The San Francisco Bay Area is steeped in history – and the Kolty Chess Club is a very small, but interesting part of it. It all started in San Francisco where the first chess club in the United States was founded in the early 1850's. Originally meeting in a library, the club eventually found its home at the Mechanics Institute. Many members of the San Francisco group would play correspondence chess with players in San Jose.
The popularity of chess in the U.S. grew tremendously when, in 1857, Paul Morphy won a prestigious New York tournament, to which no west coast players had been invited. Morphy took his game overseas and traveled through Europe from 1859-60, playing with the best players available, or at least those that would accept his challenge. He won a Championship along the way. Howard Staunton, one of the best players at the time, avoided a match with Morphy and much was written about that drama over the years.
As Morphy's fame grew, so did the popularity of chess, leading to the San Jose Chess Club forming in the early 1900's. Their first meetings were in a library, but when that building burned down some time around 1906, they moved to a brick clock tower building built in the late 1800's – the oldest standing building in San Jose.
Barry Curto went in the 1950's to watch the chess club and met many of its famous players: Howard O'Shaughnessy won the first tournament in 1952, Mark Gazes (the strongest player in 1953) won the San Jose YMCA Tournament; Francis Grofut was popular in 1954, and Al Lutz was a top player in 1956.
In the early 1950's the chess club moved to the San Jose YMCA. But the club clashed with the YMCA over what time they had to vacate the building. Many of their matches would extend beyond closing time and so they were ‘evicted'.
The chess club moved into the San Jose Center for the Blind in 1972 and continued there until 1979, when they reformed as the Kolty Chess Club.
George Koltanowski was born in 1903 in Belgium to parents who were diamond cutters. George became a blindfold chess expert and held the world record for playing 34 boards simultaneously without notes (on September 20, 1937). The feat took 13.5 hours and his record still stands. George settled in San Francisco in 1947 with his wife, Leah. He was elected President of the U.S. Chess Federation in 1974 and directed every U.S. Open from 1947 until the late 70's. He became the chess columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, writing over 19,000 columns during his 52 years with the paper, until his death on February 5, 2000.
Meanwhile, as Koltanowski manned the chess columns at the SF Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury sponsored their own column authored by Shelby Lyman. That column lasted from 1979-2002. Lyman frequently mentioned the Kolty Chess Club, drawing adults and children into the game. The Club became very popular, having over 100 members at one time.
The Kolty Chess Club needed a permanent tournament director. George got Fred and Pat Mayntz to take over. They directed the Club for over a decade. The high rent finally forced them out of their building and they found a new home at the Campbell Library in the early 1980's. In the late 80's, because they needed more room, the Kolty Chess Club moved to the Campbell Community Center, where they have been ever since. Pat Mayntz always brought a personal touch into the Club by providing special holiday-themed treats. And Fred Mayntz would start each tournament with “Start your clocks. Some will lose – don't take it too hard”.
When the Mayntzs left the Bay Area to run a chess club in Nevada, Neil Regan took over the Directorship with his wife. They operated the Club for about a year and then Flynn Penoyer became Director (this was about 1993). Barry Curto remained as an assistant and helped each Director come on board, subbing for them when they participated in tournaments. Flynn remained for about a year, followed by Mr. Smith, who also manned the helm for about a year.
Finally, in 1994, Fred Leffingwell took over as Director doing a wonderful job for Kolty Chess Club until retiring in 2014. Frisco Del Rosario was acting as assistant director while teaching, lecturing, and demonstrating games from 2003 - 2014. Mr. Del Rosario is also the author of The First Book of Morphy.
Wolfgang Behm is the current Director with Mike Splane providing lectures prior tournaments beginning.
More Name Dropping (and some story-telling)
People who were influential or played at Kolty Chess Club:
George Koltanowski was an International Grand Master.
Fred Mayntz was a UCSF National Chess Master.
Neil Regan is a USCF expert - over the board.
Flynn Penoyer is an A player.
Barry Curto is a USCF expert - over the board, and correspondence chess Master. Barry's rankings were earned in 1986-87 before computers were used to simulate players of chess master strength.
Larry Christiansen was a US Champion.
Nick DeFirmian and Peter Biyiasas were Candian Champions.
Vinay Bhat – earned a bronze medal in the world championships for players under 12 in 1996, won the Pan American championship for players under 14 years of age, and the US Cadet Championship for players under 16. He was taught by Richard Shorman until he got above class A. Vinay would come to the Club when he was 8 and 9 years old and Barry Curto would give him a few lessons (Barry and Vinay would play blindfold chess). Vinay is now an International Chess Master Student at Berkeley University and has a chance of becoming an International Grand Master.
For many years, Richard Shorman would come to the Club. He'd arrive late at night, and had a very unusual teaching style. In analyzing a game, he might say: “Now this bishop is hiding in the corner so we will forget about it”. Often, his student or opponent would indeed forget about the bishop and later regret it. Richard would give his students insight - not so much into what happened on the board, but rather what was happening inside their opponent's head.
Matthew Ho is a USCF National Chess Master over the board with a rating of over 2200.
Jordy Mont-Reynaud dropped into the Club occasionally and is now a Master.
Fred Leffingwell is the current Director of the Kolty Chess Club. He is rated a little over 1700 and his highest rating ever was 2005. He thinks of himself as an A player with a handicap.
Craig Mar is a Senior Master and one of the top 50 players in the U.S. He visits Kolty one or two times per year and will do simultaneous games with 20-30 boards and win them all. For absolute numbers, Win/Draw/Loss, Craig Mar is probably the best at playing simultaneous games. He can play from 7:30pm until 2:00am and his opponents, who sit and wait the whole time he walks from board to board, will get so tired they have trouble playing decently. He just wears out his opponents.
Alan Stein had a style that made his games very interesting. He once played a very complicated game where he gave up his queen, but got 3 pieces. He won the game, but it was so much effort that he lost on the next 3 boards in the circle.
David Pruess is an up and coming, very strong player. He often offers to play black on some boards, and offers to play any opening his opponent wishes to practice on.
Albert Rich just loves playing chess. You can see the enjoyment when he plays. He also has an unbelievable memory.
Anthony Rosenvasser, born in Russia, is an American citizen now and a Master who got his start at the Kolty Chess Club.
Richard Mckenzie was an expert willing to give helpful instructions.
Mike Splane a USCF Life Master, has won over fifty tournaments, including multiple Kolty Club Championships. His websitewww.cob.sjsu.edu/splane_m/chess/chesspage.htm contains annotated game scores from all of his Kolty Club contests.
At age 14, Steven Zierk tied for first in the 2007 Kolty Club Championship club. Three years later he won the World Under-18 championship, automatically earning an International Master title.
Frisco Del Rosario, author of chess books on Morphy and Capablanca, gives weekly lectures at the Kolty Club. He has won the Kolty Club championship twice.
The Kolty Chess Club has a long and rich history of supporting chess for those that play for the sport of it, the fun of it, or the glory of it. Everyone is welcome. Join us!