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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Mike Valvo

    IM Michael Valvo (April 19, 1942 in Albany, New York – September 18, 2004 in Chanhassen, Minnesota) was, by 1962, one of the top blitz players in the United States. He won the 1963 U.S. Intercollegiate Championship.
      Valvo was a graduate of Columbia University. He spent much of his life working with computers and is best known for his job as commentator for the Kasparov versus Deep Blue Matches in 1996 and 1997, but he accomplished many things in a chess career going back to the late 1950s.
      Valvo learned the game from his father Frank, who was also a USCF master. Michael made quick progress and in 1964 was a member of the U.S. team that competed in the 11th Student Olympiad in Cracow, Poland, in 1964 along with Bill Lombardy, Raymond Weinstein, Charles Kalme, Bernard Zuckerman and Mitchell Sweig. The Americans finished in fourth place behind the USSR, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
      He quit playing chess in 1969, but came back and earned a FIDE rating of 2530 in the late 1970s after an excellent performance in a NY Futurity. FIDE awarded him the IM title in 1980. By 1976, Valvo had essentially dropped out of tournament chess and his rating was no longer published in the USCF rating lists, until Bill Goichberg and Jose Cuchi invited him to a futurity tournament. Valvo did well and his rating rose to 2440. However, Professor Arpad Elo refused to award Valvo the rating because Elo had never heard of Valvo and suspected that the tournament had been rigged.
      This matter was debated at the 1978 FIDE Congress in Buenos Aires and FIDE voted to give Valvo his 2440 rating. Valvo quickly proved that he really was a 2440 strength player and earned the International Master title. Valvo never played in the U.S. Chess Championship, but made his mark in computer chess, which became his primary focus.
      At every World Computer Chess Championship from the early 1980s until his death, Valvo was the organizer, moderator, commentator or acted in some official capacity. He also played a two game play by email match against Deep Thought, winning both games.
      A respected opening theoretician Valvo played 1.e4 for much of his career before adding the English to his repertoire. He was a life-long fan of the Dragon and a early pioneer (1963) of a Benko-gambit. He tested many of his lines in correspondence chess throughout his career. Valvo was a co-author of a book on the 1990 Kasparov-Karpov match and was the technical editor of Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess along with Raymond Weinstein. He did the game annotations for the 1966/67 US Championship bulletin. Valvo died of a heart attack.


  1. Mike and I worked for the same small software company in the 1970's. He was a friendly and very capable colleague. I never played chess with him--there would have been no point, given the enormous disparity in strength--but I had the pleasure of playing bridge against him in a couple of team events. He was also a highly skilled bridge player and a fierce competitor.

  2. There's a famous story from the mid-1970s. Valvo was playing the master Barry Davis (now of Buffalo) and fell on time. Valvo didn't like this result, so before a TD could see the clock, he grabbed it and ran away! Davis, who was in the Air Force and consequently in excellent shape, gave chase. Valvo's head start was too much and he succeeded in locking himself in his hotel room. Needless to say, the game was awarded to Davis.