The California Chess Reporter

(Volume XXV, #5: March-April 1976)


by Jerome B. Hanken

Lone Pine, California, a small, friendly town half-way between America's lowest point at Death Valley and its highest at Mt. Whitney, hosted the sixth annual Louis B. Statham International Tournament in mid-March.

The 1976 version of this now world-renowned event was one of the highest quality and certainly the most lucrative for the participants. An unprecedented prize fund of $22,000 cash was offered by Mr. Statham and another $700 in round-by-round brilliancy prizes sweetened the pot. The tournament returned to the one-week, seven-round Swiss Format of the 1971-74 versions after an experiment with a two weeks, ten round Swiss in 1975. Last year, a great push toward a higher number of Grand Masters and Elo Ratings led to many problems (not the least of which was the grumbling caused by the deduction of expense money from ultimate prizes.) This year, the trend toward higher and higher requirements was reversed with a bottom-line 2300 USCF rating (2250 for juniors). In spite of this and the elimination of expense money entirely, the field was stronger at the top than 1975.

Fifty-eight started the tournament including eleven Grand Masters and ten International Masters. Frank Thornally dropped out with a severe case of flu after Round two and David Brummer, after losing his first five games, and losing to "BYE" in Round six, (he had a BYE, but arranged a game with a spectator... and lost!) did not play his last game.

The mysterious Dennis Waterman drifted in after two rounds, played two games (1-1) and then drifted back out claiming pressing business. Other than these, all games were played, and less than twenty-five percent were draws.

The presence of two U.S.S.R. ex-world champions added a considerable amount of excitement to the tournament. Tigran Petrosian and Vassily Smyslov are legends in the chess world and did not disappoint their fans. Petrosian picked up the clear first prize with 5.5-1.5. He played in his usual vise-like style, squeezing a position until it cried "Uncle" and taking an occasional short, judicious draw (as in his last round 7 - mover with Panno). He was rumored to be looking for sound American investments for his cool eight grand. This was the largest cash award ever given out in an American chess event of any kind. In a remarkably formful finish, Smyslov shared second through tenth money with all but three of the remaining Grand Masters and International Master, Kenneth Rogoff, one of our Inter-zonal players. The nine who made 5-2 each received $1,512 and the one non-titled player in the group, twenty-year-old Larry Christiansen of Riverside, is the overwhelming consensus candidate to become America's first new Grand Master in many years. Larry finished second on tie-breaks and played powerful chess with a plus score against four Grand Masters. His victory over Grand Master Leonid Shamkovich in Round 6 was a beautiful ending. If Larry gets just a few invitations in the next couple of years, he will surely make a second norm, and achieve the title. Smyslov drew with Christiansen in Round seven to come up to five points. He had knocked Shamkovich out of clear first at the end of Round four before young Larry was able to get to the Israeli Grand Master.

Miguel Quinteros from Argentina recovered from a defeat by Tigran in Round six and another by John Grefe in Round two to defeat Pal Benko in Round seven to make his five points.

Oscar Panno made four draws and put an end to International Master Bill Martz's remarkable 113 tournament game streak without loss in a 90 plus move Queen Ending, for his five.

Tony Miles of England, fresh from his Grand Master norm, completion at Dubna U.S.S.R. and his triumph at the National Open in Las Vegas, lost to Martz in Round four, but recovered with a win over American Grand Master Arthur Bisguier in Round five and a wild, crazy victory over Jack Peters of Massachusetts in Round seven, in which he ran his King all the way up to g5 to support a full-blown, middle game, King side attack. (I call this game "Mr. Toad's wild ride"). Thus, Miles made his five. It is of interest to mention that Tony is the first Grand Master ever produced in the British Isles.

Miguel Najdorf, one of the great players in Chess history and a dazzlingly colorful character, made his five points after a loss to John Grefe in Round five. In Round seven, the imaginative young American, Kim Commons, sacrificed a piece and for many moves, appeared to be winning. Najdorf found startling defenses time after time and during the second session, I quote from the great man himself, "I gave mate!"

Kenneth Rogoff, an extremely pleasant and self-effacing young man, with great chess talent, lost an early game to the old warrior, Arthur Dake, but handed a demoralized Martz his second consecutive defeat in Round seven, to make his five points.

Gyozo Forintos, the congenial Hungarian Grand Master, played the well-known Swiss Gambit (your humble reporter has perfected this ploy) with only one-half out of his first two. After that, he played no titled player in the tournament. In Round seven, he defeated John Watson of Denver (who seems to lose a disproportionate number of last round games) to come up to five.

I have saved the United States Champion, Walter Browne, for last because he deserves special notice. Walter is not always the most popular person with his peers or with the ordinary chess player. He is brash, confident, and comes across at times as overbearing and egotistical. A lot of the bad-mouthing one hears about him can be attributed to jealousy, as Browne has been by far the most successful tournament player in America in the last six years. He works hard at chess and during the tournament, I can only quote Najdorf who said, after winning six of nine blitz games with Walter "You were a perfect gentleman."

Walter lost an early game to Mark Diesen, a fine junior from Maryland, and faced John Grefe in Round seven with a score of 4-2 while Grefe was 4.5-1.5. A win by Grefe would place a total of $6500 at that table, and there were suggestions the night before the round of possible collusion. I refused to believe anything like that could happen, knowing both players to be men of integrity and Browne vindicated my faith by defeating Grefe in a fine game in which Walter's two knights proved more than a match for Grefe's two Bishops.

I have known Walter Browne since he was United States Junior Champion at 16 when I played him in the United States Open in Seattle. At that time, he was a somewhat wild and undisciplined youth. During this tournament, I found him to have fully matured. He is now a congenial, sensible and aware human being, who is a lot of fun to be around. He has by no means lost his color and I hope that he never does. This is part of his charm. We all wish him the best in the Inter-zonal.

The saddest group to report on is, of course, the 4.5 pointers. For one-half point more, each would get $1,512 rather than the $67 that they received. (Bisguier and Shamkovich each actually got $400; the minimum for a Grand Master, as I presume did Benko who only had four.) John Grefe was the only one to come down to this score and it must have hurt. The others, aside from the above-named Grand Masters, were Norman Weinstein, (who got a Grand Masters norm out of Lone Pine in 1975) Curt Brasket, who scored a brilliant win over International Master Anthony Saidy in Round six, and Roy Ervin, who was only able to get in on his Elo Rating as his USCF was too low. All won in Round seven to reach the 4.5 level. (Ervin received an odd special prize of $300 for perfect attendance - all six years at Lone Pine. Browne also received this unexpected windfall.)

But where were the juniors? Except for Christiansen who was no longer considered a true junior, even though he is still the United States Junior Champion, none was in the prize fund. In a way, this is unfortunate as the tournament was created a least partially in order for juniors to get a chance at the established players and this philosophy has continued right through 1976. Most of America's highest rated youngsters were here and I wouldn't be surprised if the United States Junior in Memphis this year has participants all from Lone Pine '76. They did make their presence felt. Drawling, didactic, Ron Henley from Texas blasted Grand Master Forintos in Round two and would have gotten a considerable amount of attention except for the fact that this was the round in which Diesen surprised Walter Browne. The latter victory was the early sensation of the tournament. However, both Diesen and Henley tended to fade at the end. Later, when young Mark lost to John Watson for the second time in a week, he exhibited his terrible temper by trying to kick a hole in the town hall brick wall.

The youngest participant in the tournament, 15-year-old Yasser Seirawan, was a big disappointment with only two points. Nevertheless, he won a couple of five minute games from Petrosian to the cheers of the spectators in the skittles room.

Also disappointing was 17-year-old New Jersey Junior, John "Fritz" Fedorowicz, who, after a great tournament in Las Vegas, seemed to run out of gas and lost his last three games at Lone Pine.

Sixteen year old Michael Rohde, also from New Jersey, was actually the only Junior with a plus score in spite of losses to his peers, Fedorowicz and Henley, the latter being a beautiful game which just missed the brilliancy prize for that round. Henley had only 3.5 points but played the best chess of the Juniors.

Nick DeFirmian from Santa Barbara, who seems almost too nice a person to ever become a Grand Master, also had 3.5 points, as did 17-year-old Marcel Sisniega, the current Champion of Mexico. Friend Dieson also made that score.

David Berry of Los Angeles had three points after five rounds. Unfortunately, he had the same score after seven rounds.

Jon Tisdall from Syracuse, New York, blew a draw with Browne in Round four and then collapsed. This was really unfortunate as in the ten rounder in 1975 Jon made a remarkable even score, while playing a number of Grand Masters, and received little or no recognition. He recovered with a last round win to finish with 2.5 points. The other junior was Jerald Meyers of New York who finished with two.

There were lots of interesting sidelights to Lone Pine, 1976. This was the second year the tournament was played in the magnificent Town Hall which was donated to the Town of Lone Pine through the generosity of the Stathams. The playing conditions were very good. The spectators seemed to show their appreciation of the better viewing setup by keeping the noise level well within the confines of acceptability. Last year, the setup was quite unfavorable with half of the games up against the wall unviewable by the public. This year, however, all games were surrounded by chairs, were away from the walls, and were observable from all angles.

The town of Lone Pine, itself, is like a picture postcard, nestled at the foot of snow-covered mountains, the air is crisp and clear, and the scenery very beautiful. The nights in March are chilly and, in fact, there was a snow storm a week before the tournament, but the days are balmy enough for outdoor games such as softball games organized by Jim Buff and Walter Browne. (Two formal games were played with Browne's hand-picked teams winning both times over ex-major leaguer Buff. Your humble reporter played with Browne in both games and hit a grand slam home run in the 21-13 first game.)

In 1975, there was a lady in the tournament, Alla Kushnir, who received a lot of attention and did quite well. No woman entered in 1976, but Arthur Dake noted after Round one that Diane Savereide, United States Women's Champion, and Ruth Cardoso, United States Open Women's Champion, were both present, but not high enough rated to play. Dake suggested a match and Doris Statham came through with a prize of $100 to the winner and $50 to the loser. The match was arranged and set up on a card table in the extreme west end of the playing hall, and yours truly was pressed into service as the official arbiter. Cardosa was ill with the flu and hung a rook in game one. Game two was postponed, but when it was played, Savereide had a pawn more, but could not win. In Game three, Savereide again could not push home a pawn advantage and when Cardoso sacrificed successfully in the last game, the match was declared drawn and the cash split.

I have saved for last a discussion of the tournament organization and direction, of which I was a very small part. Organizer, Manager, Journalist, Director, prime mover, International Grand Master and International Judge, Isaac Kashdan was, as always, the moving force and presence in the tournament. Approaching the end of his seventh decade, "Kash" has lost none of his powers. He was challenged bitterly last year in an unseemly dispute about the pairings, but this year, the tournament was unbelievably smooth. Myron Lieberman was his assistant for the first time. Myron is a well-established national director from Arizona, and incidentally, a very nice guy, who took much of the day-by-day burden of running the tournament off the shoulders of Kashdan. Carl Budd did his usual fine job in assisting and Myron Johnson was invaluable in his function of setting up the games and name plates, picking up game scores, passing out bulletins, watching adjournments, and watching clocks. Your writer was good at arranging rides back to Los Angeles and holding the hands of disappointed juniors. I was also privileged in being able to watch the wildest time scramble of the tournament in Round three between Jim Sherwin and David Brummer when twenty moves were made with neither side keeping score. Hans Kmoch would have double-forfeited them. However, under Kashdan's benevolent rules, I helped reconstruct the game and Sherwin went on to win.

This account would not be complete without mention of the fine hospitality of Mr. and Mrs. Statham. The cocktail parties at the magnificent Statham home were very enjoyable and the final awards brunch at the Sierra Trails, presided over by a witty and lively Master of Ceremonies, Kashdan, was a fitting climax to the great event. Max Burkett and Alan Benson labored long into the night to produce the fine, daily bulletins. Jay Whitehead, the San Francisco Wunderkind helped check game scores and Ken Fong rushed the bulletins to the tournament hall like Paul Revere on his horse. The generosity of local residents and organizations was unparalleled in providing free coffee, sandwiches and cookies for the players and staff. All in all, it was a wonderful tournament and all of the players and staff are hoping for an equally successful event next year.

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