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Friday, January 13, 2017

1991 US Championship...Time For Another Big Brouhaha

The Kamskys
     It had been over 25 years since Bobby Fischer had argued with the organizers of the US Championship and a decade since Walter Browne had walked out in a huff, so another to-do in the event was long overdue. This time it wasn't from a participant though; it was from his father. 
     Halfway through the last round of the 1989 New York Open, Lev Alburt and two FBI agents accompanied an obscure 14-year-old Soviet kid and his father when they disappeared from the playing site and asked for political asylum. 
     At the time, Gata Kamsky didn't have a title, but within months he surprised everybody when he won an elimination tournament among leading American players to see who would play a short exhibition match with world champion Kasparov. When the exhibition started in Los Angeles, Kamsky was rated number one at 2747 which put him 62 points ahead of number two Yasser Seirawan. 
     The 1991 championship organization was a throwback, as had been the previous championship won by Lev Alburt, to the old days when the USCF reverted back to a knockout format.
     Kamsky started of a little shaky when he was paired against the lowest rated player, World Junior Champion Ilya Gurevich, and barely managed to hold the draw in the first of their two game match. But, he managed to score a convincing win in the second game.
     Seirawan was having his problems against Igor Ivanov, taking nine games before he could finally overcome him. At the age of 31 Seirawan was getting to be an old man by chess standards and he struggled from the beginning. In the G30 tiebreaker he got swindled and lost, but managed to rebound with two wins. 
     Another newcomer was Soviet emigre (then only an IM) Alex Yeromolinsky, also a long of tooth 32-year-old, who was making his debut in the championship. Although ranked fifth, Yermo was an unknown and John Fedorowicz had trouble finding any games in the Informants, so he had a friend dig some out of old Shakhmatny Bulletins. It helped. Fedorowicz squeaked past Yermo then reached the semifinals by defeating Patrick Wolff. Joel Benjamin was lucky when he made it into the semi-finals by defeating Seirawan. 
     The semifinals were going to be interesting. Benjamin was paired with Gulko and Fedorowicz against Kamsky. Both Benjamin and Fedorowicz had been whining against all the Russian players who had been arriving in this country and taking prize money out of pocket of American players, thus depriving them of making a living at chess. 
     There had been a lot of foreign born players in American chess since way back. Charles Stanley, George Mackenzie, Eugene Rousseau, Napoleon Marache, Edward Lasker, Charles Jaffe, Oscar Chajes, Abraham Kupchik, Nicolas Rossolimo and even the great Samuel Reshevsky, to name a few. But it had been some time since foreign-born players had been making their presence felt. 
     Then starting in the 1980s, Soviet players began popping up in the championship: Vitaly Zaltsman, Boris Kogan, Sergey Kudrin, Roman Dzhindzhikashvili, Dimitry Gurevich, Lev A1burt, Maxim Dlugy, Anatoly Lein and Leonid Shamkovich, for example. 
     Benjamin and Fedorowicz saw all these new Soviet-born players as a menace to their livelihood, plus they were apparently not aware of the fact that many leading players of the past had something called a "job" they worked at, often playing after they put in a day at work. For example, when Bisguier played his match against Reshevsky in 1957, he (Bisguier) got off work and grabbed some fast food which he ate in the cab on the way to the match. Plus, prize money usually didn't amount to a living wage. Never mind, they felt privileged, I guess. 
     Benjamin defeated Gulko in the first game then drew the second to make it to the finals.  Kamsky's defeat of Fedorowicz included a difficult R plus opposite color B ending and it caused what was to become a common occurrence when Kamsky's father went on the rampage. He accused Fedorowicz of discussing the game with Nick deFirmian while it was in progress. 
     Fedorowicz did, indeed, speak to diFirmian while the game was in progress. On his way out of the playing room, Fedorowicz bumped into deFirmian and said, "Oh, excuse me, Nick," Three years later though, Kamsky's father hired Fedorowicz to be Gata's second in the Professional Chess Association candidates matches. 
     The finals consisted of a four game showdown between Kamsky and Benjamin. The first two games resulted in a win each, both winners having the black pieces.   Then right in the middle of game three came another Dad Kamsky blowup. 
     Rustam was walking around the playing site, warning any players not to make eye contact with Benjamin or pass on any advice. While Benjamin was pondering a critical position, Patrick Wolff, who was competing in US Open which was being held concurrently wandered up to the board to get a better look and Rustam began loudly telling Wolff to get out. In the ensuing argument, Wolff managed to take their argument outside and Rustam renewed his claim that Wolff and other supporters of Benjamin were cheating. 
     TD Carol Jarecki quieted Kamsky down when she informed him that the proper procedure was to make an official protest. Gata eventually emerged the winner and their final game, played with Rustam banned from the room, was a boring K-Indian where Kamsky began trading pieces at move eight. Kamsky thus became the youngest US Champion since Bobby Fischer. 

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