IM Boris Kogan was The Trainer

After publishing the two posts concerning IM Stuart Rachels I wanted to notify someone next door in the Great State of Alabama so I went to the Alabama Chess Federation website (https://alabamachess.org/) where a picture of NM Bill Melvin,

https://alabamachess.org/about/#who-we-are

the Secretary of the ACF, was found. Although I never knew Bill other than the time we sat across from each other over the board the decision was made to reach out with an email:

“In the event you do not remember me I was fortunate enough to defeat you at the Lincoln Memorial U Open decades ago. I can tell you now that immediately prior to the game, after learning we were paired, Tim Brookshear said, “Bacon, you’re paired with the Oleg Romanishin of Southern Chess!” You lived up to the rep when sacking a pawn in the opening. I believe the opening was 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 c6 3 dxc6, etc. In lieu of playing in my customary “fire on the board” style I played my pawns close to my chest, or maybe it would be better to have written “Vest”, while hanging onto the pawn like it was a Titanic life raft!”

Part of the reply:

Mike,

I understand procrastinating over reading chess books. I have a shelf full of unread ones. It took me only a year to get around to reading Stuart’s book.

I’m more interested in your stories about Boris than about Stuart’s short career. Boris played a lot in area tournaments and was always a bit of a mystery. Most of the anecdotes I heard came from the late Brian McCarthy (I played him a couple years ago at Castle Chess shortly before his passing).

Best Regards,

Bill

My first thought was, “A year?!” From the moment the book arrived it was opened and not put down until finished. The first post of the quasi review of Stuart’s book was ready to go but Bill’s words had resonated and it became apparent a preface of sorts was needed because IM Boris Kogan

Boris Kogan

was The Trainer. On page ten of the book it is written:

“Two players were vital for my development: Kyle Therrell (then called Dana), my best friend and local rival; and my trainer from the age of 12, IM Boris Kogan. From Kyle I learned all of my openings, one pairing at a time. Here was our drill: When the pairings were posted before a round, we’d hurry over to a quiet spot. ‘What does so-and-so play?’ I’d ask. My next question was, ‘What do I do against that?’ And finally I’d ask: ‘How is that supposed to be for White//Black?’ Without Kyle, I would have been lost – especially because Boris Kogan had no interest in opening theory. From Boris, I learned the finer points of position evaluation. Kogan played like Petrosian. ‘You must play seemple (itl) chess,’ he always told me. ‘Kviet(itl) moves.’ Thanks to Boris, I eventually became a weak strong player. Without him, I would only have become a dangerous patzer.”

The last two words stopped me in my tracks, causing me to recall a time when walking to the pairing board for the about to begin round and hearing someone say, “What do you mean? The guy is rated over two hundred points below you.” Then Dana Therrell replied, “Yeah, but the guy is dangerous because one round he can beat a master and then lose to a class C player the next round.” After seeing me they both left in a hurry. It was then I learned Dana would be my opponent. The game ended in a long, hard fought draw.

Who was Boris Kogan?

“International Master Boris Kogan, who died of colon cancer on Christmas Day in 1993, is best remembered for playing in three U.S. Championships and winning the Georgia state championship seven years in a row (1980-1986). He was also the coach of Stuart Rachels, helping him advance from being a young national master to sharing the U.S. Chess Championship. What isn’t so well known is that Kogan was a very promising player (Soviet Junior Champion in 1956 and 1957), before making the transition from player to coach at a very early age.”
Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club #696
January 23, 2015
https://www.milibrary.org/chess-newsletters/696

The best way to illustrate how strong a player was IM Boris Kogan is this result:

New York open New York 1984

Apr, 1984 67 (players) 2427 (avg ELO) 276 (games) 9 (rounds)

GM Dzindzichashvili, Roman 2485 7.0
GM Portisch, Lajos 2625 6.5
GM Adorjan, Andras 2570 6.5
GM Sosonko, Gennadi 2560 6.5
GM Kavalek, Lubomir 2545 6.5
Kogan, Boris 2450 6.5
GM Browne, Walter S 2585 6.0
GM Gurevich, Dmitry 2545 6.0
GM Kudrin, Sergey 2520 6.0
GM Gheorghiu, Florin 2495 6.0
GM Hjartarson, Johann 2415 6.0
GM Ljubojevic, Ljubomir 2635 5.5
GM Fedorowicz, John P 2475 5.5
GM Lein, Anatoly 2475 5.5
GM Benko, Pal C 2450 5.5
Frias Pablaza, Victor J 2425 5.5
IM Haik, Aldo 2405 5.5
GM Alburt, Lev O 2515 5.0
GM De Firmian, Nick E 2515 5.0
IM McCambridge, Vincent 2465 5.0
https://www.365chess.com/tournaments/New_York_op_1984/22775

One of the opponents Boris faced in this tournament was Canadian Grandmaster Kevin Spraggett:

Kevin Spraggett (2540) vs Boris Kogan (2450)
Event: New York op
Site: New York Date: ??/??/1984
Round: 5
ECO: A20 English opening
1.c4 e5 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.Nc3 Ne7 5.e4 Nbc6 6.Nge2 d6 7.d3 O-O 8.O-O f5 9.exf5 Nxf5 10.Rb1 Nfd4 11.Nxd4 Nxd4 12.b4 a6 13.Be3 Rb8 14.a4 Be6 15.h3 h6 16.Kh2 g5 17.b5 a5 18.b6 c6 19.Ne4 Qd7 20.Bc1 Rf7 21.Ba3 Bf8 22.Qh5 Bf5 23.f4 exf4 24.gxf4 d5 25.Bxf8 Rbxf8 26.cxd5 cxd5 27.Nc3 Bxd3 28.Qxh6 Bxb1 29.Rxb1 Nf5 30.Qxg5+ Kh8 31.Nxd5 Qxa4 32.Rc1 Qd4 33.Rc7 a4 34.Qh5+ Kg8 35.Qg6+ Rg7 36.Qe6+ Kh7 37.Qe2 a3 38.Qh5+ Kg8 39.Rxg7+ Qxg7 40.Qe2 Qb2 41.Qg4+ Kh7 42.Qh5+ Nh6 43.Ne7 Rf6 44.Nd5 Rg6 0-1
https://www.365chess.com/game.php?gid=2378704

Who is Kevin Spraggett?

https://gambiter.com/chess/players/Kevin_spraggett.html

Full name Kevin Spraggett
Country Canada
Born 10 November 1954
Montreal, Canada
Title GM

Kevin Spraggett (born 10 November 1954) is a Canadian chess grandmaster. He is the fourth Canadian to earn the grandmaster title, after Abe Yanofsky, Duncan Suttles and Peter Biyiasas. Spraggett is the only Canadian to have qualified for the Candidates’ level, having done so in 1985 and 1988. He has won a total of eight Canadian Open Chess Championships, seven Closed Canadian Chess Championships, and has represented Canada eight times in Olympiad play. Spraggett has also written for Canadian chess publications.
https://gambiter.com/chess/players/Kevin_spraggett.html

These days Kevin is probably better known for his excellent blog, http://www.spraggettonchess.com/, though it has been quite some time since Kevin has posted. GM Spraggett wrote that he, and other GMs, considered Boris a fellow Grandmaster without the title. Please note that the above game, and the one below, were played when Kevin was at the top of his game. The next year he qualified as a contender for the right to play the World Champion by qualifying for the Candidates matches.

The only Canadian ever to have qualified for a candidates tournament was Kevin Spraggett of Montreal, who played in the 1985 and 1988-89 tournaments. He made it to the quarter-finals in his second attempt.
https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/article-top-chess-players-meet-in-spain-to-decide-next-world-championship/

Kevin Spraggett (2540) vs Boris M Kogan (2450)
Date: 1984
Event: World Open
Round: 1
Opening: English Opening, Anglo-Slav Variation, General (A11)
Problems: 53159

  1. c4 c6 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. d4 d5 4. Qc2 g6 5. e3 Bg7 6. Nbd2 O-O 7. Bd3 c5 8. cxd5 cxd4 9. e4 e6 10. dxe6 Bxe6 11. O-O Nc6 12. a3 Rc8 13. Qb1 Ng4 14. b4 Nce5 15. Bb2 Nxd3 16. Qxd3 Rc3 17. Qb1 Qb6 18. Bxc3 dxc3 19. Nb3 c2 20. Qxc2 Bxb3 21. Qxb3 Bxa1 22. h3 Nxf2 23. Rxf2 Rc8 24. Qa2 Bg7 25. Kh2 Qd6+ 26. g3 Rc3 27. e5 Qe6 28. Qd2 Bxe5 29. Re2 Rxf3 0-1
    https://old.chesstempo.com/gamedb/game/2526626

Boris died without being awarded the title of Grandmaster, which is a shame because many Grandmasters told me he was a Grandmaster, including but not limited to, Walter Browne, Larry Christiansen, and John Fedorowicz. If your peers consider you to be a Grandmaster who cares what some antiquated organization says or does?

I thought of Boris when reading an excellent article in the 2020 #1 issue of New In Chess entitled, Kamran Shirazi ‘I Never Stopped Loving This Game’: A legendary player still chasing the Grandmaster title, by Dylan Loeb McClain. In the article Shirazi said, ‘I put my whole spirit into this and not to be a grandmaster is a little bit too much.’

‘I put my whole spirit into this and not to be a grandmaster is a little bit too much.’

In order to earn the Grandmaster title a player must jump through many hoops. FIDE, the world governing body of Chess, has instituted many picayune rules and In order to earn the Grandmaster title a player must jump through many hoops.

Cruel twist of fate

Frustrated with the relatively few tournaments that offered grandmaster norms, Shirazi moved to France, in 1994. Though he was already in his 40s, he experienced a rebirth and his results in tournaments with grandmaster norms improved.

In a 1998 tournament in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, a seaside town in Northern France, he gained his first norm. Four years later, in Cannes, he earned his second. And then, another four years later, in 2006, in Metz, he earned his third and final norm needed for the title. That should have been enough, but for a cruel twist of fate. During the Cannes tournament, in the penultimate round, he reached his peak rating: 2499, only a point shy of what he needed for the title. According to the rules, achieving a rating of 2500 once in a lifetime is sufficient, even if the required norms are gained later. If Shirazi had won or drawn his final game, his rating would have been over 2500. But he did not know how close he was – it was still a time before rating updates were done after each round. So, in the final round, Shirazi overpressed in a good position and lost. He ended the tournament with a rating of 2486. ‘I missed by one point’, he said, with a hint of incredulity.

I mention this because of something seen in the last round of a Chess tournament in New Orleans, the Plaza in Lake Forest tournament, if memory serves. The two top rated players were Kamran Shirazi and Boris Kogan, and it came down to a battle with only seconds on the clock. The two combatants were moving with such speed it was difficult to follow the moves. Boris had a time advantage and the players were moving at blitz speed when, all of a sudden, Shirazi STOPPED THE CLOCK! Boris took that as a resignation, but Shirazi said he stopped the clock because it was obvious they were only moving the same pieces around and the tournament director should have stepped in and declared the game a draw by repetition. Boris scoffed, but honesty compels me to agree that Shirazi had a point. The problem was that the TD was unqualified and had absolutely no clue what to do. There had been a group of at least a couple of dozen players watching who had been electrified by what they had just witnessed. Although Boris could speak English, it was somewhat mangled, and I became his spokesman. Shirazi also had his spokesman and there was a shouting match between the two of us. Keep in mind this was a time when the Iranians had defied convention and taken United States citizens working at the embassy hostage. My counterpart invited me to “step outside.” The answer was fired immediately. “Let’s go, dude. I’ve got at least a couple of dozen red-blooded Americans right here, right now, ready to step outside with a couple of IRANIANS!!!” Kamran and his buddy beat a hasty retreat to the hotel… The tournament director later paid out the prize money as if the game had been drawn, and the USCF backed him up. Boris never got over it, lamenting, “He stopped the clock…”

If one did not know how FIDE has operated over the decades it would be difficult to understand why neither player became a Grandmaster. Certainly both players were of Grandmaster caliber and both should have been awarded the title because the title has been awarded to much lesser players. Because of things like this the title has lost its luster.