe Leahy July 15, 2013 at 2:05 pm

For a Minnesota, look no further than Curt Brasket, 16-time Minnesota State champion, US Junior Champ (1952), North Central Open Champ (1959) and current (although, I believe, inactive) FIDE Master.

http://www.lakefieldstandard.com/Stories/Story.cfm?SID=32644
http://www.chessmaniac.com/index.php/2012/10/26/early-us-junior-champions/
http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1368&dat=19591129&id=8cwwAAAAIBAJ&sjid=hA8EAAAAIBAJ&pg=5740,5087297

I believe that Curt (my father-in-law, full disclosure) has many games available online:

http://www.redhotpawn.com/chess/grandmaster-games/index.php
http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessplayer?pid=21473

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Kerry Lawless November 13, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Hi Dana, I’m still working on a complete list. But here’s what I have so far:

1921: Elmer Gruer
1922: Adolf Jay Fink
1923: Stasch Mlotkowski
1926: Elmer Gruer
1927: Elmer Gruer
1928: Adolf Jay Fink
1929: Adolf Jay Fink
1930: Harry Borochow
1931: Harry Borochow
1932: Harry Borochow
1933: Harry Borochow
1934: Harry Borochow
1935: Harry Borochow
1936: Harry Borochow
1937: Harry Borochow
1938: Harry Borochow
1939: Philip Woliston
1945: Adolf Jay Fink and Herman Steiner
1946: Adolf Jay Fink
1948: Jim Cross
1949: George Croy
1950: Ray Martin
1951: Arthur Spiller
1952: Henry Gross and Irving Rivise
1953: IM Herman Steiner
1954: IM Herman Steiner
1955: Cancelled due to Herman Steiner’s passing.
1956: Gilbert Ramirez
1957: Jim Cross
1958: Charles Bagby
1959: Tibor Weinberger
1960: Zoltan Kovacs
1961: Irving Rivise and Tibor Weinberger
1962: William Addison
1963: William Addison
1964: Zoltan Kovacs and Norris Weaver
1965: Don Sutherland
1966: Charles Henin
1967: Walter Browne
1968: David Blohm
1969: Charles Henin
1970_71: Dennis Fritzinger and Charles Henin
1972: Kim Commons
1973: David Strauss

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admin November 14, 2013 at 1:44 am

Fantastic! Thanks, Kerry. For anybody who’s wondering which state this is, we’re talking about California. (In the future, for anyone posting new information to this thread, make sure you identify the state. Thanks!)

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Joe Leahy January 30, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Hi Dana:

I see that you took me up on my suggestion to lecture on Curt Brasket. I told his family and they were pleased to hear it. Sadly, however, Curt passed away last week at age 81.

http://www.startribune.com/obituaries/detail/13999490/?fullname=curt-j-brasket

But his memory — and his chess games — live on!

Joe Leahy

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