History of the MI Chess Room


The 1930's

Everyone remembers the excellent results that George Koltanowski achieved while playing in Europe in the early 1930s, but if you ask most players about his chess career in the United States they think of him as a world champion blindfold player, a fantastic promoter, tournament director and journalist. Few know that he did play for a while after his move to the Bay Area. I.A. Horowitz's Chess Review recounts Kolti's activities in 1939.

Bagby- Koltanowski Match

Charles Bagby played a two game match with George Koltanowski prior to the latter’s participation in the California Championship. The result was a 1-1 tie.
Charles Bagby- George Koltanowski [D95]

San Francisco 9/11/1939
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.Nc3 d5 5.e3 0–0 6.Qb3 e6 7.Be2 Nc6 8.cxd5 exd5 9.0–0 Ne7 10.Rd1 c6 11.Bd2 Nf5 12.Rac1 Nd6 13.Ne5 Nd7 14.Nxd7 Bxd7 15.Na4 Re8 16.Bb4 Bc8 17.Nc5 Bf8 18.a4 Ne4 19.Nxe4 Bxb4 20.Qxb4 Rxe4 21.Bf3 Re7 22.Qc5 Be6 23.b4 a6 24.Ra1 a5 25.Rdb1 axb4 26.a5 Bf5 27.Rxb4 Bd3 28.Rb6 Ra6 29.g3 Rd7 30.Bg2 Qa8 31.Qc3 Bb5 32.Bf1 Bxf1 33.Kxf1 Rxb6 34.axb6 Qc8 35.Ra7 f5 36.Qc5 Kf7 37.Qa5 Qe8 38.Ra8 Rd8 39.Rxd8 Qxd8 40.Qa7 Qc8 41.Qa5 ½–½

1939 California State Championship

Philip Wolliston, 19-year-old Los Angeles youth, scored a smashing victory in his conquest of the California State Championship tournament which concluded November 23rd. Losing only one of his eight games, he outranked a field which included Harry Borochow, state titlist since 1930. Herman Steiner of the 1931 American international team, and George Koltanowski, better known for his exploits san voir.

Wolliston, youngest competitor in the field of nine, and the youngest state champion ever to win El Dorado’s   crown, has made an auspicious entry in this, his first important tournament.

1. Wolliston 7-1

2-3. Borochow and Steiner 6

4. Koltanowski  4 ½

5. Kovacs 4

6. Fink 3

7. Patterson 2 ½

8. Bazad 2

9. Gibbs 0

Phillip Wolliston spent his high school years in Seattle before relocating to Los Angeles. He is featured in game 80 of Reshevsky's Best Games of Chess (Reshevsky on Chess) , a losing effort from the 1940 US Championship. He is not listed in Gaige's Chess Personalia. Does anyone know what happened to him?

The 1939 Bagby-Fink Match

A.J. Fink was one of the strongest players in California in the 1920s and 1930s, winning the state championship and playing in the famous Pasadena 1932 tournament. By the late 1930s his supremacy at the MI was being challenged by Charles Bagby and a match was arranged which proved to be inconclusive

The May 1939 issue of Chess Review reports that two of the MI players, Charles Bagby and A.J. Fink, drew a ten game match 5-5. Neither player was ever ahead by more than a game and Fink won the last to force the tie.

Here is one of the games from the match:

Charles Bagby - A.J. Fink

Queen’s Gambit D57

San Francisco 4.26.1939

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 e6 3.c4 Bb4+ 4.Bd2 Be7 5.Nc3 d5 6.Bg5 0–0 7.e3 h6 8.Bh4 Ne4 9.Bxe7 Qxe7 10.cxd5 Nxc3 11.bxc3 exd5 12.Qb3 c6 13.Bd3 Nd7 14.0–0 Re8 15.c4 dxc4 16.Bxc4 Nb6 17.Bd3 Be6 18.Qb2 Bd5 19.a4 Nc4 20.Qc2 Bxf3 21.gxf3 Nd6 22.Kh1 Qf6 23.Be2 Nf5 24.Rab1 Re7 25.Rg1 Rae8 26.Rg4 Nh4 27.Rbg1 g6 28.f4 Qf5 29.Qxf5 Nxf5 30.Bd3 Kh7 31.h4 Ng7 32.h5 Nxh5 33.f5 gxf5 34.Bxf5+ Kh8 35.Rh4 Ng7 36.Rxh6+ Kg8 37.Bd3 Rd7 38.Rh7 f6 39.Rh6 1–0

A portrait of Bagby greets you as you walk into the MI and a photo of Fink (with Capablanca) is located in the director's office.

Ernest  J. Clarke of  San Francisco (1877-1948)

As part of our ongoing look at Bay Area Chess history we feature this obituary of MI Chess Room stalwart E.J. Clarke. His column in the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1920s is an invaluable source of information for MI Chess Room activities during this period.

"In the death of Ernest J. Clarke of San Francisco on December 16, at the age of 71, chess circles on the West Coast suffered an irreparable loss. He had been ill about six weeks.  Several years ago he had retired from business, but later resumed work as linotype operator for the San Francisco Call-Bulletin, with which he was connected altogether 31 years.  Earlier, he had been with the San Francisco Chronicle, for which he also conducted a weekly chess column.

In this connection it is of interest to mention that he preceded Dr. Emanuel Lasker as chess editor of the New York Evening Post.  The latter took over about the time when, late in 1904, he started Lasker’s Chess Magazine, in the conduct of which the world champion enjoyed the advice and cooperation of the newspaperman.

At that time, Mr. Clarke was living in Brooklyn and was a close associate of Frank J. Marshall, also a Brooklyn resident at that time.  Associated with Mr. Clarke in the conduct of the Chronicle chess department was A. J. Fink, noted Californian expert and problem composer.

Born in Rochester, NY, November 17, 1877, Mr. Clarke moved to San Francisco in 1908.  There he joined the Mechanics Institute Chess club and in the course of time became one of its most valued members, in fact, he was regarded as one of the greatest and most dependable leaders in its activities.

In addition to being a chess editor and organizer, he was recognized as on of the strongest players on the Coast.  He was Pacific Coast champion from 1911 to 1913 and, in the first California State championship tournament of 1928, he shared third and fourth prizes with Harry Borochow, below E. W. Gruer, who made a clean score, and S. Mlotkowski.  He was fond of classical music and a student of Shakespeare and French literature.

During 1901, Mr. Clark married Hattie Hutchinson of New York. Their children, who survive, are Mrs. Erwin Berndt of San Francisco; Lincoln of Woodside, Calif.; and Walter, of San Francisco.  He remarried in 1934 to Mrs. Celia Jolly of Kentucky.  Three sisters are living in Oakland and one brother, in San Jose."

(The Bulletin is indebted for most of this information to Mr. Carl J. Bergman of San Francisco).

American Chess Bulletin 1948

Arthur Dake visits the Mechanics' Institute in 1937

The late Portland Grandmaster Arthur Dake had a long association with the Mechanics' Institute stretching from his participation in a simul against Alekhine in 1929 to his attendance at an IM norm event named in his honor in 1999. During this 70(!) year relationship he gave several exhibitions at the MI. The American Chess Bulletin of 1937 reports that in June of that year he gave a 24 board simul at the MI scoring 18 wins, 2 losses and 4 draws. The winners were Carroll Capps and H.R. Durham with Wallace Smith, C.Woskoff, N. Preo and S. Ruys drawing. The ACB notes that this was considered to have been one of the most successful occasions at the club in several years. The following day Dake beat the team of Carl Bergman and Ernest Clarke in an exhibition game.

San Francisco-East Bay Match 1949

From the May 1949 California Chess News, a short-lived predecessor of the California Chess Reporter, put out by George Koltanowski.

"Mechanics' Institute

by Clark Jonas

The Chess Committee of the Mechanics' Institute recently planned an Open tournament that should be started when you receive this issue. The Open Tournament will be followed by the Major Club Championship.

In order to keep activity in the Mechanics' this will be followed by a Queen's Gambit Accepted Tournament (This way one may "brush up" on the accepted gambit which is not often played).

On the 12th of March, fifty-two players from the Bay Area gathered at the Mechanics' Chess Club for their periodic chess match. Full score follows:

San Francisco  East Bay

Bagby 1 Barlow 0

Fink 1 Capps 0

Donnelly 1/2 - Branch 1/2

Pafnutieff 0 - Konkel 1/2

Svalberg 0- Falconer 1

Gross 1/2 - Preo 1/2

Ralston 1/2 - Ruys 1/2

Pruner 1/2 - McClain 1/2

Boyette 1/2 - Meyer 1/2

Dudley 1/2 - Sedlack 1/2

Wolf 0 - Stamer 1

Pedersen 1 Christensen 0

Jonas 0 Wilson 1

Maxwell 0 Ledgerwood 1

Kondrashoff 0 Austin 1

Abella 0 Bean 1

Rothe 0 Lynch 1

Russell 0 Neilson 1

Leeds 1 Hiatt 0

Keil 1/2 - Cuneo 1/2

Shinkin 0 - Trenbarth 1

Harrison 0 - Freeman 1

Bendit 1 - Gonzalez 0

Radaikin 0 - McCarthy 1

Carlson 0 - Willows 1

Stevens 1 - Fredgren

9 1/2 - 16 1/2

Games from 1913

The noted chess book collector and data base maven Andy Ansel of Walnut Creek passes on three games from the Mechanics' past which were preserved in the pages of the American Chess Bulletin.

Stamer,A - Fink,A

San Francisco Mechanics Prize Winner, 1913

1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.Bc4 Bc5 5.0-0 d6 6.b4 Bb6 7.a4 Nxb4 8.c3 Nc6 9.cxd4 Bg4 10.Qb3 Na5 11.Bxf7+ Kf8 12.Qa2 Bxf3 13.Bxg8 Rxg8 14.gxf3 Bxd4 15.Bb2 Qg5+ 16.Kh1 Nc6 17.Qb3 Qf6 18.Qxb7 Rb8 19.Qxc6 Qxf3+ 20.Kg1 Rxb2 0-1

ACB 1913, page 252

Fink,A - Hallwegen,G

San Francisco Mechanics Prize Winner, 1913

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3 h6 5.Be3 Bb4+ 6.Nc3 d6 7.0-0 Bxc3 8.bxc3 0-0 9.Rb1 Ne7 10.Nd2 Ng4 11.Qf3 Ng6 12.h3 Nf6 13.Qg3 Kh7 14.Qf3 c6 15.Bb3 Qd7 16.Qe2 Nf4 17.Bxf4 exf4 18.Nc4 b5 19.Nd2 Re8 20.Rfe1 g6 21.Qf3 Nh5 22.g4 fxg3 23.fxg3 Qxh3 24.Qxf7+ Ng7 25.Re2 Bg4 26.Re3 Re5 27.Rf1 a5 28.a3 a4 29.Ba2 Rae8 30.Qf6 Rh5 31.Kf2 Rf5+ 0-1

ACB 1913, page 252.

Clark,E - Hallwegen,G

San Francisco Mechanics Prize Winner, 1913

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.Nf3 Nbd7 6.e3 c6 7.Rc1 dxc4 8.Bxc4 Nd5 9.Bxe7 Qxe7 10.0-0 0-0 11.Ne2 a6 12.e4 N5f6 13.e5 Nd5 14.Bd3 f5 15.Qd2 h6 16.g3 Qf7 17.Nh4 Ne7 18.Ng2 Re8 19.Nef4 Nf8 20.Ne3 g5 21.Nfg2 b5 22.Be2 Bb7 23.f4 g4 24.Rfd1 Nd7 25.Nh4 h5 26.Bf1 Nb6 27.Bg2 Rac8 28.Rc5 Red8 29.b3 Nbd5 30.Bxd5 Nxd5 31.Nxd5 Rxd5 32.Rxd5 cxd5 33.Rc1 Qd7 34.Ng2 Kf7 35.Ne1 Rc6 36.Nd3 Qc7 37.Rxc6 Qxc6 38.Nc5 Bc8 39.h3 Ke7 40.hxg4 hxg4 41.Qh2 Kd8 42.Qh4+ Kc7 43.Qe7+ Kb6 44.b4 Qc7 45.Qf8 Ka7 46.Qd6 Qb6 47.Kf2 a5 48.a3 axb4 49.axb4 Qb8 50.Qd8 Ka8 51.Qa5+ Qa7 52.Ke3 Qxa5 53.bxa5 Kb8 54.Kd3 b4 55.Kc2 Kc7 56.Kb3 Kc6 57.Kxb4 and wins. 1-0

ACB 1913, page 252.

The 1930 MI Championship

Andy Ansel has dug up two games from the 1930 Mechanics' Institute Championship which first appeared in The Gambit, a St.Louis based magazine which ran for about ten years in the 1920s and 30s.

Bagby- Lamb

1930 MI Championship

1.d4 e5 2.dxe5 Nc6 3.Nf3 Qe7 4.Nc3 Nxe5 5.e4 c6 6.Be2 Nf6 7.O-O Nxf3+ 8.Bxf3 Qe5 9.Be3 Bc5 10.Bxc5 Qxc5 11.e5 Ng8 12.Ne4 Qe7 13.Nd6+ Kd8 14.Qd4 Nh6 15.Rad1 f6 16.Rfe1 Nf7 17.Nxf7+ Qxf7 18.e6 1-0

Lamb - Tippin

1930 MI Championship

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d3 Nc6 4.Nc3 d5 5.exd5 exd5 6.d4 Nf6 7.Bg5 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Be7 9.Bb5 Qd6 10.Qd2 O-O 11.Bf4 Qd7 12.O-O Bb4 13.Nde2 a6 14.Bxc6 bxc6 15.a3 Bc5 16.Ng3 Re8 17.h3 Ba7 18.Rfe1 Bb7 19.Be5 Re6 20.Nf5 Ne4 21.Nxe4 Rxe5 22.Nf6+ gxf6 23.Rxe5 Kh8 24.Qh6 1-0

News From 1946

"Playing in the strongest championship field mustered in the last few years by the Mechanics' Institute Chess Club of San Francisco, Carroll Capps walked off with first prize by scoring 10-2. He was closely followed by V. Pafnutieff 9 1/2 - 2 1/2 and A.J. Fink 9-3."

Chess Review, August-September 1946, p.12

"In the following tournament report we see MI Trustee Neil Falconer near the top of the standings in the 1946 California State Championship. A.J. Fink won, this time scoring 8 1/2 - 3 1/2 in a good field. Other leading scores were: V. Pafnutieff 7 1/2; N. Falconer 7 and R. Konkel 6."

Chess Review  December 1946

MI - Log Cabin Match

E. Forry Laucks unquestionably qualified as one of the great characters of American chess in the 1930s through 1960s. The founder of the Log Cabin Chess Club based in West Orange, New Jersey, Laucks loved to barnstorm around the world.  The Log Cabin traveled to such far flung places as Cuba (With a young Bobby Fischer) and Alaska.  During these trips members remembered the golden rule: Don't let Forry drive!  An animated conversationalist, Laucks was known to look his listener in the back seat in the eye while driving down the road.  This resulted in a few nicks and scrapes, but Forry was ready to handle the situation.  If his car was undrivable, he would simply leave it by the roadside, flag a ride and go into town and buy a new one.  It didn't hurt that Lauck's father had left him a sizable inheritance.  The initial "E" undoubtedly stood for eccentric.

The summer of 1955, after the US Open in Long Beach, the Log Cabin hit the road and traveled all the way up to Alaska.  Along the way, they played a match with the Mechanics' Institute.

       Log Cabin                            Mechanics'

J. Sherwin          1/2                   W. Addison          1/2

T. Miller                  0                    J. Schmitt               1

E. Heefner             0                     N. Falconer           1

V. Pupols              0                    C. Capps           1

L. Coplin             1/2                    E. Pruner             1/2

R. Houghton        0                      R. Currie               1

F. Laucks              0                      C. Bagby              1

   Total                    1                                                      6