Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Young Master Remembered

The Billy Colias Memorial Tournament

Billy Colias was a brilliant, young chess master from Munster, Indiana, who was stricken with cancer and died tragically in his twenties. That was 1993, but the passage of time hasn’t dimmed his memory here in the Midwest, where he’s honored each year with The Billy Colias Memorial Master Invitational Tournament. It’s become quite a tradition: “the best event” on the Illinois chess calendar, according to NM Jon Burgess.

This year’s tournament took place last weekend at IM Angelo Young’s Touch Move Chess Center. The mostly-masters event brought together a dozen of the region’s top chess players: FM (FIDE Master) Pete Bereolos, NM (National Master) Jon Burgess, Expert Geoffrey Caveney, FM Albert Chow, FM James Dean, NM Pete Karagianis, NM Tim McEntee, Expert Gopal Menon, Expert Adam Strunk, NM Steve Tennant, NM Ken Wallach, and NM Len Weber.

Ken Wallach and Steve Tennant review a game

A number of these guys knew Billy, some of them well. I understand, for example, that Pete Bereolos was a Munster schoolmate of Billy’s and came up with him in the ranks of chess. That could help explain why Pete played so well, posting four victories in the five-game round-robin meet (a record matched by Jim Dean).

The big news of the weekend, though, was Adam Strunk, a junior player from the South Suburbs, the third player to post the tournament’s top score of 4.0/5.0. He beat NMs Burgess and Tennant and drew against FM Bereolos and NM Karagianis. I don’t know much about Adam, except that he is a Warren Chess Scholar, which means he was in high school this past school year. Andi Rosen, who directs the Warren program, says Adam only started playing serious chess a few years ago.

He’s certainly making up for lost time. Adam started the tournament with a rating of 2078, but that will certainly go up. “His performance rating from this event was 2456,” said Tournament Director Glenn Panner.

The crosstable’s here, thanks to Glenn’s prompt reporting.

For helping to make the weekend a success, Glenn made a point of thanking IM Angelo Young for hosting the tournament and Robert Loncarevic and Tim McEntee, who along with Glenn himself sponsored the meet. Sevan Muradian of the North American Chess Association provided some gorgeous chess sets.

Though he moved to New York and climbed onto the national stage in his last years—managing the famous Manhattan Chess Club, collaborating on chess books with prolific chess author FM Eric Schiller—Colias appears never to have forgotten his Midwestern roots. One of the last rated tournaments in which he played, in fact, was right here on the South Side, at Tom Fineberg’s Tuley Park Chess Club. He came in first.

Here’s a game in which Colias beat the famous Grand Master Roman Dzindzichashvili. If you want more, pick up the tribute book Billy Colias: Midwest Master. It’s got about a hundred of his best games.

Miscellanea: Congratulations to Lamarr Wilson for lasting eleven days in his juice fast. Here’s his wrap-up on the ordeal. . . . Vince Hart not only got a victory in a recent simul against a Russian Candidate Master; he also got some valuable publicity for chess in the Mt. Prospect Times. . . . Does chess teach kids lessons of value beyond the game itself? According to Dr. Alexey Root, former U.S. Women’s Champion, it does (hat tip: Brad). . . . Sad news from Westchester County, N.Y., where a local paper reports that veteran chess player Jerome Kurtzberg was killed in a car accident last Friday. The Journal News said that Mr. Kurtzberg became a chess master in 1981. Even at 76 he was an active tournament player and maintained an expert rating. Our condolences to his friends and family.


Anonymous said...


Here are a few more tidbits about the event, and about Billy.

In early 2004, my friends Tim McEntee, Pete Karagianis, and Len Weber were talking about how the local area masters really don't get many opportunities here in the midwest to improve. They wanted a master event that they could play against high level competition, and bounce ideas off of each other to improve each other's games. Out of this the idea for the tournament was born.

The question came up early who to name the event after. To me, Billy was a natural. It may surprise people, but in the 70's and early 80's the south suburbs were the hotbed of Illinois chess. Homewood-Flossmoor was the dominant club, and had frequent visits from a young Billy Colias among others. I was a few years younger than Billy, and started attending the club towards the end, after Billy had moved on to study chess in different locations. However, the question that many HF members asked was who was going to emerge as the "next Billy Colias" of the junior players at the club.

I was fortunate enough to meet Billy for the first time at a 1-day event at the Hammond Chess Club in the mid 80's. My first impression of him was a very lasting one. After quickly crushing a 1200 player in the first round, I watched Billy analyze the game with him. He had a great energetic and easy going nature about him that made him very likeable. During the post-mortem, they came to the 1200's knight move that looked almost random and blatantly hung a piece. The 1200 slumped in the chair as the move came up, it was a terrible move. Billy paused thoughtfully for a moment, and then asked if the player's idea was to transfer the knight to the kingside, and to put together a kingside attack? The player half-heartedly nodded, then Billy quickly put together a cohesive attacking plan for them to analyze giving full credit to the 1200 for being so creative. The 1200 left the post-mortem left the board beaming with pride. This was the type of person Billy was, and reflected the very best ideals of our game.