California Chess Reminiscences

by Bill Wall

My first exposure to chess was as kid growing up in San Francisco in the early 1960s. There was a chess column in the San Francisco Chronicle written by George Koltanowski, which I must have read, and I remember playing chess with the Boy Scouts in the San Francisco Bay area. However, I did not know about en passant or all the castling rules until later.

We moved to Tacoma, Washington in the mid-1960s and I later joined the Tacoma Chess Club (the same one John Donaldson later joined). I also played on the chess team in high school.

In 1969, I returned to California as a student at Northrop Institute of Technology in Inglewood California. I saw a chess article by Isaac Kashdan in the Los Angeles Times and decided to write to him to inquire about chess clubs in the area. He replied to my letter about chess activity and encouraged me to join the U.S. Chess Federation and play in the American Open in Santa Monica.

On Thanksgiving Day In November, 1969, I played in my first USCF tournament, the 5th annual American Open, held at Retail Clerk's Union Auditorium in Santa Monica. I paid $15 to enter this 8-round event, directed by William Bragg. There were 202 players, and I played on the last board, board 101, making me the 202nd player. Walter Browne (2445) played Board 1, but the event was won by Ray Martin. Other players in the event were Kim Commons, Jude Acers, a very young Larry Christiansen, Jerry Hanken, Tibor Weinberger, and Carl Pilnick. My first rating was 1522.

In 1970, I joined the Air Force and returned to California in January, 1971. I was assigned to Beale AFB in Marysville/Yuba City. I started a chess club on base, wrote chess articles for the local paper, and started directing USCF tournaments in Northern California. I had to do that between flying assignments to Okinawa, Guam, Thailand, and the Philippines. At each stop, however, I tried to organize base chess tournaments. At Beale AFB, the strongest player was Lt Col Henry Giertych, rated 2100, and a participant in the first Armed Forces Chess Championships in the early 1960s. In the 1972 Beale AFB Chess Championship, I defeated him in the first round, but then lost to Capt John Manson (1900). Giertych then defeated Manson, and all 3 of us tied for 1st. We had a play-off and Giertych won, qualifying him for the Air Force Championship at Andrews AFB. This was all during the Fischer chess boom. The base chess club had over 50 chess players. Now you are lucky if you can find just a few people who play chess.

In February, 1973, I played in the Central California Chess Association Grand Prix, directed by Martin Morrison. I lost to Kerry Lawless, but won my section. I later played in the first World Open in New York before getting re-assigned to Thailand for a year.

In February, 1975, I played in the U.S. Booster Championship in Los Angeles. A draw or win in the final round would have given me some prize money, but I lost the final round.

For the next 10 years I was in North Carolina and Ohio (President of both state chess associations), and returned to California in 1985. I was stationed at Moffett Field Naval Air Station in Mountain View as an Air Force major assigned to NASA Ames Research Center. I started up the Palo Alto Chess Club at Mitchell Patk Community Center, which had over 100 members after a few years. I also directed chess tournaments at Stanford. At the time, I was also Secretary of the Chess Journalists of America (CJA), which I held until 1987.

In 1985, I took 3rd place in the Central Pacific Armed Forces Championship, held in Concord. I won the event in 1986 and 1987. I also played in the Air Force Championships each year at Andrews AFB, but never placed higher than 5th.

From 1986 to 1991, I played in as many Jim Hurt LERA events as I could, held in Sunnyvale. I usually gave one of my miniature chess books as a prize for the shortest game. I won a few Class A, then Expert prizes, as well as being on the winning side or losing side of several brilliancy prize awards.

I also played in the Ted Yudacufski's Monterey Quads and won my section in 1986 and 1987.

In January, 1989, I represented California as a chess journalist at the Karpov-Hjartarson quarterfinals match in Seattle. I also covered the Kasparov-Karpov World Championship match in New York in October, 1990.

In 1989, I got Eduard Gufeld (2510), Eugene Torre, and John Donaldson to give simultaneous exhibitions at the Palo Alto Chess Club. I also got George Koltanowski to give a lecture and had Walter Browne drop in a few times. Igor Ivanov stayed at my house when he was in town, playing in chess events in the area. Gufeld played 24 games on Feb 12, 1989, losing only to Thomas Lasch and drawing to me. He won the other 22 games after a few hours of play.

In November, 1989, I directed a tournament with an unusual chess prize. The winner was Marc Leski (2532) who won $200 and an all-expenses trip to the Sports Palace in Minsk, Belarus.

In 1990, I was a member of the Mechanics Institute Chess Club, but there was very little activity at the time. I spent my time in the chess library section instead.

In 1990, Yasser Seirawan and John Donaldson gave my all the back issues of Inside Chess magazine to deliver to Bobby Fischer. I and my wife knew his sister, Joan Targ. I had my wife, Lois; deliver the magazines and several chess books that I wrote (the 500 Miniature series) to Joan's house while I played in a LERA event. My wife says she saw Bobby at the house, but did not recognize him until much later. It had been raining, and Joan greeted my wife at the door and invited her to come in. My wife didn't want to track any mud in, so left Joan the package and left. She saw Bobby in the background reading a newspaper, but did not recognize him until Fischer became more public in the 1992 return match with Spassky. I may have missed an opportunity to meet Bobby Fischer if it was, indeed, Bobby Fischer.

In 1990-91 I got Jordy Mont-Reynaud, Vinay Bhat, and Alan Stein involved in the Palo Alto Chess Club and playing in chess tournaments. A few years later, Jordy became America's youngest master ever, only to have Vinay beat that record and became an International Master. All three became masters at a very young age.

In 1991, I did the demo boards at the 1991 Pan Pacific International Grandmaster tournament in San Francisco. The players included Tal, Browne, Torre (the winner), Rogers, Patrick Wolff, Adianto, Ftacnik, Grefe, Benjamin, Christiansen, Fedorowicz, and Susan Polgar. The hardest one for me to do was when Browne got into time pressure and started exchanging pieces.

I left California in late 1991, re-assigned to San Antonio, Texas, then retiring to Florida. My most active chess period and most chess fun have been my days in California.

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