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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

US Chess Hall of Famer Leonid Shamkovich

      Born in Rostov-on-Don, Russia in southern Russia on June 1, 1923, Shamkovich dropped out of Leningrad State University where he was studying engineering one semester short of graduation to become a full-time player. Nicknamed “Prince” for his regal bearing and speech, Shamkovich continued to play into the 1990s.
      He won the Russian Chess Championship twice, in 1954 and 1956, and placed fifth in the 1964-65 Soviet Championship. After becoming a grandmaster in 1975, he won several tournaments, the most impressive being at Sochi 1967. Shamkonvich's son described him as always playing with great emotion, which made his results very uneven, but his expertise was as an analyst and tactician, making him a highly sought after coach who worked for two world champions, Mikhail Tahl and Garry Kasparov.
      During the early 1970s, he immigrated briefly to Israel and then to Canada before finally settling in the United States in 1973. Vladimir Liberzon and Anatoly Lein, the two who preceded him, also went to Israel and eventually Lein also settled in the U.S. Not many grandmasters were allowed to emigrate, and after Viktor Korchnoi defected in 1976, the door was almost completely shut until the fall of the Soviet Union 15 years later.
      After arriving in the U.S. he quickly became a powerful force on the American chess scene. In 1976 he was winner of both the World Open and the U.S. Open, sharing the latter title with Anatoly Lein and in 1977 tied again for the U.S. Open.
      In addition to his achievements as a player, Shamkovich was one of the most respected authorities on sacrifices and tactics. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including The Modern Chess Sacrifice.
      Married and divorced three times, Shamkovich died on April 22 at his home in Brooklyn at the age of 81 as the result of complications of cancer and Parkinson's disease.
      The location following game which is given only as being played in the U.S. is short but very sharp. If you are an OTB player, I suggest setting up the pieces and playing through it and trying to visualize all the variations...it won't be easy, but it'll be a good exercise in training your tactical vision. In the game Shamkovich played a risky variation and in the ensuing complications, which were enormous, Bonin was faced with a plethora of good looking lines, but missed his way and lost.


  1. Shamkovich left the USSR in 1975, not 1973.

  2. His NY Times obituary states he immigrated to Israel in 1972, moved to Canada in 1973 and to the US at the end of that year. Bill Wall wrote on chessdotcom that he moved to Israel in 1974, then the US in 1976. Wikipedia states Shamkovich left the Soviet Union in 1975. When he played in the international tournament in Cleveland, Ohio in 1975 (at which I was a spectator) I thought he was already representing the US, but perhaps not as that's the same year he won the Canadian Open Championship. Anatoly Lein was also playing in Cleveland and Bisguier wrote that during the 1977 US Championship Lein and Shamkovich had been sharing an apartment in New York City for a couple of years. The Times issued a correction stating they had his birthplace and survivors wrong...maybe they had the dates wrong too.

    His obituary in Chess Life (July, 2005), written by Michael Khodarkovsky, states he came to the United States in 1976 by way of Israel.

  3. I saw both Shamkovich and Lein at the U.S. Open (Fairfax) in 1976 and with both of them, the buzz was that they were recent immigrants. Chssmetrics shows him playing two events in the USSR in 1973, so the NYT is definitely wrong.

  4. I would assume that Khodarkovsky's obituary (which I only located yesterday) in CL is correct. Thanks for the correction!