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Friday, July 26, 2013

Dr. Ariel Mengarini

OK, after that last post, let’s get serious…

      Mengarini, a board certified psychiatrist who worked for the Veteran’s Administration, was born October 19, 1919 in Rome to what the Dictionary of American Biography calls ''a distinguished Roman family.'' Along with his mother, the sculptress Fausta Vittoria Mengarini, he came to the United States when he was still a young boy, finished his education in Washington, D.C. and in New York.
      He became a United States citizen in 1942 and served in World War II as a Captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps-Neuropsychiatrist. In Germany, he was part of a team to take over the administration of a large prison-of-war hospital. He received three campaign medals and the World War II Victory Medal. Discharged in October 1946, he joined the VA as a psychiatrist. He was devoted to his patients and said that he was ''proud to have helped a great many of them.''
      Upon retiring he began playing in tournaments in earnest throughout the rest of his life. He wrote a book on chess: Predicament in 2-Dimensions: The Thinking of a Chess Player. He also wrote chess articles and articles on his medical specialty. Mengarini was an avid reader with a wide interest which included history, philosophy, poetry, fiction and the study of the human brain. He and his wife, Aristea had two children; a daughter Athena and a son, Will. He passed away in 1998 of brain cancer after an illness lasting eight months.
     Predicament in 2 Dimensions was focused on how to approach thinking about chess in a larger context. The book wasn’t written to help players improve so much as it was to help them  prepare mentally for a game or tournament. In 1940 he won the championship of Washington D.C. In 1943 he won the U.S. Amateur championship with a perfect 11-0 score. He also played in several US chess championships. He took last place in the 1954 US Championship (2 wins, 1 draw, 10 losses). He popularized the opening 1.e4 e5 2.a3, sometimes known as Mengarini’s Opening.
      He wrote, "Although I learned the moves of chess at six, I had no opportunity to practice nor enter a tournament until I won a competitive scholarship to Harvard in 1937." Mengarini assumed that Harvard, as he phrased it, "was a chess university" writing that he neglected going to classes so as to engage in innumerable skittles at the Harvard Union.  The result was he lost his scholarship and had to return home to Washington, D.C. where he attended George Washington University. Even though he continued to play a lot of chess while attending George Washington University, he eventually became a medical student there.
      Mengarini's skittles games and participation in simultaneous exhibitions brought him in contact with many well-known figures in American chess and he excelled at blitz chess, or as it was often played in the old days at 10 seconds a move, and he defeated many of the country’s top players doing it.
      In the following game he defeated Reshevsky in the 1951 US Championship in an extremely complicated game. In a new qualifying format Mengarini sneaked into the finals by defeating Al Horowitz in one of the preliminary tournaments. At 30 years old, he couldn’t be considered a threat, but he was one of top 25 or 30 players in the country in a day when masters were a rare thing. In an event of this caliber Mengarini’s real problem was his opening play.
      The 1951 championship was won by Larry Evans with a score of 9.5 out of 11 (8 wins and 3 draws) and Reshevsky was a full point back as a result of his sole loss to Mengarini. Dr. Max Pavey finished third while Mengarini (+3 -5 =3) finished eighth. Also, this tournament was of some significance because Reshevsky’s result pretty much marked the end of his reign as U.S. champion that for the most part had been interrupted only when he chose not to defend the title. The next championship tournament was to be held in 1954, but Reshevsky did not play in that one. In fact, none of the top five rated players (Reshevsky, Robert Byrne, George Kramer, Donald Byrne and Arnold Denker) accepted invitations. Mengarini played in the 1954 event (won by Bisguier a point ahead of Evans) but finished last (+2 -10 =1). That brings us to the 1957 championship and Reshevsky finished second to a kid named Bobby Fischer.

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