Hayward Daily Review, Sunday, October 7, 1973


by richard shorman


Berkeley-based USCF senior master John Grefe scored a sensational first-place victory at the U.S. Championship, Sept. 9-27, tying with international grandmaster Lubomir Kavelek for the prestigious title and $3,500 in prize money.

Catching most chessplayers by pleasant surprise, his national triumph actually represents only the best in a series of successes begun seven years ago.

Grefe's comments on the event should be of interest to everyone who wants to see young American chess talent receive just compensation for superior performance.

Congratulations on winning the U.S. Championship! How did you do it?

The pairings were right, I had the right colors against the right players and I started out with a few wins against the lower half of the field, which helped my confidence.

In addition, I was playing well, was well prepared and I was doing a lot of meditating. My mind was very clear.

Why haven't we heard from John Grefe before now?

Well, we have, actually. In big Swiss system tournaments that I have played in I have gotten fairly good results. I came in sixth in the U.S. Open this year, tied for eighth in 1969 and 1971, tied for first in the National Open in 1971, came in fourth or fifth at Lone Pine, 1971, and tied for fourth through sixth at Lone Pine 1973. My rating has been over 2300 for the past two years.

Young masters in the U.S. very rarely get a chance to compete in national events like the U.S. Championship, where they get to play against only top-flight competition and where playing conditions are conducive to high quality chess.

Do you think you would have done as well if Fischer, Robert Byrne and Reshevsky had participated?

I could have played as well, but I don't know whether my result would have been as good. Even though the top three players in the U.S. did not compete, five of those who did are international grandmasters and one is an international master. Four of the players have taken a fair number of first and second prizes in international competition.

The U.S. Closed Championship includes the 14 highest rated U.S. players. Generally, a few players decline their invitations and substitutes are invited on the basis of rating. In the last several years there have been no real surprises in U.S. chess; the person who was supposed to win did.

What are your vital statistics in chess?

Age, 26. Birth place, Hoboken, New Jersey, but a resident of Berkeley for the past five years. I learned chess at ten, finally understood all the rules when I was 13 and began playing USCF tournaments when I was 15.

I won the first USCF tournament I played in, a local club event, and my first USCF rating was 2131. However, I have been playing tournament chess for only about seven years now, because for three years I was in the military service.

Was it right after your tour of duty, then, that the quality of your chess suddenly rose?

No, I came to Berkeley, and there happened to be a number of chess masters living there. We organized some tournaments among ourselves and occasionally played against each other in the various random local Swiss system events. I improved gradually as opposition improved.

What can you do as U.S. Champion to make it worth while winning the title?

I've never had great ambitions in chess, to be world champion or anything like that. I've just studied chess and whatever happens, happens.

Now that I am U.S. Champion, I hope to use my influence with the U.S. Chess Federation to assist other young masters to attain their titles and also to promote chess generally.

In relation to past U.S. Championships the prizes have been increasing at a steady rate. However, in another field of endeavor a person of equivalent status would receive a far greater financial reward for his work. Perhaps I'll be able to make some money from exhibitions and lectures. I've always felt that it would be advantageous financially to hold a grandmaster title, and it would allow me to play chess against the world's best players.

I think that the title of U.S. Champion carries a certain amount of prestige in relation to foreign tournament organizers. Perhaps when the news of this tournament reaches them and they play over some of the games, they will be anxious to invite me to play in their tournaments. My initial results in European tournaments will be important, as if I do well it will confirm my result in the U.S. Championship.

I'm going to be playing in the second section of the Hastings Christmas Tournament this year, and the winner is automatically qualified for the premier event next year. I will also be playing in the Beverwijk master event at the beginning of 1974. But these are not exactly plums for a U.S. champion.

How were the playing conditions and organization of the U.S. Championship?

Playing conditions were excellent. We played at the Hotel Paso del Norte in El Paso, Texas. George Koltanowski was the tournament director and William Lukowiak was assistant director. They both did a fine job. The lighting was good, too.

The organizers were a bit disappointed at the low turnout of spectators, but this was not so disagreeable to me, as my experience has been that most spectators at chess tournaments are unaware of proper behavior and merely distract the players with excess noise.

Although local coverage was excellent, the tournament was poorly covered in the national press. Col. Edmondson, director of the national chess federation, says the reason for this is that reports were sent every day over the wire services, but the editors of individual newspapers have the discretion of whether or not to use the reports. If the chess public wants better coverage of chess events, they will have to deluge their local media with requests for news.

Can you say anything about the performance of Walter Browne and James Tarjan, also of Berkeley?

They both played well and generally their performance was rather high.

Tarjan might have added another point to his score had he made full use of his opportunities. He suffered an early loss to Mednis that hurt his chances for a higher place in the final standings.

What are your interests apart from chess playing?

I would like to learn a few foreign languages. I may author a book of the tournament with background material and annotations to most of the games.

I'd like to go to the Soviet Union in order to gain insights into their chess sub-culture and also to promote closer relations between the chess federations and players of our countries. I am a devotee of Guru Maharaj Ji and I spend a lot of time doing meditation and propagating his Knowledge.

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