Early Fathers’ Day post

by admin on April 12, 2011

Two interesting threads are going on simultaneously at chess.com and at Dennis Monokroussos’ blog, The Chess Mind, dealing with the same topic: Have there been any famous parent/child chess playing pairs? Here is a link to the chess.com discussion (which unfortunately wanders off into various flame wars having to do with biological vs. adopted parents and Bobby Fischer’s ancestry). Here is a link to Dennis’ post, where the comments stay more civil and on topic.

These are some of the examples that have been mentioned (parents listed first):

  • NM Erik and FM Andrew Karklins (U.S.)
  • GM Larry and IM Ray Kaufman (U.S.)
  • FM Sunil Weeramantry and GM Hikaru Nakamura (adopted) (U.S.)
  • GM Thomas and IM Elisabeth Paehtz (Germany)
  • Henrik Carlsen and GM Magnus Carlsen (Norway) (I remember there was a fair amount of publicity when the two met in a tournament game a few years ago.)
  • GM Evgeny Sveshnikov and FM Vladimir Sveshnikov (Russia) (This is Dennis’s first example; the two recently played in a tournament.)
  • IM Walter Shipman and NM Joe Shipman (U.S.) (The latter is mostly a correspondence player.)
  • Parents IM Ovidiu Foisor/IM Cristina Foisor and daughters WGM Sabina Foisor/WFM Mihaela Foisor (Rumania) (This has to be the champion chess-playing family!)
  • FM Michael Shahade, IM Gregory Shahade, and WGM Jennifer Shahade (U.S.) (No question that the Shahades are the #1 chess family in the United States.)
  • IM Sergiu Grunberg and IM Mihai Grunberg (Rumania)
  • Gianluca Primavera and Roberto Primavera (Italy) (Neither titled but both supposedly strong national players.)
  • A historical example: GM Milan Vidmar, Sr. and IM Milan Vidmar, Jr. (Slovenia) (both deceased).

The thing that surprises me the most is that there doesn’t seem to be a single example where both the parent and the child is or was a grandmaster. The closest are the Paehtzes, who have a grandmaster and a women’s grandmaster title. Why is this? Chess talent doesn’t run in families? Children of grandmasters see what a rotten life it is and don’t want to do it? Or grandmaster parents realize it’s a poor career and encourage their kids to do something different?

Actually, what I think it shows is that it’s damn hard to become a grandmaster, no matter how much talent you have and no matter how perfect the circumstances you were raised under.

Dennis’ post also mentions the role of his own father, who “coincidentally” lost interest in chess when Dennis started beating him regularly. He adds: “… now with a little sense in my head I realize that he wasn’t really interested in the first place, but played for my benefit. Once there was nothing left he could give me by playing, there was no reason to continue with chess (as opposed to other games where a challenge remained).”

I had a pretty similar experience with my own father. I still remember how thrilled I was when I beat him for the first time — I was 9 years old, I believe. For a long time I kept a record of the final positions of all the games I won against him (this was before I started keeping score of games). Up until 1971, when I was 12 years old, he still beat me more often than I beat him. But then I started playing in tournaments and in my high-school chess club, and at that point I started beating him regularly.

The last time my father played seriously was in the summer of 1974, when I was 15 years old. At that point I was in class C (1400-1599) but improving rapidly. I think he also had a rating in the low 1400s. That summer I beat him eight times in a row, and of course my diary gives full details of every game. Over Labor Day weekend we played in a rated tournament together, the Indiana Amateur. I had a great tournament, winning the Class C prize on tiebreak over four other people (see this post for a picture of the trophy). I didn’t play against my father, but he did play two of the four people whom I tied with, drawing one and losing to the other.

After that I don’t think my father ever played a rated tournament again. It just didn’t agree with him; he found it too stressful. Plus, I think he was way too busy with his career to spend time on chess. (He is a geneticist who is widely known for his methodology for twin studies, and he got his Ph.D. working for future Nobel Prize winner Oliver Smithies. My sister and I used to play in Smithies’ lab when we were very little.) Probably, like Dennis Monokroussos’ father, my father also saw that I didn’t really need him any more for my own advancement in chess. I believe we played only one or two games, at most, after 1974.

Still, he retains at least a passing interest in chess. When I won my queen sacrifice game against David Pruess in 2006, I sent the moves to him, and he wrote back that he had enjoyed the game but he was afraid the whole time that my attack wasn’t going to work! (In spite of the fact that he could see “1-0” at the bottom of the scoresheet!).

I suspect that behind at least 80 percent of good chessplayers (at least the ones who start young) there is a parent, usually a father, who plays chess.

I still have an old, old scorebook that has some of my games with my father from 1971-74. Most of them are extremely embarrassing, two class-D level players stumbling around and falling into every possible tactical trap. However, one game from the summer of 1974 has some good moments mixed in with the appallingly bad ones, and perhaps I will show it in a future post (on Father’s Day?).

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