The U.S. Open chess tournament has been around since 1900 when it was called the Western Chess Association Championship and first won by Louis Uedemann, the creator of the Uedemann Code which was used to send chess moves by telegraph in a very effectinve manner. Throughout the years the winners of that tournament reads like a Who's-Who-in-Chess listing, so it's importance can't be overstated. Starting in 1934, women were given their own U.S. Open Chess Championship tournament, but later it evolved into one tournament with the highest scoring women awarded the women's champion title. According to Kenneth Harkness, the first winner of the Women's Open was Virginia Sheffield. I haven't been able to uncover much about this player except that Chess Review, February 1938 reveals that she married a Mr. Waller: "According to the Illinois Chess Bulletin, Mrs. Regina Paulsen won the women's state championship- tournament. Mrs. Virginia Waller, former champion, did not defend her title," and that she took part in Alekhine's famous blindfold simul at the world's Fair in Chicago in 1933. She lost her game:
Oddly enough, also playing in that simul was Jean Moore (later Grau) who would become the second Women's Open champion in 1937. Unlike Sheffield, 17 year old Moore (incorrectly described as 18 in the article below), who with her brother George joined the simul on a whim when two contestants failed to show, drew against the master:
"Chess Review" Sept. 1933
In 1963 there was an extremely close battle between two 16 year old girls for the title of U.S. Open Women's Chess Champion. Kate Sillars for Illinois and Cecelia Rock from Massachusetts.
CHICAGO (AP) — A 16-year-old Wilmette, Ill. girl—Kate Sillars— is the new U.S. open women's chess champion after defeating Cecilia Rock, also 16, of Hinsdale, Mass. Miss Sillars, a high school junior, won six games, lost five and drew two during the tournament that ended Friday. She earned seven points, just a half point more than Miss Rock.
"Galesburg Register-Mail" August 24, 1963
"The women's open title was awarded to 16 year old Kate Sillars, whose 7-6 score in the main event was the highest achieved by her sex. Cecilia Rock, another 16 year old, obtained a winning position in her last-round game, a victory in which would have enabled her to displace Kate for top honors. The excitement was too much for her, however, and she missed her way, tying at 6.5-5.5 with Lucille Kellner and Mildred Morrell."
"Chess Review," Oct 1963
According Chess Review in 1962: KATE SILLARS Western Women's Champion at 15 has not only improved her showing since playing in the U. S. She lives in Wilmette, Illinois, attends New Trier High School in Winnetka, where her main interests are math, history and French. She learned chess moves from her father, began serious play in 1960 and became President of the school chess club in 1961. She also plays Postal Chess.
In 1964 the women's title of U.S. Open Champion was shared between to ladies, the well-known Kathryn Slater and the almost unknown Cecelia Rock.
Kathryn Slater had been around a while. When Jean Moore Grau was winning the Women's Open in 1937, Slater had tied for 3rd place with behind Adele Rivero and Mary Bain in the National Chess Federation championship at the Marshall Chess Club. Kathryn, the wife of William Slater, also a strong player, had won the Women's Open in 1958 and 1962 and would win it again in 1965. Slater, covered women's events for chess journals and served in many official capacities including acting as manager of the Marshall Chess Club. Today, Cecelia Rock is a nearly complete unknown. In a few paragraphs she will hopefully be less so.
Cecelia Rock was not a great chess player by today's standards in women's chess. She played in and sometimes won important tournaments while in high school, long before there was such a rush of good young players. She was for the most part uncoached and untrained, unlike today's players. And she apparently quit almost abruptly. According to Chess Life of April 1967, she was ranked the 18th best U.S. women with a rating of 1702. But her participation seems to have stopped around 1964. Even so, because of her age and her gender, she attracted more than her share of media attention. The idea of a scrapbook is to depict Ms. Rock's short chess career through these newspaper and magazine clippings with just a little added information, perhaps in a way she, or her mother, saved those memories.
The Rock Scrapbook:
Cecelia's father was Henry E. Rock, Sr., a designer/drafsman at GE and a decent club player who entered at least 6 U.S. Opens. Cecelia, born on Feb. 16, 1947, was just one of 13 children, but seems to have caught the chess bug from her father. They lived in Washington, Massachusetts and played at the Pittsfield YMCA Chess Club.
Henry played in the 1958 U.S. Open in Rochester, fnishing tied for 117th -126th place out of 129 contestants.
The following year both Henry and Cecelia played in the U.S. Open in Omaha . Out of the 135 entrants Henry tied for 125th - 128th place (along with Sam Sloan) while Cecilia tied for 129th - 131st.
They went to the U.S. Open in St. Louis in 1960 and did slightly worse, Henry tied 139th -150th and Cecelia 151st -159th out of 176.
"At the United States amateur chess tournament held last weekend in Asbury Park, N.J., Cecilia Rock and Henry E. Rock Sr.. of the local club were among the 157 contestants. Mr. Rock, who was among 46 Class B players, broke even with two wins, two losses and two draws.One of Mr. Rock's draws was against Charles Goenig of Chicago. a Class A player. Cecilia Rock, a Class C player, won only one of six games in the mixed class competition. Both players will represent Tittsfield in the forthcoming U.S Open chess tournament at St Louis, Mo., in August. Henry Rock also was promoted to Category 4 this week at the local YMCA chess club. Rock scored two wins against Miraslov Kafka to take the lead in the club Senior tournament with a score of eight wins, one loss, and one draw with two games to play." -Berkshire "Eagle," 6-10-1960
"Cecilia Rock Beats Schoolboy Chess Champion Seventh-grader Cecilia Rock upset Algis Hakaitis, the 1960 Massachusetts state schoolboy chess champion, in a match against the Boston Juniors at the Pittsfield YMCA this week. This was the Pittsfield Juniors only win, their team losing to Bos ton 5-1." -Berkshire "Eagle," 6-16-1960
"Cecilia Rock Wins Another Chess Title
Cecilia A. Rock of the Pittsfield YMCA Chess Club captured first prize for Class C chessplayers in the Long Island Amateur chess championship tournament last weekend. Miss Rock scored two wins and one draw in six games against all class players to record ( t h e best performance by a rated C player. For the 13-year-old Cecilia, this was her second consecutive Class C title in the Long Island Amateur. Cecilia started slowly, losing her first three games. Miss Rock drew her fourth game, won the fifth, and defeated Class B player George Ryerson of New Jersey in the final round." - Berkshire (Mass.) "Eagle," 12-1-1960
1961 found the father and and his 14 year old daughter all the way out in San Fransisco. At this Open, Cecelia at least improved her results. While Henry came in tied for 149th -178th out of 197 with a +4-8 score, Cecelia tied for 131-148th place with a +4-6=2 score, outdistancing her father.
In the 1961 U.S. Amateur Championship at Asbury Park, Cecelia tied for 124th-131st place with +1-4=1.
In the 1961 New York State Amateur Championship, she tied for 25th-29th place with a score of +2-3.
In the 1962 San Antonio U.S. Open Henry and daughter tied 115th-125th both with a +3-7=2 score.
The clipping above shows Cecelia Rock upseting a much stronger player, E. Folk Weaver from Corpus Christi while George Koltanowski waxed philosophic.
In the 1962 U.S. Amateur Championship in Asbury Park, she tied 111th-136th with a +2-3 score.
1963 was to be a very good year for Cecelia. At the U.S. Open in Chicago she placed 120th - 147th out of 166, far better than Henry who tied at 183rd - 220th place.
"Chess Review" first took notice of Cecelia in July 1963 with that accomplishment: "Cecilia Rock took the Women's New England Amateur title."
Then in Aug. 1963 "Chess Review" wrote, concerning the USCF Amateur Championship held at Asbury Park, NJ.: "A good 4-3 record enabled young Cecilia Rock to become USCF Amateur Women's Champion."
In October 1963, Chess Review noted Cecelia's narrow loss of the U.S. Open Women's Championship to Kate Sillars as showed in the prelude section above.
Although he couldn't keep pace with his daughter, Henry did have a satifying achievment in 1963
By virtue of winning the women's title in the USCF Amateur Tournament in 1963, Ms. Rock was one of 12 women invited to play in the U.S. Women's Chess Championship in April 1964.
In the 1964 U.S. Women's Championship, won by very experienced Sonja Graf, Cecelia scored a respectable 2 wins, 2 loses and 5 draws, even upsetting Sonja Graf herself in the eighth round. Rock came in 6th place. "Chess Review," June 1964, called her, "experienced beyond her 16 years."
Cecelia Rock and Kathryn Slater were the highest scoring women in the 1964 U.S. Open and became joint champions. This accomplishment alone will keep Cecelia Rock in the record books.
This is where her chess story ends.
. . . and her collegiate years begin.
Despite her expressed desire as a 13 year old to become a teacher, Cecelia Rock received her B.A. in Psychology and planned to enter Law School.
This ends Cecelia's scrapbook. While she may not have been a superlative player, she definitely Rock'd.
A special thanks to Bill Wall for helping me research.
and a note of gratitude to chessgames.com member, Phony Benoni, for his incredible summations of the U.S. Opens.
Chessgames.com has two of her games. She lost both. Since I don't believe them t be representative of her play, I didn't include them in the scrapbook article, but they can be seen HERE.
Alexander Alekhine's record-breaking blindfold simultaneous exhibition and the accompanying live chess games at the Century of Progress Wold's Fair in Chicago, 1933 drew a fair amount of press coverage, both in chess periodicals and mainstream newspapers. Below are some examples.