California Chess Journal Vol. 5, No. 2, April/May 1991

Guthrie "Mac" McClain

by Bob Burger

Here was that legendary man, a gentleman and a scholar - though he is remembered by chessplayers as the guiding influence in California chess for the past forty years.

Yes, he co-founded and edited the California Chess Reporter from 1951-1976, putting out ten issues a year for 25 years. Having been his nominal co-editor for much of that time, I can tell you he did the lion's share.

Mac gave up competitive chess, in fact, to have the time to direct the California Open, organize the North-South match, bring national events to San Francisco, and print all the results in the Reporter. (Mac would be the first to acknowledge the pioneering work of Dr. H. J. Ralston in getting the Reporter going, but it soon became Mac's infatuation. He inveigled me into buying an old Chandler & Price press with him in order to print the handset diagrams cleanly in his office; we broke the front glass doors moving the 800-lb. monster into his lobby. But, by God, we had the nicest-looking diagrams then or now, computers notwithstanding.)

Mac was a strong player - and understatement - right up to the end. He died at the board, enjoying a glass of wine at, as the obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle reported, "the home of a friend in Berkeley." His friends gathered a few days later at one of his favorite joints, the Washington Square Bar & Grill, to celebrate the life that touched them. There the bond analysts, the bridge players, the golfers, the co-workers at California Municipal Statistics, his company, assembled with chessplayers and waiters and barmen and distant cousins to tell stories about Mac.

We heard about his early days in San Francisco, after his mother and father, surviving the earthquake, stuck it out for ten years before moving to Oakland. In his last year at UC Berkeley, Mac went to the Mechanics' Institute in San Francisco one evening to see the world champion, Alexander Alekhine, give a simul. He couldn't afford the $2 board fee, but watched the hard-rocks at the Institute deal Alekhine eleven losses. It was 1932, between the champion's triumphs at San Remo and Pasadena.

Mac and his long-time friend Henry Gross took up every game from Go to Bridge - both becoming Life Masters in the early 1940s. After the war, in which Mac put in 12-hour days at the San Francisco shipyards, he started playing chess in earnest. The Bay Area Chess League was in full flower - with teams from UC Berkeley, Stanford, Mechanics', Golden Gate, Oakland, and the Russian Club. The North-South match - a story in itself - was the annual rallying point for clubs throughout the state. In those days a match was held three weeks before the N-S to "qualify" players from the East Bay and San Francisco. They were the Super Bowls of their day, and Mac saw that they had to be welded into a state organization.

The sort of chess is now gone, for better or worse. Now there are weekend tournaments, for more money. Team matches are a thing of the past. The Castle Chess Club, founded in 1929 and existing on some of its original members for the past twenty years, formally disbanded this year. Mac did not cling to an outmoded past; he threw his support to new state organizations and to the betterment of the game wherever it appeared.

Bobby Fischer's mother called Mac in 1957 to ask someone to watch over the 14-year-old at the U.S. Junior in San Francisco. Mac renewed that responsibility at the exhibition Bobby gave in San Francisco in 1963. Other young players of the day - Larry Remlinger, Gil Ramirez, Larry Christiansen - owe something, whether they know it or not, to Mac's quiet, behind-the-scenes work. Mac and Henry Gross brought the U.S. Open to San Francisco in 1961 almost single-handed. Past his 75th year, when most men are happy to make it to the lunch table, Mac was actively working to promote the PanPacific Grandmaster Tournaments - in 1987 and 1991. The latter is dedicated to his memory.

Mac was a one-man welcoming committee for newcomers to the City: Irving Chernev, Walter Korn, and the many grandmasters who came to Lone Pine and were lured to San Francisco for and exhibition afterward. Gligoric, Larsen, Smyslov, Kushnir, Petrosian, Szabo, and Korchnoi were some who found their ways to Mac's "open house" in Lone Pine, and joined him (and /or me) in a ride to the City. Those days are also gone.

But what will not go are the memories and the trail. This man was a musician and a genial host, with whom one could talk for hours on one's own subject. He claimed no territorial rights when his dearly-loved state federation gave way to better organizations. he encouraged chess leaders from George Koltanowski - a special friend - to Jude Acers, a special talent.

May his life teach us the ways of generosity, hard work, and friendship.

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