My Trophy Case

by admin on February 10, 2011

OK, let me admit right up front that this may seem like the most egotistical blog post in history. But today it hit me, as I was cleaning the dust off my trophies for the first time in a year:

“Why not do a blog post about each of my trophies?”

The intent is not to boast. In fact, I believe that I have a rather measly trophy collection, with a grand total of only nine awards. Any good junior player surely has more than that. The reason my collection is rather small is that I wasn’t all that great a player as a junior and didn’t play a whole lot of tournaments. And once you hit grown-up chess, the number of tournaments that even offer trophies is relatively small. Adults tend to be more interested in cash prizes than trophies.

When I was young, I could not understand that. With a cash prize, you just spend it and it’s gone. With a trophy, you have a keepsake forever. But the only thing is… what are you keeping them for? Why am I still lugging around these trophies (or letting them gather dust) 30-plus years later?

The answer is in one word: Memories. Each trophy has a story behind it, and that’s really the important thing. So in this entry I want to tell the stories.

The corollary is that it’s really not wrong for me to show my trophies on the blog. It would be kind of sad if nobody ever laid eyes on them except me. Then I’ll die and they will go into a landfill somewhere. What good is that?

The First Trophy

Inscription: 1973 Mid-West Jr. Chess Championship 1st Under 16

The Memory: At the time I was a 14-year-old class-D player, rated 1226. In the last round I beat Roger Blaine, a lifetime veteran of the Indiana and Ohio chess scenes, whose rating at the time was 1707. To this day, that 481-point upset is my biggest ever, and it probably always will be. After the game Roger asked me why my rating was so low, and when I started to explain to him, he said, “Not so loud! I don’t want anyone to know I lost to a 1226!”

Also, I wrote in my diary that I went to Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream by myself for the first time and bought a chocolate mint milkshake. “Best shake I’ve ever had,” I wrote. It cost fifty cents. Times have changed, huh?

The Tallest Trophy

Inscription: 1974 Indiana Amateur Chess Tournament 1st Class C

The Memory: You’d think my biggest trophy would be for an extra-special tournament. But in fact, I barely even remember it. “[The trophy] is ridiculously big, about a foot and a half tall, and I really feel a little guilty about getting such a trophy as a mere class prize,” I wrote in my diary. I finished in a five-way tie for first in the section, and won the trophy on tiebreak. I also won a cash prize of $36, which I never got to spend because I lost my wallet in a hotel room four days later. I was pretty upset about that — in fact, it is probably what I remember most vividly about this tournament!

The Most Unique Trophy

Inscription: Pennsylvania Championship 1976 Amateur Class B

The Memory:  No question, this is the coolest trophy I ever won — a miniature replica of the Liberty Bell. The replica is so detailed that you can even read the name of the foundry that cast the real Liberty Bell: Pass & Stow. It has a very high-pitched ring. I kept it in my dorm room in college, and every time I would pack up the car to go home for the summer I would hear it ringing for the first time in months, and that became for me sort of a symbol of the end of the school year.

Not only that, the tournament was one of my best ever. I was now a college student. My rating at the time was 1669, and I entered the Amateur (under-2000) section. After a disappointing draw in round 1 and loss in round 2, I surprised myself by winning five games in a row, four of them against higher-rated players. My score of 5½-1½ actually put me in a four-way tie for first. I didn’t get the first place trophy, but I did win clear first in the B class, so I went home with this baby trophy.

After this tournament, my rating went up to 1838 and stayed there — I never had a published rating in the 1700s! (Seems kind of like skipping a grade in school. I also skipped the 1300s, by the way.)

The First State Championship

Inscription: The Charlotte Observer 1985 North Carolina Chess Championship 2nd Place

The Memory: Now we leap ahead nine years to another state championship. This was an even more unexpected victory to me than the previous one. I was now an expert in a state with at least a dozen National Masters, so I had no inkling of being able to win the state title. Heck, I couldn’t even win the championship of Duke University, because we had two NM’s!

But this was the first time the tournament had been held in Charlotte, and a lot of the strongest players didn’t come. Then, I got lucky and I got hot. I lost in the second round to Rusty Potter, a Virginia master, but won my other five games to finish at 5-1. The best game, and my only win over a master, was against Neal Harris. Meanwhile, Potter knocked out all of the other masters, one by one, and finished in clear first with 5½ points.

Now comes the tricky part: This was supposed to be a closed championship, North Carolina players only. I don’t know how Potter talked his way in, but Leland Fuerstman, the organizer of the tournament, determined that he was not eligible for the state title. So as the clear second-place finisher, I earned the title of North Carolina champion! However, I refused to take home the first-place trophy, which Leland also wanted to award to me. As far as I know, it never got awarded. I am very proud of the only second-place trophy in my collection.

The Second State Championship

Inscription: 1987 Open Section Champion Charlotte Observer N. C. Chess Championship

The Memory: I always felt that my first state championship was just a little bit tainted because of the way it happened, with the Rusty Potter controversy. So two years later, I was thrilled to win the title again, and this time it didn’t feel tainted at all.

Leland ran the tournament as an open tournament, having failed in his attempt to keep outsiders out. So it was a very strong tournament, with people like GM Boris Kogan and several other strong masters. I repeated my formula from two years earlier: I lost to an out-of-state master (South Carolinian Tom Friedel) in round two, but outplayed all the North Carolina players I faced. The key games were an endgame win in round 5 against NM Rich Jackson and a draw “from a position of strength” in the round 6 against NM Randy Kolvick. (I had been winning earlier in the game but started to lose the thread, and Kolvick’s draw offer came at a good psychological moment.)

I fully expected Kolvick to win the state title on tiebreaks, because we both had 4½ points but I figured he had played a tougher schedule. Nevertheless, I squeaked by with a quarter point more than him on the second tiebreak. I’m not quite sure how! But anyway, this time, I was delighted to accept the first-place trophy. (However, I still didn’t win the tournament, which was probably won by Kogan.)

One weird thing about this tournament was that both of my first two games were time forfeits! In round one my opponent ran out of time on move 34 of a 50-move time control. In round two, against Friedel, I was still under the impression that the time control was 40 moves, so I overstepped on move 41! However, I was completely lost on the board, so it didn’t bother me too much. In fact, I remember thinking at the time: “Two years ago I lost in round two and still won, so I could do the same thing again.”

The Most Beautiful Trophy

Inscription: Sands Regency Reno — Far West Open Chess Tournament March 2005 Expert Section 1st Place

The Memory: Now we leap forward eighteen years! I have had some pretty good tournaments in Reno, and this was the first one where I broke through and won a top prize. This one was amazingly easy: I finished with 5½ points out of 6 and was ahead of the pack by a full point. Not only that, the games got easier from round to round. My first game was the hardest; I blundered a piece but managed to win. Then came a 28-move win, a 17-move win, a 37-move win where I won a piece in the opening, a draw, and finally a 13-move win! The last game was over so fast that spectators assumed we must have agreed to a quick draw — but no, my opponent blundered a piece and resigned.

The nice thing about all these short, easy games was that I never had to worry about time trouble, which is my Achilles’ heel so often.

But my most vivid memory of this tournament was the prize ceremony. Not because of the prize I won, but because of the first-place winner in the section below me (Class A). Some little kid by the name of Daniel Naroditsky. Seeing all four feet six of him (or maybe not even that much), I realized I would not be rated above him for too much longer.

Also I remember that when I got home and showed my trophy to the kids at the Aptos Library Chess Club, one of them said, “I thought you told us that you won a big trophy!” Touché!

One For the Team

Inscriptions: Trophy — East Bay Chess League 1st Place Team June 10, 2006
Medal — East Bay Chess League 2nd Place Board Two

The Memory: In 2005, around the time that the U.S. Chess League was getting started, some people had the idea of organizing a chess league in the San Francisco Bay area for people who might not ever get a chance to play in the “big leagues.” I didn’t even know about the first season, but I found out about the league before season two and organized a team called Eight is Enough, consisting mostly of people from Santa Cruz. We picked that name because we had eight players on the roster, although only seven ever played. The eighth player got arrested and I never saw him again! Tough town, Santa Cruz!

We finished second in the regular season behind a team called Mike’s Maters, headed by NM Michael Pearson. But in an exciting playoff match we beat them by 2½-1½. We led 2-1 but needed a draw in the last game, because they had draw odds. Robin Cunningham had a rook endgame that was on the knife edge between drawn and lost, but he came up with a “bolt from the blue” — a rook sac that, if accepted, would allow him to queen one of his pawns. If Pearson declined the sac, then it would be just a dead draw, which was as good as a win for us. Even if it was just for the championship of a dinky six-team chess league, I’d have to say it was one of the most exciting moments I’ve had in chess.

As for the individual medal, I didn’t do much to deserve it. Two wins and a draw in three games, all against lower-rated players. It was the team prize that mattered.

By the way, first prize also included a free entry into season three of the East Bay Chess League. Unfortunately, season three never happened. I’m still waiting!

Half a Trophy

Inscription: 3rd Annual Santa Cruz Cup 1st Place 2007

The Memory: Only half of this trophy belongs to me. The other half belongs to Juande Perea. He can claim it any time he wants!

The Santa Cruz Cups were annual tournaments organized by Eric Fingal. The zero-th cup was won by Ilan Benjamin, and I won the first and second. There were no physical trophies in any of those years. But in the third year, Yves Tan directed the tournament and he thought it would be appropriate to have a small prize for the winner.

The tournament ran in what you could call a World Cup soccer format, with two 4-man qualifying sections, followed by semifinal matches, followed by a championship match. In a story I know I’ve told on this blog before, Juande and I reached the final and then played a match for the ages. We split two full-length games, 1-1; then split two 25-minute games, 1-1; then split two 10-minute games, 1-1; and finally split two 5-minute games, 1-1. Each of the last six games was won by Black.

At this point Eric’s plan called for a single Armageddon playoff game. But it was late, our nerves were totally frazzled, and besides, we felt the winner would be decided by a coin toss — whoever played Black would be likely to win. Instead we agreed to be co-champions. However, to determine who got the trophy, we did toss a coin. (The Solomonic solution, involving a sword, was not available to us.) I won the coin toss.

Juande got his revenge in 2008. In the fourth Santa Cruz Cup we had a championship quad, instead of the knockout playoff format, and he won the quad by a landslide. That was the last Santa Cruz Cup, as the organizational difficulties started to become really annoying.

The Most Recent Prize

Inscription: Sands Regency Reno — Far West Open Chess 2009 Expert 1st Place April 10-12, 2009

The Memory: I have shown this plaque and written about the tournament in my blog before. The best part about this tournament was that Jesse Kraai, David Pruess and I all went to it together, and we all won prizes. I played in the Open section but there was an Expert prize, which I tied for with a score of 3½-2½ and won on tiebreaks. My best game was a lucky win against IM Vladimir Mezentsev, only the fourth IM I have ever beaten. Another highlight was getting schooled by Jesse in a French Defense, which he then lectured about for ChessLecture. That was the end of my brief fling with the Exchange Variation.

Even though the prize was a plaque this time, not a trophy, I have to say that the Reno tournaments have really attractive prizes. I’m not sure whether the credit goes to the organizer, Jerry Weikel, or to the venue, the Sands Regency Hotel Casino. Anyway, they look really nice in a trophy case!

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

henry February 14, 2011 at 4:52 am

Thank you for sharing. I think you posted that on the 2009 road trip Kraii got sick but my brain cells aren’t what they used to be.


admin February 17, 2011 at 10:33 am

Actually, it was the following year, 2010, that Pruess and Kraai were involved in a multi-car accident coming back from Reno and Jesse broke a rib. I was too busy to play in that year’s tournament. “There but for the grace of God go I.”


dudoublebs July 24, 2012 at 9:56 am

Are you selling any of these?


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