My Only Meeting with Al Horowitz

| 14

The time was late 1968. I was 18, and I had just had a couple of strong tournaments that had gotten my rating close to the USCF's "Top 25 Juniors" list for the US. In those days the ratings were lower than they are now and there were fewer juniors, so my 1900+ rating was getting me toward the elite in both the junior ranks and in the Philadelphia area.

Late in the year two friends of mine, USCF Expert Jerry Kolker and Lester Shelton, who was rated about 1700, decided to travel to New York City with me to watch a round of the US Championship, with the additional hope of getting a glimpse of the elusive Bobby Fischer.

When we arrived at the tournament, we were disappointed to find no Fischer (I never did cross paths with him, but that's a different story) but most of the best players in the US attended (Crosstable).

One of the participants, IM Al Horowitz, was then playing in what I believe was his final US Championship. Al, the long-time publisher of Chess Review, seemed pretty old at the time, but at 61 he was younger then than I am now Cry! It was not a good day for Al. He dropped his queen in less than 20 moves; I believe his opponent was GM Robert Byrne.

After the round Jerry suggested we drop over the famous Manhattan Chess Club, now defunct, but then the center of chess in the US. Jerry and Lester decided to play some five-minute and I was kibitzing. In one game Jerry, who normally would beat Lester every game, played a series of amazingly poor moves and I chuckled at how uncharacteristic his silly mistakes were.

Unfortunately for me, Al was nearby and overhead my chuckle. He was still in a bad mood and, to make matters worse, likely assumed the three youths from Philadelphia were just chess patzers who wandered in off the streets.

"What are you laughing at?!" he charged at me.

Uh-oh! I had to think fast. I was a guest at the club and Al had just lost his queen. Perhaps some circumspection was required, although I was tempted to let Al know I was not, as he probably assumed, just some beginner who barely knew the moves. But instead of defending myself, I just told the truth: "I was laughing at a couple of my friend's moves."

"Chess is not a laughing matter!" Al admonished in a distinctly unfriendly tone. He went on to lecture me a little more on how I should have more respect for the game.

That got me a little upset since he had no idea that the person who had made the poor moves was one of the top players in Philadelphia (Jerry had been invited to the prestigious Gr Phila Invitational Championship) and I was not far behind. Treating me, a stranger from out-of-town, like a chess nincompoop, was not exactly a friendly greeting.

So I contemplated a wise-guy reply, like "Well Al, we are some of the top junior players in Philadelphia, not a bunch of patzers, and I doubt any of us would have dropped our queen as quickly as you did to Byrne a few hours ago! So if you had given us, strangers in your club, the benefit of the doubt and a friendly greeting instead of assuming the worst, we might think a lot better of you."

That is, I contemplated that reply of which you, the reader (and others to whom I have related the story over the years), are now aware 44+ years later. Just contemplated.

Instead, I just gritted my teeth and quietly muttered "Yes, sir", giving the gentleman the benefit of the doubt which he had not seen fit to give me. Al barreled off in a huff, I guess feeling a little better that he had let out his frustration on someone or something. I am sure he has had better days but, unfortunately, I only had a sample of one.

There is no moral of the story but I guess if there was one, it would be "Always treat strangers with kindness and respect; you can never tell if one might turn out to be an author and write something about you 44 years later..."

PS: I learned a lot from Al's books. Point Count Chess, which he wrote with Mott-Smith, strongly ingrained the idea in me that doubled pawns were sometimes beneficial (an idea I expounded on only a few years later when I wrote the first edition of Elements of Positional Evaluation, now in its 4th edition). And the following problem, a White to play and win, from page 60 of the helpful How to Win in the Middle Game of Chess, is always one of my favorites:


















The solution: