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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Dr. Karl Burger

     Burger, a medical doctor, was born January 22, 1933 and died on April 1, 2000 at the age of 67 after a long illness while living in Augusta, Georgia.  He was an International Master with two GM norms. 
     During 1949-53, Columbia University's chess team won the National Intercollegiate Championship when this biennial event was held in 1950 and 1952. The team consisted of James Sherwin, Eliot Hearst, Francis Mechner and Karl Burger plus two reserves. Everybody has heard the term “cheapo” being used to describe a move which threatens something so obvious that only an idiot would fall for it, and he does. Burger invented the term. 
     A wealthy doctor, Burger played chess in over 20 countries and 47 of the 50 states, winning the 1993 Georgia State championship. He participated in only one US Championship and that was in 1969 where finished last with 4 draws and 7 losses. 
     According to Sam Sloan, Burger gained a good many rating points in open tournaments back in the days before there were class events and accelerated pairings were not yet used. He would enter a Swiss event and in the first round be paired against a low rated player whom he was sure to beat, gain a couple of rating points, and then drop out. 
     Sloan also described an alleged scandal involving Burger. He sponsored a tournament in 1980 to which he donated the prize money. A number of strong masters were playing and Burger scored a brilliant win in almost every game and tied for first.  The result lead to speculation that the games had been rigged and his opponents had been bribed. Burger defeated GMs Lev Alburt, Roman Dzindzichashvili, Edmar Mednis and Leonid Shamkovich. Sloan claimed he examined the games and found nothing out of the ordinary and concluded that Burger just had a good tournament. 
     Burger was one of Bobby Fischer's early coaches at the Manhattan Chess Club. Like Fischer, Burger grew up in Brooklyn, New York in the 1950s and it was at the Manhattan Chess Club where he first met Fischer who was ten years his junior. When Fischer showed up at the club he always had salami sandwiches that he would eat while taking lessons from Burger. Food was prohibited at the club, but they made an exception for Fischer.  The board ended up covered with debris from Fischer's salami sandwiches which Burger found disgusting and as a result he developed a “very great hatred of salami." 
     After obtaining his medical degree Burger worked as a physician and lived with his parents. His father died in 1967 while aboard a cruise ship bound for Bermuda. Then when his mother died in 1978 only Dr. Burger and their maid were left. The maid, who had been with the family over 30 years, moved to Georgia because the climate was warmer and she had relatives there; Burger went with her and she continued to work for him until she died of cancer in 1996.  After that, Burger lived a monk-like existence generally avoiding neighbors, but he did offer chess lessons out of his home and played chess on the internet.
     Suffering complications from diabetes, he had a stroke and lost the feeling in his right hand and foot and very rarely left the house. 
     The following game, real tactical melee, was played in the 1953 US Open held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The tournament was won by Donald Byrne who finished half point ahead of Max Pavey. Horowitz tied for third with Nicolas Rossolimo, James Sherwin, Frank Anderson of Canada, Eliot Hearst and James Cross. Burger was next in line, tying for places 9-12 with Curt Brasket, Miroslav Turiansky and Joseph Shaffer. In reporting the game results in his Chess Review, the Picture Chess Magazine, Horowitz might have reported the result of this one as “Burger blasts Horowitz” or “Burger hammers Horowitz” or “Burger bamboozles Horowitz” or some such.  It was much more colorful than simply listing the results as Burger 1 - Horowitz 0.


  1. 45 d7 seems a lot simpler

  2. You are correct. White has a mate in three with 45.d7+. I probably should not have given the !! to his 45th move, but thought the resulting mates if the N was taken were intriguing. Come to think of it, the mate after 45. d7+ Bxd7+ 46. Nxd7 fxg3 47. Nf6mate is a pretty unusual position also. Was Burger enamored with the P or N mates and not see the quicker win or was it just a little joke he pulled on his more illustrious opponent?

  3. I met Burger at the Marshall Chess Club in about 1970. I showed up for the weekly rapids tournament. I was an A player so I signed up for the A section. I didn't understand that the A section was where the GM, IGM, masters and some experts played, while everyone else was in the B. So of course I finished with a goose egg. I played Burger in the last round, and he started giving me lessons.

    He offered a suggestion for assessing chess positions that I have never seen anywhere else; he characterized positions as "clone" or "unclone" (I think he made up the term in this context). In a clone position the minor pieces were deployed behind a pawn formation, and the attack proceeded by advancing the formation. In an unclone position the minor pieces were in front of the main pawn formation and tactics were mostly a matter of piece play. I'm not sure if this has been very useful over the years, but I remember him as a kindly teacher.

  4. I met Dr. Burger while he was in Augusta. I took many lessons from him and we also travelled to tournaments together. He was always good for interesting stories on our drives throughout the southeast and quoting poetry that he loved. As Julian mentions, he had a unique way of teaching and a lot of his terms were self-invented, but were useful with his teaching method. One term he used was "the winning diamond" and was comprised of 9 different techniques that can be used to win a chess game. Each of the 9 techniques also had a term associated with it that made it easy to remember. The trick is being able to assess the position to know when to apply each of the 9 points in the winning diamond.