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Monday, December 10, 2018

1945 US Open in Roarin’ Peoria

     Peoria was an interesting place in 1945. Located in central Illinois, it's the largest city on the Illinois River. Established in 1691 by the French explorer Henri de Tonti, Peoria is the oldest European settlement in the state and is named after the Peoria tribe. 
     Until last year Peoria was the global and national headquarters for Caterpillar Inc., one of the 30 companies composing the Dow Jones Industrial Average; in 2018 the company relocated its headquarters to Deerfield, Illinois. 
     World War Two had been a good time economically for Peoria, but it alos left the city with a bad reputation. Like everywhere, the war brought plenty of work, but it also brought some things that weren't so good. Madams, tavern owners and casino operators made big profits from the soldiers who came to Peoria with money to spend. 
     But, many middle-class Peorians recoiled against the Sin City their town had become. When soldiers from Camp Ellis came to Peoria started contracting venereal disease, the reformers teamed with the military to scrub the city clean. In the mayoral primaries of 1945 Peoria’s reformers decisively defeated the incumbent mayor who was a longtime representative of Roarin’ Peoria. 

     Peoria is famous for being the birthplace of Richard Pryor (December 1, 1940 – December 10, 2005), a stand-up comedian, actor and social critic known for uncompromising examinations of racism and other contemporary issues. He was also known for his vulgarities, profanity and racial epithets. 
     Pryor's father was drafted by the Army and formally married Richard’s mother just before being sent off to the front. The Army didn’t agree with him; after seven months he received a Section 8 discharge. Section 8s are no longer given, but old time veterans will remember when they were given to those judged mentally unfit for service, homosexuals, bisexuals, cross-dressers and transgenders. 
     Shortly after his return to Peoria, Pryor's father was allegedly involved in the mugging of a black soldier. At the same time the Pryor family benefited from the influx of military traffic in the red light district. By the end of the war, the Pryor family operated two brothels and a tavern-nightclub. 

     By 1946, gambling was a problem. The Mayor finally ordered the Chief of Police to crack down on gambling. The real reason for prohibiting gambling according to the Mayor was too many working men were losing their paychecks on Friday and Saturday and hundreds of wives and mothers had complained about heads of families coming home broke. Today Peoria is totally different. 
     In Peoria on July 21, 1945 after going undefeated in the previous 10 rounds, Anthony Santasiere defeated one of his most dangerous opponents, Chicago master Einar Michelsen, former Western Open Champion, in the 11th round to clinch the Open with one round to go.  With 9 wins and 2 draws he could not be caught. His draws were in the first round against R.G. Konkel of Minneapolis and Albert Sandrin of Chicago, the Illinois champion, in the 5th round. Immediately after his win, L. Walter Stephens, VP of the USCF, formally presented Santasiere with his trophy. 
     Santasiere succeeded Reshevsky, then living in Boston, as titleholder. Santasiere, a 40 year old school teacher from New York City, had won the Marshall Chess Club Championship in 1922, 1926, 1936 and 1943. He was also the New York State Champion in 1923 and 1930 and won the New England Championship in 1943. The 33-player turnout was the second best since 1938, but most of the top players were missing. 
     The annual tournament in Ventnor City ended one day before Peoria and the Pan American event in Hollywood started a week afterward. The Open was divided into six preliminary sections with the top two finishers from each section seeded into the round robin finals. Finals result: 

1) Anthony Santasiere 9.5 
2) Frederic Anderson 7.0 
3) Albert Sandrin 6.5 
4) Einar Michelsen 6.0 
5-7) William Byland, Milton Finkelstein and Roger Johnson 5.5 
8-10) Earl Davidson, Robert Konkel and Bela Rozsa 5.0 
11) Constantine Rasis 4.5 
12) L. Walter Stephens 1.0 

     Santasiere sometimes gets a bad rap as a player, but he appears on Chessmetrics rating list for the years 1931-1954 with an assigned rating ranging from the upper 2400s to 2556, which for that era was quite high. However, his rating is based mostly on domestic events as he had limited international experience. The following game was messy, but after black's 10th move the issue was never in doubt thanks to Santasiere's very strong position.   His opponent was from St. Louis.

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