Chess players throughout the country, when they hear this name, think of Bobby Fischer. It’s true, Fred is inextricably linked with Bobby because of hs role in keeping things from falling apart in Iceland in 1972. But there was much more to him than that.
While he was USCF Membership chairman, and then USCF President, membership in the USCF increased nearly tenfold. While he was US delegate to FIDE and FIDE vice-president he served on Fischer’s team at Reykjavik in 1972. He drafted the proposed regulations for the Fischer-Karpov match in Baguio that ultimately didn’t happen.
But when I think of Fred, I remember a short fireplug of a man, with a ready smile, a raspy voice, boundless energy and a complete contempt for double-dealing and hidden agendas. Not a recipe for success in today’s world of chess politics. But that wouldn’t bother Fred. He was Old School, where you said what you’d do and you’d do what you said; duplicity and phoniness were not so politely shown the door.
Fred was a lighting contractor. He became involved with chess when the US Open came to Milwaukee in 1953. Arpad Elo had formed a committee and raised $4400 to hold the Open here, and the site was inadequately lighted. Fred volunteered to have his company set up temporary lighting in the Eagle’s Ball Room so the 181 players could actually see the boards and pieces. I don’t think Elo knew then what he’d started by tapping into this energy source. Chess wouldn’t have been the same without him, that’s for sure.
After that point, Fred was always around to help. He was President of the WCA for a while, and later served as Secretary and Treasurer, filling in the void created by the departure of Pearle Mann. Fred once described the local chess scene as having “a long history of individual dictators serving as Presidents or Secretaries or whatnot for years until finally objected to by the membership and kicked out. It was not a rewarding job; as Elo always said, ‘if you expect some thanks, do not organize chess.’ ”
He always had strong ideas about what you should and shouldn’t do, and about volunteerism. He had a beef with Pearle Mann over that issue once. The Western Open tried running at a local resort in order to attract more players, but the room costs were so high and attendance so low they ended up losing a lot of money instead. Pearle insisted that she be paid her full due as TD. Fred thought since the organizers were taking a bath on it, she should remit all or at least a portion of her fee. She declined (Pearle was always one to insist on professionals being paid their due) and Fred had her replaced as TD for the Western.
Fred worked closely with Elo. He edited Elo’s book, The Rating of Chessplayers Past and Present. He was a delegate to FIDE, and kept after FIDE to adopt Elo’s rating system. Then, after its adoption, Fred continued to fight, this time battles with his own federation, who wanted to tinker with Elo’s system as a promotional tool to make more money for the USCF. That led to some legendary battles between Cramer and Elo on the one side and USCF Director Ed Edmondson and Bill Goichburg on the other.
The hostility grew between Edmondson and Cramer to the point where Edmondson had Fred replaced as FIDE delegate with Pearle Mann. (Fred always blamed Edmondson for the difficulties in negotiating the 1975 Fischer-Karpov match, claiming that just when things would be settling down Edmondson would stir up the Russians with insults or other violations of protocol. Fred always believed Edmondson resented being fired by Fischer during the Reykjavik negotiations, and so after that he tried to sabotage Fischer at every turn.)
As a chessplayer, Fred was just the same. I once offered him a draw and received the gruff answer “Up until that last move I’d have agreed with you.” I’d committed a minor faux pas and Fred wanted to see if he could exploit it. (For you completists, I saved the draw after another dozen sweaty moves, but I certainly made it harder than it should have been.) He didn’t believe in half-measures over the board, either.
Organization was Fred’s theme. He thought organizing the USCF was a challenge, and he relished challenges. He set up the regional structure of the USCF. Up until his time the USCF had been run by just a couple of people working full time for part-time (or less) pay. He was a big believer in committee work, and spread the workload around as much as possible.
Aside from the challenge in Reykjavik in ’72, Fred also was “challenged” by the Havana Olympiad, where he moved mountains with both hands tied behind his back by red tape. Yet he succeeded, and the Olympiad organizers presented him with the chess table Fischer played at in return for his efforts.
Forgive me Fred, but there’s one last Fischer story that needs told in this context. We’ve all heard the celebrated tale of Fischer, getting ready to leave for the airport and storm out of the match in ’72, snatching up his suitcase only to have the handle come off in his hand. Fischer threw the handle to the pavement in disgust.
Well, as Fred’s effects were being sorted out after his passing, Henry told me of finding something surprising. In among his memorabilia from all the chess events he’d ever been a part of, was a torn-off suitcase handle. I don’t know why Henry should have been surprised. That was Fred, in a nutshell. Whenever things started to fall apart, there he would appear, to pick up the pieces and somehow hold it all together one more time. Reykjavik, Milwaukee; it was all the same to him. Chess needed him, so he was there.
Fred was always irritated that he was remembered most for his connection with Fischer, and not for all the other work he had done, either before or since. A man filled with energy, despite the emphysema that afflicted him, he left his mark on chess in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the World. We’re still struggling to fill void he left behind. How could such a small man leave such large shoes to fill?Roman Levit blog comments powered by Disqus