Richard Delaune, chess gentleman

by admin on July 1, 2008

Okay, today we’re going to resume our amble through time by taking a step back to 1978 and my game against someone I faced only one time, but who made a lasting impression on me.

In the summer of 1978 I was between my junior and senior years of college, and in chess terms I was a class-A player with a rating somewhere around 1900. It was a very exciting year for me chess-wise, because I traveled to more out-of-town tournaments than ever before. I played in my first World Open in July, then in August I played in a tournament at the University of Maryland whose name I have unfortunately forgotten. Then that fall I spent a semester in Russia, in the city that was then known as Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). While I was there, I had the chance to play in an actual Russian chess tournament. But that is a subject for a future blog entry (or probably several entries).

At the 1978 World Open I played my first expert, a player named Wilfred Brown, and managed to draw with him. I was very proud of that: How many people can say that they drew with the first expert they ever faced in a tournament? But later that summer, at the anonymous tournament at the University of Maryland, I topped even that feat — I played my first tournament game ever against a master, and won! Alas, in both cases my beginner’s luck was very short-lived. I lost several games in a row against experts and many games in a row against masters before I won again.

As a college student, I didn’t own a car and I didn’t have much of a travel budget — just whatever I could persuade my parents to spend. So I traveled by bus to Washington, D.C., and saved money by staying at my grandparents’ house. They lived in an old white frame house just inside city limits, a couple of blocks away from Chevy Chase, Maryland.

The strongest impression I had of this house was that nothing ever changed there. It was the house my mother had grown up in, in the 1940s, and I strongly suspect that it looked almost the same in the 1940s as it did in the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s. All the furniture was the same, the rugs were the same, the pictures on the walls and the dishes in the cupboard were the same. It wasn’t messy or run-down — my grandmother kept the house neat and orderly — but to me it seemed frozen in time. The only things that changed were the car in the driveway, the magazines in the baskets in the bedroom, and of course my grandparents, who grew gradually older.

Time changes one’s perspective. I can now see things much more clearly from my grandparent’s point of view. They had done a lot of traveling and lived an exciting life in their younger years. My grandmother studied lieder in Austria, and could maybe have had a career as a singer, but instead settled for marrying my grandfather and becoming a housewife. After that, they lived in Turkey for a few years. I don’t know why. I’m sure they had lots of interesting stories about it, but they’re not around to ask any more. They came back with lots of valuable Turkish rugs and other souvenirs, including a gigantic bronze plate that they hung on the wall of the living room.

To me, the rugs were a symbol of the eternal stasis in that househould. They lay in the same places, getting gradually more worn out. I figured that the grandparents were so used to them that they probably never even looked at them any more. But of course, they couldn’t get rid of them, because they were valuable. So they stayed on, year after year.

But now, close to my fifties, I can see what the rugs meant to them. They were a memory, and they were also a comfort. Once you get settled down, and you find a place where you’re comfortable, a job you like doing, and so on, why should you ever change? I’m getting  that way now. I have now lived in the same house for 11 years — longer than I’ve ever spent in one place for my whole life — and I don’t see any reason why I would ever want to leave. Am I getting comfortable, or am I getting ossified?

My grandfather drove me to the tournament the first day, and then let me drive myself the next day (it was a two-day weekend tournament). At that point he had a Volkswagen Rabbit, standard transmission, and I wasn’t all that good at driving a stick shift. Plus there was something quirky about his Rabbit. To make a long story short, I got stuck, and he had to come out and pick me up. Not only that, my last-round game ended so late that I missed my bus to Richmond. So I spent Sunday night with my grandparents, and then they had to get up at 4:30 on Monday morning in order to drive me to the bus station, so that I could catch another bus at 5:30. In spite of all of this, I don’t think they said a single word of complaint (except about how run-down the bus station was). That’s the good thing about grandparents… You can get away with anything, and they’ll never complain because they’re just so glad to have you around.

In the first round at Maryland, I played the game that would go down in my personal chess history book. As is common in the first round of Swiss system tournaments, I was paired against someone much stronger — Richard Delaune, a master who outrated me by more than 400 points.

In some ways, the game followed a similar script to my game against David Pruess almost 20 years later. I played a rather dubious opening variation that a college friend of mine, named Steve Prosak, had showed me. It was a variation that someone in his local chess club had played in a blitz game, just for the hell of it — a pawn sacrifice that appears ridiculously premature. It comes out of the Dragon Variation of the Sicilian:

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cd 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Be3 Bg7

Here the normal move is 7. f3, going into the Yugoslav Attack, but the unknown patzer played 7. e5?!, a move that turned out to be unexpectedly hard to refute. If you feel like playing this variation, you can call it the Swarthmore Gambit, because that’s where it was discovered. But I don’t recommend it. After 7. … de 8. N4b5 the best answer for Black is 8. … Bd7, returning the pawn but getting excellent development after 9. Bxa7 Nc6 10. Bc5 etc. Material is even, but Black has better development and dominates the center, which is what is really important. White does have a 3-to-1 edge in pawns on the queenside, but all of his queenside space really isn’t useful for anything. I played this a few times as White and never came out with anything more than a draw.

The Swarthmore Gambit is only dangerous if Black obstinately tries to hang on to the sacrificed pawn. In that way, again, it’s a little bit like the opening in the Pruess game, which is only dangerous if Black is foolish enough to try for an outright refutation. I think there was a similar psychology going on in both games; both Pruess and Delaune were facing a player who was rated at least 300 points below them, playing a ridiculous opening variation that seemed as if it had to be unsound. Instead of playing cautiously, as they might have against someone rated at their own level, they went for the refutation and got burned.

So Delaune played 7. … de 8. N4b5 Nc6?, trying to hang on to the pawn, but now White gets everything he could hope for after 9. Qxd8+ Kxd8 10. Bc4 Rf8 11. O-O-O+ Bd7.

White has obvious compensation for the pawn; he is completely developed, while Black’s position is a disorganized mess. With queens off the board it’s conceivable, though, that Black could weather the storm and emerge with a better endgame. I played 12. Na4, aiming for c5, and Delaune gave back the pawn with 12. … Rc8 13. Bb3 Ke8 14. Nxa7! It’s possible that Delaune missed this last move, because it seems to lose a piece after 14. … Nxa7 15. Bxa7 Ra8 16. Bb6 Bxa4? But White gets the last laugh 17. Bxa4+ Rxa4 18. Rd8 is checkmate!

Instead, after 16. Bb6, Delaune played 16. … Bc6. I’ll stop the analysis here; the computer says that Black has a completely playable position, so Delaune really lost the game later on. If any of you want to see the rest of the game in a later entry, I’ll be glad to show it to you. I think that the key thing is that, even if White doesn’t have a superior position on the chessboard, from the psychological point of view I was in much better shape. My opening was a success: My opponent had been forced to give back the pawn, perhaps unintentionally, and he was now in a position that bore no resemblance to the Dragon Variation that he was hoping for. I had drawn first blood, and that set the tone for the rest of the game.

But what I will always remember about the game, besides my thrill at winning with the “Swarthmore Variation,” was a snippet of conversation I overheard later. One of Delaune’s friends asked him, “So, what happened in your game?”

“Oh, I just got outplayed,” he said.

And that was all. But it says so much about Richard Delaune, the person. Because, you see, chess players almost never admit to getting outplayed. They always make excuses. When they lose, it’s always because they made a dumb mistake, or they were in time trouble, or the sun was in their eyes, or something — but never because they just got outplayed! Okay, now and then you’ll hear players admit they got outplayed if their opponent was higher-rated than they were. “Oh, I got crushed by a GM” is sort of a badge of honor.

But no one, no one, no one ever admits they got outplayed by someone who was rated 400 points below them. Except Rich Delaune.

I never really knew Rich, never spoke to him after that game. But I know he was highly regarded in Virginia chess. He was a four-time state champion and a great sportsman, without a big ego, just a really nice person who didn’t make any enemies. You can read more about him here, and you can see a photograph of him here, which looks exactly the way that I remember him.

What’s sad about both of these links is that they are memorials. Delaune died in 2004 of a heart attack, at the much-too-young age of 49. That’s exactly the age that I am now. This fact doesn’t give me goosebumps, or make me think, “Oh, no, I could be next.” But what it does is make me think how ridiculously unfair life is sometimes. Some people are taken away much too young, when they have not yet had the chance to achieve all of their dreams. Other people get to live long lives, and yet spend most of their lives living in the past.

As for the rest of the tournament, it didn’t go quite so well for me. My remaining three games were all against experts, and I scored only one draw in three games. But remember that I was class-A at the time, so that was not so bad, especially when combined with a win over a master.

The draw was a pretty memorable game, too. The game was adjourned (this was back before the era of sudden-death time controls!) in a K+Q versus K+R endgame with no pawns, the only time I have ever gotten to that notorious ending. Unfortunately, I had the rook, and because of the adjournment, my opponent had plenty of time to look up the winning technique in a book. Nevertheless, he failed to win! He allowed a threefold repetition, but he was already drifting, and I doubt that he would have been able to win in 50 moves. 

If any of you are interested, I can show you the rest of the Delaune game or the infamous K+Q versus K+R endgame where I managed to draw with the rook. But I think this is enough for today!

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Mayer June 21, 2016 at 2:22 am

Oh wow, as a little kid I saw that game and always wondered what the story was. Thanks for the memories!

Steve Mayer


admin June 21, 2016 at 8:18 am

I can’t believe that there is somebody else in the world who saw that game and remembers it!

Re-reading the post, I think I was a little bit too negative about the Swarthmore Variation. It’s true that I never had any success with it aside from this game, because my opponents didn’t try to hold onto the pawn. However, I was a class A player back then and I think I could play the White side a little bit better now.


George Jempty July 2, 2016 at 4:22 am

I have a somewhat different perspective about IM Delaune. I beat him in a simul in Charlottesville, VA in 1986 and below I’m posting as much of the game score as I remember. Neither of us played especially well in a Budapest I played against him, but I eventually reached a won ending with K+B+P vs K+3P. I guess he didn’t want to go down with a loss in the simul (I seem to recall ours was the final game) and he offered me a draw which I declined — despite being a mere B-player I knew I had the position and technique necessary to win.

About 11 years later I posted the same game score as below in a usenet newsgroup and notated it as “(IM R. Delaune-G. Jempty, Virginia, 1986; 0-1)”. What happens next is a little hazy and I can’t find it through a quick google/usenet search, but I was contacted by someone, I don’t think IM Delaune himself, but mentioning that he would never have lost to somebody with such a low rating as me, so I posted this retraction on usenet:

“In December I posted to this newsgroup various games of mine with the Black
side of the Budapest. I would like to point out that my win over IM Richard
Delaune was in a SIMUL; I apologize for omitting this information”

Apparently this sufficed because I never heard back. But sometimes opponents 500 points or more lower can have a real shot. Below my score against IM Delaune I post a score of mine from over 20 years later, where I could have beaten a senior master had I only played g3 at some point.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e5 3. dxe5 Ng4 4. Bf4 Nc6 5. Nf3 Bb4+ 6. Nbd2 Qe7 7. a3 Ngxe5 8. Nxe5 Nxe5 9. e3 Bxd2+ 10. Qxd2 d6 11. Be2 Bd7 12. 0-0 Bc6 13. Rfd1 Rd8 14. Qc3 f6 15.Rac1 0-0 16. b4 b6 17. c5 dxc5! 18. bxc5 b5! 19. Qa5 Rb8 20. Rd4 Rfc8 21.
Rcd1? Be8? 22. Qd2? Nc6? 23. Rd5 b4 24. Bg4 Rd8 25. axb4 h5 26. Bf3 g5
27. Bxg5 fxg5 28. b5 Rxb5 29. Rxd8 Nxd8 30. Qxd8 Qxd8 31. Rxd8 Rb1+ 32.
Rd1 Rxd1 33. Bxd1 (IM R. Delaune-G. Jempty, Simul, Charlottesville, VA, 1986; 0-1) 33…a5

[Date “2012.04.07”]
[White “Jempty, George”]
[Black “Ritter, Mark”]
[Result “0-1”]
[ECO “C60”]
[WhiteElo “1711”]
[BlackElo “2275”]
[Site “Orlando, FL”]
[Round “6”]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 g6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.b3 c5 6.Bb2 f6 7.O-O Ne7 8.Qe2 Nc6 9.c3 Be7 10.h3 O-O 11.Rd1 Qe8 12.d4 Qf7 13.d5 Nd8 14.Nbd2 b6 15.c4 Bd6 16.Rf1 Qe7 17.Ne1 Nf7 18.Nd3 Bd7 19.f3 f5?! 20.Nf2 f4 21.Nd3 Rae8 22.Rf2 h5 23.Kf1 Nh6 24.Ke1 g5 25.Kd1 g4 26.hxg4 hxg4 27.Kc2 { Using Fritz6 it seems that for the next eight moves through move 35 White’s best idea is to open up lines against Black’s kingside with g3.} 27…Rf7 28.Rg1 Rg7 29.Rff1 Rf8 30.Rh1 Rf6 31.Rfg1 Nf7 32.Qe1 c6 33.dxc6 Bxc6 34.Qa1 Rg5 35.a4 Nd8 36.Bc3 Ne6 37.Bb2 {Stopped keeping score here due to clock going below 5 minutes} 0-1


admin July 2, 2016 at 8:49 am

Hi George, Welcome to the blog! No one will flame you here (I hope). I think that not mentioning it was a simul was a minor “crime” and you were probably “punished” more than enough for it. I’ll take a look at your games and see if there is anything else I want to say about them. Thanks!


George Jempty July 2, 2016 at 6:14 pm

Thanks Dana any comments you can add at your convenience are welcome


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