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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Albert C. Simonson

      Albert Simonson (26 December 1914, New York City – 16 November 1965, San Juan, Puerto Rico.) was one of the strongest American players of the 1930s, and was part of the American team which won the gold medals at the 1933 Chess Olympics.
Denker, Mrs. Kashdan, Kashdan, Simonson, Marshall and Fine

       Albert Charles (Buddy) Simonson was born into a wealthy family. His father Leo was a successful wigmaker to the Manhattan  rich, the theatre and movie businesses. His mother Irene was from the family that owned the Illinois Watch Case Co. in Elgin, Illinois. 
      Simonson showed tremendous skill soon after learning the game. At New York 1933, he scored 7/10 to tie for 2nd-3rd places, behind Reuben Fine.  This earned him selection to the United States Olympic team at age 18. In the Olympiad at Folkestone 1933 he played first reserve board and scored 3/6, as the Americans won the team gold medals. Simonson's teammates were Fine, Kashdan, Dake and Marshall.
      In the 17th Championship of the Marshall Chess Club, 1933–34, Simonson scored 7/11 to finish 6th. In the 1935 U.S. Open at Milwaukee, Wisconsin he scored 5.5/10 to tie for 4th-6th places.
      In the first modern US Championship in 1936 Simonson placed second with 11/15, behind Reshevsky. He scored 11/16 in the 1938 United States Championship at New York, to finish third, behind Reshevsky and Fine. In the United States Championship of 1940, again at New York, he tied for 4th-5th places, with 10/16, behind Reshevsky, Fine, and Isaac Kashdan. However, in the 1951 U.S. Championship in New York, Simonson finished tied for 11th-12th, with only 3.5/11. His total in four U.S. Championships was 35.5/58, for 61.2 per cent.
      Simonson was ranked sixth in the country on the first official rating list issued in 1950. Simonson was a pioneer in the direct mail business field. He served with the Army during World War II, attaining the rank of Sergeant. Simonson was very skilled at indoor card and board games, but had a serious gambling problem. He was married three times, and fathered three children.
      And so ends Wikipedia’s bare bones account of this colorful figure in American chess about whom so little is known.  Arnold Denker sheds a little more light on the real Simonson in his chapter on the man he called A Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze in the delightful The Bobby Fischer I Knew.

“Albert C. ‘Buddy’ Simonson burst onto the New York chess scene like a meteor and then disappeared almost as quickly.  But during his short stay, he won many honors as a player, as a problemist and as a member of the victorious US team at the Folkestone Olympiad.  The high point of his career occurred in 1936, where only a final round defeat prevented him from winning the first modern US Championship.  After that setback, his interest in chess seemed to wane.  He did well enough in the 1938 and 1940 championships, but his comeback attempt in the 1951 fixture ended catastrophically, when he shared 10th – 12th places.”  Denker went on to fill in some of the details and ends the chapter on Simonson describing himself sitting at Simonson’s funeral in the All Souls Unitarian church in New York City thinking, “What a waste.”

      Physically, Denker described Simonson as a young man as tall and shy, always with the slicked-back hair style men wore in the 1930s, well-cut clothes accompanied by an umbrella draped over his arm.   
      According to Denker, if Simonson had chosen a career in chess, there was no telling how far he could have gone.  Unfortunately, like many young men who were handed a fortune and never compelled to work, he had no appreciation of it and piddled it all away.  Simonson had a restless nature that caused him to jump from one thing to another without ever really accomplishing anything.  He became bored with chess and took up pinochle, bridge, gin, poker and backgammon, always willing to gamble on the outcome and always with the very best player he could locate; he nearly always lost. 
      $429,000.  In 1933, at age 19, that is the equivalent of how much Simonson collected for his first annuity that had been left to him by Grandpa Elgin.  Actually it was $25,000, but $25,000 went a lot further in those days.  He was to receive many of these annuities but always, after paying off gambling debts, there was little left.  Denker described how on occasions loan sharks had threatened to break his legs and how Simonson often sold off ‘futurities’ on his annuities for as little a $0.25 on the dollar. Simonson also had a habit of pulling practical jokes on people and that sometimes made him enemies.
      By the late 1930s he needed money and founded a direct mailing business that turned out to be quite successful.  This prompted him to get married, but more gambling debts soon caused his wife to leave him.  After WW2 broke out Simonson was drafted and, as Sergeant Simonson, ended up in England.  After the war he married an English woman, but that marriage did not last long and when it ended he returned to the US where he married a third time, also short-lived. 
      Always a chain smoker, his health declined as his emphysema worsened and while on a trip to San Juan in mid-November, 1955, shortly after his 51st birthday, he passed away.    As Denker said, what a waste.

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