The chess world is full of famous players who have become heroes, whom we rightly pay tribute to when they die. But occasionally we also come across an unsung hero; someone who perhaps didn’t become a big international star, didn’t win a major tournament, but who nevertheless made a contribution to enriching the heritage of our game in their own way.
One such unsung hero was USCF Senior Master Eliot Hearst, who died recently in Tucson, Arizona. He was 85.
In the 1960s Hearst wrote a very popular Chess Life column titled Chess Kaleidoscope in which he covered a wide variety of subjects – and it was only through archived copies of Chess Life that I first came to discover all about the remarkably erudite and often witty wordsmith that was Eliot Hearst.
Hearst first came to prominence by winning the New York State Championship in 1950 and went on to become one of the best players in the US in the 50s. He was a member of the U.S. Student Olympiad team that won gold against the highly-favored Soviets in Leningrad. He also played in the 1954 and 1961 U.S. Championships. But at his peak, he all but gave up competitive chess after his last U.S. Championship appearance, opting instead for a career in academia. Hearst received a PhD in psychology in 1956 from Columbia University and was a professor at Indiana University and the University of Arizona.
He was a talented writer, though, and through his words, he stayed in touch with the game with his very popular Chess Life columns. And also late in life there came a notable book on a very obscure subject, as he co-wrote with John Knott Blindfold Chess: History, Psychology, Techniques, Champions, World Records, and Important Games, a very intriguing read that went on to win the Fred Cramer Award for the Best Chess Book of 2009.
His son, Andrew, describes in his own blog about a vital visit he once had to make to his family home in Tucson back in 2007. There, he was tasked to digitize the most treasured image from the Hearst family archive: a photograph of his father playing a casual game with Bobby Fischer in 1962. And the photo was taken just prior to Hearst captaining the 1962 US Olympiad team in Varna, Bulgaria, where his diplomatic skills came to the fore in negotiating a solution to a memorable self-inflicted Fischer dispute!
That Olympiad imposed a 30-move rule that prohibited short draws, and all down to Fischer’s angry claim of Soviet collusion early that year during the Candidates Tournament in Curacao – but in Varna Fischer and Bulgaria’s Nikola Padevsky agreed a short 20-move draw without informing the arbiter, then left the playing hall. Urged to return to resume the game, Fischer refused, spitefully saying ‘this rule is only for commie cheaters’.
Leonard Barden, the veteran Guardian chess writer, now takes up the story: ‘The organizers, wanting to avoid a scandal, made an ad hoc rule amendment that team captains could suggest the draw. So I watched as a procession entered the hall led by the chief arbiter Salo Flohr and the US and Bulgarian captains. They gathered round Fischer’s board, the captains made their pitch, then Flohr gravely studied the position and waved his hands in blessing.’
Hearst also had the distinction of beating Fischer in the final round of the Third Rosenwald Trophy tournament held in New York in 1956, and coming just three rounds prior to the young Fischer shooting to worldwide stardom after he beat Donald Byrne in a game that was subsequently dubbed ‘The Game of the Century’, and arguably one of the most famous chess games ever.
And writing in one of his 1964 Chess Kaleidoscope columns, Hearst wrote that ‘…he had beaten Fischer in 1956, and liked to believe that Fischer hadn’t improved since then!’ So with that sentiment in mind, we conclude our tribute to Eliot Hearst 1932-2018 with his famous win over Fischer.
Photo: Bobby Fischer plays a casual game with Eliot Hearst | © Andrew Hearst
Bobby Fischer – Eliot Hearst
Third Rosenwald Trophy, 1956
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Bc5 in an attempt to confuse the young booked-up Fischer, Hearst plays a sort of hybrid of the Cordel Variation that melds into the Bird Defence. 4.0-0 Nd4 5.Nxd4 Bxd4 6.c3 Bb6 7.d4 c6 8.Ba4 Perhaps a bit too automatic by putting the bishop herein the Lopez; more challenging looks to be 8.Bc4 – but in all honesty, it doesn’t make much of a difference. 8…d6 9.Na3 Nf6 10.Re1 Qe7 11.Bg5 h6 12.Bh4 g5 13.Bg3 h5! There’s only one way Black can play this position now, and that’s dynamically – and Hearst does so! 14.f3 h4 15.Bf2 g4! The logical follow-up to 13…h5; and Hearst doesn’t miss a beat as he rolls on with his kingside attack. 16.Nc4 g3 This pawn sacrifice was a no-brainer, exposing the White king to a multitude of threats. 17.hxg3 hxg3 18.Bxg3 Nh5 19.Bh2 There’s no time to first remove Black’s dangerous dark-square bishop, as after 19.Nxb6 axb6 20.Bh2 Qh4, White will have to waste a vital move in order to protect his Ba4, and this gives Black more than enough momentum to crash home his attack, the best option being 21.Re2 Nf4 22.Bxf4 Qxf4 23.Bb3 Rh2! with an overwhelming attack. 19…Bc7 20.Ne3 Qh4 21.Qd2 Bd7 22.Bb3 Rh7?! The f7-pawn is of no significance – Hearst should have ignored it and carried on with 22…Nf4! 23.Bxf4 exf4 24.Nf5 Bxf5! 25.exf5+ Kf8 and it is hard to see how White’s king escapes here. 23.Qf2! The little hesitation from Hearst allows Fischer to find the only defence – but he errs in his follow up, wrongly believing he might have turned the corner and perhaps stood marginally better. 23…Qg5 24.Rad1 Nf4 25.Bxf4? Ah, the impetuousness of youth! The young Fischer wants more than there actually is in the position, and should have settled for 25.Qg3 Qh5 26.dxe5 dxe5 27.Qg8+ Ke7 28.Qxa8 Qxh2+ 29.Kf2 Qh4+ 30.Kf1 Qh1+ 31.Kf2 Qh4+ and a perpetual check. He soon lives to regret this hasty decision, as Hearst’s pieces burst into life with a winning attack. 25…exf4 26.Nf5 0-0-0 27.Kf1 Rh2! [see diagram] This clinical move all but sounds the death knell now for Fischer. 28.Bxf7 White’s bust, and there’s nothing you can do in such scenarios but grab what material you can and hope somehow to ride out the storm. 28…d5 29.Rd2 Rf8 30.Qg1 Rh7 31.exd5 Rhxf7 32.dxc6 Bxc6 33.d5 Bb5+ 34.Ree2 Rxf5 35.Qxa7 The game now gets a little ‘hazy’ towards the end – and I presume this is down to a huge time scramble. 35…Rxd5 36.c4 Bxc4 37.Qa8+ Bb8 38.Rc2 Rc5 Black is simply winning every which way now – but in the ‘mad-dash’ to make the time control at move 40, Hearst misses the easy two-move mate with 38…Rd1+ 39.Kf2 Qg3# – and there’s not many that can claim they missed a two-move mate against Fischer! 39.Ke1 Bxe2 40.Qa5 Qg3+ 0-1