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Too Many Grandmasters? The Very Good Obscure the Best


Aug. 31, 2001

Position No. 5653: Black to play and win. From the game P. Bischoff-M. Pavlovich, Biel 2001.

Solution to Position No. 5652: White wins with 1 Qg7 Rf8 2 Ne4! Qxe4 3 Qf6. If 1 ... Qxg5, White emerges a Rook ahead by 2 Ne4! Qf4 3 Qxh8+ Ke7 4 Qf6+.


These are exciting times for chess fans. Chess has spread to nearly every country. There are more strong players than ever. Unexpectedly, though, the soaring popularity of our game has cheapened the value of the greatest title in sports-grandmaster.

Czar Nicholas of Russia awarded the first grandmaster title to the five top scorers in the great St. Petersburg tournament of 1914. Each recipient (world champion Emanuel Lasker, future champions Jose Capablanca and Alexander Alekhine, aging star Siegbert Tarrasch and U.S. champion Frank Marshall) enjoyed a distinguished chess career and fully deserved the honor.

Over the next few decades, other stars were acclaimed less formally as grandmasters. In 1950, shortly after the World Chess Federation (FIDE) took control of the world championship, chess officials proclaimed 27 living players, including some long retired from competition, as grandmasters. FIDE formed a committee that reviewed recent results and chose new GMs.

Although FIDE devised, and revised, rules for title applicants, the system could not cope with the international chess boom. More tournaments meant more opportunities. In addition, the taint of corruption inevitably associated with committees of politicians spurred title inflation. Now there are 699 GMs, with more added annually.

In my opinion, a grandmaster in his prime ought to pose a serious threat to defeat the world champion. By that standard, fewer than 50 would qualify. The current rules (two or three excellent performances within six years) do not gauge sustained strength.


The Southern California Open begins Saturday in the Balboa Park Club in San Diego. The three-day tournament, certain to be one of the year's largest, will award the title of state champion to the winner of the Open section. Side events include a 15-minute tournament tonight at 8 and a scholastic tournament on Sunday. For more details, call Alina Markowski at (858) 792-2016.

The San Luis Obispo County Championship attracted 38 players, a good turnout, last weekend in San Luis Obispo. Former state champion Charles Van Buskirk of Ventura took first prize with a score of 31/2-1/2. Matt Robertson of Pismo Beach, who scored 3-1, becomes county champion. Both earned invitations to the qualifying tournament for the 2002 state championship.

Karl Bohlmann swept the Under-1700 section with a perfect 4-0 score. Ramesh Mantri finished second at 31/2-1/2. Benny Wu led the Under-1200 section with 31/2-1/2. Barbara McCaleb directed for the San Luis Obispo Chess Club.

Another fine turnout of 109 players attended the SPA Summer Classic last Saturday at St. Paul the Apostle School in Westwood. First prize in the Championship (grades K-12) section went to Francis Chen, who achieved a perfect 4-0 score. Second at 31/2-1/2 was Melinda West. Eric Vetter scored a perfect 5-0 in the Junior Varsity (grades K-6) section, a half-point ahead of Kevin Siu. Brian Coffee and Harutyun Dzhabrayan tied for first in the Novice (grades K-3) section with scores of 41/2-1/2. The leaders of the SPA chess program, Richard Rico and John Surlow, ran the tournament. The next SPA tournament is scheduled Oct. 20.

Daniel Sirnes scored 41/2-1/2 to take first place in the Mt. Wilson Open at the Pasadena Chess Club. Gordon Brooks (best under 2000); Gunter Kellotat and Ray Sollars (tied for best under 1800); Marc Willis (best under 1600); Robert Patton (best under 1400); and Ervin Ghevondian (best under 1200) won class prizes.

The Pasadena Chess Club meets at 7 p.m. Fridays in the Pasadena Senior Center, 85 E. Holly St. The club will start the six-round San Gabriel Valley Open on Sept. 7. Call Neil Hultgren at (818) 243-3809 for details.

The Joust in Fall Tourney, a six-rounder on Friday nights, begins Sept. 7 at the La Habra Chess Club's new site in the Community Center, 101 W. La Habra Blvd. in La Habra. For full information, call Jerry Schain at (562) 691-2393 or Bob Goulet at (562) 947-6739.

A new chess store has opened in Orange. The International Chess Institute, at 1742 E. Meats Ave., will sell chess books and equipment from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, except Sundays. Owner Barbara Luna intends to provide chess instruction and tournaments for scholastic players in grades K-12. The first sessions begin Wednesday. The club will also host a Monday night tournament, for adults and children, beginning Sept. 10. For full information, call (714) 587-6255.

The Exposition Park Chess Club will conduct a free three-round tournament on Sunday in the public library, 3665 S. Vermont Ave. in Los Angeles. Register at the library at 1 p.m.

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