(VOL. 1 ISSUE 17, AUGUST 24, 1988)
Lina Grumette: A Rare Woman
by Dan Bailey
Lina Grumette was a rare woman. She enriched the American chess scene to an extraordinary degree before her death on July 21 of complications arising from lung cancer. What was it that drew Lina to chess and chessplayers? Simply stated: it was love - unalloyed. Here follow some lines to fix this quiet, dignified lady in our memory.
Lina came to New York in 1917 at the age of nine. She invested her youth there: solid results were forthcoming. She married Murray Grumette, and they raised two children while running an import-export business. But she was to swim across our ken by coming under the tutelage of Grandmaster Isaac Kashdan. She became one of the strongest females in the country, competing in the US Women's Championships of the 1940's.
When she was 45, Lina and her family changed coasts and latitudes. Work for a Los Angeles public relations company came next. After Murray's death, Lina the player also became Lina the promoter. Her first step was to open a chess club in her own Hollywood home. The original idea was to provide a place to get together for chess-playing show business people - but in time, other players arrived. Lina's unparalleled hospitality at "The Chess Set" embraced them all. Players of every creed, color, and strength were welcome there. If you played chess, you were important to Lina, and "The Chess Set" was open to you at least five days a week. For chessplayers had become her second family.
In the 60's, she assisted her close friend Jacqueline Piatigorsky with the organization and running of the two Piatigorsky Super-Grandmaster Round-Robins. And in the 70's and 80's, she went on to host a series of Futurity tournaments. These enabled two generations of Masters to enter the international arena and get FIDE ratings at a time when almost no American players had them.
Lina also established The Chess Set Educational Trust, a non-profit organization. With its backing, she launched the first Memorial Day Classic in 1980. Lina went on to offer the biggest prize fund in the Western half of the country for seven years running.
Reaching out through the Trust, Lina provided chess classes at local hospitals for alcoholics. She had seen the effects of liquor on some of those closest to her, so she also became involved in counseling. She also served on the board of a national organization helping alcoholics. Additionally, Lina helped teenagers with drinking problems, assisted by the corporate contribution she secured - Chevron's.
International fame came to Lina at the 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Championship Match in Reykjavik, Iceland. Fischer seemed on the brink of following his late arrival with and early departure after he was forfeited in the second game. This rendered him an unsettled 0-2, and the prospects of his continuing seemed dim. But Lina, who had known Bobby since he was a teenager and was often called his "chess mother," now flew to Reykjavik. She talked with him for several hours alone as they watched a movie his hotel had closed to other guests. Lina never revealed the contents of this talk - but somehow, Fischer emerged from it a man about to grasp chess's highest prize - and convincingly at that.
Rare Lina Grumette will be sorely missed.
Lina Grumette: A Remembrance
by Yasser Seirawan
It was with great sadness that I received the news of Lina Grumette's passing. In my travels, I've been blessed by the people I've met. Lina was one of the special ones. She was a true lover of chess. Her many contributions to our sport cannot be underestimated. During the teen years of Robert James Fischer, she opened up her home to him and treated him like a son. Later, fate would have her play a critical role in the 1972 World Championship. During a particularly difficult moment of the match, she was able to influence Robert Fischer to continue playing. It was one of her deepest pains that she was unable to get Robert Fischer to play competitive chess again when one particular deal with a Las Vegas sponsor appeared to be faltering. Lina stepped in to help. Fischer would have none of it, and their friendship collapsed. Lina was devastated. She had lost a son.
Opening up her heart and home to Fischer alone was not the extent of her kindness. Lina threw wide the doors of her home to all chessplayers. In fact, she converted her Hollywood domicile into a chess club called "The Chess Set." I've many memories of visiting Lina at her home - pardon: "The Chess Set" - and spending hours with her sharing stories, plans, and ideas. It was at "The Chess Set" that I won the 1979 US Junior Championship, which was to propel my career significantly. That victory sent me on to win the World Junior Championship. Oftentimes it has occurred to me to ask, "What would have happened if Lina had not supported that Junior Championship?"
Lina was forever helping others, always doing something for somebody. She received her greatest pleasure in setting up her programs in hospitals and treatment centers. Filled with zeal and enthusiasm, she became a role model for others.
During the idle hours at "The Chess Set", I often watched Lina engage in a game or two. It fascinated me to watch her play. For here was a lady my grandmother's age, eyes sparkling with excitement when winning, looking coy and shy while laying a devastating trap. Lina hated to lose. Losses came often. But a single victory, and the sun would shine.
While sitting back and reading her words, it occurs to me what a tragedy for chess her passing truly is. Just imagine all those generations of players yet to be who will never know you. Lina, I'll always remember you - and thank you for sharing a bit of your life with me.
God bless you.
Return to Index