CHESS VOICE (Vol. 13 No. 1) June-July 1980

Richard Shorman:
An Appreciation

By Peter Prochaska, USCF Associate Director

   The slight man is the center of a whirlwind. Passing players pause to ask a question or suggest a move. Others pause longer to show him a game or listen to his comments on someone else's latest masterpiece (someone else's blunder?). He answers the questions quietly, surely, trying to share his understanding with another hopeful player and help him through some particularly vexing part of the wonderful wilderness of the game of chess. That is the Richard Shorman presence at a tournament.

   He watches his well-worn pieces dance their dance of war across his equally worn brown and yellow chessboard. At times his eyebrows go up behind his glasses. "Can it be so?" he wonders. "Alright, convince me." His face flashes subtle changes as he savors the continuing search for a move, for an idea. Now he suggests a move, not with the pomposity of the guru, but with the open simplicity of a fellow seeker. His eyes shine with the passion of the hunt. Somewhere in the tangle of wooden pieces and cardboard squares there is the right way to continue, if only one can find it.

   Players have eddied around him since he arrived at the tournament. Even before he could deposit his famous battered briefcase they were asking questions about this variation or that one, or about what book they should read next. Others just hang around, hoping to absorb some of his wisdom about the game. He encourages them all and helps them as he can.

   I have known Richard Shorman for more than a dozen years now and the scene never changes. I often marvel at his remarkable patience and desire to help others love and understand the game he loves and understands so well.

   It would be one thing for a gregarious person, but Richard is hardly gregarious. I have rarely met anyone more intensely private. Richard and I have spent countless hours discussing chess, chess organization and promotion, and chess instruction. Over the years, we have looked at hundreds of games together. Still there are many things I do not know about him. His guarded privacy makes his constant giving of himself and his understanding that much more remarkable. Calling someone "selfless" has become trite, but Richard is one of those rare individuals who really is.

   What I know of his biography can be quickly stated because I know so little. He lives in Hayward and has for as long as I have known him. He speaks and reads Russian fluently. I have heard he learned the language in the service, but I have never confirmed this. His weekly column for the Hayward Daily Review is among the best I know. Beyond this I know few details about his life, now or past. I do know his devotion to chess and chess players is absolute, and that is all I really need to know.

   Shorman has been an extraordinary important force in my development as a player. Shorman the chess thinker is first and always a logician. He often quoted Capablanca and Botvinnik in his discussions of what ought to be happening in one of my games (rather than what I was in the process of doing to the position). He first introduced me to the endgame and to Yuri Averbakh's remarkable Chess Ending: Essential Knowledge (That was, perhaps, the first book he ever suggested to me, and it remains among the best of his many recommendations).

   Time and again I have found that the simple fact that a move works is not enough for Richard. I must also be the logically right move for him to be satisfied. Long ago he gave me sound advice that I have not always followed as diligently as I might have: a novice player should stick to fairly simple positions that he understands thoroughly and can play well rather than hoping he can survive a position made famous by some grandmaster but which the novice only understands superficially. A chess game should be a firm edifice built on solid understanding and coherent ideas rather than the ebb and flow of random error, which marks so many games by players below master rank.

   Simply winning has never been enough for him either. It is a good thing to win a game any old way one can, of course, but it is a much better thing to do it in the smoothest, cleanest way possible. Elegance and beauty have always ranked high on Richard's scale of values. And the most elegant, beautiful game is one in which one implements a clear strategic concept with great accuracy.

   Richard is a person who firmly believes in his own vision. As I think back over the many years, I hear the same words and concepts again and again. They have been said in different ways at different times, but his basic thoughts about chess remain firm. This clarity and firmness is, of course, one reason why young players are attracted to him.

   He has taught courses at the college level and has had - I assume - private students now and then. The brunt of his teaching, however, is done at tournaments where he analyzes what happened and what might have happened with players of all ages and strengths, who have gathered attentively.

   Then there is the chess column, which has been a regular part of the Bay Area chess world for much longer than I have been. It is a constant source of the latest games from around the world or around the area. The notes may be his or may be translated from the Russian or may be some local player's (My first annotations appeared in this column. I well remember his patient editing and discussions about writing in general and the art of annotation in particular.).

   As games editor of Chess Voice - Shorman has been an indefatigable resource and a spokesman for excellence in chess play. During John Larkins tenure as Chess Voice editor he often spoke with a mixture of gratitude and awe of Richard's varied assistance with the magazine in roles ranging from Games Editor to helping with whatever needed to be done. I am sure Richard Fauber will find Shorman the same solid rock of support in the months ahead. During my years as CalChess Chairman, Richard was a most valuable member of the Board and a trusted advisor to so many of us on a wide range of questions. When I was back in the Bay Area this past spring, he and I had a long discussion about chess organization and development throughout the country. I miss his wise insight and wish I had access to it more often.

   One could go on and on listing the contributions of Hayward's living chess legend. He is a unique person, and the Bay Area is fortunate to have him. The USCF recently awarded him the Meritorious Service Award as a small token of so many chessplayers' gratitude. And so, Richard, thank you for your patient instruction, your marvelous column, all your efforts for chess in the Bay Area, and, most of all for the enduring love of the game you have engendered in so many of us.

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