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Friday, July 18, 2014

Dr. Peter Lapiken

Lapiken in 1958
     Lapiken was a master who lived in the Northwest (Washington and Oregon) from 1958 until 1972, and later was the strongest player ever to live in Montana. Lapiken was born in Riga, Latvia, on July 7, 1907, of Russian parents. His father was a Russian Orthodox priest. The family moved from Latvia to far eastern Russia in 1915 and then to China, in 1916, where Lapiken’s father served as a priest to the city’s large Russian population. Lapiken learned to play chess from his Grandfather in Russia around 1913. During the course of his career he played against Mieses, Tartakover, Kostich.
     In 1931 Lapiken graduated from the Harbin Institute of Oriental and Commercial Sciences. He worked as a detective for the French police, he being fluent in Russian, Mandarin Chinese and French. In 1935, along with most Europeans, he fled to Shanghai until 1939 when he emigrated to the U.S.
     Lapiken played in the Washington State Championship in 1939 and the Mechanics’ Institute Championship in 1940 and was attending school at U.C. Berkeley when WW2 began. During the war Lapiken served in Army Intelligence working as a translator. After the war he returned to Berkeley and completed his PhD in Slavic languages in 1949. 
     He taught for several years at UCLA then left to take a position teaching Russian and French at the University of Montana. Lapiken did not play serious chess except in the summers when he wasn’t teaching. He played in numerous U.S. Opens in the 1950s and 60s and was best remembered for his performance at the U.S. Open in Long Beach in 1955 where he narrowly missed beating Reshevsky and had to settle for a draw. He also drew with the winner, Nicolas Rossolimo.
     Lapiken was a master at bridge as well as chess and was a concert level classical violinist. He was also known as always being a gentleman and displaying courtesy, professionalism, and sportsmanship. On social occasions he was often the life of the party, reciting from memory poems and other literature. When not participating in tournaments or busy with his teaching duties, he played chess at the local club in the back of Hansen’s Famous Ice Cream in Missoula, Montana.
     In the 1930’s he was twice chess champion of Manchuria.  In his US appearances, in the 1953 California Open he tied for first, winning the brilliancy prize in the process. In 1954 at the 2nd Pan-American Chess Congress he tied for places 8-9, finishing behind Evans, Rossolimo, Steiner, Sherwin and Kashdan. There were 80-plus entrants.
     In 1955 at the California Open, he tied for places 4-8 and at the US Open in Long Beach, he scored 6.5 out of 12, drawing with Reshevsky and Rossolimo. In the 1956 U.S. Open Lapiken again scored 6.5 out of 12 and tied for 33-44th place. He did better in the 1958 U.S. Open, tying for 16-32nd with 7.5 out of 12. In the 1960 U.S. Open he tied for places 23-38, again with 7.5 out of 12. In the 1961 U.S. Open he placed 13th with 8 out of 12. 
     In the Mid-West he had successes in local tournaments that are too numerous to mention. For many years, the Northwest maintained its own rating system which was nearly identical to the ‘official’ USCF ratings and in 1958 Lapiken’s Northwest rating was that of an ‘Expert” at 2015 after he had just won the Inland Empire Open in Spokane, Washington, scoring 5.5 out of 6. In the April, 1960, Northwest rating list he was listed simply as a ‘Master’ while the 1960 USCF rating list showed his rating as 2144.
     After retiring, Lapiken spent the last ten years of his life in San Francisco, often showing up at the Mechanics’ Chess Club. Lapiken was a strong player with excellent theoretical understanding but often suffered from a lack of consistency. He was frequently known to relax too soon when it looked like he was winning and it cost him many points. He died August 14, 1983, in San Francisco.

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