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Friday, October 6, 2017

Jay Whitehead

Whitehead in 1977
    Anybody familiar with the US chess scene in the 1970s probably remembers the Whitehead brothers, Jay and Paul. Jay, born in 1961 in New York, was the stronger of the two and was headed towards the GM title, but gave up active play before reaching his prime and started researching old chess games, playing backgammon and living a Bohemian existence.  He spent 20 years doing historical research and collecting games prior to 1867 which he recorded in a database. Awarded the IM title in 1986, Whitehead was a US Junior Champion, a Grand Prix champion, frequent competitor in the Lone Pine tournaments of the 1970s and played in the US Championship in 1983 and 1987.  The Whitehead family allowed Bobby Fischer to “hideout” in their home in San Francisco back in the early 1980s.

     In the 1983 US championship he finished in tenth place out of 14, scoring +2 -4 =7. The 1983 event was held at Thiel College in remote Greenville, Pennsylvania and the 23-year old Yasser Seirawan, the top rated US player and already a veteran of European tournaments, had a hissy fit. Seirawan wrote the USCF asking for more money as an appearance fee, better publicity and living conditions.  He wrote that the best US players should not be "living in dormitories and eating cafeteria food.” The USCF refused and so Seirawan didn't play. The tournament began during a heat wave and there was no air conditioning in the dormitories. Whitehead, the reigning US Junior Champion, lost to 19-year old Joel Benjamin in the second round in what turned out to be a brilliancy prize game.
Looking down Main Street in Greenville

     The 1987 Championship was held in Estes Park, Colorado for the third time in as many years. Whitehead again did not finish well. This time he scored +3 -6 =4 and finished in twelfth place out of 14. The highlight of this tournament was that after the final night of partying someone trashed a hotel room as if they were a rock star, even damaging wooden banisters. It was the last tournament held in town.
     Around 1984 Whitehead joined the Hare Krishna sect and would often appear at tournaments in flowing robes, but he quickly became a member of a dissident group. The founder of the Hare Krishna religion, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was eventually murdered, but I am not sure by whom. Whitehead wrote several articles about the murder which Sam Sloane published on his website. Sloane wrote that in 2006 Whitehead sent him a desperate email asking him to remove Whitehead's name from the article, but to keep the article on the site.
     Swami Prabhupada (September 1, 1896 – November 14, 1977) was a spiritual teacher and the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, commonly known as the Hare Krishna Movement. Before adopting the life of a guru in 1950, he was married with children and owned a small pharmaceutical business. As the founder of the Hare Krishna Movement he emerged as a major figure in Western counterculture and thousands of young Americans joined the group. In the mid-1960s he traveled throughout the US and devotees established temples in New York and San Francisco. 
     It has been rumored that the Swami may have been murdered by his close associates whom he allegedly began to criticize as being corrupt. One site that referred to him as a world-famous saint, cultural ambassador, scholar, social reformer claims that he had warned in a letter dated September 1970 that “the great sinister movement ( i.e. the Illuminati] is within our Society” and they were after him. It was alleged that in 1977 he was held in a small room and slowly tortured and poisoned to death by the agents of this sinister movement which the site identified as "Jews and Satanic Zionists." Who knows, but apparently Whitehead had some thoughts on the matter.
     Jay Whitehead died in the Zen Hospice Guest House in San Francisco after a long battle with cancer on October 4, 2011. 
     Here is an exciting and complicated tactical game he played against Michel Wilder at Lone Pine in 1980. 

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