IMPROVING THE MIND AND LIFE
I discovered chess by
luck at the local YMCA at the age of 14. I was an
impoverished youth growing up in a government housing
project in our most backward state, West Virginia. The 32
buildings of the Vineyard Hills project were high above the
town of Wheeling on the Ohio River. The place was run by
gangs and no taxi cab driver would go there. I had gotten
there by misfortune. My father (Italian) had died early
after WWII after being wounded at Salerno, captured and
losing 100 pounds as a POW. He had been General Patton’s
driver/interpreter in Sicily. When I was born I inherited
his malaria, diphtheria, scarlet fewer and given no chance
to live. My mother (Irish) had been an army nurse who set a
national record giving blood to the wounded. Unfortunately
she got leukemia from it and was bed ridden with a long
terminal illness. Consequently we lived on a veteran’s
allowance for a sole surviving son in a place with cold
cement floors, with clanking steel pipes that scalded you if
you touched them, and with very dim light bulbs. I had no
brothers or sisters or immediate family.
We lived in the last
building next to the woods. Almost everyone was afraid to
into the woods on the hill with caves and rocks where Lewis
Wetzel had hunted Indians.
I loved the woods. I ran the forest at night and knew every
trail and tree. The hill was
very steep and few cars could get up in winter even with a
layer of coal cinders.
You couldn’t get the coal cinders off your shoes so you left
black tracks and crunched
when you walked. It was a two mile walk downhill to the
high school which was a
blessing in disguise for building strong legs. At age 13, I
was already my full height as an adult (6 foot), ran track,
the mile, the 880, 440, 220 and high jumped. I also played
football, ran cross country and was a very promising
basketball player; a survivor of the hard dirt courts of the
projects despite being beaten up within an inch of my life
several times because I was the only white kid. The only
place to practice basketball during the winter was the YMCA
which was also adjacent to the high school. On the floor
above the gym was a chess club.
I lost my first 30 or so
games to a veteran 1600 tournament player who was the
manager of the club. The club was full of interesting
people; doctors, engineers, accountants, politicians,
chemists. The type of people who I had never seen before.
Nice clothes and good manners. They drove cars. The club
was a safe haven from the gangs of the projects. One gang
leader, Cicero, had ordered my death for saying hello to his
sister. I began to live at the Chess Club, playing all
night. I wasn’t an exceptional student and was in trouble
for sleeping in class. My test results had not been special
and I had probably tested as having only an average IQ.
Then I broke my ankle
playing football, making the basketball coach very angry as
he expected me to be All City. My sports career was over.
At the end of my sophomore year I played in my first chess
tournament, the Wheeling Club championship, and scored 2-9.
I did not own a chess set and had never read a chess book.
I had taught myself how to play 6 months before by watching
and then playing the club manager. I then formed the high
school club, corrupting all my friends. The Dean told us it
was a waste of time and he could expel us (and especially
me). My sponsor and good friend, the club manager (I never
had money to pay any dues) told me I should get a life.
West Virginia had never produced a chess master and never
In my junior year a
transformation began. I started to get all A’s. To get to
college you had to take certain exams and apply early. I
didn’t know. I also had no money for an application fee.
Once I put down my address, I found I was an instant social
outcast. Almost no one from the projects finished school,
not alone went to college. I attended class as little as
possible and would sail through the tests. They were mostly
multiple choice and I was developing a gift of pattern
recognition. I now had thousands of chess variations
swimming in my head. School was child’s play. Boring.
Classes were big – 50 students and arranged alphabetically.
I always was stuck in the back corner and couldn’t see or
hear. I could play blindfold chess and kriegspiel. During
the school year I was also working 5 nights a week for the
minimum wage at a local dairy store. This was great as I
could get cheap meals. I was always hungry. When done I
would go to the chess club – on Friday nights I would sleep
there on the tables.
When the club
championship was held again at the end of my junior year, I
This included a victory over the state champion who was a
rated USCF expert, a scientist
who came from Michigan. Our event was not rated. I was not
a USCF member.
This victory gave me enormous confidence. If I could beat
learned and accomplished
men in a game of chess then I could do anything.
After wining the club
championship at age 16, I was invited out to a fine
restaurant by some of the players to celebrate. One player,
an accountant, ordered a steak rare. I had never seen a
steak before and it was all bloody. How could anyone eat
At the end of my junior
year I also started a very colorful chess newsletter and
formed the first high school chess league in the area of all
the local schools on both sides of the river.
At the end of every
summer there was a test competition for all high school
juniors and seniors to qualify for 80 playground instructor
positions paid by the city. This was a great summer job;
money for hanging around the basketball court or if in a
rich neighborhood, a big public swimming pool, tennis, etc.
Over 1000 took the test. I scored the highest to everyone’s
surprise but myself and got to pick the playground of my
choice. I chose the one I knew, Vineyard Hills. It was
payback time. I now controlled the basketballs and court
lights. I was king of the hill. I was somebody. (Cicero
had been killed in an armed robbery.)
In my senior year the
Wheeling High School chess team got great support from the
Wheeling Chess Club. I arranged the high school matches and
the club manager drove
us there and provided sets and clocks. I would go 35-1 on
first board. At the end of the
year we got invited to the Tri State High School
Championship of Pennsylvania,
Ohio and West Virginia. Ohio and Pennsylvania were 10 times
larger and light years
ahead. We would be up against the best teams of the major
cities of Cleveland,
Columbus, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia. No one had heard of us
and it was a huge
auditorium in the biggest city I had ever seen (Columbus).
There was a cocky effeminate
fellow with his mother and whole family present, his coach,
and admirers. I announced
mate around move 16. It was my style to announce mate
loudly as many moves as
possible ahead. Chess players are sensitive creatures and
having someone loudly
announce “mate in 10 moves” can put them on their back.
What I didn’t know was that
he was one of the highest rated experts in USCF under 21
years old. (USCF did not rate
high school events then.) He was considered the favorite so
I had no chance. My team won
the championship. I went a perfect 5-0 with no opponent
reaching 30 moves and most not
20. Just as well because I knew nothing about end games. I
had played over only Paul Morphy’s games. I had never seen
a rook and pawn end game. My team and our giant
trophy could barely fit in the car. It was bigger than the
football trophy for the State Championship and it went into
the trophy case in the front hall of the High School.
The Nuns at Steubenville
Catholic (Ohio) were big on chess. They had fielded 4 teams
for the Tri State Championship. I was invited to visit them
and give a simultaneous exhibition. I was treated like a
Rock and Roll Star. It was incredible. It was my first
exhibition, but I went 50-0.
High school was now over in 1964. My best friend and I went
to the steel mills and coal mines (the two major sources of
employment), but we were turned down as we weren’t from a
union family. I didn’t understand. We applied for a job
digging ditches and holes for planting bushes and trees. We
didn’t get that because I stupidly told the foreman I had
A’s for grades. I was overqualified. I took the playground
instructors test again. I left early. I became the first
to ever record a perfect score. I was now a local legend,
but it was only a summer job. Soon I would be 18 and the
money the government was paying for my very ill mother and
me would run out.
The West Virginia
Employment office came up with two ideas, two government
exams, as they knew about my exam ability. One exam was to
qualify for a special electrical engineering college as we
had had a national shortage; 4 years of tuition and living
expenses paid. They paid for my trip to Washington, D.C. to
take a two day test. Almost everyone taking the test had
graduated from college or was an electrician already. I was
the only person from West Virginia.
Also in 1964, the
government was opening its first computer center to process
tax returns. This was to be in Parkersburg W.Va. because
West Virginia was the swing state that got President Kennedy
elected in 1960. West Virginia always had the highest
unemployment. They were starting a computer design and
automation school. It was for over 1000 hours of training
and you would be paid $35 a week. You had to have a high
aptitude and to prove it you had to pass a pattern
recognition test for programming ability. Chess was pattern
Off I went to Parkersburg
where I found a furnished room to rent for $7 a week and
would eat the blue plate special at the local diner except
when the money ran out. Then I went over to the Salvation
Army to help serve the unfortunate and help serve myself
some food. Three months into the program I learned I had
also passed the big exam for the 4 year program, but I was
disqualified because I was now in the 1 year computer
I was now in chess no
man’s land. I would not find a chess player for a year.
I read about a Golden Knight’s tournament in a magazine
called Chess Review run
by Al Horowitz. A postcard was only 3 cents. I began my
correspondence chess career
as it would be a year before I again played an over the
I had been undefeated for 2 years and now could not play at
Completing the program at
the age of 19, I was able to design computers, but no one
knew what a computer was; at least there weren’t any in West
Virginia except the one I learned on. When in 1965
President Johnson called for freedom fighters and volunteers
for Vietnam I remembered my heritage, the son of 2 heroes.
I entered the army as a private with $10, one chess book,
and one chess set (the beautiful Wheeling Club wooden set
given to me by the manager as a parting gift). It was
enough. I had skills and confidence. I would later take
the Officers Candidate Test and get a perfect score and
register a 160 IQ. Chess had done its job.
Another skill that I had
was a 6th sense of direction in the woods in the
rom Vineyard Hills. After graduating from Officer's
Candidate School, I was soon in
demand as a flash ranger and forward artillery observer; the
highest risk positions.
Then when a small logistical disaster happened (our
battalion got lost), I got promoted
to Assistant Battalion S-3. (Later I would be in charge of
moving entire divisions
across continents.) Then it was discovered I was also
something of a computer expert.
I soon became a nuclear weapons commander. They used
I was briefly stationed
in a lot of places, but my job was usually continuous.
In the military in war time, you don’t have weekends or
evenings if you are in a line unit.
To play chess in a weekend tournament was a dream since
Saturday was a workday and
there was always reveille. I was constantly getting sent
off on alerts to new locations
without even a chance to say goodbye to friends. Then I got
lucky and got posted
to Europe. They had chess tournaments!
I managed to win the
European Armed Forces Chess Championship. I got a USCF
expert’s rating. I was stationed near Munich and found the
Lohhof Schach Club. I joined the German chess federation
and won the Club Championship and the title of
Schachmeister. Everything was going so well I even signed
up for my first college classes in the evening program at
Munich University. I never got to attend the first class or
tell my new German friends goodbye.
I was still a Field
Artillery Unit Commander. Full Alert. I was told to
take my battery
of 155 nuclear armed self propelled howitzers (bigger than a
tank) and 140 men, draw
our personal weapons, and full load of conventional
ammunition. We had 12 hours to
paint everything sand colored and move out to a secret air
base where transports were waiting. My guys were very
enthusiastic. Action! And it wasn’t going to be jungle!
Someone on my command staff somehow managed to mount a 50
caliber machine gun
on my APC (Armed Personal Carrier). No idea where he got
it. I didn’t ask.
The next command I got
was upsetting. I was told to inspect my men and if anyone
was Jewish or Muslim, they would be reassigned. That was
un-American. It was June
1967. What I didn’t know was that Israel had started a
preemptive strike on the Arabs by bombing the US Liberty,
killing or wounding over 100 US sailors in broad daylight.
She was a clearly marked defenseless communication ship and
was in full open radio communications with the Israeli
pilots in English. The lieutenant in charge of the radio
room was the Navy’s top chess player who I would see again
at the US Armed Forces Chess Championship. After the first
Pass, they came back and sunk her. It was deliberate. They
were the only possible target. The timing was exact; right
before the main attack on the Arab airbases so they couldn’t
warn anyone. It was a brilliant opening move of a surprise
attack. Just like Pearl Harbor.
The fire direction center
of an artillery unit has to have the brightest and most
educated people. You needed to know trigonometry, use a
slide rule, and do very advanced calculations
of weather effects on ballistics. And you had to do it all
in a few seconds under pressure.
If you are wrong, you blow your own guys up. You also had
to be an expert with maps. Without a good FDC, an artillery
unit is almost worthless; left only with direct fire.
Two of my 4 FDC members were Jewish. (The other two
It seemed very stupid to give odds of a full queen in the
coming game before I knew who I was playing. It was likely
we could shoot ourselves in the foot. We slept on the
Next day, I was told we
wouldn’t be taking our monster 155’s after all. Too much
weight. They would give us some 75 mm mountain guns which
you could hand push. I would still take my APC as it had
the command net, all the radio equipment installed in it,
but all other vehicles would be left behind. When the
mountain guns arrived, they looked like toys. I had never
seen one and had no idea of the capability or range. Now I
had spotted all my pieces as well. Only us pawns left.
Another night on the runway, but this time we had sleeping
bags. I got a briefing. I was to personally liaison with a
Special Forces unit. We were to be direct fire support for
a marine unit. The three units would be first to land.
Where? Who? Especially
Who? And what side were we on? They would tell us later.
My first sergeant lumbered up. He was towering giant of a
man 6’9”, who could whip any
man in the battalion except the Sergeant Major. He now
carried a grenade launcher.
He handed me a cigar and said quietly, Sir when you talk to
the men, put this in your
mouth and growl a bit. He was right. I was 20 years old.
More time on the runway.
All this time and not even a pocket chess set. The men were
amusing themselves throwing rocks at the trees or climbing
them. Yet another night. The next morning they told me the
war was over. That was quick. “Who won?” I asked.
We were now to go back to
barracks and scrape off the sand colored paint. Awaiting me
were new orders. I was to report to the Division Artillery
and take over command of an advanced party. I was to not
see even my own men again and I wondered how those
correspondence chess postcards were going to catch up to
me. Chess was not an option.
I soon decided I needed
some college. There were 3 types of officers. West Point,
and OCS. Almost all the OCS officers were also college
graduates, but they hadn’t been
in the ROTC program in college. I was unique; up through
the ranks. Very few OCS
officers ever made General. I turned down a promotion to
Captain and left the service.
I went to New York. They had computers there. Bobby
Fischer was there and so was the Manhattan Chess Club. The
streets of NYC are a harsh reality. I got a job as a
computer operator midnight to 8:00 AM. City College had
free tuition. I was tired of being poor.
I could go to Barnard Baruch, the business school, and study
during the day.
One problem, I hadn’t
taken the college entrance exams. Another problem, they
didn’t want to recognize my high school transcript from West
Virginia. I had to “matriculate”; prove that I could get a
C average. Until I did this, I couldn’t take more than 12
I never have had time for
sergeants or bureaucracy. When I meet an obstacle, I jump
over it, or go around. If it is too big, I blow it up. I
had learned to say “Can Do, Sir”, loudly to every mission or
assignment. I decided I would also enroll in the evening
program – not telling the day program. So I took 12 credits
there too. The real problem was I living in a hole in the
wall in Flatbush Brooklyn that was a flea bag furnished
room, almost 2 hours by subway to my job, and my job was
almost an hour by subway to Baruch. I had no time.
In the army I had learned
to go on 4 hours a night sleep indefinitely. I wasn’t even
getting that. It caught up to me. I got an extreme case of
mononucleosis. I was misdiagnosed as having leukemia and
put in the terminal cancer patient ward. Every hour all
night they would come in and take blood when I was desperate
for sleep. I somehow got to a phone and called a friend to
bring some clothes as they were killing me. I escaped. I
wonder how they reported it.
I had missed a few
classes, but still was able to manage the final exams.
I had lost my job – absent without leave. This was actually
a blessing as I worked for Continental Can, one of the
largest US corporations with over 100,000 employees. The
NYC office was their headquarters with several thousand
workers, mostly in data processing. This was the time when
an IBM computer took an entire floor. They were sympathetic
to veterans and asked me to wait until there was another
opening. The military had taught me to be something of
efficiency expert – what not to do. I wrote a “white paper”
criticizing everything and presented it to the management.
They had a big meeting and accepted it. They would create a
new position called computer scheduler who was in charge of
the logistics – essentially resource management and
capability. It was a battalion S3 position! I saved the
company a million dollars the first month and two million
the second. By using critical path planning techniques I
used in the army as battalion operations officer, we went
from shortages of computer time to selling excess computer
time; netting continuous savings every month.
Now that I had a day job,
I discovered some programmers, system and tech guys had a
chess group in the cafeteria at lunch. I presented my
credentials in the usual way. The Max Lange opening. The
system software guys were the elite. The data processing
and computer operator guys were the wrong side of the fence
(again). The chess connection came through as several
managers were also players. I was asked to take the company
programming aptitude test - a test of 50 progressive
patterns. The next day I was called into a conference room
full of grim and unhappy men in conservative suits. It
looked like the Spanish Inquisition. Where and how did I
get a copy of the exam? I had got 37 right in a row and
missed the next 13. I said that’s not true! I got all 50
right! And I then showed them #37 from memory, and my
answer proving the solution and then recalled #50 and worked
backwards. There were two solutions to #37 through #50!
The author had considered only one proof and stopped. A
chess player keeps looking for the best move. No one had
ever gotten more than 30 right.
They sent me to study at
the IBM Advanced Systems School. Since I already had spent
a year learning how to design computers, I had a serious
advantage over everyone else. I got a System’s Analyst
Certificate, but more importantly, I learned about the
concept of virtual memory and multitask processing. No more
single batch processing! We saved 2 million the first month
and for the first time programmers could get their tests
back the same day. My boss said he would give me a 50%
raise. However there was one gentleman in the lunchtime
chess group who was not computers. He was head of contract
and price and was on the top floor of the 40+ story
building. If I could come to work for him, he would double
my salary. I would be the supervisor of a 1 billion dollar
sales budget that needed to be computerized.
When I got my first
paycheck, I was puzzled and disappointed. My raise was only
50%, not 100%. Was there a mistake? My new manager had
approved it. His manager, the general manager, had approved
it. It had gone to the controller (Chief Accounting
The controller wouldn’t
see me. He wouldn’t return my calls. I found out that he
arrived each morning at 7:00AM in his chauffeured limousine
from Greenwich, Connecticut, the enclave of rich executive
homes. I was still living in a roach infected one room
dump. I was waiting for him at 7:00AM. We had never met
He said no one had ever
had his salary doubled before in a single raise. It was
Also I had no college education. I couldn’t make more than
It would create a morale problem.
I didn’t have time for
bean counters. He didn’t know who I was or what I did. I
had been an TAC officer at OCS Prep while waiting to get
into OCS. I could make a Marine drill sergeant blush. I
told the Controller in my own unique way that that was
un-American. I told him I quit. I had a new plan. I would
borrow money to go to school and use my veteran’s allowance
for education, and free tuition of City College. If I
didn’t have to work, I could finish in half the time.
Registration was that week. My “vacation” was over.
When I signed up for 24
credits, I thought the registrar would go berserk.
In a rage he sent me off to the Dean. Didn’t I know that
I could only take 17 credits? Another trouble maker.
The real trouble was all
the courses I signed up were not the ones I needed or
In a government run system, things are by the book. With a
last name of Z,
I was used to standing in line forever only to find no boots
my size, out of socks etc.
What really bugged me was having to be last in the chow line
as a private.
I was always hungry. (I thought army food was great given
what I had to eat before.)
Today when I fly Lufthansa in Europe on a connecting flight,
they always put me in the
last seat in the last row next to the toilet. Those seats
also don’t recline.
I had found that all the
courses I wanted to sign up for were closed. Filled up
their limit. I showed the Dean my 12 credits of A’s in the
day program and the similar
result in the evening program. The Dean was about to become
the third angel in my life.
The first was the Wheeling Chess Club manager. The second
had been Captain
“Death”, a black captain who had saved my life, and treated
me like his son.
The Dean wrote a most
amazing “Dear Professor” letter. I don’t recall the exact
it said “Please admit this student to your class even if it
is closed and even if he doesn’t
have the prerequisites.” “By order of the Dean”, I could
take any course I pleased.
I could go right to the advanced courses in the field of
When I walked into
classes that had started and presented this letter to the
Professor, I met with utter disbelief, laughter, anger, and
sometimes outrage. Their first reaction was to try to throw
me out, but one close look and they thought better of it.
Yes I was a tough kid from the projects, but with a ramrod
military bearing. I was belligerent. I had not met anyone
who I thought could beat me in chess. I was there to learn,
but it was clear that I was used to leading men up a hill
into hell and wouldn’t think twice about it. I was a kind
of student they had never seen before who demanded that they
teach me all they knew. They would have to earn their
I had not played chess in
two years. I won the Bernard Baruch College Chess Club
Championship. I showed off by then doing a blindfold
simultaneous exhibition. I got a terrible migraine headache
from that, and decided I wouldn’t do that again. In 1971,
they had the US Team Championship in New Jersey. I formed a
Continental Can Team. We won best commercial team and I
went a perfect 5-0 on board 1. Chess Life had a feature
article on the event and about the Board 1 of the winning
team who also went 5-0. I wasn’t mentioned nor was my
team. (I would crush him later in another tournament which
I won.) I was a complete unknown and not a US Master so the
reporter ignored my result. I wasn’t supposed to be there.
I completed my
undergraduate degree in 1½ years if you don’t count the
summer I skipped. I graduated first in economics and
finance and won the David Greene Scholar of Finance Award.
I missed summa cum laude by a three hundred of a fraction
and first overall because I got a B in English from an anti
Vietnam Professor. I had the best result in that course.
He said I was an A student when I arrived and never
improved. I also got the only A given out by Professor
Deveraux in Philosophy (Logic) in years. He was a red
bearded, long haired, disheveled fellow in a tattered coat
which was always the same for every lecture. I was military
and “strike”. He taught me Aristotle, Plato, Voltaire and
my first understanding of politics and government. He was a
great man. He was Aristotle reincarnated. Maybe he was
wasted there teaching far above the heads of new
undergraduate students. Not entirely wasted. I was one
student in ten thousand. He was that one professor in a
million. I took the course because it was about logic.
Chess players need to know about logic as it is the supreme
form. As an elective, it was a treasure. There I decided
that if I would ever teach, I must teach to the best student
and let the rest catch up. It is a very sick system when
you teach to the lowest common denominator; the worst
student – which has been the public system’s mandate for
teachers. The superior students are hence bored and their
minds left to rot while the silly nincompoops are coddled.
You won’t produce Einsteins, Newtons, and Michelangelo’s
exemplified that appearances were deceiving.
It was the realm of the mind where lived the perfect being.
I officially graduated as
an upper freshman. My records were really screwed up, also
something terrible had happened at Baruch and City College.
The City politicians
ad decided on open admissions. When I registered you had to
have a 90 high school average. This was dropped to 70
(border line C-D). What’s worse, they established the
EEK program. They would pay F students and dropouts to
attend college classes.
Overnight, an excellent school became an extension of the
New York high school system. Drugs, gangs, racial
imbalance. It wasn’t safe for the professors in the halls
or even in the classrooms. They had trashed it. It was
fortunate I could skip a couple of years ahead to courses
where I would still have good students, but I got stuck in a
couple of basic courses which were a zoo. The material was
only half covered. The college was up for renewal of their
accreditation and I was asked to be one of 2 students to be
interviewed and quizzed.
They got the accreditation, but what was coming behind me
didn’t deserve it.
With some exceptions, I
thought my education had been inferior and wasn’t
satisfied. Chess teaches you to challenge and question and
to find improvements. All chess players like to point out
mistakes in analysis and soon we are pointing out mistakes
in theory. The undergraduate level would not handle that.
I had decided to learn
everything I could about money, in hope of having it.
With very strong encouragement of my finance professors, I
applied to the top
graduate business schools, the Ph.D. programs at Harvard,
NYU, and Columbia
since MBA programs didn’t have full scholarships.
I was invited to an
interview with Professors Elton and Gruber of New York City
University. They ran the Ph.D. program. They wanted me as
a candidate and they would also be my advisers. They had a
very small program. They could give me a scholarship for my
It was an honor. Unfortunately, I also had to eat. I
couldn’t eat text books.
Elton and Gruber would go on to do fabulous research and
greatly contribute to Modern Portfolio Theory. I would miss
my chance to be trained by grandmasters.
I was invited to meet the
Director of the Ph.D. program at Columbia University
School of Business. Columbia was the Taj Mahal of schools.
They had 43
separate libraries. The business school was for MBA’s and
Ph.D.’s only and they
had the best classrooms I had ever seen.
He first told me that
Columbia had never accepted a student from City College
before in their Ph.D. program. The teaching at City wasn’t
good enough. (I knew that.) He also told me they had never
accepted anyone without a master’s degree or MBA. (I
couldn’t afford that. I had no money and no time.) He also
explained that the incoming class was highly recruited, that
only 3 positions were to be from USA out of 18. Three were
from India and two of them already had Indian Ph.D.’s and
were teaching in management schools there. They had
selected 2 USA candidates already. One was teaching MBA
students at Harvard and had a Master’s in math as well as
MBA. The second had an MBA and a Master’s in international
economics and was teaching World Business at Ohio State. (I
could call in artillery fire for effect hanging upside down
in a helicopter within a cat’s nose of the target. I was
the famous/infamous Red Rider 49’er. Those guys hadn’t done
“nuthin”. But it looked bad.) He said he had wanted to
meet me as a courtesy before he turned down my “unique”
I think I told him I
thought I was the world’s greatest chess player and given
half a shot I could beat that Fischer guy if he would show
up and play. Chess does wonders for your ego.
I won a 3 year Ph.D.
scholarship with all tuition and all living
expenses. Waiting for classes to start that summer, I found
the Manhattan Chess Club. The most prestigious club of all,
their championship was restricted to former club champions,
the US champions (Fischer and Reshevsky were members) and
the winner of the annual Reserve Championship. I got a
student membership which was still more than I could
afford. I won the Reserve Championship undefeated.
Unfortunately the club championship’s format and the club
manager would change for next year and I would not meet the
minimum rating or required IM title to play.
Graduate students could
play on the chess team. We won the Pan American
Collegiate Championship. My studies were difficult. I
could not skip the Master’s
degree, have an inferior education, and be thrown in with
the world’s most talented
doctoral students and have an easy time. When I took MBA
level courses I always got
honors. (Only 10-15% got this – not like Harvard where
everyone got honors who showed up.) However when I took the
Ph.D. math review course, everything I knew about math got
reviewed in the first week. I hadn’t taken calculus
before. The second week was a “review”
of calculus. Eleven more weeks of “review” of advanced math
I had also become a
partner in Chess City, a café chess club that opened near
Columbia and my new apartment. I organized and directed
many swiss weekend tournaments for them, but didn’t play as
it was my small business. I began playing correspondence
After 3 years, 6 of our
group of 18 candidates had failed to make the cut
academically. I was still there. It would take on average
of 6 years to get the degree with one of us taking 10
years. My scholarship had run out despite 5 faculty
research assistantships. In 1975 I went back to work at
Continental Can as assistant to the Chief Financial Officer
while trying to continue my studies.
Continental Can now had a
chess team and competed in the division E (A-G) of the
New York City Commercial Chess League. I would have a
perfect score on first board
(it was only the E division) and the best result in the
league for any board (400 players).
The League had its own rating system. I won the 100 player
individual championship tournament 7-0, defeating the
defending champion with the Max Lange. Three of my
games were published from this event, two in separate
feature columns of the
New York Post by Andy Soltis and one in the New York Times.
Meanwhile Bent Larsen had
just won the first World Open. I was invited to represent
New York City in a live human chess match at Rockefeller
Center at lunch time.
We had 32 people dressed in colorful chess costumes take
their places on the chess
board that replaced what is an ice skating rink in the
winter. We had 10,000 spectators.
It was the first time I lost with the white pieces which I
could remember back to age 14. (Probably just a bad
memory.) I played badly. My rook kept moving off her
to talk to her boyfriend. Some pawns were taller than the
Due to family and
financial conditions, I moved to Pittsburgh taking a job as
Senior Financial Analyst at Mellon Bank in 1976. My
correspondence rating had rose to 10th in USCF.
I was invited by Walter Muir to play in ICCF and also the US
Championship. In 1977 I accepted the position of Investment
Strategist at a major bank in Chicago. Before joining my
new job, I went back to New York to play in one last over
the board event, the New York City Masters Championship.
There was unfinished business.
My rating was next to the
lowest in the Master’s section. The lowest rated player was
a kid, Joel Benjamin, who would in the future win the US
championship several times. The highest rated player was
Leonid Stein who had just won the Soviet Championship.
First place was $1000, big money at that time. Round after
round, upset after upset. Joel and I climbed the charts.
Joel always had a big crowd watching his games as he may
have been the US Junior Champion. No one looked at my
games. I wasn’t supposed to be there.
It was the last round and
Stein had a half point lead. Three of us were half a point
Joel was a full point back. I would play Stein’s traveling
companion, another Soviet
GM on second board. Stein took a Grandmaster draw in less
than 5 moves to lock a
tie for first. If his compatriot could beat me, they would
walk off with 1st and
second prize. Easy as pie. I was unknown, no GM title, the
puniest of ratings.
A 400 point rating difference. A perfect plan for the
1st and second
boards were up on the big stage with assistants moving the
pieces on the
big wall boards. The lower rated events had just finished
and hundreds of players were
coming in to watch. I had white. My opponent answered e4
with e5. I smiled and played the incredible and unbeatable
Bc4. I would not make the same mistake I made against
Larsen. Someone touched me on the elbow. It was my friend
Sunil Weermantry, future father
of H-Bomb Nakamura, who would become the youngest
grandmaster and US Champion
in history (2005). Sunil smiled. You see, he was the
world’s leading expert in the
Max Lange other than myself. My opponent had no chance.
I became New York City
Champion and got the trophy. Stein was ineligible as he was
the Soviet Champion. We split the money. It would be my
last OTB event for 8 years
as I pursued a career. Playing over the board chess was not
going to directly make me
rich and successful. I had to earn a living, but it had
done its job.
Correspondence chess was
my substitute and correspondence chess was truly different.
I could play when I wished in the comfort of my home. It
required different skills; great innovation and research.
You needed to understand the concept of efficient markets
and the flow of information. You can’t beat the market or
your opponent by simply following some previously played
grandmaster game. Your opponent in correspondence would
have the game too. Published information is already in the
price. In chess, you look for exceptions to the rule. In
the stock market, you must be a contrarian, looking for out
of favor and ignored stocks. By choosing ignored and out of
favor chess variations you also have an advantage. As a
result of my chess research skills, I have become one of the
greatest stock researchers. My company, ZPR Investment
Management, has the best investment record of all managers
for Global Equity in the world for the last 5 years. We
have the best record for investment management in US
Equities for the last 17 years. My companies, ZPR
Investment Research and ZPR International, provide the
quantitative research, data bases, and decision making
systems for over $21 billion in equity investments. We have
our own theories of investor behavior and stock prices.
Correspondence chess may
be better for life than just over the board chess. You must
examine all the variations to avoid losing lines and
inferior ideas. It teaches patience and the importance of
achieving a good position when good things can happen. You
must be happy accumulating small advantages; continually
striving to improve. I have observed that most
correspondence players are also successful career and
professional men and women. Many over the board players are
barely scrapping by financially in life.
Chess provides the
perfect skills to succeed as an investor. To recognize
things go wrong. Don’t be fooled by the crowd’s attitudes
which are only temporary.
They are not grandmasters and will never win. Stick to hard
facts and values.
Don’t hope. Don’t leave yourself open to back rank mates or
Expect the unexpected. Always be prepared. Your best
investment can blow up due to a
natural or man made disaster. Make sure you can play again
by being diversified.
Successful investing requires an excellent blend of strategy
So does chess. You must never lose sight of your strategy
and plans. At a certain time
you must attack, and when in danger you must defend. If a
position calls for an attack
and you are afraid, you will lose. Opportunities are
fleeting. To know is to act.
If you fail to act, you will be punished. The stock market
is an unforgiving opponent.
If you know something and do nothing, you will lose money.
The stock market adds two
new dimensions which chess does not directly have.
The stock market is dangerous because random unforeseeable
events take place rapidly.
The problem of prices and markets is that equilibrium is
first set by the collective
wisdom of the crowd; the opinion and knowledge of the
Because so many so called experts are temporarily successful
because of luck, they gain
false ratings and status. In the next tournament, their
followers find they are soundly beaten. The market is
always an unclear situation where confusion, chaos, and
uncertainty are normal. Just like a chess game. You never
have enough information or know what will happen.
You must follow carefully the path of minimum information,
And if you have developed
your mind by playing chess, you will do
extraordinary things when you transfer those skills to the
In 1979, Max Zavanelli founded
Zavanelli Portfolio Research with $30,000 of credit card
debt and student loans outstanding. In 1980 he was invited
to teach Modern Portfolio
Theory to MBA’s at Roosevelt University in Chicago. In
1982, he became a Visiting
Professor at Stetson University (Florida) teaching
investments. In 1987, he became
the General Secretary for the US Correspondence
Championships and ICCF Zonal Director
for the Anglo Pacific zone. In 1991, he was selected to be
the first Roland George Professor
of Applied Investments and Research, a $3.2 million
endowment chair, and was awarded
the title of Distinguished Professor. He is a Senior
International Chess Master and in 2005 became the acting
President of ICCF (International Chess Correspondence
the first American to hold any important post in
international chess. (