CALIFORNIA CHESS JOURNAL (Vol. 1 No. 14) November 1987


By Guthrie McClain
(Editor, The California Chess Reporter, 1951 - 1976)

Henry Gross, 1908 - 1987

   When I first met Henry Gross in 1929 he was a Senior and I was a Freshman, The University of California Chess Club had appointed Henry to the position of Frosh Coach - a job which stood for something in those days, for the freshmen fielded a seven-man team which played a schedule of team matches against high schools and clubs which ended with the annual match verses Stanford, Henry had been runner-up in the first place with A.J. Fink - causing a one-game playoff for the title, which Fink won. So Gross was a noteworthy figure in the chess world already at the age of twenty, and we freshmen felt honored to have him as a coach.

   Henry Gross was a product of the San Francisco chess scene, where the Mechanics' Institute provided chess rooms and a library for the education and advancement of persons who might be described loosely as "mechanics" (when the Institute began in 1854 the word "mechanic" had a more general meaning); and also where a well-organized league of high school chess clubs provided practical experience. He went to Poly High, and between Poly and the Mechanics Institute he took to the U.C. Chess Club a love for chess. At Cal he met such stalwarts as Bob Carmany, Fred Christensen, and Bill Barlow - plus faculty chessplayers such as G.E.K. Branch and A.W. Ryder.

   After Boalt Hall of Law and passing the Bar examination, Henry got married and started a family. For a period of some ten years, he gave up chess entirely. He agreed to disagree with his wife, who had custody of their son, Peter Gross... And then he met Ida Boyle! Ida was a bridge player, and had no objections at all to the smoke-filled rooms in which chessplayers met; in fact, some chess clubs met in rooms occupied by bridge clubs, and she was a bridge expert. When WWII finally came to an end, Henry took up chess once more, not so much at the Mechanics' as at the Castle Chess Club in Oakland and Berkeley. He then was instrumental in forming the Golden Gate Chess Club. It was this club which made San Francisco chess history by sending a team to Europe in 1953. The team consisted of International Master George Koltanowski, Henry Gross, Guthrie McClain and Dr. Ken Colby. We added Arthur Bisquier in Europe as an honorary member.

   The trip was an idea of Kolty's. He was associated with Barton's Bridge Club, where the Golden Gate Chess Club met (in fact, he rented the room, as I understand it, for Chess Club lessons and tournaments on days other than the regular Friday night meetings). Anyhow, whether I've got it right or not, he asked around about a chess tour and was able to field a team of four rather than our customary seven - which, together with wives, made a good party.

   The two Grosses, Henry and Ida, and the two McClains, Guthrie and Ted, enjoyed the trip thoroughly. (I can't speak for Ken and Vonnie Colby - and to Kolty, I suppose it was scarcely new). We visited fourteen countries in six weeks and played eleven matches, winning five and losing six. Bisguier played in six matches and Kolty played in nine. Gross scored 4.5-7.5 (so did McClain and Colby); Bisguier had 3-3, and Kolty had the only plus score, 7-5.

   A funny thing happened at Strasbourg. Henry won his game from Charles Anglesi in what Kolty called "The Comedy of Errors" in his Chronicle Column. ... both players [were] in time trouble... and [had] missed winning moves ... [Charles, as White, missed a mate in 2 and resigned instead].

   The Strasbourg match was played on April 1st, after which we traveled about Europe. Because Strasbourg is a rail center, we found ourselves in the Strasbourg railway station late one night a few days later, waiting for a train to somewhere. Two or three men were drinking beer at a nearby table and said, belligerently, to Henry: "I know you! You won a chess game last week at the Maison Rouge Hotel. You should have lost that game!" "I know that; Mr. Anglesi had a checkmate but he didn't see the move." Gross laughed heartily as he replied. He had an infectious laugh, almost a giggle, and his eyes crinkled up. The man saw the humor of it and began to laugh also. When he relayed the story to his friends, they joined in and merriment prevailed until their train came in.

   This story tells you a great deal about Henry Gross. A great competitor, he played "hard" no matter what the game or what the stakes. But he had a sense of humor which never allowed him to take himself too seriously nor to take credit for something he had not earned. He was a lawyer, and a good one - but he never tried to get rich off his clients. He was friend and counselor to so many persons that even I, a "best friend," can't begin to name them all.

   Henry Gross was an active supporter of chess organizations in California at a time when help was needed. He held the State Championship more than once and he was one of the California State Chess Federation's first presidents; he was an officer of the S.F. Bay Area Chess League many times and a regular team player; he was an officer of the Castle Chess Club and Club Champion more than a dozen times; he was supporter of the North - South Team Match and a team member from the days of the telegraphic matches in the 1920s until the last match in 1970; and he wrote a check for a thousand dollars to finance the U.S. Open in San Francisco 1961. ###

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