On the trail of Bobby Fischer: At the Icelandic Open

— Photo by Nancy Lawson

Paying homage to a chess great, Peter Henner visited the grave of Bobby Fischer on his recent trip to Iceland.


This year, The Icelandic Chess Federation decided to contest the national championship in an open tournament (the Icelandic Open), not only open to all Icelandic players, but also to foreigners.

Four foreign players, including one American, myself, traveled to Iceland to play in this tournament.

Iceland is, per capita, the strongest chess-playing country in the world. Although the population of the country is only 300,000, it has 12 Grandmasters and 13 International Masters.

The country is also famous for hosting the 1972 world championship match between the American Bobby Fischer, and the Soviet Boris Spassky. Fischer spent his last years in Iceland, which graciously provided a home for him after his legal troubles made him persona non grata in the United States.

He is buried in the churchyard of a small rural church, outside of the small city of Selfoss, about 50 miles from Reykjavík.

In many ways, European tournaments are far more civilized then tournaments in the United States. Boards, sets, and clocks are routinely provided, and the boards are set up in advance by the tournament organizers.

The time control uses an “increment” — at the Icelandic Open, 30 seconds — which is automatically added to a player’s time after each move. This means that a player will have a minimum of 30 seconds for every move, which eliminates the horrible time pressure scrambles common to United States tournaments where a player may need to make a number of moves virtually instantaneously.

The increment also means that a player is required to record all of his moves since, as the tournament director explained to me, a player has time to write down his moves. Both players are required to sign and turn in their score sheets, which have carbon copies for the players themselves.

On one occasion, the setting sun was an obvious problem for the players and the organizers scrambled to put up screens for us; this would not have happened at a United States tournament.

Although I was somewhat nervous about possible differences in chess tournament customs (I even e-mailed the tournament website to ask if there was a dress code in the tournament), the scene was generally very familiar to me, except for the amazing lack of conflict and the smoothness of operations.

All the pairings were done by computer immediately after the conclusion of the round; there were no arguments about pairings. Only once in 10 rounds did I hear any arguments at all. Players were generally very polite and courteous, far more than in United States’ tournaments.

The tournament was played on the 20th floor of one of Reykjavík’s tallest buildings, with spectacular views of the surrounding city, harbor, and mountains — at least on the occasional periods of time when it was clear outside; it rains a lot in Iceland. The chess federation was given the site for free, and, while it was very spacious, it was also an unfinished floor with bare concrete walls and the absence of insulation did create a noise problem since the room for analysis was separated from the main tournament room only by a curtain. 

Schenectady teams lead Capital District Chess League

The Schenectady A team has clinched first place in the Capital District Chess League with a score of 4 ½ – ½, with one match left against the Albany A team. Its club rival, the Schenectady Geezers, finished second with a score of 4-2.

The Geezers were undefeated, at 3-0, and defeated the Uncle Sam Club with the help of a lucky win on first board when Phil Thomas tried too hard to win a drawn game and lost. Uncle Sam also finished with 4-2, but placed third on the basis of fewer game points.

However, the Geezers lost to the Albany A team, and then lost a tough match to the Schenectady A team, 2 ½ - 1 ½. There were draws between Phil Sells and Peter Michelman on Board 1, Carl Adamec and Jon Leisner on Board 2, and John Phillips and Dilip Aaron on Board 4. The only decisive game was on Board 3, where Bobby Rotter returned from a long absence from tournament play, to defeat the Geezers Michael Mockler.

The Albany A club is fourth at 3-2. Even if Albany defeats the Schenectady A to finish at 4-2, it cannot gain enough game points to catch Uncle Sam. Albany A is followed by RPI at 2 ½ - 3 ½, the Capital Region team at 1-5, and Albany B, also at 1-5.

Follow-up on the news

My March 21 column described a tragic situation, where Georgian IM Salome Melia was trying to raise money for an operation for a rare medical condition that threatened the life of her five-month-old daughter. There was a tremendous worldwide response to the fund-raising effort. Ms. Melia thanked everyone and announced that the surgery was scheduled for April 2, in Germany. However, neither any chess website, nor Ms. Melia’s Facebook page has any further information. It is good to know that the chess community rallied to Ms. Melia’s aid, and we can only hope that the surgery was a success. 


I have been writing this column for over three years. As some readers may know, I have recently commenced an indefinite sabbatical from my law practice, to devote the bulk of my time to other activities, including tournament chess, training for a marathon, and scholarly and creative writing.

I will also take a sabbatical from writing this column, at least for this  summer (when there is not too much chess news anyway), and possibly for the rest of this year.

This week's problem

The Uncle Sam Club’s fourth board, Dr. Chibbzo Ilonze, was the Most Valuable Player in the Capital District Chess League this year, with a perfect score of 6-0. As an unrated player, he was able to play fourth board, and, while he did defeat some very strong players, and obtain a performance rating of over 2200, we did not have the opportunity of seeing him play against other top players.

Unfortunately, Dr. Ilonze was only in the area for medical studies for this academic year, and he will be leaving the Capital District soon.

In his last game in the CDCL, he defeated the Geezers’ John Phillips. While Dr. Ilonze played a very strong game, he missed a forced win, which caused the ENYCA blogger Bill Little to comment, “Moves like this … lead me to question if Dr.  Ilonze is actually a 2200 player  [because] a Master is unlikely to miss the killing move  ____.”  See if you can find this killing move yourself.