Glimpses into the not-too-distant Past


     I was originally trying to discover some things about former U.S. Women's Chess Champion, Rachel Crotto whom, I feel, has been so overlooked. In the process of looking through newpaper archives, I was reminded of several names (besides Diane Savereide) also associated with American chess from that time. The result of that brief research is this somewhat unfocused, convoluted article that is meant to be more a Gestalt-type collage than anything incisive.

     First here are two newpaper articles covering different days of the 1972 U.S. Women's Chess Championship.  They contain an interesting possible contradiction.

     Ocala (Florida) Star-Banner, May 29, 1972
     Women's Chess
     St. Petersburg (AP) - Thirteen-year-old Rachel Crotto of New York City, the youngest junior chess player ever entered in a national tournament, forfeited her first round match to Susan Sterngold of Wisconsin Sunday in the U.S. Women's Chess Championships.
   Joan Schmidt of Miami won by forfeit over Mrs. Donna Bragg of Chicago.
   Miss Crotto and Mrs. Bragg stayed in contention altough they were unable to make the required 40 moves in the two-hour time limit.

        St. Petersburg Times, June 7, 1972
     The chips were down for Mrs. Eva Aronson Tuesday and the St. Petersburg contender responded by brushing off Donna Bragg of Los Angeles to regain the lead in the U.S. Women's Chess Championship.
     At the end of eight rounds, Mrs. Aronson has 5.5 points while runnerup and defending champion Gesela Gresser of New York City has 5.  Third place is held by Marilyn Braun of Milwaukee with 4.5 points
   The two have already met and played to a draw but Mrs. Gresse still has four matches remaining, two of which are completions of adjourned games. Mrs. Aronson, on the other hand, has only two games left.
   In other matches Tuesday, Joan Schmidt, Miami, defeated Rachel Crotto;  Katheryn Slater, New York, defeated Rachel Guinan, Lafayette Hill, Pa., and Mrs. Donnelly and Susan Sterngold, Madison, Wis., drew.


     Possible Contradiction: It would appear that after losing to Joan Schmidt, Donna Brag was disowned by Chicago and had to take up residence in Los Angeles.

     Until Irena Krush took part in the U.S. Women's Championship at age 11, Rachel Crotto, who was 13, held the youngest-participant status.
Crotto also had some nice Olympiad results, especially in 1984 up until a 1986 disaster:
          1976  board 2      6pts.  +5-2=2
          1980  board 2      5.5     +4-4=3
          1982  board 1r.    5        +4-3=2
          1984  board  1r.   9        +8-1=8
          1986  board  1     1.5     +1-5=1

     Issac Kashdan reported on the 1975 U.S. Women's Championship (won by Savereide) in Gambit magazine (California Chess  Review):

     Diane Savereide of Culver City has played in a number of  open tournaments in this area with fair success. She has generally been ahead of other women competitors, winning a num ber of special trophies as best of her sex.
      With this experience, Savereide built her national rating  to one of the highest in the women's field, and siie was eligible for the 21st Invitational U.S. Women's Championship, held recently in Milwaukee. It was a round-robin with 11 participants.
     Savereide started poorly in her first national event, losing to Ruth Herstein of Los Angeles and drawing with Rachel Crotto of New York City. Then came three successive wins, and Savereide moved steadily ahead to take the first prize. In all, she won six games, drew three and lost one for a total of 7.5 - 2.5, a full point ahead of her nearest rivals.
     Herstein and Ruth Orton of Fayetteville, Arkansas, tied for second place with scores of 6.5 - 3.5. Herstein won her first three games to set the early pace, but, then, lost twice, to Linda Manan of Santa Monica and Orton. Nothing daunted, Herstein won another three games in a row, but, a loss to Marilyn
Simmons of Milwaukee ended her hopes for the top prize.
      Orton started more steadily with two draws and a win, but, she lost in the fourth round to Savereide, and in the final round to Mona Karff of New York, who had held the Women's title a number of times in past years.
       In addition the national chanpionship, this was one of the zonal tournaments of the International Chess Federation, with the two leaders eligible to continue in the cycle for the Women's World Championship. Savereide has earned her place, but, Herstein and Orton must play off for the second
      Karff finished in a tie at 5.5 - 4.5 with Rachel Crotto of New York and Greta Olsson of Santa Monica. Olsson started by beating Karff in the first round and has 3.5 points in four rounds, but, four losses in her last six games set her back.
Another former women's champion, Gisela Gresser of New York had a minus score this time, 4.5 - 5.5.  Eva Aronson of St. Petersburg, Fla., who has organized a number of tournaments in her home town, was a point lower with 3.5 - 6.5. At the rearwere Mahan and Joan Schmidt of Raleigh, N.C., with 2.5 - 7.5

     A second name that came to mind was Kim Commons who was born in Lancaster, California July 23, 1951 at 2:46 a.m.  He won the Californina St. Championship in 1971 and shared first place in the American Open in 1974 and 1975.  In 1976 he earned the IM title.

     I had made a posting in the forums a long time ago that would fit here appropriately, so, now I'll quote myself:

     In 1931 the US won the gold in the fourth Chess Olympiad.  Back then, the newly establish event seemed to have a lot more prestige than it does today, possibly  because the world without TV or the internet was more of a mystery, more distant somehow. The US won the gold in the following 3 biennial Olmpiads: 1933, 1935  and 1937. Because of financial difficulties with the brand new USCF, American masters boycotted the 1939 Olympiad, which may have actually been a good thing  since Germany invaded Poland during the second week of the Olympiad, causing some countries to bow out, others to refuse to play Germans, some Germans to  defect  - or it may have been a bad thing since Nazi Germany won the gold. At any rate, the US didn't participate and there would be no more Olympiads until after  the war, 1950 to be exact.  It should be mentioned that the USSR did not participate in any Olympiad prior to 1952.  Prior to WWII the USSR participated in few, if  any, events outside their national boundaries and only rarely played foreign masters. That the Soviet players were very strong was well known. Just how strong that  might be was only conjecture.  In 1950 the USA failed to win the gold, silver or bronze but oddly enough had the distinction of being the only team to go undefeated -  no member losing a game.
                               Then in 1952, the Soviets struck.
     For the next 12 Olympiads, the USSR would win the gold. It was only in 1976 that the USA was once again able to win an Olympiad. Wouldn't you know it? It was the  very year that the USSR refused to participate.  What a coincidence!  Still, an Olympiad is an Olympiad. Even without the participation of Soviet block nations, many  countries fielded some incredibly strong players.  Since Walter Browne of the USA team bowed out, Kim Commons, a California IM on the reserve team became  eligible to play. A most remarkable thing happened. Commons scored +9=3-0 with a winning rate of 83.3%, the highest in the Olympiad, his win against Britain's  John Nunn, one of the finest games played during the event.  For this achievement alone, Commons name should be in all the chess history books and everyone's memory.

     Finally we come to a player, probably as good as and as equally enigmatic as Fischer, but who remained eminently sane - Ken Rogoff.

     Ken Rogoff was a prodigy, but he was even off-beat about that. Although he learned chess at age 6, he really never played much until he was 13 when he got a chess set for his birthday. A year later he was a US master and won he New York State Open. He won the US Junior championship at 16, became an IM at 21 and a GM at 25 (one of only about 100 at the time). Rogoff dropped out of high school at 16 to concentrate on chess, moved to Europe living solely on his chess winnings. Then at 18, applied to and was accepted at Yale in spite of his high school shorcomings and graduated in 1975 summa cum laude.  After Yale, Rogoff attended MIT from which he earned a PhD - after dropping out once to play professional chess.  Eventually he gave up chess for an exceptional career in economics (both as Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics at Harvard University)  in which he's considered one of the world's leading experts.

     In Up Close & Personal with Prof Kenneth Rogoff by Thean Lee Cheng in the Aug. 1, 2009 edition of TheStar Online, Rogoff cited his reasons for quitting chess:
   I quit because I wanted to do something more with my life. I feel now I have done that. It was not easy for me to say that 15 years ago when I was doing theoretical work.
   The second reason I quit was because I was unhappy with my social life. I like girls and chess tournaments are rather male-oriented. The third reason was I did not want to travel so much.
   But when I went into theoretical work, there were not many women in that field and I travelled all the time. I then realised it was me, and not chess.

     In 1969 Bobby Fisher wrote about Rogoff the his Checkmate column in Boy's Life:
   The other day I dropped over to the U.S. Junior Championsip at the McAlpin Hotel in New York City and saw some very talented young players in action, struggling  for the title.  It brought back memories of years ago when I used to be in those events. 
   The player that impressed me the most was 16-year-old Ken Rogoff from Rochester, N.Y.  What I liked best about Ken - who won the championship - was his self-assured style and his knowing exactly what he wanted over the chessboard.  I'm told he's only been playing chess two or three years and it should encourage each of  you yong fellows who read this column to know that by applying yourself, as Ken did, you can become a fine player in a relatively short time, too.
   Incidentally, it might be interesting to note that Ken drew a game with Bent Larsen in the summer of '69 when Larsen was playing in the U.S. championship.  Larsen  is considered one of the very best players in the world today."  [Fisher went on to annotate a game between Rogoff and 19-year-old Steve Spencer from the  tournament in beautiful detail and with marvelous insights and explanations, then included and half-column of tips and a puzzle for which "Just send me white's first  move, together with the date you received this issue of Boy's Life (address) . The first ten of you with the correct first move will get my autographed photo." ]

     Chessbase had an article on a famous draw between Rogoff and Robert Heubner at the student Olympiad at Graz in 1972, but doesn't go into any detail explaining it.

Here is the game:

     The explanation:
     Heubner wanted not to play and convinced Rogoff to accept a GM draw. In the game Heubner played 1. c4 and Rogoff offered a draw which Heubner accepted. The TD found this unacceptable and ordered them to play a game. Above is the game that was played.  The TD found this game unacceptable and ordered them to play a third game. Heubner refused to make a move and Rogoff was given the win by default.
     In the 2000 book, Learn Chess from the Greats  by Peter J. Tamburro (really, a very nice book!), Tamburro wrote:

     During the student Olympiad at Graz in 1972, Heubner, who didn't feel like playing, coaxed the American player, Rogoff, to accect the earliest possible draw.  The  tournament director insisted they play, and we know how playful future GMs can be.  Unfortunately, the TD did not share the humorous mood of the occasion and  forfeited Huebner, who refused to "play" a third time.  How did they get to that position that was so unacceptable to the TD?
. . .
     So, what do you do about players not in the mood to play?  Nothing, some say.  High level chessplayers need the occasional non-game to recharge their batteries  during tough tourneys.  What is the solution?  That just might be the toughest chess problem of all solve.