Best American Player of My Generation

by admin on December 26, 2021

Here is your trivia question for today: Who is the first chess player to simultaneously be #1 on both the USCF’s list of top players 50 and older and the list of top players over 65?

Need a little hint? Okay, here it is.

Best chessplayer of his generation… and the next generation, too.

Although Larry Christiansen has had an incredible career, I think that he may still be a little bit underappreciated. He has been #1 on the 50-and-older list almost continuously since its inception in June 2014. This year, when he finally reached age 65, he of course moved into the top spot on that list, as well. As I said in the caption, this makes him the champion not only of his own generation, but also the next generation, too. Pretty impressive!

But actually, he has a pursuer who might well become the second player to top both lists. Gregory Kaidanov, who is now 62 years old, will soon reach the age of 65. They have had a pretty amazing battle rating-wise over the years, with Christiansen usually leading Kaidanov but not by much. This year, Kaidanov closed the difference between them to 1 rating point! In the December rating list, Christiansen was rated 2649 and Kaidanov was 2648. (This was before the 2021 U.S. Masters was rated and Kaidanov fell back to 2636.) I’m sure that they will continue to be neck and neck three years from now, which may set up an interesting battle for supremacy in both age groups in 2024.

I took the photo of Christiansen above at the 2009 U.S. Senior Open, which of course Larry won. I wish I could tell you some good stories about him or even show you my favorite game of his, but I have only played through a handful of his games. So I’ll have to ask you, my readers. What game do you consider to be the “Christiansen immortal”? Or are there too many to pick just one?

By the way, looking at the top-100 lists gave me a new incentive to get back in the arena. Over the last year I’ve started to think about my chess career in the past tense. When I did my retrospective series on my 50 years in chess, I had intended to finish with a game from my first tournament back from the pandemic.

Alas, that didn’t happen. I was all set to play in a tournament in October, but I started having some annoying health issues — insomnia and vertigo, if you must know. The insomnia was especially troubling, because chess tournaments are absolutely a recipe for insomnia. You come back to your hotel room at midnight, and you’ve either just come back from a thrilling victory or a heartbreaking defeat. Either way, your heart is pounding and you’re replaying the game over and over in your mind, and it’s hard to get to sleep.

Fortunately I’m starting to figure out why I was having trouble with my sleep earlier this year, and (knock on wood) I might be able to manage it in the future. But I think that I might have to take half-point byes henceforth in any evening rounds. Or else look for tournaments that don’t have evening rounds, but good luck with that.

If I can play two more years without losing rating points, then I have a pretty good shot at making the top-100 list for players 65 and over. Currently, a 2100 rating will get you onto the top 100 list, and a rating above 2200 will get you into the top 50. There’s a 29-way tie for 48th place, with 29 “floored masters” rated exactly 2200. They are a virtual who’s who of American chess: names like John Curdo (at age 90, he’s the oldest), Ed Formanek, Viktors Pupols, Andrew Karklins, Brian Wall, Joel Johnson. Many of them were rated 200 or 300 points higher in their prime. It would be an incredible honor to see my name in their company.

But first I’ve got to get back into action! This past year has made me more respectful of every single person on the 65-and-older list, because the older you get, the harder it becomes just to show up and play.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry L. Smith December 27, 2021 at 10:06 am

I do have a strong Christiansen memory, if I may be allowed to share it here.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Piatagorsky Foundation sponsored California Junior tournaments in Santa Monica. Not only was there no entrance fee, and drinks and food were available for the players, but they also paid for a hotel for out of town visitors. I participated in three of these events, getting to play against players such as Danny Krystall, David Berry, a young Vincent McCambridge (a crazy game), a newly-minted master named Jeremy Silman, and the future US Women’s Champion Diane Savereide.

In one of these years, the US Junior Championship was being held concurrently at the same venue. This is the year the tournament was unexpectedly won by Craig Chellstorp, ahead of Christiansen and others (possibly Stoutenborough, Commons, et al).

Anyway, us lesser-lights were playing in the school auditorium, while the big boys were in a smaller room. During one of the rounds, there was some yelling and noises coming from outside in the courtyard. I left my game to see Christiansen and Chellstorp in the middle of a fist fight! Why this happened, or what transpired afterwards, I never found out, or don’t remember.

However, I can’t say I have any specific Christiansen game memories. I do remember his coming out to Thousand Oaks to play in a tournament back in the mid 1980s? I’m pretty sure he won the event.

At the time I was rated 2199, and decided this was a good chance to make some money. So, I entered the under 2200 section. I won the section with a score of 5-1, and presumably attained my master rating as as result. Great, right? Well, later on, I came to regret this decision not to be able to play against the likes of Christiansen or Danny Kopec (whom our fellow Stean Punk played). It was, I think, the only time I have played in a tournament with a view to financial gain (well, except for blitz events). But maybe I would have gotten even more valuable experience by playing against really good players, other than against those I was already better than.

Re: Top 100 over 65. Good luck on your quest! I recently played in my first OTB tournament in two years, losing about 18 rating points to drop to 2207. This dropped me from 20-something down to #37 on the over 65 list. My advice? Unless you have been practicing at faster time limits, don’t enter a Rapid event (G/45, 5d)! Play in a tournament with a slower time control to allow your superior reasoning to compensate for what may be rustiness and/or age-related slowdowns.


Richard Robinson December 27, 2021 at 11:20 am

Well, I could point you at my loss to Larry at the Western High School Chess Championship in 1971 or so. Larry was maybe a 9th grader.
A year or so later my family gave a ride to Ross Stoutenborough. Ross was a member of the Riverside triumvirate. Larry Christiansen, Ross, and Robert Newbold.
On the ride Ross said that he and Robert considered Larry to have the greatest future, the biggest talent.

Here are Ross’ games:

But Larry was one of a few people to ever become a GM without stopping at IM first.

He also tied for first at what I believe to be the strongest U.S Open ever, Pasadena 1983. He tied with Viktor Korchnoi!

Plus he had the shortest victory over Karpov.


Larry L. Smith December 28, 2021 at 1:32 pm

FYI, I composed a long and hugely entertaining comment that didn’t seem to take. I even mentioned Richard Robinson in it.

Like a Word doc you labor over but gets munged, I lack the motivation to rewrite the whole thing. It involved a fistfight I once saw. I don’t know if I did anything wrong, or if Wordpress messed up, but…

Happy New Year!



Douglas Legvold January 24, 2022 at 12:12 am

Have you tried cannabis for your insomnia? Just a puff or two would do it, especially if you don’t smoke. Just a suggestion. It works wonders for me. Just beware of midnight munchies?


Ben Nethercot April 2, 2022 at 11:50 pm

Interesting thread here: Craig Chellstorp was at Northwestern University in 1970 (the chess club president was my future roommate, George RR Martin) with me, and was one the the strongest US Junior players. We came out to the US Open in Ventura in 1971, and Craig drew Benko…with the Benko! As I recall, he won the US Junior Closed in 1972, winning his first 6 games, and giving Larry a draw in the last round. I would have heard about a fistfight. Larry won the next 3 US Juniors! Craig’s prize was a free entry and hotel room for that year’s US Open in Atlantic City, so we all went there, too. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much money in chess, and, after a few more years, Craig went on to become one of the top backgammon players in the world.

Also, I played Larry Christiansen in the West Valley Open in 1977 (organized by Betty Roberts) and was lucky to draw him in a long endgame shortly after he became a GM. But I think that tournament was in Reseda? Larry’s win in Pasadena I remember well, as I directed that mammoth event (Seirawan, Reshevsky, etc.), and Larry always played fighting chess.

And, Richard, how great was the US Junior Closed that you put together at The Happy Valley School in Ojai? With future GMs Dlugy, Wolff, Finegold and US Closed winner in 1989, Stuart Rachels! Did you go with us to Magic Mountain on a free day? We rode Colossus frontwards AND backwards!


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: