Upsetting Time at the 1980 US Chess Open in Hot Atlanta, Georgia

A confluence of events, or synchronicity has brought this post together. It began when the United States Chess Federation put older issues of Chess Life magazine online for anyone to peruse. Then there was a post I posted at Facebook, at the Chess Mess page.

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Chess Mess at Manuel’s Tavern

The Chess Mess is the name of the meeting at the venerable Manuel’s Tavern (https://www.facebook.com/ManuelsTavern/) in Atlanta, Georgia,

View from the bar at Manuel’s Tavern

which happens to be the bar at which I enjoyed my first adult beverage. I have bellied-up to the bar on numerous occasions since, including the Manuel’s Tavern formerly located on Memorial Road, which was near the residence of the Legendary Georgia Ironman, Tim Brookshear. It was the main watering hole for the Ironman and I rarely went there without being with Tim. This Manuel’s Tavern would host a Christmas party for only the regulars, and Tim was included in the all you can eat and drink, within reason, limit. Tim had invited me and by the time I arrived there was a crowd outside the front door. There were no cell phones ‘back in the day’ so I had to fight my way to a window, where I saw Tim but I was the last thing on his mind. The crowd was badly wanted inside. As I was about to leave the door opened and it was our favorite bartender, Buddy Bob. “COME ON, MIKE!!!” he yelled. I somehow managed to battle my way through the crowd and was able to once again belly up to the bar. “What happened to your shirt, Mike?” Tim asked. “Looks like it got ripped.” Buddy Bob said, “Yeah, the crowd’s turning ugly out there. Don’t think I’m gonna open the door again.” Ah, those were the daze!

I recall walking into the Manuel’s on Highland one evening after a long absence to be greeted by Bobby, who said, “Howdy, stranger! What’ll you have?” I said, “How about a Buddy’s special?” Bobby’s eyebrows shot up before saying, “Wow, you’ve been away awhile. That’s no longer on the menu and hasn’t been for some time now.” Hearing this, Bill McCloskey walked over and smiled before shaking my hand and saying, “Anybody comes in here asking for a Buddy’s gets what he wants and it’s on me.” It was good to be home…

Bobby and McCloskey

Earlier this month I posted something unrelated to Chess at the Facebook page of the Chess Mess. Being new to the book of faces I had no idea that the nattering nabobs from Etiquette Hell (http://www.etiquettehell.com/) would excoriate me unmercifully for posting something about the pandemic on the page. One of those doing the excoriating was a female who wanted the Mess to remain purely about Chess while being unsullied by anything other than Chess, especially anything about Covid. Later Thad Rogers, bless his heart, posted something in reply about Kasparov’s former trainer dying of Covid. And Thad shocked me when he left a “like” on the now infamous “Mr. Hankey” post (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2021/09/11/the-charlotte-chess-center-mr-hankey-award/), which proves he has a decent sense of humor.
Another who left a comment was a fellow known ‘back in the day’ as Billy Noyes, who let me know he now wants to be known as “Bill” and only “Bill.” Bill was calling for an administrator like one of the girls in grammar school calling for the teacher, saying, “Mrs. Suttles, that awful Michael Bacon just hit me with a SPITWAD!!!

I recalled “Bill” as a long-time class D player, to which he took offense, letting me know in no uncertain terms that he had been over 1500 many times, topping out at 1583. I replied, “I don’t know if that is a number of which to be proud. Back in the day it was thought that a player was not taken seriously until he became a class B player,” which is 1600. I see Bill has left a few “likes” about my posts recently, so let’s hear it for Mr. Bill Noyes! It is not my intention to disparage any player of the Royal Game no matter how low his rating. After all, I lost all six games at my very first USCF rated event, and had a triple digit rating to prove it. I was no kid, other than at heart, at the time, as I was twenty, and old enough to know better.

Then there was something posted on Facebook by Greg Maness in reply to Rocha Harris: “Is it possible That GM might loss a chess Match to Under Rated Player ?? What are? Or What is the Percentage??”

Greg Maness: “I once beat a ~2390 and HAD a ~2250 beat in the same tournament — and I was only rated ~1775 at the time .. .. so — anything is possible …..”

I decided to give my two cents worth by depositing this: “A snowballs chance in hell…”

About this time I checked the stats at the AW blog when I noticed someone had clicked onto an earlier post: Bradley Scott Cornelius R.I.P. (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2018/08/10/bradley-scott-cornelius-r-i-p/) I could not recall the name or the post, so I clicked on over finding Michael Mulford, the Mulfish, had notified me of the death of Mr. Conelius. He wrote: I headed to the USCF website (https://new.uschess.org/home/) in an attempt to locate where, exactly, this was posted, but was unable to do so. It is possible the notification was posted, then taken down, before I searched the website. This is rather strange, considering the fact that Mr. Cornelius died in battle across the Chess board. I have, therefore, decided to publish the notice. I did not know Bradley Scott Cornelius, but he was one of us. He was a class ‘B’ player. For many years the demarcation line between being consider a quality player was crossing the 1600 barrier. It appears 1600 is still considered some kind of line to be crossed to be taken seriously as a Chess player. When a player becomes a class ‘B’ player he has stopped making piece losing and game losing moves with regularity. It does not happen often but class ‘B’ players have been known to upset GM’s. Ask GM John Fedorowicz.

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1980 US Open

Hot Time In Atlanta

Not since Sherman visited Atlanta has there been so much burning – the weather, the competition, and sometimes even the hotel

By Alison Burt

A FIRE, A DOWNPOUR, AND AN extraordinary number of early upsets were not enough to throw the 1980 U.S. Open off course. A few hours after the third-ranked contender was demolished by a category II player in the first round of this annual event, the tournament hall, concessionaires’ rooms and hotel rooms of the 385 participants appeared likely to go up in smoke in what could have been the shortest U.S. Open in history.

At 2 a.m., tournament organizer and director Thad Rogers

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smelled smoke and alerted the staff at the Dunfey’s Atlanta Hotel that their new luxury manor, which only recently reopened after being destroyed by a blaze more than a year ago, was once again on fire. Hotel employee’s were slow to believe Thad’s story until he opened an elevator door and smoke poured into the hallway. Many players refused to believe the alarm which sounded in the middle of the night, and the now frantic hotel staff began banging on doors, with news that the hotel was indeed on fire.
Although all halls filled with smoke, the flames were fortunately confined to a single evevator shaft and were brought under control by the Atlanta Fire Department. No one was injured. Meanwhile, guest had to wait outside the building for two hours – most in their night clothes. Arnold Denker with his Panama hat (to keep the sun out) and ever present cigar.
Gallows humor prevailed among the directing staff. Rogers was chastised for saving his wallet but not the wall charts; Joe Lux calculated that if one point was indeed enough to win the U.S. Open, then every player who won his first-round game would receive $72 and a handshake.
After the fire and the unprecedented July-August heat spell, most of us were hoping for rain. Our wishes were granted. Periodically during the first part of the tournament, pipes above the ballroom ceiling leaked, producing scattered showers – and one downpour – in the tournament hall. But further natural disasters were avoided, and the favored players performed pretty much as expected, with Grandmaster Florin Gheorghiu and International Master John Fedorowicz ultimately tying for first. The first half of the tournament was characterized by numerous upsets on the top boards. In fact, by the end of round 6, no player had a perfect score, and, after eight rounds, the five highest-rated entrants had given up at least a full point.
The upsets began as early as Round 1 when Stanley Davis, a local category II player, defeated Fedorowicz.

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Upset prize The Firebug Confesses

By W. Stanley Davis

This is one of those encounters between drastically unequal players that characterizes the starting rounds of the swiss torture. The official tournament bulletin, invoking the quaint folkways and picturesque manners of the Old South, described the game as a “barnburner.”
Alekhine complained that chessplayers rarely speak, in their published notes, of their states of mind when making particular moves. But, in this place, I feel obligated, faute de mieux, to do exactly that. Since even Grandmasters have been known, once in a great while, to make teeny slips in annotating each other’s games, it would be presumptuous of a lower ranked player to hide behind columns of analysis. Here, instead, are my thought processes, warts and all.

Round 1
Nimzovich Attack

Davis/1621 John Fedorowicz/2479

  1. Nf3 (As this is my first tournament game since the 1973 Continental Open, and my first game ever against a player of this caliber, I feel that something solid and non-committal is in order.) 1…e6 2. e3 b6 3. b3 (Not 3. d4. Fedorowicz is the author of legendary exploits in the Queen’s Indian, and I am not anxious to find out he has in store for me. But suppose I turn his own weapon against him? Fischer used this tactic against Spassky in their sixth game at Reykjavik and brought off a winning attack. Going further back, I recall that Weaver Adams, the 1948 U.S. Open Champion who greatly favored the Vienna Game, had a terrible time defending against the Vienna as Black. At least my opponent cannot smash me up very quickly in a Nimzovich formation, so I decide to try it.) 3…Bb7 4. Bb2 c5 5. Be2 Nf6 6. d3 (Both positionally and psychologically, this sequence is more aggressive than it seems to the casual eye. On the positional side, it invites Fedorowicz to commit his QP so that the attack I plan may be precisely targeted. On the psychological side, perhaps it will lull him into thinking I am a timid and unadventurous who yearns for a draw.) 6…d5 7. Nbd2 Be7 8. Ne5 (This is getting interesting. Thanks to John’s sixth move, my Knight cannot be easily dislodged from its outpost on e5. That will give him something to think about, but there is another string to the bow.) 8…0-0 9. 0-0 Re8 10. f4

(And the hedgehog becomes a tiger! With this transposing move, my Nimzovich Attack fuses the strategic notions of the Great Blockader with Kingside attacking themes pioneered by such British stars of the last century as Staunton, Bird, Owen, Elijah Williams, and Skipworth. With so many names of power to call on, I have visions of putting up a real fight. En Passant, I wonder, carnivorously, whether John knows these old British lines of play.) 10…Bf8 11. Qe1 a5 (Fedorowicz knows he can open the Queenside by getting rid of both a-pawns. After that I will no longer have the classic means to prevent an incursion of his Queen Knight, with the intent of attacking my Queen. No matter. My Queen is destined for another part of the board, and I think he is insufficiently concerned with the position in general, as my next move shows.) 12 g4 a4 (“Ist der Laufer geschuzt?” {“Is the Bishop defended?”}) 13 Rc1 axb3 14. axb3 Ra2 15. Ba1 ( “Ja,der Laufer geschuzt” {“Yes, the Bishop is defended.”}) 15…Na6 (The old refrain. With his Queen Rook firmly planted on a2, he will use the Knight to attack the backward pawns on b3 and e3. As far as I am concerned, he can come right ahead. I shall now proceed to mount a formidable attack against his castled King.) 16. g5 Nd7 17. Bh5 Nxe5 18. Bxe5 Nb5 19. 19. Qh4 Nxc2 20. Rf3 Nxe3 21. Rxe3 Rxd2

(After these exchanges I feel I have come out quite well. He has won two pawns, which would be fatal to me in the endgame, but I hope we will not have to play that long. In return, I have three pieces and two pawns all bearing down on his King. Now to wheel up more cannon.) 22. Rh3 c5 23. Bf6! (“Twilight and evening bell, And after that the dark!” If he takes my Bishop it is mate in five.) 23…Bc5+ (“We count it death to falter, not to die!”) 24. Kf1 Bf2 (“She picked up the nasty frog and she threw him against the wall as hard as she could.”) 25. Bxf7+ Kf8 26. Qxh7 (“As he fell to the ground, however, he was longer a frog but a handsome prince.”) 26…gxf6 27. Bg6, Black resigns.

I took the time to transcribe this from the PDF of the December 1980 issue of Chess Life magazine. First, a word about the author of the excellent article, which states, “Alison Burt, a student and professional classical guitarist, played in the 1979 U.S. women’s Championship.” Alison was a very intelligent and talented girl to whom I gave lessons. We were later paired in a tournament and she won. After the game ended she had a rather incredulously horrid look on her face that at the same time was sad even though she had just won the game. It was obvious she had no idea what to say, so I said, “Just goes to prove what a fine teacher I am, does it not?” Alison’s face lit up like a Christmas tree on Sunday morning, displaying a huge smile. When I returned her smile she bolted over, giving me a hug. “I was afraid you’d be mad at me, Michael.”

“I’m proud of you, my dear.” After returning home later that night I told Gail what had happened and she hugged me tightly before saying, “Sometimes you amaze me.” I replied, “Yeah, sometimes I amaze myself…”

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