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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Philip Geffe aka Philip Woliston

     Philip Reinhold Gefe was born on October 22, 1920 in Napa, California, the son of Eugene Carl and Mary Rebecca (Woliston) Geffe and was raised by his mother in Seattle, Washington. He took on his mother's maiden name, Woliston when he started school. 
     While in high school he joined the Seattle Chess Club and became friends with Olaf Ulvestad who became his mentor. His progress was rapid. Gefe claimed that he rose to be the second best player in the Seattle club, presumably behind Ulvestad, within four months. At the age of 16 he defeated the nine time Washington State Champion, Leonard Sheets (November 2, 1904-February, 1980, 75 years old), in a match +5-3=1. 
     A short time later he and his mother moved to Los Angeles where he won the city championship with a perfect 11-0 score. His next achievement was winning the California State Championship with a 7-1 score ahead of the likes of Harry Borochow, Herman Steiner and George Koltanowski. 
     According to an article appearing in the San Bernadino (California) newspaper dated November 24, 1939 Woliston, 19, of Los Angeles defeated Edward Kovacs, formerly of Vienna, in the finals after 10 days of play. Woliston succeeded Brorochow of Los Angeles, who had held the state title since 1930; his only loss in the tournament was to Borochow.
     Reshevsky included his victory over Woliston in the 1940 US Championship in his book of best games. Woliston was invited to play based on his winning the California championship. After arriving in New York City, he visited all the local chess clubs and in one instance managed to draw Reuben Fine in a 10 seconds a move game and was narrowly defeated by Reshevsky in another. 
     This tournament was the last to bring Reuben Fine, Samuel Reshevsky and Isaac Kashdan together and you can read the account of this exciting tournament HERE. In the 1940 event Fine came close to winning the US Championship.  He was half point behind Reshevsky when they met in the last round. Fine established a winning position, but then blundered in on move 27. Speaking of the game, Reshevsky commented, “A miracle happened.” The game ended in a draw and the result was enough to discourage Fine so that he never entered another US championship when Reshevsky was playing. Woliston remembered, "When it was over, Fine looked crushed and almost ready to cry." 
     Woliston finished next to last with a score of +2 -12 =2. His wins were over David Polland and tailender George Littman. He drew with Fred Reinfeld and Milton Hanauer. 
     There was an article in the Reno (Nevada) Evening Gazette on February 11,1975 describing a meeting of the Staunton Chess Club in which members were challenged by a chess computer. The computer was badly beaten. The article mentions that Phil Geffe, a "chess master new to Reno and an engineer at Lynch", was behind the special meeting of the club. Of the two games the machine won, Geffe said one was a defeat of two humans alternating moves. According to Geffe the humans did not have a coherent plan and the machine took advantage of them. Both of the computer's wins were achieved in the "slow" mode. The program could be adjusted to move in a few seconds or allowed several minutes per move. Geffe said computer chess programs play at a rating of about 1500. 
     Professionally he was known as Philip R. Geffe, an electrical engineer and consultant. In 1962 he published a book, Simplified Modern Filter Design. Geffe was a member of the Fellow Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. During his career he was Chief filter engineer Triad Transformer Corporation, Venice, California, 1952-1956. Director engineering at Hycor, Inc., Sylmar, 1957-1960. Senior staff engineer at Axel Electronics Inc., Jamaica, New York, 1962-1965. Fellow engineer at Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Baltimore, 1965-1974. Staff engineer Lynch Communication Systems, Inc., Reno, 1974-1980, Scientific-Atlanta, Inc., Atlanta, 1980-1985, KandL Microwave, Inc., Salisbury, Maryland, 1985-1987. He began working as an independent consultant in 1988 and became Senior Engineer at the PULSE division of Technitrol in San Diego in 1997 and worked again as a consultant from 2001 to 2003. He retired in 2003 at the age of 83. 
     Of course, you're curious to know how Philip Woliston became Philip Gefe for the second time. After the attack on Pearl Harbor he enlisted in the Merchant Marines and became a radio officer. In order to join the Merchant Marines he was required to present his birth certificate to enlist and so he became Philip R. Geffe. 
     After the war he got married and raised three children and did not return to tournament chess until 1965. Geffe said that when he went to work for Westinghouse Defense and Space Center in Baltimore, Maryland his boss and the fellow that hired him, a Russian immigrant, were chess players and they played chess at his interview. 
     After that, he began playing off and on and won the Maryland State title in the late 1960's and in 1970 he won the Nevada State Championship. As far as I have been able to determine, Gefe is still with us and lives in California. 
     Even though Woliston did not do well in the 1940 US Championship, I was impressed by his positional crush of Polland in the following game. 
 

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