Obituaries

Gilbert A. Coronel, July 2016

Gilbert A. Coronel, a lifetime chess lover and player of almost 50 years, passed away on July 13, 2016. He will long be remembered by friends and family for his devotion to the greatest game ever played. John Wayne said "Get busy living or get busy dying". Gilbert did the former all his life. Rest well. ~ Scott Hunt, West Valley Chess Club
W. Leigh Hunt, 1941-2014

AM The La Palma Chess Club regrets to announce that Leigh Hunt, 73, passed away on December 12, 2014. A Candidate Master and 2003 La Palma club co-champion, Leigh was La Palma Chess Club’s most dependable and committed player for over 35 years.

The U.S. Chess Federation awarded him the lifetime Candidate Master title in 1994, and he almost achieved national master status that year with a rating peak of 2166. He ended his chess career as an A-player still rated in the 94th percentile nationwide.

Leigh contributed greatly to La Palma Chess Club as a long-time playing tournament director. As club TD, he brought the club into the computer age with computerized tournament pairings, and developed a highly-regarded club website.

Leigh’s love for chess proceeded the 1960’s and he was very much involved in chess long before the Fischer boom. He played in Santa Monica, watched Fischer, Spassky, and the other stars in the Piatagorsky Cup tournaments. His passion for the game never went away. Four of his games, three of which won a Best Game prize, are here.

Leigh Hunt graduated from Anaheim High School in 1959. He played varsity basketball, and track and field. While on the high school track team he set a California state record for the hurdles. After high school, he went to UCLA and graduated with a bachelors degree in electrical engineering. He worked for IBM and was drafted into the U.S. Army who assigned him to the White Sands facility in New Mexico.

When personal computing took off, Leigh began to develop and sell software. He founded Prizmatic Software which sold applications to make pixilated photo art.

Leigh loved to solve problems, and not just on the chessboard. In the 1980s, the Los Angeles Times conducted a promotional contest called “Tangle Towns.” No computers allowed! Leigh developed his own method and algorithm for solving these puzzles, won first place, and was awarded a brand new Lincoln Continental.

Leigh will especially be remembered as being a real gentleman at all times. He was always courteous and helpful, and always a tough competitor at the board. We won’t forget him.

In September 2015, the La Palma Chess Club will hold the W. Leigh Hunt Memorial Open tournament. More details will be announced later.

He is survived by one sister and one brother.

GM Robert Byrne, 1928 - 2013

AM Grandmaster Robert Byrne died on April 12 after a long illness. Byrne was United States Chess Champion in 1972, an author, and long-time New York Times chess columnist. He represented the United States nine times in Chess Olympiads (winning seven medals), and defeated Bobby Fischer in the 1965 United States Chess Championship.
Mark Saylor, 1954 – 2013

AM A Master player and accomplished journalist, Mark died on February 22 after a battle with cancer. He won the California Junior Championship in 1972 (the bygone era when California was one state in chess organization!) and twice tied for the Pasadena Club Championship. Working for the LA Times from 1985 to 2000, he oversaw a Pulitzer prize-winning series on corruption in the entertainment industry. Mark is survived by his wife Nora and four children.
~ Randall Hough
Dr. Robert Reynolds, 1950 – 2013

AM A well-traveled psychologist whose interest and career turned to naturopathic medicine in his mid- 40s, Dr. Bob was also a Master who participated in the Southern California Invitational Championship in 2009. He had been the strongest player in the Santa Barbara area for a number of years. Bob succumbed to cancer on March 10.
~ Randall Hough
Mel Clark, March 2013

We are saddened by the loss, March 11, of longtime tournament director and associate Mel Clark, after his bout with cancer. His 35-plus (no one can recollect exactly) years of service together with Fred Brock made the Arcadia Chess Club successful with their selfless effort. His modest spirit exemplified comradeship and competition. ~David King
Gary Sauer, Sept. 2012

AM Santa Clarita’s original chess guy, Gary Sauer, has passed away. We all knew Gary for exactly who he was – a very nice, gentle soul who would give you the shirt off his back. Gary was visiting his son in Colorado last Sunday, Sept. 30th, he simply didn’t wake up. On Tuesday, October 16th, there will be a mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) on Lyons Ave. in Newhall, then his ashes will be placed at Eternal Valley on Sierra Hwy. If you cannot attend this service, we will try to have another between us chess players when Dave is in town. As a tribute to him, maybe we could all play the Sicilian and fall into every known opening trap as Gary often did. My family was fortunate to spend 3 days with him in Paris this summer. He certainly loved life, especially in Paris. All the best, Jay Stallings
Alina Markowski, July 2011

AM Mike Nagaran informed me of the death of Alina Markowski, a great woman's chess promoter and long time board member of the San Diego Chess Club and many North County clubs. To list her accomplishments would take pages of notes. She was loved by all. We can't be too sad, as she had a full life, living to over 100!
~ Chuck Ensey
Greg Hjorth, 1963 - 2011

The Australian IM and Mathematician, Greg Hjorth, who lived much of the past twenty years in the United States, died suddenly on January 13, 2011, in Melbourne. The cause was sudden heart failure for reasons not yet known. Hjorth was one of Australia's most talented players of the 1980s representing his country in several World Junior Championships (he was sixth in 1980 event won by Garry Kasparov) and the 1984 and 1986 Olympiads. Earlier on Hjorth decided not to become a professional chess player. A man of many interests he continued to play in tournaments off and on throughout his life but math and philosophy were what he devoted his energies to, becoming a first-rate logician. Hjorth was a professor at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Melbourne. In 2003, he received the Karp Prize with Alexander S. Kechris for work on Borel equivalence relations, especially countable Borel equivalence relations and applications in the theory of turbulence.

Bay Area chess players got to know Greg Hjorth during his doctoral studies in mathematics at UC Berkeley in the early 1990s. Despite the heavy course load he managed to find time to play in several events including the 1991 Stamer Memorial at the Mechanics' Institute where he shared first with the late IM Igor Ivanov, former Chess Room Director Jim Eade and NM Richard Koepcke. Greg Hjorth will be remembered by his many friends for not only his sharp intellect but his kindness and strong sense of social justice. He will be missed. The following win against Tony Miles was when the Englishmen was near the height of his powers and close to being one of the ten best players in the world.

Jimmy Quon, 1968 - 2010

A well-known coach and one of the most popular chessplayers in Southern California, Jim passed away on June 20, 2010 of a brain hemorrhage.

Self-taught at age 12, with no formal training, he competed in his first tournament at age 15, won first place, was immediately rated over 1900, which placed him in the top 50 players in the country for his age group. In a few years he moved up to National Chess Master -- a ranking achieved by very few. The last time he played in tournaments, he was ranked one of the top five chess players in San Diego County with a rating of 2301, which placed him in the top one percent of all players in the nation. When he got bored with tournaments he turned to speed chess and was ranked one of the top Blitz players in the nation. He had an incredible mind and was a deep and logical thinker.

Jim taught at La Jolla Country Day School in San Diego for 14 years. At one time he was teaching 15% of the student body. One of the students, Casey McCracken, represented Southern California in the Denker tournament of State High School Champions in 2001. In the end, Jim had coached over 1,000 players.

Jim obtained a bachelors degree in computer science from UCSD in 2009 and returned to Long Beach in search of work, but the recession meant that teaching chess remained his occupation. Word of his stroke and subsequent passing inspired a flood of tributes from his chess and gaming friends. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.
~ Sue Waggener and Randy Hough
GM Larry Evans, 1932 - 2010

Grandmaster Larry Evans died Nov. 15, 2010 in Reno, Nevada. He was a five-time U.S. champion and an excellent writer known for dozens of chess books and his long-running "Evans on Chess" syndicated column. He was 78. ~ Jack Peters

More information and blog is here.
John Hillery, 1952 - 2010

In memory of John Hillery. Born August 3, 1952, John died in 2010 after an illness of several months. John was an Original Life Master, longtime SCCF Board Member, editor of Rank & File, and SCCF webmaster. His contribution to SCCF and southern California chess is unparalleled. Thirty three of his best games in PGN are here and in java here.And, few pictures are posted here. Mail other pictures for this collection here.

John Hillery, organizer of many local tournaments, died Sept. 20 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 58. Hillery was the driving force of the Southern California Chess Federation, serving as the organization's webmaster and treasurer. He also edited the SCCF's award-winning magazine, "Rank and File." Although he enjoyed considerable success as a player, achieving a 2300 rating and the title of Life Master, Hillery seemed most suited to the role of tournament director. As a scholar intimately familiar with the intricacies of the rulebook, Hillery commanded respect for his prompt and authoritative decisions. He even managed to start rounds on time. Tournament directors, like umpires, attract attention mostly by their errors. Hillery was often overlooked because of the excellence of his work. Typically, he cringed when praised, because he felt that he was merely satisfying the standard for the job. John, you were too modest. Well done! ~ Jack Peters in the Oct. 3, 2010 LA Times chess column. Reprinted with permission of author.
Jerry Hanken, 1934 - 2009

Hanken Jerry passed away from complications of diabetes on October 1. His family was with him, and a number of chessplayers had visited him in the hospital during the preceding days. Jerry is survived by his former wife, Barbara, and their children, Andrea and Dan.

Chess was an avocation for Jerry, who was an admired probation officer for Los Angeles County for 39 years, but it was clearly what he most enjoyed. He was widely noted as a journalist, with many dozens of articles published in Chess Life and other magazines. His “parting with the lady” series on queen sacrifices (generally with necessity or desperation as the mother of invention) was widely noted and enriched the chess lexicon. In recent years Jerry reported on most of the major open tournaments for Chess Life. He won many awards from the Chess Journalists of America and served as its president for the last four years, signing up many members with his infectious enthusiasm.

In chess governance, Jerry served on USCF’s Policy Board (today called the Executive Board) for ten years between 1978 and 1994 and was a regular at the Delegates meeting until this August, when ill health kept him from his first U.S. Open since 1972. Never shy about asking questions or making suggestions, Jerry made many contributions to the organization’s health. His oratory, influenced by his Shakespeare scholarship, carried the day more often than not. He was instrumental in the creation of the Southern California Chess Federation in 1977, when California was split for USCF purposes, and served on its board for many years, including a term as president.

As an organizer, Jerry was responsible for bringing two successful U.S. Opens to Los Angeles, in 1991 and 2003. His efforts saved the American Open after it lost its corporate sponsorship in 1990 (he played in 44 straight American Opens since its inception in 1965). His work with the late Louis Statham and Isaac Kashdan contributed to the success of the Lone Pine grandmaster tournaments between 1972 and 1981.

However, Jerry was proudest of his accomplishments as a player. He won the California Open against a strong field in 1964, and earned the Life Master title (300 games as a Master) many times over. (He coined the term “Original Life Master” when less-meaningful versions of that title came along.) In what turned out to be his penultimate tournament, the 2009 World Open, he upset young FM Daniel Yeager, a game that earned publication in the master-oriented New in Chess magazine.

Jerry had a strong personality and could be difficult to work with. One aspect of this personality was a devotion to principle, displayed in 2002, when the president of FIDE (a man with a well-earned reputation for human rights violations in his Russian satrapy) was introduced as an honored guest at the USCF delegates meeting. This writer (sitting in the corner of a semicircular room) turned his chair around, a gesture that went unnoticed. Jerry, joined by Bill Goichberg and a few others, forthrightly walked out. That’s the Jerry Hanken I will remember. RIP, my friend. ~ Randy Hough
Gerald "Jay" Blem, 1957 - 2009

Jay Blem My benevolent and well-admired brother passed away Friday, Sept 18th from a sudden heart attack. Jay’s love of chess took him from President of Buena Park High School Chess Club to Senior Tournament Director and Life Member of US Chess Federation where he was involved in the direction and organization of chess tournaments across the US since 1991. He revived the Memorial; Day Classic when it was moribund in themid-Nineties, and served on the SCCF board of Directors for 13 years. Jay began working for American Chess Equipment in 1990 selling books and equipment at chess tournaments. He then started his own business, National Chess & Games, in 1992. He closed it last year in July 2008 and sold some of his inventory to Chess Palace in Garden Grove. Jay moved to Lucerne Valley in 2001. He is credited with turning around the flailing Crossroad Little League organization. He was the President in 2003 & 2004, and Umpire in Chief in 2002. He continued to umpire and attend games whenever he was in town. Jay began driving truck in 2004. His fellow truck drivers stated that you could set your watch by him; he was that dependable. Jay was a good friend to many, many people. He was always ready to offer assistance or just moral support. He will be greatly missed, but his light still shines very brightly. Jay was predeceased by his father Donald Blem. He is survived by his mother, Rita, stepfather, JD MacArthur of Wendover NV, his brother, Ken Blem, of Riverside CA, and his sister, Sheri Reneau of Ontario, CA, along with many aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and all the friends that he made family along his journey in life. A memorial service will be held Sunday, October 11, 2009 at 2pm in the home of his niece, Donnielle, 1271 Benson Ave, Ontario, CA 91762. If you have any questions please contact Jay’s sister Sheri at (909) 241-7805.

Instead of flowers donations can be made in Jay’s name to:

  • SoCal Chess Federation, PO Box 205 Monterey Park, CA 91754 (www.scchess.com)
  • Crossroads Little League, PO Box 1428, Lucerne Valley, CA 92356
  • American Heart Association at www.donate.americaheart.org (800) 242-8721
~Sheri Reneau
IM Igor Ivanov, 1947 - 2005

Igor Ivanov passed away on November 17, 2005 at 1 p.m. in St. George, Utah. He died from cancer of the esophagus that was diagnosed this past spring.

Igor's most famous victory, his win from the 1979 Spartakiad, may be seen here. The notes are Igor's from 64 magazine. Jonathan Berry translated them from the Russian. This win helped him to get the invitation to play in Cuba and the opportunity to jump ship in Gander, Newfoundland, a year later.

Igor received his Grandmaster title earlier this year for results achieved in the early 1990s thanks to FIDE Qualification Committee members Mikko Markkula and Stewart Reuben. It meant a lot to Igor that he played the last major tournaments of his life - the National, US and Western States Opens - as a Grandmaster, a title he richly deserved almost his entire career.

Igor nearly received the title and a place in the Candidates at the Toluca Interzonal in 1982 where he was fourth on tiebreak. A two-time member of the Canadian Olympiad team and a record nine-time winner of the USCF Grand Prix, Igor also won several major tournaments in the Soviet Union before defecting in 1980. Among his triumphs were the Zaitsev Memorial in Vladivostok in 1978, Yaroslavl 1979 and the Tashli Taliev Memorial in Tashkent the same year. His score in the latter was 12 from 13 (!), three points ahead of second place finisher Kakadgeldyev. Igor tied for first in the 1978 Soviet Championship Qualifier with a young Garry Kasparov but lost the Soviet Championship spot on tiebreak.

Igor spent the last few years of his life in St. George with his wife Elizabeth and their two cats. He kept busy giving lessons to kids at the local chess club and battling computer programs on the Internet Chess Club. An excellent pianist with a strong singing voice, Igor also gave several performances for the local community. When he was healthy he loved to hike in the surrounding area less than an hour from Zion National Park.

A funeral will be held in St. George on November 28 in St. George and there will be a tribute to Igor at the St. George Chess Club the evening of December 16. A tournament will be held in his honor the following day. Contact Alan Crooks at alan@alancrooks.com for more information.
~ John Donaldson

A memorial website is here.
James Hilliard, 1943 - 2003

A popular Los Angeles player, James Hilliard, died on January 27. James was on his mail route. Less than three months from retirement, he had been eagerly anticipating the chance to play more chess. James was born in Tennessee, grew up in Chicago, served in the Navy for four years (without being able to swim!), and then spent many years in Los Angeles. A true chess lover, he was a fixture at the Pasadena Club, many weekend tournaments, and various informal playing venues. He is survived by his wife of 21 years, Jacky, and children Akilah, Khafre, and David.

At James's memorial service, several chessplayers joined other friends and work colleagues in speaking of how much his selflessness and cheerfulness had meant to them. We'll miss you, James.
Ivars Dahlberg, 1934 - 2002

Ivars Dahlberg passed away on February 28 in Los Angeles. Though he had not played regularly since the late 1980s, Dahlberg was one of the strongest players in southern California for many years. Born in Latvia, he came to the United States in the early 1950s, settling in Oregon where he won several state championship titles. He moved to southern California around 1970, working as a financial planner. Dahlberg had several excellent results in Futurity tournaments at the Chess Set in Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s. Perhaps his best result was Lone Pine 1981, where finished with 4-5 against a field including Korchnoi, Gligorich and Sosonko.

Anyone with more information about Ivars, particularly information on how to locate his relatives, is urged to communicate with Val Zemitis who is working on an encyclopedia of Latvian chess players.