Remembering past rivals

by admin on December 23, 2010

As I mentioned in my last post, the US Chess Federation now makes it possible to get oodles of statistics about your personal tournament history. My favorite item is a list of the 30 people you have played the most rated games with — your greatest rivals.

Unfortunately, the records start in 1991, which I guess is when the USCF fully computerized their rating system. Thus their statistics completely miss the 1980s, which was my busiest decade as a chess player and when I had some of my best rivalries!

But I have a database of my own: a complete collection of all my game scores from 1985 to 1989, plus incomplete records from 1984 (the year I started keeping all my games) and 1990 (the year after I got married, when my record-keeping went all to hell, for understandable reasons). I don’t have any information for the years before 1984, but I do not think the list below would change at all if I did. From 1980 to 1982 I was inactive, and before that I played only about 20 tournament games a year, considerably less than the 40-60 games per year I played in the 1980s.

So, combining the USCF database with my own, here are my greatest chess rivals:

1. Bernie Schmidt — 12 games (+3 -6 = 3). Peak rating: 2170.

Okay, let me tell you about Bernie, my greatest chess rival and a great friend too. He was a teacher at St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, North Carolina. He wrote and self-published a book on teaching chess in the schools, which you used to be able to buy through the USCF. Not only was he my greatest rival, he was everybody’s greatest rival in the Triangle area. He had more fighting spirit than anyone else. Sadly, for reasons I do not understand, he never quite made it to a master rating. He passed away in 2003 or 2004, far too young. Even if he never reached the chess player’s Valhalla of a master title, any time you played Bernie you knew you were in for a hard game, whether you were a master or a beginner.

2. Michael Aigner — 11 games (+2 -8 = 1). Peak rating: 2340.

I’ve already discussed Michael in previous posts, of course. I hope his health will allow him to return to tournament chess soon, so that he can move into the top spot on my list of greatest rivals.

3. Ilan Benjamin — 11 games (+3 -3 = 5). Peak rating: 2072.

For Ilan (and also Juande Perea — see below) I’m including our games in Santa Cruz Cups 1-3, which were played under tournament conditions even though they were not rated and therefore aren’t counted in the USCF statistics. Ilan is a chemistry professor at UC Santa Cruz. He played a lot of chess as a youngster, then quit for 30 years or so but then came back to chess in his late 40s. It seems, however, that he has lost interest again, because he has not played since the last Santa Cruz Cup in 2008.

4. Robin Cunningham — 9 games (+2 -4 =3). Peak rating: 2448.

Robin is my oldest continuous chess friend. We first played each other in 1983, when I was new in North Carolina and he was still a high school student. We kept in touch even after I moved to Ohio in 1989. Now we both live in California, although we are a couple hours’ drive apart, so we only see each other occasionally. Robin succumbed to the lure of poker for a while, but he has drifted back towards chess in the last few years. He played first board on the team I captained in the short-lived Bay Area Chess League in 2006, and he clinched our league victory with an amazing draw save in the playoff match. He is a great team player, having also played on two winning teams in the U.S. Amateur Team championships.

5. Greg Samsa — 9 games (+0 -5 =4). Peak rating: 2346.

Greg was basically the uncrowned king of chess in the Triangle (Durham-Chapel Hill-Raleigh) during the period when I lived there. I think that his talent considerably exceeded his rating. I never came anywhere close to beating him in a tournament game (although I did manage to win a couple of training games from him). His chess career was handicapped by his job, his wife who did not want him to travel to tournaments, and possibly by a too casual, Capablanca-esque approach. He once told me something I’ll never forget, when I asked him why he never got into time trouble: “There’s just not that much to think about in chess.” For some reason, Greg and Bernie really got on each other’s nerves. Greg just couldn’t appreciate Bernie’s passionate idealism, and Bernie couldn’t get Greg’s cool, cynical sarcasm (which was often directed at him).

6. Juan Diego Perea — 8 games (+3 -2 =3). Peak rating: 2179.

Juande is the first person on this list whom I actually have a winning record against! He is originally from Spain and came to Santa Cruz for job reasons about five years ago. Because his FIDE rating is 2178, his U.S. rating should probably be over 2200, but he just hasn’t had very good luck. He played on our Bay Area Chess League team in 2006, and lost an unbelievable game against Sam Shankland where Sam seemed to be losing, but came up with a queen sacrifice out of nowhere that completely turned the tables. My other most vivid memory of Juande is the playoff we had for first place in the fourth Santa Cruz Cup, where we first split two 25-minute games, then split two 10-minute games, and finally split two 5-minute games before agreeing to be co-champions.

7. Arne Sjogren — 7 games (+5 -1 =1). Peak rating — Who knows??

Arne was another international player, a graduate student at Duke when I was there. Because he left America before the Computer Era began at USCF, there is no record of him in the database. He also has no FIDE rating, so I assume he quit tournament chess. Most of our games came during a 6-game rated match we played in 1985. I won 4½-1½ in spite of having lost positions in three of my victories, and in spite of being in constant ferocious time trouble. Every time I got in time trouble, Arne would start making mistakes! It was crazy, and incredibly frustrating for him. I think it was no coincidence that I won the North Carolina championship later that year. Some of my best tournament results have come after I played difficult training matches against one player.

I think I’ll stop here, but there are two other names I should mention because most of the rivalries mentioned above would not have existed without them. They are the tournament directors, Robert Singletary and Eric Fingal.

Robert was the reason I played so many games against people like Bernie and Robin and Greg in North Carolina. He ran a monthly series of quads at NC State called Phi Kappa Blanca, which ran more or less continuously from 1983 to 2002. (Curiously, there have been two Phi Kappa Blanca tournaments in Illinois this year. I wonder if the organizer knows about the long history of that “brand name” in North Carolina?) Robert also organized a similar series of quads at the University of North Carolina called Rams (after the UNC mascot).

Eric was the person who organized the five Santa Cruz Cups from 2003 to 2008. They were all either pure or modified round robins, and likewise they ensured that you would meet the same players over and over, who had more or less the same strength as you. That’s the stuff that great rivalries are made of!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Chessperado December 30, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Wait for my comeback. We will settle the score.


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