Chess Room Newsletter #783 | Mechanics' Institute

You are here

Chess Room Newsletter #783

Gens Una Sumus!

Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club Newsletter #783
April 14, 2017

He was too good. There was no use in playing him. It wasn’t interesting. I was getting beaten, and it wasn’t clear to me why. It wasn’t like I made this mistake or that mistake. It was like I was being gradually outplayed, from the start. He wasn’t taking any time to think. The most depressing thing about it is that I wasn’t even getting out of the middle game to an endgame. I don’t ever remember an endgame. He honestly believes there is no one for him to play, no one worthy of him. I played him, and I can attest to that.

—Peter Biyiasas, talking to William Nack
about Bobby Fischer in Sports Illustrated

1) Mechanics’ Institute Chess Club News

The 112-player Spring Tuesday Night Marathon has four leaders after five rounds. National Masters Tenzing Shaw and Conrado Diaz and Experts Arthur Ismakov and Aleksandr Ivanov have 4½ points with three rounds left to be played.

From round 5 of the Spring Tuesday Night Marathon:
White to move (Winslow–Ivanov after 26...h5)White to move (Newey–Vickers after 29...Bxb4)
White to move (Gaffagan–Royzen after 10...c5)White to move (Crofts–Poling after 20...Ne4)
White to move (Valente–Casares after 25...Qf7)White to move (Starr–Cheng after 33...Kc4)
White to move (Erickson–Robertson after 13...N7f6)White to move (Cowgill–Chan after 23...Rxh1)
Black to move (Otterbach–Bayaraa after 17 e4)White to move (Otterbach–Bayaraa after 27...Rxe5)
For the solutions, see the game scores for round 5.

National Masters Conrado Diaz and Mike Arne and Expert Arthur Ismakov tied for first at 4½–½ in the 17th Imre Konig Memorial G/45 held April 8. The 65-player turnout made it the third-best-attended in the 17-year history of the monthly series, behind only the 2003 Max Wilkerson Memorial (74 participants) and the 2009 Charles Bagby Memorial (69 players).

Wesley So is the 2017 US Champion having defeated Alex Onischuk in a playoff after the two tied for first in the 12-player round robin with seven points. Bay Area Grandmasters Sam Shankland and Daniel Naroditsky tied for 7th–9th with five points. Sabina Foisor is the 2017 U.S. Women’s Champion.

Jules Jelinek, Wednesday Night Blitz Coordinator, provides the following information.

April 5 (14 players)

1st – Carlos D’Avila & Derek O’Connor
3rd – Tallak Narland

Sunday May 7 is when the big annual Ray Schutt Memorial Blitz tournament will be held at Mechanics Institute this year. 1st $400, 2nd $250, 3rd $120, 4th $100, 5th $75, 6th $50; everyone gets a free chess book for entering. Registration will be from 12:00 to 12:45 pm. No phone entries. The rounds will be at 1:00, 1:30, 2:00, 2:30, 3:00 and 3:30 pm.

2) John Braley 1944–2017

National Master John Braley of Seattle died on February 7 at the age of 72. His death marks yet another loss for Seattle chess, which has seen the passing of several giants in recent years. Others, who like John began playing in Washington State in the 1950s, include Michael Franett (2004), Elmars Zemgalis (2014) and Viesturs Seglins (2016). Only Viktors Pupols and James McCormick remain of this illustrious group.

Best known for winning three Washington State Championship invitational titles, including a 7–0 performance in 1971, John Braley was not only a strong player. Unique among National Masters of his era, he occupied many administrative positions in the Washington Chess Federation and the Seattle Chess Club. John also performed important duties for the Washington Chess Letter, first in the early 1960s and later as the editor of its successor publication Northwest Chess in the 1980s.The issues Braley produced are remembered as some of the best in the history of this magazine, which has appeared monthly since November 1947. John was able to do this by attracting a wide variety of contributors, including Grandmaster Duncan Suttles, International Master Nikolay Minev, International Master Eric Tangborn, FIDE Master Bruce Harper and future U.S. Women’s Champion Alexey Root.

John Braley was born in Tacoma on March 2, 1944, but grew up in the Magnolia neighborhood in Seattle. John started playing at the age of 14 and quickly became one of the best players in Washington, which he credited in part to regularly visiting Olaf Ulvestad’s Chess Center. John had fond memories of that short-lived establishment, located around eighth and Pine, which was run by the first international-level player from Washington—Ulvestad was a teammate of Arthur Dake in the 1946 USA–USSR match in Moscow, splitting a pair of games with David Bronstein.

In an interview with Jonathan Goetze published in the June 1983 issue of Northwest Chess John also credited his rapid rise to the training he received playing fellow Seattle Prep graduate and life-long friend Michael Franett, Robert Holzinger, Buzz Eddy, Willie Brandel and Jim Campbell. In those pre-Internet days they would often get together for all-night sessions of blitz chess. John described the Washington juniors of the time as street fighters in their playing style. He definitely viewed chess as a struggle between two opponents and not an academic exercise.

John played in his first Washington State Championship in 1961 at the age of 16, likely the youngest player to compete in this event dating back to the early 1930s, until Yasser Seirawan broke his record in 1975. Rated an Expert under Robert Karch’s Pacific Coast Ratings (later Northwest Ratings) John tied for third in his debut behind Viktors Pupols and Art Wang.

Surprisingly John would not play in another Washington State Championship for a decade. In what should have been some of his best years as a chess player he only competed sporadically throughout the 1960s, his interest in other matters taking him away from the game. John briefly attended Gonzaga University around 1962–63, but structured academic life did not suit him. That did not stop him from a lifelong pursuit of learning with a strong interest in mathematics, particularly three-dimensional geometry.

The Vietnam War was a defining moment for John, who was one of the earliest draft resisters. This was before there was any wide-spread movement; John acted on his own.

As he told Goetze in the 1983 interview, “I didn’t want to be part of causing large-scale harm to people.” Luckily for John this was before the first wave of conscientious objectors, and the induction people preferred to keep things quiet and drop the matter.

The only time John lived outside Washington was in 1967, when he spent a year in San Francisco, where he played several times at the Mechanics’ Institute, even winning one of its strong weekly blitz tournaments. This was also the point in his life when John stopped wearing shoes. One day one of his neighbors in Haight-Ashbury asked John if he could borrow his hiking boots, his only pair of shoes. They weren’t returned, but it was summer, and San Francisco’s winters are mild, so soon John got in the habit of walking around barefoot, which continued the rest of his life.

Many, upon seeing John for the first time, but not yet knowing him, would instantly peg him as a hippie. They would be mistaken. Yes, John was a vegetarian (later vegan) most of his life. Yes, he had long hair and a full beard and mustache since at least the mid-1960s. Yet John never considered himself a hippie. As he explained to Goetze, “I have never used drugs at all. And I never participated in group sex either. I’m sure never having done these things I couldn’t possibly be a hippie.”

While John didn’t consider himself a hippie he did spend the Summer of Love in San Francisco. He recalled his adventures there, which included visits to the Mechanics’ Institute, in the 1983 interview in Northwest Chess:

One of the things was that I went down to San Francisco for a year, which was the only time I lived outside the Seattle/Tacoma area in my whole life. Incidentally, I’m one of the few people around here who was actually born in Tacoma. I did play chess at the Mechanics’ Institute down there a few times. I think that was before Fischer and Evans moved out West. So, William Addison was the strongest player on the West Coast at the time. He ran the Mechanics’ Institute Club. The first time I went there I sat at a board quietly asking anyone walking by for a game. No one would play me. I could hear someone in the corner saying “That guy is really loaded.” (Of course you already know I never use drugs or alcohol.) Finally, Addison himself came over and said “I see that no one wants to play you—in that case you’ll have to play me.” I had him show me some games instead. He was very nice.

I did win one of the Friday night speed tournaments at the Institute with people like Dennis Fritzinger playing. One time, after being in California about six months, I really needed an ego boost, so I went to Golden Gate Park where they had chess tables and I tried to play there. I needed wins! But they wouldn’t even play me—probably because of my appearance—and this was absolutely crushing. Finally, one nice guy started playing me and eventually they all did. At one point I won every game over a period of weeks and they started saying, “You’re better than Bobby Fischer!” I remember my last game there before coming back to Seattle. It was against a relatively weak player who was kind of mean. He would players much weaker than himself and really rub it in when he won. He was the one guy I really wanted to win against. Accordingly, I sacked a knight and sacked a rook and lost horribly. A large crowd had gathered. Someone asked, “Why move so slowly? This game isn’t important.” Someone else had said, “Yes, it is. He’s won forty games in a row and this may be his first loss.”

John had several successful tournaments in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including the 1969 Tacoma Centennial, which he won with a 6–0 score, defeating Jim McCormick and Peter Biyiasas the last two rounds. McCormick was a good customer of John’s, at one point losing to him four times in a row. Jim did not take his losses lightly and after losing yet another game to Braley’s then-favorite hippopotamus, uttered various expletives at him in his Darth Vaderesque voice, something John would later imitate perfectly on request.

John’s 7–0 score in the 1971 Washington State Championship, ahead of four past and future state champions (Viktors Pupols, Mike Franett, John Walker and Kent Pullen), is only one of three perfect scores in the close to 90-year history of the event—Elmars Zemgalis (1953) and Slava Mikhailuk (1998) are the others.

The report in Northwest Chess (March 1971) on this event held at the Northgate Mall (the long defunct J.J. Gill bookstore), not far from the current home of the Seattle Chess Club, noted that John was not only in horrible time pressure in most of his games, but seemed to deliberately pursue it. According to N.W.C. he spent one hour on his seventh move against George Krauss in round one, an hour and 23 minutes for his first nine moves against Robert Routsalainen in round two and one hour and eight minutes for his first six moves against John Walker in round three.

This success would be one of the few tournaments John played in the 1970s. International Master Eric Tangborn remembers seeing John for the first time at a 30/30 tournament held at Robert Karch’s American Chess Service (1135 North 96th), a well-intentioned but short-lived attempt to establish a full-time chess center in Seattle in the wake of the Fischer boom. John tied for first in the event with Paul Eggers and went into hibernation, only to be awakened in 1980 by a phone call from Mike Franett.

The June 1980 issue of Northwest Chess has a report on the Seattle entry into the National Telephone League (a precursor to the US and Pro Chess Leagues). “Before our noon starting time against Philadelphia it was apparent that one of our players wasn’t going to arrive on schedule. This put us in a bit of a quandary: would he show or wouldn’t he? Faced with the bleak prospect of forfeiting a board to such a strong team we all thought frantically of who we might get. At last Mike Franett thought of John Braley. A quick call to John’s home woke him from his slumber and he graciously agreed to play, ending a long break from the game. To show him our appreciation, we gave him the Black pieces on second board against one of the strongest junior players in the country (Tom Costigan).” This was the first time I met John and the start of a 37-year friendship.

It would be nice to report that John won the game against Costigan (he didn’t), but it did serve as the catalyst for the most active decade of chess activity in John’s life. He not only earned two more Washington State Championship crowns (1983 and 1986) competing several times against current Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, but also won many tournaments including the Paul Keres Memorial and Washington Open.

John Braley (Photo: Mike Franett)

A group of Soviet junior all-stars (Kramnik, Tiviakov, Rublevsky Svidler and Galliamova among others) visited Seattle in March of 1989 as part of the Goodwill Games and annihilated the locals 11½–1½. John drew (now Israeli GM) Michael Oratovsky on board two with the Black pieces.

Reference has already been made to John’s administrative duties for chess and his editorship of Northwest Chess, but his contributions to the game went well beyond this. He was a well-regarded chess teacher, who emphasized getting students to think for themselves and made learning fun. Several summers he ran well-received chess camps that featured many of the best players in Seattle as instructors.

These camps were run as non-profits, with John putting the proceeds back into chess. This is mentioned as John never had much money. Whether it was Northwest Chess, the Washington Chess Federation, or the camps, the local chess community has never had a more prudent steward of its finances. John was scrupulously honest.

John lived most of his life (early to mid-1970s to January 2013) in the basement of a two-story house at 4715 9th Ave in Seattle, just off I-5 in the University District. The house was never in good repair, but it offered students and creative souls cheap rent in a friendly environment. John was the one constant in the home and proud of his many housemates that included two winners of The Stranger’s Awards (writer Stacey Levine and musician Lori Goldston), the well-known artist Susan Zoccola, fellow state champions John Walker and John Donaldson, and 1989 U.S. Women’s Champion Alexey Root. The latter shares her memories of John here.

“I rented a second-floor room in a house that John Braley lived in and managed, at 4715 9th Ave. NE, Seattle. John occupied the entire basement and those of us who rented rooms lived on the first and second floors. He had photos from Northwest Chess on one of the walls. John knew chess history, history in general, music, and the best places to go in Seattle. When I knew John, he didn’t wear shoes but kept a pair of slip-ons in his bag in case he entered a place that required footwear. He maintained a long, dark beard. I won’t ever forget his intense eyes and soft-spoken voice. He was an interesting and unique person.”

John stopped playing chess in the late 1980s to explore his other interests, including gaming, where he had a large community of friends. He also taught several classes at the University of Washington’s Experimental College based on the ideas of Buckminster Fuller and tensegrity. John’s basement was full of structures he had designed.

Though no longer a player, John still followed the chess world with interest and kept in touch with old friends. He attended the memorial for Elmars Zemgalis in early 2015 and was in good health, but not long after was stricken with an unidentified muscular wasting disease for which there was no cure. Despite his grim prognosis John remained in good spirits and never complained about his condition. He spent a lot of time on Google Earth the last few years visiting places he was always curious about. One of the last things he did before he died was watch the games from Tata Steel and listen to Yasser Seirawan’s live commentary.

John Braley will be remembered by his many friends and for his games, one of which is offered here.

John was known for his Jekyll-and-Hyde treatment of the openings, beginning tournaments with quiet, non-theoretical variations that led to long positional games with lots of maneuvering and later switching to hyper-aggressive play in the final rounds.

He explained his strategy as follows:

“I usually felt most comfortable with semi-open positions; but my priority in the opening was mainly to avoid lines I thought my opponents knew. This often led to openings with little initial contact and long, difficult games. I would be tired by the fifth round. To deal with that I prepared a few high-contact, tricky openings for late rounds with the idea that maybe by the time I had to start working, the game was already decided.”

Here is an example of his aggressive side from his first Washington State Championship victory.

Danish Gambit C44
John Braley–George Krauss
Washington State Championship 1971

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.c3 dxc3 5.Bc4 c2

5...cxb2 6.Bxb2 d5 is the standard response to the Danish Gambit. Black limits himself to a gain of one pawn, returning the other to try to get his pieces out. Black, a long-time master who was a career military man, tries for something similar here.

6.Qxc2 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 d6 8.Bg5

8.0–0 Bxc3 9.bxc3 Nf6 10.Ba3 0–0 11.e5 Nxe5 12.Nxe5 dxe5 13.Rad1 gave White a nice initiative which he converted into a win in Velimirovic-Romanishin, Odessa 1975.


8...Nf6 was better.

9.Bh4 Nh6 10.0–0 Bxc3 11.Qxc3 Qe7?

11...Nf7 trying to castle had to be played.

12.Bd5! Bd7

As 12...Nd8 is met by 13.e5! dxe5 14.Rfe1 and White captures on e5 with devastating effect. Relatively best was 12...Be6, although after 13.Bxc6+ bxc6 14.Qxc6+ Kf7 15.Nd4 White has a strong initiative with even material.

13.Qb3 g5

The immediate 13...0–0–0 met by 14.Nd4 followed by a rook to the c-file. Black cannot defend against this sort of attack.

14.Bg3 g4 15.Nh4 0–0–0

This is a little better as the knight is not so active, but the attack is still there for White.

16.Rac1 Rde8 17.Qe3 Nf7

18.Rxc6! Bxc6

18...bxc6 19.Qxa7 Kd8 20.Qa8+ Bc8 21.Bxc6 Reg8 22.Nf5 Qe6 23.Rc1 and the game will soon be over.

19.Nf5 Qf8 20.Qxa7 Nd8

20...Rxe4 21.Bxf7 and White two minor pieces trump Black’s extra rook, but this was the best practical choice for Krauss whose position quickly falls apart.

21.Rc1 h5 22.b4 h4 23.Bf4 Rh5 24.b5 Bxd5 25.Bxd6 Qf7 26.Qa8+ Kd7 27.Rxc7+ Ke6 28.Qc8+ 1–0

3) Here and There

The remaining venues and dates for the Grand Prix cycle are Moscow, Russia: May 12–21; Geneva, Switzerland: July 6–15; and Palma De Mallorca, Spain: November 16–25. Each event will have a prize fund of €130,000 ($137,000), and 24 qualified or nominated players will be contesting the four tournaments. Agon Ltd made the announcement recently during a press conference in Sharjah, alongside the unveiling of their new global sponsors, the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab. The two top seeds will be Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) and Hikaru Nakamura (USA). Missing from the line-up are the top two US stars, Fabiano Caruana and Wesley So, respectively world numbers two and three, and that’s only because they have all but already secured automatic entry into the Candidates by virtue of their ratings—but Nakamura will be looking for yet another good run in the GP (he was runner-up in the last cycle) to be the third American in the Candidates’.

Richard Reich writes that there are many free articles on the German language historical website KARL, including some on Fischer.

4) This is the end

What result do you expect from this study?

White to move

Show solution

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 →