No, not the ones I played in, which is none. I did qualify for the 2007 championship but elected not to play. The way I qualified that year was rather curious. You see, that year the championship was a 9-round Swiss system held in Stillwater, Oklahoma. That was the year they tried selling entries in the championship. You could enter by paying a so called "patron entry fee" that was based on your rating. I don’t remember the exact amount I would have had to pay…somewhere between $30,000 to $50,000. The point is, I could have taken out a loan against the house or maxed out a couple of credit cards to raise the entry fee, but I could have raised the money, so I was qualified. What was weird about the whole thing was the patron entry fees didn’t go into the prize fund! I don’t know where the EFs were to actually go, but it’s a moot point because I don’t think anybody was actually stupid enough to pay it. Anyhow, I’m talking about the three championships I witnessed.
That was the 24th US Championship and World Championship Zonal. It was played June 7-26 in Oberlin, Ohio and I was present for all the rounds.
1. Browne 8.5
2. Rogoff 8.0
3. Vukcevich 7.5
4-5. Byrne, R. 7.0
6-9. Lombardy 6.5
6-9. Bisguier 6.5
6-9. Tarjan 6.5
6-9. Commons 6.5
10-13. Kavalek 5.5
10-13. Peters 5.5
10-13. Mednis 5.5
10-13. Grefe 5.5
14. Benko 5.0
Walter Browne, and Ken Rogoff qualified for the 1976 Interzonal and Robert Byrne was also qualified as a result of having played in the 1974 Candidate Matches. Lubomir Kavalek played in one of the 1976 Interzonals; I am not exactly sure how he qualified though.
I mentioned some of the highlights of this particular event before on this Blog so won’t repeat them here other than to reiterate the incident of Reshevsky complaining to the TD about Benko’s refusal to honor their illegal agreement to draw their last round game.
What actually happened according to Andy Soltis was:
According to Reshevsky the night before the final round, he approached Benko with a proposition: If they saw that Rogoff was drawing or winning against Bisguier then there was no point in either Benko or Reshevsky trying to win so they would agree to a draw.
Reshevsky added that if it looked like Rogoff was losing he would definitely play for a win because it meant he could force a playoff for the Biel Interzonal spot by tying Rogoff for second place. Rogoff made it clear by round 7 when he scored a major upset over Kavalek that he was a contender.
Reshevsky also tossed out the promise that he would choose Benko as his second, with a nice salary of course, for the Interzonal. Rogoff played a quick draw and that’s when Benko refused; he needed a win to avoid finishing dead last. (my account of the incident)
One thing that was odd was Bisguier, a very enterprising player, drawing all of his games. William Lombardy was a really nice guy; he always seemed to be in time trouble during his games; his games were boring...real boring.
Surprise contenders in the early rounds were Browne, Rogoff and local hero Dr. Milan Vukcevich, a scientist who lived in a nearby Cleveland suburb. Vukcevich's work, which had earned him a nomination for a Nobel Prize, had kept him from tournament play for years. But for this tournament his openings were well-prepared and he analyzed his adjourned games with precision.
25th U.S. Championship, Mentor, September 25-0ctober 14, 1977
1. Browne 9.0
2. Byrne, R. 8.5
4. Grefe 7.5
5-6. Lein 7.0
5-6. Zuckerman 7.0
7. Tarjan 6.5
8-9. Christiansen 6.0
8-9. Matera 6.0
10-11. Ghizdavu 5.5
12. Shamkovich 5.5
13. Soltis 5.0
14. Fedorowicz 4.5
There was no championship in 1976 and there was some question among USCF officials as to whether one was needed in 1977. To be honest, this wasn’t a very interesting tournament and I didn’t bother driving the 45 minutes to an hour to see most of the rounds.
Local players were the recent Romanian addition to US chess, IM Dimitru Ghizdavu and former Soviet GM Anatoly Lein. Lein was a heavy smoker in those days and I remember the odd habit he had of standing with his hands behind his back while holding his cigarette between his thumb and middle finger and tapping the lit end with his index finger.
I’m not sure how much the squabbles between ‘professional’ players who back the Professional Chess Association and the USCF had to do with a lot of ‘name’ players being absent. Also, it's possible the absence of a $700 appearance fee for GMs may have had something to with it.
Invitations were also determined by rating and so some lower-rated GMs did not get invited (like Benko and Bisguier). Kenneth Rogoff was too busy because he was studying for a doctorate in economics. On the other hand, Russian émigrés Leonid Shamkovich and Anatoly Lein were a nice addition.
Defending champion Browne, displaying his Fischer-like ego, midway through the tournament told a local reporter the other players were not motivated by winning the championship because they knew he was too good. So why did they come? Just so they would get the opportunity to play him. Needless to say, his comment didn’t endear him to his opponents and it must have especially galling to them that he won the tournament again.
Of course this event featured Browne’s usual complaint about the lighting and at least one game (against Robert Byrne) was played in a separate hotel room. I didn’t pay any attention to the lighting, but seem to remember some loud noises like chatter and banging dishes coming from the nearby kitchen. I expected Browne to commence wailing about that but he never said anything as far as I know.
For a time Lein and Shamkovich and Larry Christiansen (a new GM) were right behind Browne but eventually they all faded. Browne suffered a defeat in Round 6 against Jim Tarjan when Tarjan’s risky rook sacrifice turned out to be too difficult to handle. BTW, if you want you play over some games involving wild attacks with lots of sacrifices (especially exchange sacs) Tarjan’s games, which were always exciting, are worth a look.
Another interesting aspect of this event was the appearance of Dumitru Ghizdavu, a 28-year-old Romanian student who had emigrated to the United States shortly before the tournament and was invited to play with less than 48 hours notice. I remember having had to work a Saturday so was forced to miss a weekend Swiss my friend put on. When I arrived at the playing site after work I looked at the wall chart and saw Ghizdavu’s name and his 2450 rating which was pretty impressive. Back in those days Super-GMs were 2600 and garden variety GMs 2500, so a 2450 rating was pretty impressive. I think it was one of Ghizdavu’s first tournaments since moving to the US.
1988 - Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania
This was the site of Frank Marshall's greatest triumph, 84 years before. This tournament turned out to be the closest U.S. championships ever when only two and half points separated first from last and no one was undefeated.
The venue was a large hotel that was really showing its age. Peeling paint and all.
Lev Alburt and Sergey Kudrin figured in exactly half of the decisive game though. So how did they do? They finished near the bottom!
1. Wilder 6.5
2.-3. Seirawan 6.0
2-3. Gulko 6.0
4-10. Benjamin 5.5
4-10. Rohde 5.5
4-10. deFirmian 5.5
4-10. Frias 5.5
4-10. Fedorowicz 5.5
4-10. Dlugy 5.5
4-10. Kudrin 5.5
11. Alburt 5.0
12. Miles 4.0
The real surprise was 26-year-old Michael Wilder who had been living in Paris as a professional player but had decided to return to school and study law when his late invitation to Cambridge Springs arrived. GM Tony Miles was playing because he had had some sort of a dispute with the British Chess Federation and had changed federations. His last place finish was disappointing.
Highlights of this event for me were: Before the start of the tournament I was hanging around in the lobby, met and had a brief chat with veteran master Ivan Romanenko who passed away in Greenville, Pennsylvania in November 1994 at age 77.
The biggest thrill was being the only spectator at the postmortem analysis of the Wilder vs. Miles game (drawn). I kept my mouth shut and just watched and listened. Miles was a character and Wilder seemed a little overawed by him. One interesting observation was that the younger players, after their games were finished, hit the hotel bar. All-in-all, this was probably the least enjoyable of the three championships I witnessed.