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Friday, July 15, 2011

Abe Turner

Fischer and Turner playing in the 57-58 US Championship

       Abe Turner (1924–October 25, 1962) was an American master who, at the time when IM’s and garden variety GM’s were usually rated 2450-2500, had a USCF rating of over 2400, putting him in the “Senior Master” class.  Turner was good enough to be invited to play in several US Championships back when they were round robin events.  Turner was born in New York City and learned how to play chess in 1943 at a naval hospital while recovering from shrapnel wounds he received during World War Two. 
       He was best known for his prowess in blitz chess and had a reputation as a chess hustler.  His style of play consisted mostly of grabbing a pawn and then trading pieces to reach an endgame. He frequented the Chess and Checkers Club of New York in Times Square.  The club was better known as the "flea house" and was a place where anyone could play chess for ten cents an hour.  Fischer also hung out there in his early days and was a “student” of Turner's.
      Turner placed second in the Manhattan Chess Club championship on five occasions but his best performance was probably his fourth place finish in the US Open in 1955.  Shortly after that he tied for first at San Diego with William Lombardy and James T. Sherwin.
      Turner was found stabbed to death in the basement of the building where he had been working for Al Horowitz’ magazine, Chess Review.  He had only been employed there for about three weeks.  Turner, who weighed 280 pounds, had been stabbed nine times and his body had been dragged down a corridor and placed inside a safe where it was found that afternoon by the building superintendent, Miguel Vasquez.
      After the body was discovered, the police arrested a clerk-typist named Theodore Smith who was also employed by Chess Review. According to one version of the story, Smith, who had been recently released from an asylum, said he killed Turner while they were taking an elevator to a basement storeroom because Secret Service agents had told him Turner was a Communist spy and Smith needed to kill him. Smith told police he had thrown the knife away in Central Park but it was never found. Turner had only been off work half an hour before his body was found.

      The other version told by Arthur Bisguier, who was also employed as a writer by Chess Review at the same time, was that Smith killed Turner while they were in the elevator because Turner made a homosexual pass at Smith who then became enraged and killed Turner.  Bisguier said that he knew Smith and liked him, adding that whenever his (Bisguier’s) wife showed up at the Chess Review office, Smith was always very polite and would pull Mrs. Bisguier’s chair out for her to sit on.  Turner, who was 38, never married and lived with his father
       Shortly before his death Turner appeared on a television game show hosted by Johnny Carsen called Who Do You Trust where the interview went like this:

Turner:  If I lost 25 lbs. I could beat anybody in the world.
Carsen: Why would losing 25 lbs. help you win at chess?
Turner: It just would make me mentally alert and give me more vim and vigor.
Carsen: Why not go on a diet?
Turner: I don't eat much anyway.
Carsen: So how do you account for your weight? You're pretty heavy.
Turner: I drink lots of soda pop every day.
Carsen: What do you do to relax?
Turner: I go to the zoo. I like to watch the monkeys. It makes me feel superior to them, puts me at ease.

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