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Friday, June 24, 2011

1975 US Championship

It just occurred to me that this coming Sunday marks the anniversary of the completion of the 24th US Championship and Zonal Tournament that was played in Oberlin, Ohio from June 7-26, 1975. I was able to attend every one of rounds played in that tournament…a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

1. Browne x ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 8½- 4½
2. Rogoff ½ x ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 ½ 8 - 5
3. Vukcevich ½ ½ x ½ 1 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 0 1 ½ 7½- 5½
4. Byrne, R. 0 ½ ½ x ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 7 - 6
5. Reshevsky ½ ½ 0 ½ x ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 7 - 6
6. Lombardy ½ 1 1 ½ ½ x ½ 0 1 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 6½- 6½
7. Bisguier ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ x ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 6½- 6½
8. Tarjan ½ ½ 0 0 ½ 1 ½ x 1 ½ 0 1 ½ ½ 6½- 6½
9. Commons ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 x ½ 1 0 1 1 6½- 6½
10. Kavalek ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ x 0 ½ ½ ½ 5½- 7½
11. Peters ½ 0 0 ½ 0 1 ½ 1 0 1 x ½ 0 ½ 5½- 7½
12. Mednis 0 0 1 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 1 ½ ½ x ½ ½ 5½- 7½
13. Grefe 0 0 0 ½ 0 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ x 1 5½- 7½
14. Benko 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 x 5 - 8

      As a result of this tournament, Walter Browne, and Ken Rogoff qualified for the 1976 Interzonals. Robert Byrne also qualified as a result of having played in the 1974 Candidates Matches. Lubomir Kavalek also played in 1976 Interzonals.
One surprise of the tournament was Arthur Bisguier’s results; he is the only player ever to have drawn all of his games in US Championship play. Given Bisguier's temperment and style all draws was unusual.
      The last round of this event was memorable because Samuel Reshevsky complained to the TD about the refusal of Pal Benko to honor a pre-arranged draw (technically illegal). Andrew Soltis wrote about it in The US Chess Championship: 1845-1985.
      The second prize, and second interzonal invitation, depended on two pairings. If Rogoff were to lose with Black to Bisguier, then Reshevsky, the closest to him, could tie the young Yale student by defeating a now-demoralized Benko.
      What happened next did not reflect honorably on the character of U.S. Championship participants. In fact, it recalled the long-forgotten Grundy incident of the 5th American Chess Congress. According to Reshevsky, on the night before the final round, he approached Benko with a proposition: If we see that Rogoff is drawing or winning against Bisguier tomorrow, he said, there's no point in our exerting ourselves. We might as well draw because a win means nothing to either of us. But if Rogoff loses, Reshevsky went on, then I'll play to win because I can force a playoff for the Biel, Switzerland, interzonal spot by tying him for second place.
      This in itself is against international chess etiquette. But Reshevsky added another element: If he managed to get into the interzonal, Reshevsky said he would choose Benko as his second there and there would be a nice salary for that. (According to Benko, the question of a last- round draw came up in the middle of the tournament and he indicated his willingness to draw.)
      In any event, there was no repeat of "Grundy" the next day. Rogoff drew quickly, thereby clinching the trip to Biel and also allowing Bisguier to establish a record by drawing all 13 of his games in the Championship. Seeing this, Reshevsky indicated to Benko that it was time to draw as they had agreed. But Benko refused, pointing out that he had the better position and, more important, he would finish a humiliating last in the tournament if he only drew. "I must win to get out of last place," he told Reshevsky.
      Reshevsky was outraged; he complained to tournament director Tim Redman that his opponent was not living up to an highly irregular agreement and, when he got no help from that quarter, began angrily repeating his draw offer at the table to Benko. He even tried enlisting the help of bystander Bisguier to convince Benko. All this served only to upset Reshevsky enough to throw away a pawn, but he managed to hold the position for a draw when play resumed the next day. Benko says he was too upset to win and the incident was soon forgotten.

Chess Life & Review (September 1975) told the story:
      Going into the [final] round Reshevsky still had an outside chance of getting into a playoff for the second Interzonal spot, and the night before the game he approached his opponent, Pal Benko, with some "ideas." Benko, who had been Sammy's second at the Petropolis Interzonal, was told by Reshevsky that Sammy would watch Rogoff's game with Bisguier and should Rogoff win or draw Sammy wanted a draw since the Interzonal spot would then be out of reach. If Rogoff were to lose then Reshevsky would play for a win, and he informed Benko that if he did make it to the Interzonal Pal would again be his second and there would be a good bit of money involved. All of this was just great for Reshevsky, but Pal, who'd finished 2nd in last year's Championship, was in last place and he needed a victory to avoid finishing there.
      The next day Rogoff drew quickly with Bisguier, giving Arthur a record of some sort for his thirteen draws, and that draw, combined with Vukcevich's draw with Byrne, gave Rogoff second place and a trip to the Interzonal. Seeing that his last chance of qualification was gone, Reshevsky offered a draw which he apparently felt sure Benko would accept, but Pal just looked up and said, "I cannot take a draw, I must win in order to get out of last place." As the playing session continued Reshevsky pestered Benko repeatedly for a draw, noting every other drawn game, to which Pal could only say, "It doesn't matter, I have to win to avoid finishing last."
      Reshevsky became more and more upset, finally going over to a friend of Benko's in the spectator area and demanding that Pal be persuaded to take a draw! Benko pressed on, and both players got into time trouble during which Reshevsky dropped a pawn. In the adjourned position Pal had good winning chances but, very upset by Reshevsky's slamming down on his clock and other niceties, he studied the position only for a short time, coming to the conclusion that he could win.
      The next day, this was the only adjourned game, and it was obvious that neither player had cooled off; Reshevsky elected to sit at a different table when not on the move. (Bill Lombardy, by some manner of fate, was scheduled to drive both Benko and Reshevsky home; it must have been an interesting trip.)
      Due to his lack of study in the adjourned position, Benko had to spend a long time on his moves and got into time trouble, during which he had what he termed a "hallucination." Finally, Benko had to settle for a draw. For Reshevsky it was a great relief, but for Pal it was another case of being too upset to play well. The look on his face and the emotion in his voice as he tried to talk about the game to Bill Lombardy told that story plainly.

      Blissfully unaware that the deal he thought he had made might not be completely kosher under a strict interpretation of the USCF Rulebook (to put it mildly), Reshevsky even took his case to the Letters to the Editor section of Chess Life & Review (remarkably similar to that old joke about calling the Police to report that someone has stolen your pot). The December 1975 issue contained this letter from Sam the Man himself:

... The detailed descripton of what transpired between me and Benko, however, disturbed me because a very important detail was left out by the one who gave Mr. Drummond the information about the episode. What was left out was the very significant fact that Benko indicated to me the day before our encounter that he would accept a draw if and when I would offer it. In view of this fact, I took more time in the early stage of the game, watching to see what the outcome of Rogoff's game would be - a fact which brought me unnecessarily into time trouble. I expect that Benko will deny this fact and will produce his close friend to prove his denial, but his friend is not the most credible witness.
I am surprised that Mr. Drummond did not find it necessary to check with me as to the details of the episode before he presented it publicly.

      This game included the incident I have mentioned earlier where, when Benko got into terrible time pressure, Reshevsky was keeping his finger on the clock button so as to prevent Benko from punching the clock after he moved. Benko just kept giving Reshevsky dirty looks and hammering the clock with his fist.
      After the tournament was over, the players autographed the boards (printed on heavy green and buff paper) they were using and the boards and sets they used were sold to spectators. By the time I decided to go ahead and buy the set used in the Benko-Reshevsky game it was not available.

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