by Maz Zavanelli







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 go
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 would.


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 won 11-0. 
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 that?


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 recognition maximized.


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 program.


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 board game. 
I had been undefeated for 2 years and now could not play at all.


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 dark acquired
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 computers.


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 were Chinese-Americans.) 
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 runway.


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, ROTC,
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 credits. 


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.  However
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 Officer).


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 before.


He said no one had ever had his salary doubled before in a single raise.  It was excessive. 
Also I had no college education.  I couldn’t make more than college graduates. 
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 after matriculation
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 wanted. 
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 already to
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 words but
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 choice.


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 salary.


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 that way.


Professor Deveraux 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 tuition. 
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” application.


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 followed.


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 chess again.


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 square
to talk to her boyfriend.  Some pawns were taller than the king.


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 back. 
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 Soviet duo. 


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 reality when
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 colossal risk. 
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 and tactics. 
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 average player. 
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, maximum likelihood.


And if you have developed your mind by playing chess, you will do
extraordinary things when you transfer those skills to the real world.


 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 Federation),
the first American to hold any important post in international chess. (



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