California Chess History

California Chess Superstars

by Kerry Lawless

ChessDryadCalifornia Chess Superstars are those Hall of Famers who have given 20+ years of extreme service or have devoted their life to California chess. My thanks go to John Donaldson for taking the time to research and write some of these mini-biographies. Corrections to posted material are gladly accepted.

IGM GEORGE KOLTANOWSKI (1903-2000): The World Blindfold Chess Champion settled in SF Bay Area in 1947 and started his California chess career which included: chess columnist for The Press Democrat 1947-1949, syndicated chess columnist for the SF Chronicle 1948-2000 (the only daily chess column in the world), Editor of California Chess News/Chess Digest 1947-1950, Editor of Chess in Action, chess book author, national chess series on educational TV starting in 1964, chess tournament director, lecturer & performer (The Knight's Tour), chess instructor to tens of thousands of kids & adults, founder of the chess organization Chess Friends of Northern California, and Dean of American Chess. 'Kolty' was Mr. Northern California Chess for over 50 years.

IM HERMAN STEINER (1905-1955): Besides being one of the strongest players on the West Coast, he became chess editor of the Los Angeles Times after arriving in California in 1932. He was a tireless chess organizer who organized numerous Southern California tournaments through the auspices of his Hollywood Chess Group. In the United States he alone was instrumental in organizing the 1945 Pan-American International Tournament and the Second Pan-American Chess Congress of 1954. This three time California Champion also became US. Champion in 1948.

JACQUELINE PIATIGORSKY (1911 - 2012) : A women of many talents, Jacqueline Piatigorsky is best remembered in the chess world for organizing the Piatigorsky tournaments with her husband Gregor. These two events, held in 1963 and 1966 respectively, featured many of the elite players in the world at the time with Tigran Petrosian and Paul Keres tying for first in the earlier event and Boris Spassky winning the latter with Bobby Fischer a close second. These were not the only major competitions Mrs. P. (as she was often called) was involved with. The 1961 Fischer-Reshevsky match and the 1967 playoff between Sammy Reshevsky, Leonid Stein and Vlastimil Hort are two others that quickly come to mind. Jacqueline Piatigorsky was mentored in chess by Herman Steiner and when he died suddenly in 1955 she took over the operation of his club, The Hollywood Chess Group, which was renamed the Herman Steiner Chess Club. Mrs. P. was a perfectionist who was heavily involved with the organizational nuts and bolts of all the events she was engaged in. These ran the gamut from creating an innovative relay system for transmitting moves from the stage to the analysis room at the Piatigorsky Cups to the mundane day to day activities of keeping a chess club going for twenty plus years. Mrs. P. even designed the cup that the winners of the Piatigorsky Cup received. Jacqueline Piatigorsky did not only confine her chess activities to elite competitions. The Piatigorsky Foundation, which she founded with Gregor, sponsored chess in public schools and for underprivileged and disabled children throughout Southern California for several decades. This was in many ways her most lasting legacy as tens of thousands of children were exposed to the Royal Game thanks to her efforts. One of the highest rated women in the United States in the 1950s and 60s, Mrs. P. played in many US Womens Championships these two decades. Her best performance came in 1965, when at the age of 53, she finished half a point out of first with the excellent score of 7 1/2 - 2 1/2. She represented the United States internationally in the first womens Chess Chess Olympiad held in Emmen in 1957 where she scored 7.5 from 11 to win the bronze medal on second board.

RICHARD SHORMAN: A chess columnist for the Hayward Daily Review for over 13 years (1967 – 1981), he also occasionally ghosted a couple of other SF Bay Area chess columns. Co-instigator of that famous SF East Bay legend,the Cherryland Café, Harold James (proprietor and cook) provided the place and a sarcastic wit, Richard provided the chess and a dry wit. In 1972 Richard discussed the Spassky-Fischer Match at Cal State Hayward and did behind the scenes Russian translations of Soviet chess publications for KQED's Friday and Saturday programs on the match. His amazing chess classes at Chabot Junior College in 1974 were very well attended, despite the dense curriculum; Pawn Endings by Maizelis, Masters of the Chessboard by Reti, Chess the Easy Way by Fine were among his required textbooks. He also was at various times, editor of the Oakland YMCA Chess Bulletin (1959-60), Central California Chess Association Publicity Director and League Director, Director/Instructor of the Lera late night chess group for three decades, Hayward Chess Club Instructor/Lecturer, Hayward Chess Club President, Chess in Action Games Editor, Scacchic/Chess Voice Games Editor, Lera Brilliancy Prize Judge for 30 years, Tournament Director-Junior Divisions for Chess Friends of Northern California, and teacher to thousands of SF East Bay adults and kids for over 40 years. Also, was the major photo contributor for most of the Northern California chess magazines for the last 35 years. He has added more games to the CalGames Chess Database than anybody else. Recently he consented to become the Senior Advisor to

Return to Index