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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The 1951 US Open

Larry Evans
     The 1951 US Open, the 52nd, was held in Fort Worth, Texas July 9-21. The attendance of 98 was down a bit from the previous year. By round 7 there had been a total of 17 players who had withdrawn. Between them they had a score of +5 -36 =0 and 20 games were lost on forfeit. Officially though the 98 entries was the second-highest in the tournament's history. 
     The youngest of the new generation, 19-year-old Larry Evans, finished a clear first. A few months later, still 19 years old, Evans would win the US Championship ahead of Reshevsky. He aslo won his second title the next year (1952) by winning a match with Herman Steiner. 
 After 10 rounds the leading scores were: 
1-2) Evans and Whitaker 8.0 
3-5) Sandrin, Hearst and Cross 7.5 
6-10) Kashdan, Donovan, Magee, Fink and Fajan 7.0 

     In the 10th round Kashdan had lost to Whitaker and was out of the running...even his final two wins against Edmar Mednis and James T. Sherwin didn't improve his position much. Whitaker faded when he lost his last two games to Hearst and Cross. 
     In the last two rounds Evans only managed draws against Hearst and Magee, but it was enough. Albert Sandrin moved up to second place by winning his last two games against Sherwin and Cross. 

Final top scores: 
1) Larry Evans 10.0 
2) Albert Sandrin 9.5 
3-4) Eliot Hearst and Isaac Kashdan 9.0 
5-8) James Cross, Jeremiah Donovan, Lee Magee and Jose Florido 8.5 
9-13) A.J. Fink, Norman T. Whitaker, Juan Carlos Gonzalez, Harry Fajans and Alfred Ludwig 8.0 
14-21) Edgar T. McCormick, George Eastman, Robert S. Brieger, Edmar Mednis, James T. Sherwin, Raymond Martin, Thomas Jenkins, Lewis J. Isaacs and Arthur R Spiller 7.0 

     Here’s a fun game from the first round. Whitaker is, of course, quite well known. In the mid-1960s while playing in a tournament in North Carolina I arrived in the tournament room before the start of the round on Sunday morning and there was a likable old fellow on crutches who was adjudicating a game and telling stories. I did not know who he was at the time, but it was Whitaker. He was peddling his book, written with Glen Hartleb, titled 365 Selected Chess Endings. The book was written in both German and English and consisted of fairly difficult endgame studies. Whitaker was selling autographed copies for five dollars and promised, “If you learn everything in this book, you'll become a master.” 
     Become a master...those were the magic words, so like a lot of guys I bought a copy. I really didn't like the book and never learned everything in it so maybe that's why I never became a master. Who knows? Or was it a Whitaker mini-swindle? 

     Sam Sloan wrote that Whitaker played in several US Opens in the late 1940s and by the late 1950s, he was past his prime and so headed down South where he played in tournaments in North Carolina and Georgia where there were no masters. In those events, Whitaker would generally use only fifteen minutes. Sloan did not remember him winning any of those tournaments and on occasion he even lost to Experts and class players. 
     Whitaker’s opponent in this game was not Raymond Martin who tied for place 14 to 21 with 7 points, but the 55th place finisher D. B. Martin who scored 5.5-6.5. 
     Chessgames.com gives 95 games by Benjamin Martin, but I believe they have confused two players. The games date from 1951 to 2003 and includes games played by the New Zealand player Benjamin Martin, an IM who was joint New Zealand Champion in 1989/90 with Ortvin Sarapu. That Benjamin Martin was born in 1969, so he obviously wasn’t playing in the 1951 US Open. 
     Whitaker’s opponent was likely Dean B. Martin, who at the time was from Fort Worth, Texas. He won the won the Southwestern Junior Championship in 1952 and in 1953 was elected youth activities chairman of the Texas Chess Association. 
     I have a copy of the January 1955 issue of Chess Life and there is a D.B. Martin from San Marcos, Texas listed with a rating of 1957. San Marcos lies about half way between Austin and San Antonio. 
     In 1955, Whitaker was listed as having a rating of 2313, but had been kicked out of the USCF and barred "forever" from playing in USCF tournaments because he had circulated a mimeographed letter that “transcended all bounds of free speech in its attacks upon the character and integrity of USCF officials.” It also didn’t help his cause when Whitaker sued the USCF for what amounts to about $900,000 today for damages resulting from the publication of a brief reference to his connection with the Lindberg kidnapping hoax. At some point Whitaker’s tiff with the USCF was finally resolved. 

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