California Chess History

California Chess Historic Hall of Fame

by Kerry Lawless



ChessDryadThese inductees into the California Chess Historic Hall of Fame have been honored because (in my opinion) they have contributed enormously to California chess during their lifetime. Corrections to posted material are gladly accepted.






Joseph Redding

JOSEPH REDDING (1859-1932): He was the strongest player in California and Champion of the Pacific Coast until defeated by Dr. Walter Lovegrove in 1891. In 1884, the aspirant for the World Champion title, Johannes Zukertort (2600), came to San Francisco. Redding chaired the meeting to arranged for Zukertort to visit the city. Redding contested two games with the master, splitting them 1-1. Zukertort gave a Simultaneous Exhibition and his loss was to Redding. Then, they played a match in which Zukertort had to play the black side of the Evans Gambit; Zukertort won 5-0. In 1886, he lost a match against local player Van Vliet (which wasn't for the title of Pacific Coast Champion). In 1888, the master George Hatfield Gossip (2310) visited San Francisco. A tournament was held in his honor, and Redding won the tournament ahead of Gossip (as well as Dr. B. Marshall and Dr. Walter Lovegrove) and won the short match afterword. In 1889, he played the entire Sacramento Chess Club by telegraph and won. In 1891, the United States Champion, Jackson Showalter (2470), visited San Francisco and called Redding the best player he encountered in the city. By 1893 he had already given up chess for law. But even as late as 1904, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that he was the best amateur player in the United States.

DR. WALTER ROMAINE LOVEGROVE (1869-1956): The good doctor was the first celebrated California champion from 1891 (When he won a match from Joseph Redding, who claimed the championship of the Pacific Coast, by a score of 7-1.) through the First World War. He was a beacon of Western chess strength in a largely unknown age (with regard to California chess history). All the great players who passed through the area (Dr. Emanuel Lasker, Harry Pillsbury, Frank Marshall, J.W. Showalter, etc.) played this SF Mechanics' Institute champion and were generally astonished by his strength. During his later years, USCF awarded him the title Master Emeritus.

Ernest J. Clark ERNEST J. CLARKE (1877-1948): The Dean of Pacific Coast Chess was a strong amateur player who arrived in San Francisco about 1907. He tied H. Borochow in the 1922 (1st) California Championship, behind E. W. Gruer and S. Mlotkowski. Apart from play, he was the Editor of his weekly chess column in the San Francisco Call in 1913 and later in the San Francisco Chronicle from 1921 to 1930. In his later years at the Mechanics' Institute Chess Club, of which he was a member, he used to show a medal he had won, inscribe with 'Pacific Coast Chess Championship' (Mechanics' Institute Medal Tournament) on the front. Then he would chuckle as he turned it over to reveal '1911-1913' on the back.

Adolph Jay Fink ADOLPH JAY FINK (1890-1956): One of the strongest of the early SF masters, he took the chess torch from Lovegrove and ran with it. This SF Mechanics' Institute Chess Room Trustee was a USCF Life Master and four time California Champion. As a world-class problemist and Problem Editor of E. J. Clarke's column in the San Francisco Chronicle, his chess problems were highly regarded all over the world. An endgame expert, he served as adjudication judge for all Northern California tournaments and team matches for many years. During his later years, USCF awarded him the title of Master Emeritus.

Harry Borochow HARRY BOROCHOW (1898-1993): In the period between the two World Wars he was one of the strongest of the Southern California Masters. After arriving in California in 1919, he won the state chess championship three years in a row; 1930, 1931, and 1932. In 1932, of course, the championship was held concurrently with the Pasadena Chess Congress and he won because he was the highest scoring Californian. He also won 1st place in the Masters Reserve Section of the Pan-American Chess Congress in Hollywood 1945. He was USCF California State Membership chairman in 1960. During his later years, besides helping direct both Piatigorsky tournaments, the USCF awarded him the title of Master Emeritus.

George Koltanowski IGM GEORGE KOLTANOWSKI (1903-2000): The World Blindfold Chess Champion settled in SF Bay Area in 1947 and started his California chess career which included: chess columnist for The Press Democrat 1947-1949, syndicated chess columnist for the SF Chronicle 1948-2000 (the only daily chess column in the world), Editor of California Chess News/Chess Digest 1947-1950, Editor of Chess in Action, chess book author, national chess series on educational TV starting in 1964, chess tournament director, lecturer & performer (The Knight's Tour), chess instructor to tens of thousands of kids & adults, founder of the chess organization Chess Friends of Northern California, and Dean of American Chess. 'Kolty' was Mr. Northern California Chess for over 50 years.

Herman Steiner IM HERMAN STEINER (1905-1955): Besides being one of the strongest players on the West Coast, he became chess editor of the Los Angeles Times after arriving in California in 1932. He was a tireless chess organizer who organized numerous Southern California tournaments through the auspices of his Hollywood Chess Group. In the United States he alone was instrumental in organizing the 1945 Pan-American International Tournament and the Second Pan-American Chess Congress of 1954. This three time California Champion also became US. Champion in 1948.

Nancy Roos NANCY ROOS (19051957): Nancy Roos packed a lot of living into a relatively short life. Born Nancy Krotoschin (mother Cohn) in Germany she later moved to Belgium before immigrating to the United States in the late 1930s. Mrs. Roos was active in New York City between 1939 and 1944 distinguishing herself not only at chess (=2-3rd in the 1942 US Womens Championship) but also at Go where she was also recognized expert. Mrs. Roos and her husband Martin moved to Los Angeles in 1944 where she opened a photo studio in the Wilshire district. Her artistic eye and skill in photography played an important role in promoting chess in her new home state of California. She served as staff photographer, first with George Koltanowski's publications California Chess News and Chess Digest and later with the California Chess Reporter. She took all the photos that appeared in the tournament book of Hollywood 1952 edited by H.J. Ralston and Guthrie McClain. Many of her timeless black and white photos from the late 1940s and the first half of the 1950s can be found hanging on the walls of the Mechanics' Institute Chess Club in downtown San Francisco. They provide ample evidence that Nancy Roos belongs on the short list of the great chess photographers of all time. Besides being an outstanding photographer Nancy Roos was also the first women from California to win a US Women's Championship, tying for first with Gisela Gresser (who she beat in their individual game) in the 1955 event. The next Golden State winner would be Diane Savereide twenty years later. What made this victory particularly significant for Mrs. Roos is that she did it near the end of a nine year battle with cancer.

Isaac Kashdan IGM ISAAC KASHDAN (1906-1985): Before he settled down in California in 1946, 'Kash' was one of the strongest players in the country, having won the US Championship in 1942. In 1955 he became the Los Angeles Times chess editor. He also served a term as the President of the California State Chess Federation. During the sixty's and seventy's he was the top tournament organizer and director in Southern California. In 1961 he directed the infamous Reshevsky-Fischer match for Jacqueline Piatigorsky. He also directed the two greatest tournaments California ever had, the First (1963) and Second (1966) Piatigorsky Cup Tournaments, as well as the 1978 US Championship and all 11 Lone Pine tournaments.

Louis D. Statham LOUIS D. STATHAM (1908-1983): While not a strong chess player, he became one of the greatest chess patrons California has ever had. He became very wealthy from the patients for his inventions. His company, Statham Instruments, created instruments to measure strain and pressure in oil exploration as well as devices to keep space shots on course. After he retired and moved to Lone Pine, he built a playing hall and sponsored the Louis D. Statham Chess Tournaments held in the beautiful Southern California town of Lone Pine from 1971 through 1981. While originally created to give aspiring California experts a chance to play world class players, it soon evolve to a master only tournament, due to the overwhelming number of players drawn to it from all over the world. During the 1970's, if you were a serious California master, you were there!

Guthrie McClain GUTHRIE McCLAIN (1910-1991): One of the founding members of the Castle Chess Club, which lasted from 1929 to 1991. Co-founder, Associate Editor (1951-1952), and Editor (1953-1976) of The California Chess Reporter (1951-1976), the most influential California Chess Magazine ever. Twenty-five years of top-notch reporting of Northern and Southern California events, games, analysis, and prose...pure bliss. 'Mac', a National Chess Master, quit competitive chess not merely to direct the California Open or to organize the North-South match but also to be a force for the enhancement of Northern California chess. He was a mentor to most of the talented juniors who grow up in the area, and shanghaied practically all the world class players who wandered into California for countless simultaneous exhibitions in the local clubs. Along with Henry Gross, 'Mac' was largely responsible for bringing the U.S. Open to San Francisco in 1961.

Fritz Leiber

FRITZ LEIBER (1910-1992): World renowned fantasy writer by day, Southern California chess expert by night. Settling in Santa Monica around 1958, he enriched the California chess scene by creating literary masterpieces about it. His chess stories were 'The Dreams of Albert Moreland' (1945), 'The Moriarty Gambit' (1962), 'Midnight in the Mirror World (1964) and 'The 64-Square Madhouse' (1966). The '64 Square Madhouse' has been getting a lot of press lately because it's about a chess playing computer that wins the World Chess Championship. In 1969 he moved to San Francisco and wrote his most famous chess story, which not surprisingly was set in that fair city, 'Midnight by the Morphy Watch' (1974). (See article about the Paul Morphy's watch, http://www.chessdryad.com/articles/ep/art_05.htm).

Jacqueline Piatigorsky JACQUELINE PIATIGORSKY (1911 - 2012) : A woman of many talents, Jacqueline Piatigorsky is best remembered in the chess world for organizing the Piatigorsky tournaments with her husband Gregor. These two events, held in 1963 and 1966 respectively, featured many of the elite players in the world at the time with Tigran Petrosian and Paul Keres tying for first in the earlier event and Boris Spassky winning the latter with Bobby Fischer a close second. These were not the only major competitions Mrs. P. (as she was often called) was involved with. The 1961 Fischer-Reshevsky match and the 1967 playoff between Sammy Reshevsky, Leonid Stein and Vlastimil Hort are two others that quickly come to mind. Jacqueline Piatigorsky was mentored in chess by Herman Steiner and when he died suddenly in 1955 she took over the operation of his club, The Hollywood Chess Group, which was renamed the Herman Steiner Chess Club. Mrs. P. was a perfectionist who was heavily involved with the organizational nuts and bolts of all the events she was engaged in. These ran the gamut from creating an innovative relay system for transmitting moves from the stage to the analysis room at the Piatigorsky Cups to the mundane day to day activities of keeping a chess club going for twenty plus years. Mrs. P. even designed the cup that the winners of the Piatigorsky Cup received. Jacqueline Piatigorsky did not only confine her chess activities to elite competitions. The Piatigorsky Foundation, which she founded with Gregor, sponsored chess in public schools and for underprivileged and disabled children throughout Southern California for several decades. This was in many ways her most lasting legacy as tens of thousands of children were exposed to the Royal Game thanks to her efforts. One of the highest rated women in the United States in the 1950s and 60s, Mrs. P. played in many US Womens Championships these two decades. Her best performance came in 1965, when at the age of 53, she finished half a point out of first with the excellent score of 7 1/2 - 2 1/2. She represented the United States internationally in the first womens Chess Chess Olympiad held in Emmen in 1957 where she scored 7.5 from 11 to win the bronze medal on second board.

Jim Hurt JIM HURT (1917-1999): Founder and director of the Lera Chess Club in Sunnyvale for over 35 years, he organized and was the guiding light behind one of the longest running (1966-2000) and popular SF South Bay tournaments, the Lera Class Tournament. He was also Rating Administrator (1967) and Tournament Director (1968) of the Chess Friends of Northern California. In 1969 and 1970 he was Editor of Chess in Action. Author of an interesting series of instructional articles published as "The Martian System of chess" and the former Washington State Champion, he frequently visited the San Francisco Bay Area to play in tournaments, but didn't settle here until about 1950.

GORDON BARRETT (1921-2010): In Southern California he was called Mr. Chess! A national tournament director, he directed and helped direct, many of the most prestigious Southern California tournaments for over 30 years... from the early 1960's through the 1980's, including the North West Open and California Open. A chess expert for most of his adult life, he was (at various times) Vice-President of the USCF, President and Director of the California State Chess Federation, President of the Southern California Chess Association, and Director of the City Terrace CC. He was the editor of the TERRACHESS bulletin (1961 through 1980) which came out every two weeks. He was also a long-time member of the Southern California HALL OF FAME.

Val Zemitis VAL ZEMITIS ( 1925 - 2012): Few individuals had had a longer involvement with Northern California chess than Val Zemitis. Shortly after moving to Berkeley in the early 1950s Zemitis started contributing to the California Chess Reporter. More than thirty years later, in 1986, he helped Hans Poschmann start the California Chess Journal and was a steady contributor for many years. A USCF master, Zemitis achieved his best result at the 1954 California Open in Santa Barbara where he drew with both Kashdan and Steiner while tying for second. Back in 1960 Mr.Zemitis wrote the first book on the new World Champion Mikhail Tal - The Unknown Tal, which was published by the California Chess Reporter. Master Zemitis has been invaluable in helping bring foreign stars to the Bay Area including several top female players. Zsuzsa Polgar made her American tournament debut in the 1986 San Francisco International at Mis Browns restaurant in the Mission thanks to his doing. Latvia's top women player, Dana Reizniece, also made her American debut in San Francisco in 2000 thanks to Mr. Zemitis. He was also a Latvian chess historian and has written a two volume Encyclopedia of Latvian Chessplayers.

John Larkins JOHN LARKINS (1929- 2006): In late 1974 and early 1975, Chess Voice, one of the best magazines to emerge from Northern California, was floundering. John stepped up, took it over, and produced an award winning magazine. At the same time, he became the Director of the Berkeley Chess Club, one of three newly elected trustees of the San Leandro Chess Club, and the Director of a new club called the Oakland Chess Group. In early 1976 he accepted the position of Vice-Chairman of the Central California Chess Association. He also wrote a chess column for the Richmond Independant & Gazette during 1977 and 1978. In mid-1979, he handed the reins of Chess Voice over to his successor and near the end of the year, resigned all his offices and quit chess. The five years he gave to Northern California chess were golden; he was professional to the core.

Ted Yudacufski TED YUDACUFSKI (1930-2011): Co-founder (with his first wife Ruby), director, and the in-house chess instructor for the Monterey Chess Club (1966 to 2003), which was one of only two Northern California chess clubs that were open every day. This National Director organized and directed most of the Annual Monterey Fort Ord Chess Championships, and the Monterey Chess Club tournaments (including the Monterey International Open). Outside of Monterey, he has directed the Annual Lera Class tournament in Sunnyvale (1973-2000, taking over from George Koltanowski), the San Mateo US Amateur, many of the Paul Masson tournaments, and was co-chief assistant (to Kashdan) for two or three of the Lone Pine Opens. As he was a Darts Master as well, he invented Darts Chess; in which a throw of the dart decides which chess piece is to move. The first U.S. Open Darts Chess Championship was played in San Mateo at the (chess) U.S. Open at Palo Alto in 1981, which Ted directed. He also taught chess classes at Monterey Peninsula College.

Hans Poschmann HANS POSCHMANN (1932 - 2006): An ICCF Master, he founded the Newark Chess Club (1968-1970) and co-founded (along with Robert Pellerin) the Fremont Chess Club in 1968 and was its President through 2006. He also organized and directed many SF East Bay tournaments; including the Bay Area Team Championship tournaments, and more recently the Ohlone College tournaments. In 1986 he created the California Chess Journal, and was its Editor through 1988. Hans was Mr. Fremont Chess for over 35 years.
(Hans Poschmann Tribute Page)

Robert Pellerin ROBERT PELLERIN (1935 - 2014): He was the co-founder (along with Hans Poschmann) of the Fremont Chess Club in 1968. He became a Richard Shorman student about that time and acquired a very rare 5,000+ chess book and magazine collection; used primarily by Richard as a source for chess lessons and Hayward Daily Review chess columns (RS was given the key to the condo and had use of the library, any time of the day or night.) He also helped fund Richard Shorman lessons and travel expenses for the Fremont Chess Club's star prodigy, Kenny Fong (NM at 13 years old - 1981). He arranged for meeting rooms at the Fremont Library and convinced the Fremont Police Association (he was a Fremont Police Detective) to fund RS lessons and computer equipment for the award winning Blue Knights scholastic chess team. Starting in the early 1990's, he sponsored unrated tournaments at his Fremont condo primarily as training for Vinay Bhat. Some of the invited players were Chris Mavraedis, Dave Brooks and Kerry Lawless.

Robert Fischer IGM ROBERT J. FISCHER (1943-2008): As a former World Champion (1972-1975) and eight-time US champion, he doesn't need an introduction. But, the USCF annual rating lists for the years 1970-1973 show him to be a California resident and as such, he must be included on this list. Because his sister lived in Pasadena and his 1982 pamphlet "I was tortured in the Pasadena Jailhouse!", I believe we can assume that he was living in the area. If even a small percentage of the urban legends surrounding him are true (chessplayers meeting him on BART trains or at IGM Peter Biyiasas's house), then he ranged up and down the state during and after his World Championship days. He didn't play much official chess in California except for the 1957 US Junior Championship (San Francisco), the 1961 Fischer-Reshevsky match (Los Angeles), the 1964 Simultaneous Exhibitions (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Davis, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, and Ventura), and the 1966 Piatigorsky Cup (Santa Monica). The excitement, euphoria, and hope created by his winning of the World Chess Championship, started an unprecedented California chess boom that lasted throughout his championship years.

Michael Goodall MICHAEL GOODALL (1946-2010): This National Tournament Director started directing tournaments in 1965 and so undoubtedly holds the tournament directing record for post-Fischer Northern California, including at least a dozen state championships. He was Chief or Assistant TD at least 20 of the 30 Peoples Tournaments. He organized, promoted and directed the Golden Gate Open, which was the biggest tournament ever in SF (468 players). Mike directed the Bay Area League 1969; organized, promoted and was Chief Director of both the 1984 US Men's and US Women's Closed Championships in Berkeley. As the director of choice at the Mechanics' Institute, he has directed ten Bagby Memorials, at least 20 of the 36 Stamer Memorials, and at least 15 of the 30 Capps Memorials. He also found time to direct a couple of international tournaments organized by Guillermo Rey in SF in 1986 and 1987. In 1987, he was awarded the International Arbiter title. At one time or another he has held every office in Calchess, including President in 1981-82. In 1991 he was awarded the Outstanding Career Achievement Award by the USCF. He was also a patron who sponsored the Frisco Masters for the year 2000.

Alan Benson ALAN BENSON (1947-2015): This Intermediate Tournament Director was originally an over-the-board USCF Master (1971), ICCF Master (1975), and simultaneous blindfold chess expert (up to 10 boards). He personified Berkeley tournament chess during the post-Fischer era. Some of the many tournaments he directed were the Annual People's Chess Tournament (starting in 1971 through 1980; the 1st Annual Capps Memorial (1971); (Assistant Director) all eight Paul Masson Chess Tournaments; (Assistant Director) 1975 Lone Pine; and the Calchess Masters Open in 1979 and 1981. He also assisted in the Mechanics' Institute Pan Pacific Grandmaster Chess Tournament (San Francisco 1987) and the Pan Pacific Grandmaster Chess Tournament (San Francisco 1991). Alan ran the SF Bay Area portion of the National Telephone Chess League from 1976-1979 (The Berkeley Riots team were the National Champions from1977-78). He was also the Director of the East Asia Book & Game Center Chess Club during Fischer's rein and the Director of the UC Berkeley Campus Chess Club (under the auspices of SUPERB Productions) from 1976 to 1981. He was Games Bulletin Editor of the Lone Pine tournaments from 1976 to 1979. He was Chess Editor of several East Bay newspaper chess columns: the Berkeley Gazette and the Daily Californian. He started as Treasurer of the Professional Chess Association (PCA) and eventually became its President. He was also the Promotions Coordinator for ProChess from 1979-1980. Recently (2004) he worked for Games of Berkeley and ordered the chess books for them.

Walter Browne IGM WALTER BROWNE (1949-2015): Six-time U.S. Champion has (after coming to California in 1973) probably won more California tournaments than anyone else. Besides being founder and editor of the Berkeley based Blitz Chess Magazine (1988-2003) and the founder and director of the World Blitz Chess Association (1988-2003), he's an author, and chess instructor. After Fischer abdicated his World Championship title, Browne was the leading California and US player. In 2012, he wrote one of the most important books ever written by a California player, "The Stress of Chess and its Infinite Finesse". Some delightful bits of California chess history are revealed. Amazon.com gives it 4.5 stars...definitely a great book.

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