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Friday, November 9, 2012

Incidents at the 1978 US Championship

      Before the beginning of the 1978 US Championship reigning Champion Walter Browne pulled a Bobby Fischer. 
       Browne had always performed better in the US Championships than he had in international tournaments, or even other major US tournaments for that matter, and this tournament looked to be his biggest test up to that time because virtually all the top players of the previous three tournaments were there: Kavalek, Byrne, Shamkovich,Lein, Tarjan, Rogoff and Christiansen.
       The tournament was held at the Southern California campus of the Worldwide Church of God. You will remember this was the church that Bobby Fischer got duped by in the 1970s.   During the tournament several of the players were granted a brief audience with “King Bobby” who was living in seclusion a few miles from the tournament venue. Bobby refused to grace the tournament hall with his presence though.
       At the initial player’s meeting Browne trotted out his usual complaint about the lighting.  For some reason Browne held the opinion that inadequate lighting would cost him enough games that he would not win the tournament.  The other players were divided into two camps.  Either humor him or ignore him.
       The tournament director, GM Isaac Kashdan, had had run ins with Browne in the past but on this occasion Browne made his feelings about the lighting crystal clear and Kashdan was very obliging;  he had the college's lighting technician meet with Browne the following morning and arrange things to Browne’s satisfaction.
       Before the start of the first round Browne met Kashdan on the way out of the playing hall and advised Kashdan that the lighting now suited him provided he be permitted to sit at a particular board throughout the event.  Kashdan was a little reluctant to meet this request though because it meant special treatment for Browne.  Normally, seating was rotated for each round. Kashdan decided that since Browne was already being given special treatment in the form of an extra $850 appearance fee and a guest cottage instead of a dormitory room as supplied to the other players, he was willing to go along with the arrangement.
       After Browne left Kashdan was inspecting the tournament site and noticed one of the tables out of line, so he moved it back. A few hours later at the start of the first round Browne, like Fischer, made his grand entrance several minutes late, and realized his table had been put back in line with the others.  By putting it back in line with the other tables Kashdan had moved it out from under the special lighting that Browne so desperately needed.
       Thinking that Kashdan had moved it just for spite, Browne rushed over and asked Kashdan what had happened.  Kashdan didn’t know it was Browne who had moved the table out of line and explained that it was moved back to make a path for players to get through. Browne asked Kashdan, "Why do you hate me?” to which Kashdan replied that he didn't hate him.  So what did Browne do?  He stormed off the stage without even bothering to acknowledge his opponent, Larry Christiansen.
       Kashdan eventually ruled that Browne had lost on forfeit.  A few people tried to argue on Browne’s behalf, stating the withdrawal of the three-time champion could hurt ticket sales, tournament publicity and the cause of chess in the United States. As a result Kashdan called a meeting of the Appeals Committee.  At that meeting Browne made his point then, again like Bobby, threatened to leave the tournament if the forfeit stood.  The committee asked Christiansen if he wanted to make the final decision but Christiansen, though annoyed at Browne’s behavior, did not want the responsibility of deciding the issue.  Christian’s decision was influenced by the fact that if he refused to play and the forfeit stood, Browne would be denied a chance at playing in the next Interzonal since this was a qualifying tournament.
       The appeals committee  (William Lombardy, Kenneth Rogoff and Andrew Soltis) finally decided to uphold Kashdan's decision to forfeit Browne. Lombardy went to Browne's cottage to try and talk him out of leaving, but Browne left the next morning.  The result was that GM Lubosh Kavalek won the tournament ahead of Tarjan (second), Shamkovich and Mednis (tied for third and fourth).
       That was not the only incident in the tournament.  In Mednis vs. Shamkovich, Mednis became short of time in a slightly worse position and, in trying to save the game, essayed a small combination but there was a flaw in it.  Shamkovich reached the time control a piece ahead and Mednis resigned. But it wasn’t over.
       Ken Rogoff's fiancée, a spectator, noticed the total amount of time indicated on the clock being used by Shamkovich and Mednis totaled much more than for the other games.  She told another spectator who told an assistant tournament director.
       Mednis was informed of the problem after he resigned. Mednis drafted an appeal soon after the game, but his claim posed a question.  If he had forfeited on time before making his fatal blunder the game would have been resumed once the clock's faultiness was discovered. Now, however, he was claiming that he would not have blundered if he had had more time. The appeals committee sympathized with Mednis but couldn't accept his argument.
       The normally mild mannered Mednis got upset and threatened to sue everyone involved in the verdict, demanding that a statement be read at the beginning of each round warning that he might drop out of the tournament at any moment.  Mednis eventually cooled down and returned to his old, pleasant self.



  1. Browne was CRAZY to leave that tournament. At the end of the day the world doesn't revolve around any of us. Who knows ? Maybe he missed his big chance to make to the title.....

  2. I never actually spoke to Browne but to me he always looked querulous.