Many know that Fischer played in his first simul against Max Pavey, but very little else is remembered about Pavey who was one of the US's top players after the Second World War; he was also a key figure in the early days of the U.S. Chess Federation.
Born March 5, 1918 in Boston, Massachusetts, Pavey arrived in Scotland in 1938 to study medicine at Glasgow University. While a student he won the Scottish Championship at Aberdeen 1939, with 7.5-1.5.
In the 1938/39 season of the Glasgow Chess League, he played on board one for the Bridgeton Working Men's Club in the first division. In the Spens Cup competition, Pavey played for the Glasgow Jewish Institute, helping that club to win the 1939 Spens Cup. In all of these matches, he lost only won game. Not bad considering that an article in the June 1939 issue of Chess he stated, "My chess career has hitherto consisted of three years' Intercollegiate chess for the City College of New York, and some games for various teams in the Metropolitan League. I had a fair record but not impressive."
Pavey returned to the US in the summer of 1939, but was prevented from returning to Glasgow to continue his studies by the outbreak of war in September. He did visit Scotland one more time, briefly, in 1955; on the way home from the USA v USSR match in Moscow, Pavey and his wife, Violet, stopped for a very short visit.
A Senior Master with the USCF, Pavey had a very distinguished career both in and outside of chess. In 1947 he won the U.S. Lightning Championship and in 1948 he tied 5-8th place in the U.S. Open with 8.5–3.5. He won the New York State Championship in 1949.
In 1951, he took 3rd in the US Championship, scoring 7-4. That was the same year he gave a simultaneous exhibition in Brooklyn and faced the seven-year-old Bobby Fischer; it was Fischer's first attempt at serious chess and he lost in about 15 minutes. Unfortunately the game score has been lost.
Pavey finished second to Donald Byrne in the 1953 US Open at Milwaukee. In 1954, he took 3rd in the New York Manhattan Chess Club Championship and in 1954 he played on third board in the match against the USSR in New York. He was paired against Paul Keres who defeated Pavey two games to one with one drawn. Chessmetrics estimated rating in December 1955 at 2418 which ranked him at number 115 in the world.
In 1955, he played on sixth board in the return match held in Moscow where he scored +0 -2 =2 against Tigran Petrosian. In 1955/56, he won the Manhattan Chess Club Championship with a remarkable 12–3 score. In 1956, he tied for 10-11th in the US Championship, but later in the year beat Bobby Fischer in the Manhattan Chess Club Championship Semi-Final. He won group 2 of the club championship with 4.5–0.5.
Known as a soft spoken and affable man, Pavey also devoted considerable efforts to the job of chairman of the USCF International Affairs Committee and he continued to conduct international negotiations from his hospital bed concerning the participation of American team in the first International Women's Team Tournament in Holland. The City College of New York has a Max Pavey Scholarship and an award for excellence in chemistry. On the first USCF rating list in 1950 he was ranked number 15 with a rating of 2442, but the ratings were probably quite inaccurate. Fine was first with 2817 and Reshevsky second at 2770. Alex Kevitz was 3rd with 2610!
Also a ranking tournament bridge player, Pavey was a chemist by profession and for several years had been manager of the Canadian Radium and Uranium Corp. Laboratory in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. and it is believed that he might have been the victim of radiation poisoning. That was based on a statement from the State Labor Department of New York which brought court action against the company alleging it was lax in reprocessing a salvaging radium.
Death claimed Pavey on September 4, 1957 at the age of 39 after a long confinement in the Mt. Sinai Hospital. Leukemia and coronary complications "with a suspicion of radium intoxication" were listed as the causes.
The following game is from the 1951 US Championship which was won by Larry Evans ahead of Samuel Reshevsky. Pavey finished third, drawing with both Evans and Reshevsky. He only lost one game, to Albert S. Pinkus who shared last place with Milton Hanauer and Albert "Buddy" Simonson. Even if he had won that game it would not have improved his standing as Evans scored 9.5, Reshevsky 9.0 and Pavey 7.0.