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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Martin C. Stark

Published in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on February 21, 2011:

     Martin C. Stark, 98, of Bridgeville, formerly of Bethesda, MD, and a New York City native, was a 1933 graduate of Harvard College with a degree in civil engineering, passed comfortably in his sleep on February 17, surrounded by people who loved him.
     He worked in Washington, DC, for the former Capital Transit Company as traffic engineer and project manager, overseeing and implementing the facilitation of traffic flow along the major DC roadways by using aerial photographs and computer simulation to optimize the movement of buses and trolleys within the transit system. In 1956, Mr. Stark left the transit company to work for the former National Bureau of Standards in Washington (known today as the National Institute of Standards and Technology), as an operations research analyst, until he retired in 1973.
     He was a member of the Harvard champion chess team during his four years in Cambridge, later winning the annual Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC, championship from 1937-39. Other interests included playing the piano as well as duplicate tournament bridge, achieving the coveted rank of life master in 1984. Mr. Stark also loved word games and was an active participant - and winner - in nationally sponsored number contests.
     Mr. Stark spent his summers as a boy in the New York Finger Lakes Region on his beloved Keuka Lake, and his family vacationed there every year since the early 1950s. He continued to enjoy the lake well into his 90s. Mr. Stark was universally loved and cherished for his sweet and gentle disposition, his delightful sense of humor, and his quick wit. He was predeceased by his wife of 57 years, Elizabeth, in 2001. Survivors include a son, Douglas W. Stark, of Cecil; two daughters, Dr. Martha C. Stark of Boston, and Susan P. Stark of Rockville, MD, and a daughter-like friend, Jennifer J. Lagally, of Bethel Park. Memorial Service will be held later in Bethesda, MD.

     In the USA vs. USSR Radio match of 1945, Stark, along with several other players, was named as a reserve. Of the opening in this game, Santasiere wrote in his book (actually a 43 page pamphlet), "The Futuristic Chess Opening":

     With this book I am, at last, formally introducing to the chess world a (my) new opening. That it is an opening is certain; that it is new is doubtful, for, really, nothing can be new - we can only meditate anew on the old. And, this is what I have done. Now I am ready to pass on to you the story (down to its present-day chapter), of the opening which, post-dating Reti's system, must be termed the most "modern." The story will, of course, cover both theory and practice.     
     The history of this curious opening must almost entirely revolve around my many years' experience with it. Alekhine once opened a game with it. Tartakower at New York 1924 played 1. b4 vs. Maroczy and jocularly referred to it as the Orang-Outan Opening." The joke may be good, but the title is poor, for chess, like love, is serious. However 1. b4, which allows the immediate 1 . . .e5, is not really "my" opening, since I prefer to force Black [to] exert some effort to attain 1 . . .e5.     
     Is my system a "good" opening? That depends on what we mean by "good." Can it win games against masters? Certainly. You will find the proof here later. But, much more important than such a material consideration is the clear fact that it is rich spiritually by which I mean that it constitutes a challenge to the middle game abilities of both players; and further that it is romantic, by which I mean it leaves far behind the "safe and sound" chains of chess for the clean, laughing freedom of daredevil adventure.     
     To be reduced to the more prosaic mechanics of the mind, just what are the ideas behind this opening? For let no one imagine that it is the product of a disordered mind wedded to insanity. On the contrary, there are often deep waters where all seems shallow and stagnant.
     First, the opening invites the exchange of White's QNP for Black's QBP, then White will be left with a majority of pawns in the center; and it is my theory that such a majority is an advantage in the middle game.     
     Second, the opening invites the challenge . . .a5, to which White replies b5, with the result that Black's Queen is denied the c6 square, and Black's QNP and QRP are often weak; though White's pawns, too, are compromised! Just some fun!

Stark lost the following game due to miscalculating a tactic, but it must have been exciting to watch.

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