Old Age, Great Chess!

Old Age, Great Chess!

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After I learned how to play chess (age 12), I jumped into the game head first by playing in a chess tournament (even though I didn’t know the difference between checkmate and stalemate). Let’s just say that I was absolutely awful.

With the entry fee came a USCF membership, and with that came Chess Life magazine. This, along with a copy of New York 1924 (annotated by Alekhine), was my first chess reading material.

I was addicted. I read all the instructive articles, and also followed the results of my favorite players (Fischer in particular grabbed my attention as his domination became more and more obvious).

One chess writer/player that caught my attention was IM Anthony Saidy, who is a very strong player and was also one of Fischer’s closest friends.

Saidy in 2002 via Wikipedia

For those that don’t know about Dr. Saidy, he was (in my opinion) the co-star (along with Fischer!) of the HBO documentary on Bobby Fischer, and he was instrumental in getting Bobby to get on the plane to Reykjavik, Iceland where he won the world chess championship from Boris Spassky. Saidy also acted as Tobey Maguire’s chess consultant for the movie, Pawn Sacrifice (other chess consultants for this film were William Lombardy and Jeremy Silman). Little did the 12-year-old Silman know that he would eventually meet Saidy over the board three times (3 draws -- our first game was in 1975) and become his close friend.

Born in 1937, Saidy competed in eight U.S. championships (his best result was fourth place), played (and lost) multiple games against Bobby Fischer, and wrote two classic chess books: THE BATTLE OF CHESS IDEAS and THE WORLD OF CHESS (with Norman Lessing). He also published his first novel in 2013, titled 1983: A Dialectical Novel.

In my opinion Anthony Saidy is an important part of chess history.

Three things that strike me about Saidy:

  • His many interactions with Bobby Fischer. For example, few people know that when Fischer gave his famous speech in New York after winning the world championship, it was Saidy who wrote it.
  • The people he played, the list being a who’s who of legendary players.
  • The way he’s playing now, at the age of 78.

First, let’s take a look at some of the many famous players he’s beaten:



Grandmasters Samuel Reshevsky, Julio Granda Zuniga, Bukhuti Gurgenidze, Evgeny Sveshnikov, Florin Gheorghiu, Pal Benko, Robert Byrne, Wolfgang Unzicker, Milan Matulovic, Duncan Suttles, Vlastimil Jansa, Nick De Firmian, Andrei Sokolov, Lev Gutman, Mohamad Al Modiahki, Arthur Bisguier, Edmar Mednis, Wlodzimierz Schmidt, Nicolas Rossolimo, Semen Furman, Ulf Andersson, Yuri Balashov, Nikola Padevsky, Sergio Mariotti, Nikolai Krogius, Elmars Zemgalis, Dragoljub Janosevic, Mijo Udovcic, Enrico Sevillano, Heikki Westerinen, Hans Ree, Walter Browne, Stuart Conquest, Jan Plachetka, Daniel Yanofsky, Yair Kraidman, Esteban Canal, Alexander Baburin , and last but certainly not least, Viktor Korchnoi!



Hans Berliner, Donald Byrne, William Addison, Karl Burger, Ken Smith, Bernard Zuckerman, Rajko Bogdanovic, Lhamsuren Myagmarsuren, Olaf Ulvestad, Jacek Bednarski, Mario Bertok, Stefano Tatai, Moshe Czerniak, Enrico Paoli, Antonio Medina Garcia, Jerzy Kostro, Jan Adamski, Mark Diesen, Aleksander Sznapik, Krzysztof Pytel, Kamran Shirazi, Leon Piasetski, Georgi Orlov, Ricardo De Guzman.



Anthony Santasiere, Raymond Weinstein, Israel Horowitz, Herbert Seidman, and Alburt Pinkus.

Quite a career, don’t you think? However, take a look at the next list, which features players he never beat (though he did draw quite a few).



Paul Keres (lost all 4 games), Boris Spassky (a draw), David Bronstein (2 losses 2 draws), Leonid Stein (1 loss 1 draw), Mikhail Tal (3 losses), Efim Geller (1 loss), Mark Taimanov (a draw), Svetozar Gligoric (3 losses), Anatoly Karpov (1 loss), Lev Polugaevsky (1 loss), Henrique Mecking (draw), Bent Larsen (3 losses), Tigran Petrosian (1 loss 1 draw), Lajos Portisch (1 loss), Vlastimil Hort (3 losses 1 draw), Borislav Ivkov (1 draw and 2 losses), Vladimir Bagirov (draw), Ivan Radulov (1 loss), Levente Lengyel (2 losses 1 draw), Milan Vukic (draw), Mato Damjanovic (3 losses 1 draw), Bruno Parma (1 loss 1 draw), Milko Bobotsov (draw), Zoltan Ribli (2 draws), Albert Kapengut (draw), Ludek Pachman (draw), Jan Timman (1 loss), Ljubomir Ljubojevic (1 loss), Klaus Darga (draw), Oscar Panno (draw), Tamaz Giorgadze (1 loss), Miguel Quinteros (draw), Oleg Romanishin (1 loss), Yehuda Gruenfeld (1 loss), Vladimir Savon (1 loss), Margeir Petursson (1 loss), Anthony Miles (1 loss), Lev Psakhis (1 loss).

If this cavalcade of chess talent didn’t impress you, nothing will! Keep in mind that he is also a medical doctor and, as a result, wasn’t able to completely devote himself to the game.

Here’s one of his two wins against the great Reshevsky:


However, the real purpose of this article is all about age and chess. I am constantly asked if players in their 40s can improve or still play a reasonable game. Forties? Are you kidding? I think Anand, at age 45, has already answered that question: Yes! You can still play at a very high level. And, if you have just learned the game at 40 you can still enjoy the game and become as strong as your talent and work ethic allows.

But what about 56? Okay, you can’t ask a strong player in his mid-50s to be at his best. But you can still play very, very well. The 56-year-old Saidy proves this point with his nice positional victory over Viktor Korchnoi.

In general, one’s tactical abilities start to weaken while one’s positional understanding still remains. Saidy though, is just as happy playing a positional game as he is leaping into a sea of tactics and going for the jugular. See how the 60-year-old Saidy brilliantly wipes out a very strong grandmaster:

Saidy is now 78 years old (a septuagenarian!) and, oddly, he only plays in tournaments that have fast time controls (I thought quick chess was for youngsters?). Here he faces a high-rated opponent (2442) with the black pieces (time control: game in 30 minutes).

Both sides can be proud of this tense, very creative game. The fact that a 78-year-old can play at that level should inspire all of us old guys! As for the multitudes of young players, watch out, cause we’re coming for you!

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