Serendipity II

Apr 18, 2010, 4:48 PM |

If you remember Paul Hugo Little's article in the previous article, Serendipity, you may recall the last line of a letter from Little to James Schroeder: "Remember how the ‘Immortal Patzer’, Walter Grombacher, beat the mighty AI Horowitz at the US Open at Milwaukee 1953."

I was curious about this Immortal Patzer and tried to find what I could.

It seems Walter Grombacher was quite a character, though, for the sake of full disclosure, I haven't been able to substantiate most of what I found.

First a little about the US Open in Milwaukee, 1953.  This was actually quite interesting, not just because it set a new record for entrants (181), but because Arpad Elo was deeply involved in sponsoring the event in the 25,000 sq.ft. arena, the Eagles Ballroom and Athletic Club on  West Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, by raising the necessary $4400 capital.

Upon the death of chess journalist and USCF maven, Jerome (Jerry) Hanken, in 2009, John Donalson published the following anecdote about an encounter with Hanken and Grombacher:

     Max Burkett writes about the vaunted Hanken temper and his ability to laugh at himself.
     The penultimate (7th?) round of 1966 National Open in Las Vegas ended early so Kolty, the TD, decided to start the final round an hour early and posted a notice to that effect on the bulletin board. Jerry had finished early and was unaware of the change although he knew better, since this was Kolty's annoying habit.Jerry's opponent, Walter Grombacher, was a Class A chess character who worked at a Chicago haberdashery. It gave him ample vacation time to pursue his chess 'career'. It also furnished him with the shirts he wore at chess tournaments which were orange and were decorated with a printed scheme of black chess pieces, making him look like he was wearing a Halloween costume.
     Walter showed up for the final round on time, but Jerry was nowhere to be found. As the forfeit hour grew near, Walter got up and stood by a door. Jerry showed up "right on time" as Walter, who had just won the A prize, ran out the other door telling Kolty "Mail me my check". Jerry walked in, discovered he had forfeited, that Walter had hit the bricks, and went into his Hulk mode and yelled "Where is he? I'll wring his scrawny chicken neck!".
     Fast forward five months to an hour before the start of the first round of the US Open in Seattle - Jim Tarjan, Jerry, and I were at the downtown station of the train to the Space Needle which was near the tournament venue. Grombacher walked in and up to Jerry, carrying a cake box. Then he said "I'm really sorry. I hope you'll accept my apology" and handed Jerry the cake box. As Jerry opened the box, Walter ran out the door laughing. Jerry extracted a rubber chicken from the box. Tarjan and I expected another Hulk transformation, but Jerry just smiled and said "He got me again".
    That rubber chicken belongs in the Chess Hall of Fame, if it still exists.

Now, Prof. Tim Redman (former USCF president) writing on the death o Richard Verber in 1970, commented:  We also had our eccentrics, such as Walter Grombacher, a hypochondriac who sometimes thought he was a rooster and always pestered Gene Martinowsky for free medical advice, describing for all to hear his most recent symptoms.


So, we end up with an improbable picture of Walter Grombacher not just as a fair chess-player, but also a hypochondriacal haberdasher with an eccentric sense of humor who loved to crow at dawn.
The truth probably lies somewhere in-between. But the real facts are below:






By the way, I never did learn how the Immortal Patzer beat Al Horowitz in the 1953 US Open.