The Old Clipping

by Sam Sloan

I have just come across my old scrapbook which contains, among many other things, newspaper clippings of myself and Bobby Fischer playing against our respective opponents in the Eastern States 1956 Open Chess Tournament in Washington, DC. The clipping is from "The Washington Post and Times Herald" for November 24, 1956, page C13. One part of the clipping contains a photograph of myself playing a burly Tom Jorgenson, the then South Jersey Open Champion, in the second round of this event. The caption states: "Height, weight and age are no considerations in a chess tournament, as Sam Sloan, 12, of Lynchburg, Va., demonstrates during his match with one of the adult entries. Sam is rated as one of the leading chess players in his state."

Another photo from the same page shows Bobby Fischer chewing his thumb and playing with the black pieces in what appears to be possible a Sicilian defense. White has knights on b3 and c3 and a rook on d1. The captain states: "Deep thought is given by Bobby Fischer, 15, of Brooklyn, N. Y. during yesterdays tournament play. Bobby is the United States Junior Champion."

Both of these captions were inaccurate. I was not one of the highest rated players in Virginia at the time. My actual rating was 1475. However, I had won my first round game in this event and this was the second round, so more attention than I deserved was being paid to my game. In addition, Fischer was 13, not 15, at the time.

I also have snapshots taken by my mother at this tournament. Included is a snapshot of myself, my brother, and Norman T. Whitaker, the director and organizer of the tournament, plus a poor and faded photograph of Bobby Fischer playing a cigarette smoking opponent. (From the position, it appears to be the same opponent as in the newspaper photograph described above.) I also have a photo of 16-year-old William Lombardy playing Grandmaster Rossolimo in the last round. (The game was a draw).

Perhaps most importantly, I have a photograph taken of the completed wall chart of this tournament. The reason that this is important is that all records of this tournament have been virtually lost. With this photo (which is poor and faded but perhaps could be enhanced) it might be possible to reconstruct the entire record of this historically important event. This event was not advertised, rated or recognized by the USCF. The tournament announcement, which was mailed to me as a member of the Virginia State Chess Federation, states: "If you wish them to rate your play, you arrange it." Perhaps the reason for this was that both the notorious professional criminal, Whitaker, the organizer and director, and, to some extent, E. Forry Laucks, the financier, were "persona non grata" with the USCF at the time. This, plus the fact that high guaranteed prizes were offered, including a $250 guaranteed cash first prize, made this one of the strongest, if not the strongest, open Swiss tournament held in the U.S. during this period. It was top heavy with strong players and had few weak players. Only 56 players participated.

The tournament was won by Berliner, with Rossolimo, Lombardy, Fischer and Feuerstein tied for second. I consider it to be perhaps the most interesting tournament in which I have ever played. It was my first contact with really big time chess. Incidentally, I finished dead last. After winning my first round game, I lost all six remaining games.

Persons who have seen this clipping have asked me why I never amounted to anything in chess. My excuse is that I grew up in a small town, Lynchburg, Virginia, and, except for the weekly meetings of the Lynchburg Chess Club (where the strongest player was Class C), I had no opportunities to play chess on a regular basis until I entered the University of California at Berkeley at age 18.

To See the Old Clipping, see: Washington Post, 1956 .

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