Chess in 1961

 by Bill Wall


In 1961, the first blind chess Olympiad was held in Meschede, West Germany.  It was won by Yugoslavia.


In 1961, Robert Scrivener (1881-1969) won the Mississippi state championship at age 80.


In 1961, Marcel Duchamp persuaded several eminent painters and artists to donate their work to help raise money for sending an American chess team abroad.  He visited the set of “Paris Blues” to teach Duke Ellington to play chess.  Ellington watched Duchamp demonstrate the fundamental moves, then made his sole comment, “Crazy, man, crazy.”


In 1961, Ernst Grünfeld (1893-1962), age 67, was playing in a chess tournament at Beverwijk in the Netherlands.  Grünfeld had lost a leg when in his early childhood and had an artificial leg. Despite his age, and this handicap, he spurned the organizers’ offer of a car, and insisted on walking the mile or so from where he was staying to the chess tournament hall each afternoon. On one particular day, he set off, but fell down in the road, and his wooden leg came off and fell into a ditch!  A distressed Grünfeld managed to get to a phone booth and ring the organizers.   The organizers contacted Max Euwe, who came on the line. Hearing of Grünfeld’s plight, he jumped into a car, and a few minutes later, he managed to rescue  Grünfeld and his wooden leg and take him back to the house he was staying at.  After a refreshing cup of coffee and a few minutes’ rest, Grünfeld was re-united with his artificial leg and driven to the tournament hall. Unfortunately, he faced the East German GM Wolfgang Uhlmann that day, and despite having White, the trauma took its toll on him. He lost in just 21 moves.


In 1961, US chess champion Larry Evans (1932-2010) was giving a simultaneous exhibition in a mental institution in New York. He made pretty good result but one opponent was playing absolutely brilliant and defeated GM Evans.   Evans won 39 games and lost one game.  As he was leaving the facility, Larry congratulated the winner once again and the patient said: “Mister Evans. For one it’s not indispensable to be crazy so he could play good, but it really helps a lot.”


In 1961, Mikhail Botvinnik was awarded an honorary PhD in mathematics from the University of Ferrara for his work on computer chess.


On January 3, 1961, Bobby Fischer again won the U.S. Championship for the 4th time with 7 wins, 4 draws, and no losses. His prize was $1,000 and he qualified for the next Interzonal. His rating was 2660.  The tournament was held at the Hotel Empire in Manhattan.


On January 7, 1961, Reynaldo Vera was born in Cuba.  He was awarded the GM title in 1988.  He was Cuban champion in 1997 and 2001.


On January 8, 1961, Keith Arkell was born in Birmingham, England.  He was awarded the IM title in 1985 and the GM title in 1995.  He was English Chess Champion in 2008. 


On January 9, 1961, Detlef Heinbuch was born in Bochum, Germany.  He was awarded the IM title in 1986.


In January, 1961, Cliffard Antcliff, a lawyer from Indiana, wondered why there was a delay in the chess game he was conducting by mail with an unknown chess player in Massachusetts.  He later discovered his adversary was an inmate of a penal institution and had been thrown in solitary confinement for trying to escape.  (source: High Point, NC Enterprise, Jan 17, 1961)


On January 17, 1961, Maya Chiburdanidze was born in Kutaisi, Russia.  She was awarded the WIM title in 1974, the WGM title in 1977, the IM title in 1978 and the GM title in 1984.  She was Women's World Champion from 1978 to 1991.


On February 3, 1961, Colin A. McNab was born in Dundee, Scotland.  He won the Scottish Championship in 1983, 1991, 1993 and 1995.  He was awarded the GM title in 1992.  He was the Commonwealth champion in 1992.


On February 8, 1961, Ralf Åkesson was born in Oxelosund, Sweden.  He was the European Junior Champion 1980-81.  He was awarded the IM title in 1981 and the GM title in 1995.  He was Swedish champion in 1985 and 1999.


On February 9, 1961, Grigory Levenfish (1889-1961) died in Moscow at the age of 71.  He was Leningrad champion in 1922, 1924, and 1925 (jointly).  He won the USSR championship in 1934/35 and 1937.  He was awarded the GM title in 1950.  He had a degree in chemical engineering from St. Petersburg University.  He was an engineer in the glass industry.  He helped design and construct glass factories.


On February 10, 1961, Danilo Canda was born in Nicuaraga.  He was Guatemalan champion in 1977.  He was awarded the IM title in 1986.


On February 27, 1961, Holger Eng was born in Neuenhaus, Germany.  He was awarded the IM title in 1984.


On March 4, 1961, Jerzy Bany was born in Bytom, Poland.  He was awarded the IM title in 1983.


On March 15, 1961, Akiba Rubinstein (1880-1961), died in Antwerp, Belgium at the age of 80.  He was awarded the GM title in 1950.


On March 31, 1961, Evgeny Pigusov was born in Russia.  He was awarded the GM title in 1987.


On April 21, 1961, Silvio Danailov was born in Sofia, Bulgaria.  He was awarded the IM title in 1984.  He is a past president of the European chess union.


On May 5, 1961, Rudy Clemons Douven was born in Heerlen, Netherlands.  He was awarded the IM title in 1986. He was Dutch champion in 1988.


On May 10, 1961, Christopher Barclay Heath (1877-1961) died in London at the age of 83.  He was 1923-4 Scottish Champion.


On May 12, 1961, Mikhail Botvinnk defeated Mikhail Tal to regain the world chess championship.  Botvinnik won 10, lost 5, and drew 6.


On May 21, 1961, Lisa Lane (1938- ), appeared on What's My Line? (Season 12, Episode 38), and stumped the panel as a professional chess player and the reigning U.S. women's chess champion during the first game.  What's My Line? was a TV series from 1950 to 1967.


On June 9, 1961, Klaus Bischoff was born in Ulm, Germany.  He was awarded the IM title in 1982 and the GM 1990.  He took 3rd place in the 1980 World Junior Championship, behind Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short.


On June 11, 1961, an episode (Episode 27) called “Ed Cries Wolf,” where Mr. Ed, the horse, plays Wilbur in a game of chess on Mr. Ed (TV series from 1958 to 1966).


On June 17, 1961, Branko Damljanovic was born in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia.  He was awarded the IM title 1982 and the GM title 1989.  He tied for the Yugoslav championship in 1989 and 1990 and won it in 1991 and 2001 (jointly).


On July 13, 1961, Heribert Franke was born in Bad Cannstatt, Germany.  He was awarded the IM title in 1986.


On August 21, 1961, Gerardo Barbero was born in Argentina.  He was Argentinian Champion in 1984.  He was awarded the IM title in 1985 and the GM title in 1987.


In September 1961, chess master Norman Whitaker (1890-1975), chess expert Glenn Hartleb, and a 16-year-old boy were driving in Arkansas when they got into a car wreck, killing Glenn Hartleb.  Apparently, Whitaker and Hartleb were too tired to drive, and they allowed the 16-year-old to drive.  He lost control, hit a bridge abutment and overturned the car.


On September 12, 1961, Ricardo De Guzman was born in the Philippines.  He was awarded the IM title in 1982.


On September 19, 1961, Rafael Alvarez-Ibarra was born in Bilbao, Spain.  He was awarded the IM title in 1986.


On October 10, 1961, Ognjen Cvitan was born in  Siberik, Yugoslavia.  He was World Junior Champion in 1981.  He was awarded the IM title in 1982 and the GM title in 1987.


On October 10, 1961, Jay E. Whitehead was born in New York City.  He won the US Junior Closed Championship in 1981.  He was awarded the IM title in 1986.


On November 7, 1961, Igor V. Glek was born in Russia.  He was awarded the GM title in 1990.


On November 13, 1961, an episode (Season 4, Episode 7) called “Knight Errant,” starring Chuck Connors (1921-1992), appeared on The Rifleman (TV series from 1958 to 1963).    Two of Lucas’ oldest friends ask him to observe a chess match to prevent any cheating.  One of the players, Colonel Charles Black, says, “I’m going to watch a chess game between you two gentlemen.  The winner gets fired, the loser gets dead!”


In December, 1961, Boris Spassky won the 29th Soviet Championship, held in Baku.


On December 7, 1961, Nino Gurieli was born in Russia.  She was awarded the WIM title in 1979, the WGM title in 1980, and the IM title in 1997.  She won the Georgian women's chess championship in 1976 and 1992.


In December, 1961, Lisa Lane (1938- ) played four games in the Hastings Reserve tournament, then withdrew after one draw, two losses, and an adjourned game.  She said she could not concentrate on her chess because she was “homesick and in love.”