FIDE Master Curt Brasket was a towering figure in Minnesota chess, having won the state championship a record 16 times. On January 24, 2014, he passed away in his sleep at the age of 81, having battled Parkinson’s disease for nearly 40 years. His obituary can be found here.
Despite hailing from a small town in southwestern Minnesota, Curt achieved impressive success on the national stage. His most notable accomplishments include winning the U.S. Junior Chess Championship in 1952 and defeating several legendary Grandmasters and International Masters in the famed Lone Pine tournaments during the 1970s. In 2013, Curt received the U.S. Chess Federation’s Outstanding Career Achievement Award.
Curt’s love of the game led him to remain an active tournament player despite the increasing effects of his Parkinson’s. During the 1990s, like other young chess players in Minnesota, I benefited from Curt’s continued participation in local tournaments, as playing against and observing someone of his caliber were excellent learning opportunities. Throughout my formative years, Curt, almost always accompanied by his charming wife, Rita, was an ever-present fixture on the Minnesota chess scene. According to the USCF’s website, Curt played in a staggering 583 tournaments between 1991 and 2011. His devotion to the game was truly inspirational. I will almost certainly never equal Curt's 16 state titles, but I will be happy if I can follow his example by remaining a tough competitor long into my career.
My goal with this article is simply to honor Curt by showcasing ten of his most impressive victories. As some readers may not be familiar with all his opponents, I have included brief biographical information in the introductions before each game.
We begin with an attacking game in which Curt outfoxes Walter Browne. Browne, who earned his Grandmaster title in 1970, won the U.S. Chess Championship six times (1974, 1975, 1977, 1980, 1981, and 1983). Only Bobby Fischer (with eight titles) has won the U.S. Championship more times.
The following game was played the day after Curt’s game with Browne. Here, Curt obtains a winning endgame against Larry Evans with some powerful opening and middlegame play. Evans, who earned his Grandmaster title in 1957, won the U.S. Chess Championship five times (1951, 1952, 1961-62, 1967-68, and 1980).
In the following game, Curt outplays Kim Commons by (1) inducing weaknesses in his opponent’s position, (2) transitioning to a favorable endgame, and (3) smoothly converting his bishop pair advantage. Commons, who earned his International Master title in 1976, was a fixture of the U.S. tournament circuit during the 1970s. Commons counted celebrities such as Mel Brooks and the entire Jefferson Airplane band among his students.
The following attacking gem against Anthony Saidy may well be the finest of Curt’s career. Dr. Saidy, who earned his International Master title in 1969, competed in numerous U.S. Championships during the 1960s and 1970s. At his peak, Dr. Saidy was the 6th highest rated player in the United States. Note:
subscribers to www.chesslecture.com
are highly encouraged to watch Dana Mackenzie’s November 8, 2013 video titled “Awesome State Champions: The Classic Pawn Storm,” which features this game and discusses Curt’s achievements in their historical context.
The day after his attacking masterpiece against Dr. Saidy, Curt outplayed Arnold Denker in a more positional game. Denker, who earned his International Master title in 1950 (the year the title was first awarded by FIDE), won the U.S. Chess Championship in 1945 and 1946. Denker was named an honorary Grandmaster by FIDE in 1981.
In the next three games, we see Curt defeating three future Grandmasters who were already promising junior players when these games were played in 1977.
In the following miniature, Curt’s aggressive opening play induces a shocking blunder by Michael Rohde. Born in 1959, Rohde became a USCF master at age 13 and was the National Junior High School Chess Champion in 1975 and the National High School Chess Champion in 1976. Rohde earned his International Master title in 1976 and his Grandmaster title in 1988.
The day after dispatching Rohde in only 18 moves, Curt defeated future U.S. Champion Joel Benjamin in a sharp tactical game. Benjamin, who earned his Grandmaster title in 1986, won the U.S. Chess Championship three times (1987, 1997, and 2000). Born in 1964, Benjamin was already a promising junior player at the time the following game was played; a USCF master at age 13, Benjamin was then the youngest master in USCF history, a record that had previously been held by Bobby Fischer.
In the following game, Curt’s aggressive middlegame play yields a winning endgame against John Fedorowicz. Born in 1958, Fedorowicz was the National High School Chess Champion in 1975 and won the U.S. Junior Chess Championship in 1977 and 1978 and the U.S. Open Chess Championship in 1980. “The Fed” earned his Grandmaster title in 1986.
In the following game, despite missing a chance to score a quick knockout on move 18, Curt ultimately outplays Helgi Olafsson in a complicated endgame. Olafsson, who earned his International Master title in 1978 and his Grandmaster title in 1985, won the Icelandic Chess Championship six times (1978, 1981, 1991, 1992, 1993, and 1996).
In the following game, Curt again demonstrates the power of the bishop pair in the endgame, this time against Kamran Shirazi. Shirazi, who earned his International Master title in 1978, moved to the United States from his native Iran in the late 1970s and became one of the most active and dangerous players in the country. He also appeared in the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer.”
Finally, I’d like to share the following game, which was the last time that Curt and I faced each other in a serious tournament game. It was played in the Minnesota State Championship in 2000, which was the last year in which Curt participated in the event. Even though his Parkinson's had grown quite severe by the time of this game, Curt showed that he was still an extremely dangerous opponent, and I was lucky to escape with a draw.