Chess Room Newsletter #671 | Mechanics' Institute

You are here

Chess Room Newsletter #671

Gens Una Sumus!

Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club Newsletter #671
June 13, 2014

I call exercise ‘Miracle-Gro for the brain.’ Exercise keeps brain cells healthy in a way that playing chess and other highly cognitive activities do not.

—John Ratey, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

1) Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club News

It’s not often that an 84-player tournament has only two perfect scores after three rounds, but that is the case in the Summer Tuesday Night Marathon. National Master Natalya Tsodikova and Expert Ashik Uzzaman share top honors, the latter having upset National Master Romy Fuentes in round three.

Among those tied for third at 2½ are top seed National Master Hayk Manvelyan, International Master Elliott Winslow, and FIDE Masters Andy Lee and Frank Thornally.

It’s still possible to enter the eight-round event with half-point byes for the first three rounds.

From round 3 of the SummerTNM Tuesday Night Marathon:
Black to move (Krasnov–Lee after 40 a5)White to move (Afkham-Ebrahimi–Rakonitz after 13...gxh6)
White to move (Eastham–Chalissery after 45...g6)For the solutions, see the game scores (when available) for round 3.

The Tuesday Night Marathon has been held since the early 1970s and one player has played in almost every single event. Peter Grey is a true chess marathoner, having played over 1600(!) tournament games on Tuesday nights at the Mechanics’ Institute. While he is the Cal Ripkin/Lou Gehrig of the TNM, the TNM has another endurance man in Tom Allen. We mentioned that Tom’s streak stopped with the 2014 Summer TNM, but he writes we exaggerated slightly in Newsletter #669. Here is Tom’s email:

Hello Paul & John,

Since you replied with statistics, I feel compelled to be precise. My first marathon upon moving back to the Bay Area was August of 1999. So, 2 in ’99; 5 each in 2000 through 2013, plus 2 in 2014 is 14 years is accurate. We moved back in summer of 1998, but I guess I let a year go by before joining up! Call it the Allen Gambit.

Congratulations go to Grandmaster Sam Shankland of Orinda, who was recently named to the 2014 Olympiad team. The recent Brandeis University graduate will be joined by Hikaru Nakamura, Gata Kamsky, Alex Onischuk and Varuzhan Akobian, with John Donaldson as team captain. On the women’s side there are Irina Krush, Anna Zatonskih, Tatev Abrahamian, Katerina Nemcova and Anna Sharevich, with Melik Khachian as team captain. Wesley So and Yury Shulman are the US team coaches for the Olympiad in Tromso, Norway, which runs August 1-15.

Grandmaster Daniel Naroditsky’s simul at Stanford University was recently written up at US Chess online under the headline “Samford at Stanford”. The competition was quite strong, as players as high as 2383(!) USCF competed. You can find the article at

Belated congratulations to Mechanics’ US Chess League member NM Vignesh Panchanatham, who won the Junior High (K–9) Nationals in Atlanta. The team from Hopkins JHS took second place in the K–8.

2) Alfred Donegan

When the royal game and the larger world meet it often makes for interesting reading. Witness the number of famous political leaders who have been credited with being chess players. Lenin, Castro and Napoleon are three examples of those whose chess expertise has been largely exaggerated.

American diplomat Alfred Donegan, on the other hand, while not nearly so famous, was the real thing—a master-strength player who is completely unknown today. The noted chess book collector Jurgen Stigter, of Amsterdam, found a game played by Donegan from the 1933 Bucharest City Championship in his hand in the Ranneforth’s Schachkalender 1932.

Sicilian-French Marshall Variation C01
Wechsler–Alfred Donegan
Bucharest, February 26, 1933

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 d5 4.exd5 exd5 5.Bb5+ Nc6 6.Qe2+ Be7 7.Ne5 Bd7 8.Nxd7 Qxd7 9.0–0 Nf6 10.Re1 0–0 11.Bg5 Rfe8 12.Nd2 a6 13.Bxc6 bxc6 14.dxc5 Bxc5 15.Qd3 Ng4 16.Bh4 Qc7 17.Bg3 Bxf2+ 18.Bxf2 Qxh2+ 19.Kf1 Qh1+ 20.Bg1 Nh2+ 21.Kf2 Ng4+ 22.Kf1 Nh2+ 23.Kf2 Ng4+ 24.Kf1 Nh2+ ½–½

Donegan, who played Alekhine in a simul in Zurich, participated in several Trebitsch Memorials, drawing with future IM Geza Fuster in one of them.

Mr. Stigter found fascinating background material on Donegan’s diplomatic activity during World War II in the book Diplomat among Warriors, by Robert Murphy, published by Doubleday & Company in 1964.

Here are some salient passages:

The Foreign Service normally makes about the same distinctions between its officers and clerical staff as the Army does between officers and enlisted men, but in Switzerland during World War I conditions were not normal. The customary crowds of tourists were absent, diplomatic social functions were held to a minimum, and all members of the American community were drawn together by the war. So, as a young clerk, I became more intimate with officers in the legation than would have been likely in peacetime, and in particular with the man who soon became my immediate superior, an exceptionally able consular officer named Alfred W .Donegan.

As press officer, Donegan read and analyzed the German and Austrian publications which were readily available in Switzerland. Since he understood the central European scene thoroughly, he could glean inferences from his reading which might escape less informed readers. Because I knew German, he arranged to have me assigned to assist in his work.

Donegan was married to a hospitable Austrian lady, they had four children, and soon I felt almost one of their family. Early in our acquaintance, Donegan startled me by remarking that he and his wife had not visited the United States for many years, simply because they could not afford it. In those days, the starting salary of a career consular officer was $1500 a year, the maximum pay except in a few posts was $4000, and perquisites were few and far between. Congress supplied the State Department with no funds to pay traveling expenses for family vacations at home, or even to pay moving expenses when an officer was transferred from one post to another “A promotion in the Foreign Service can be an invitation to bankruptcy,” Donegan told me, “because a promotion often involves a transfer, and only men with independent incomes can afford to move family and furniture halfway around the world.”

Donegan said that when he was Consul at Magdeburg, Germany, he was desperately in debt and needed $1000 urgently. His vice consul was a close friend and they agreed that the vice consul would apply to a local German bank for a loan. The banker asked the young man what security he could offer. “No security,” the junior diplomat replied, “but our consul will endorse my note.” The banker was impressed. “In that case, there is of course no question,” he said. Donegan concluded, “What the banker did not know was that both of us were poor credit risks.”

Donegan’s personal story had a happy ending, without aid from the State Department. His one hobby was chess, which he played well enough to participate with moderate success in European tournaments. At one of these meets he became acquainted with a well-to-do American banker named Hallgarten, and later they became good friends and played chess together. One day Hallgarten announced, “Donegan, I drew up a new will today and named you in it.” Donegan appreciated this kindly gesture, but as Hallgarten was only fifty years old and apparently in excellent health, he soon forgot about it.

However, less than a year later, while Hallgarten was in the Casino at Monte Carlo, he dropped dead of a heart attack. To Donegan’s amazement, he learned that his friend had bequeathed to him a quarter of a million dollars, a sum which made him the equivalent of a millionaire in today’s money.

This did not result in Donegan’s resignation from the Foreign Service. He continued to work until his retirement several years later, his last post being Consul at Basel. Donegan was a devoted servant of the American Government. He served when he could ill afford to donate his services, and he continued to serve when he could have afforded to quit. But my observations in Bern did not tempt me to follow Donegan’s example. Much of the legation work seemed useless; there were too many instances of faithful service being unappreciated; officers were hampered by Washington politics; everyone was underpaid. As Donegan explained to me, “Congressmen know they can’t win votes by appropriating big sums for the Department of State, so the Department never will be able to pay top-notch men what they are worth. That’s why the Department was so poorly prepared to go into this war.” A quarter of a century later, the Department was almost as poorly prepared to go into World War II.

3) Here and There

Rising star 13-year-old Ashritha Eswaran of San Jose, who recently competed in the 2014 US Women’s Championship in St. Louis, became the second-youngest competitor in the history of the event, with only Irina Krush younger.

Ashritha had a great performance, scoring 3½/9, despite being the lowest-rated player in the tournament. Her first-round win over WIM Viktorija Ni was awarded the best game in the tournament, for which she received a prize of $1,000.

Kudos go to her parents and team of coaches: Ted Castro, GM Dejan Bojkov, IM Ricardo De Guzman, FM Ron Cusi, NM Arthur Arutjunian and GM Enrico Sevillano.

You can browse through our archived newsletters using the "next" and "previous buttons".

Want to save this newsletter for reading at a later time? Click here to learn how.

Want to be notified when the next newsletter is published? Join Our Email List →