FM John Curdo, 1931-2022

John Curdo, 2002
courtesy Tony Corizas Jr.

FM John Curdo of Auburn, Massachusetts, passed away on September 30, 2022, at age 90. He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Carol Curdo, along with three children and two stepchildren.

John was born in 1931 and graduated from Lynn Technical High in 1949. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in the late 1940s and later worked at Honeywell, first as a watch crystal mechanic, then in Production Control, for many years. John became a full-time chess player and chess teacher in 1979.

New England Chess without John Curdo is hard to imagine because he was a constant presence at local tournaments — as familiar to New England chess players as the Boston Public Garden swan boats. John was an integral part of the local chess scene for eight decades, winning or tying for first place in the Massachusetts Open Championship 17 times between 1948 and 1983, and winning or tying for first place in the New England Open Championship seven times between 1958 and 1983.

John won the U.S. Senior Open in 1986 and 1988, and he also tied for first place in 1982 and 1987. In 1992, when he turned 61 years old, John’s US Chess rating was 2516. US Chess awarded John the Frank J. Marshall Award in 2004 and the Outstanding Player Award in 2021 in recognition of his long and distinguished chess career, which included playing in 1,035 tournaments since 1991. In January 2020, at age 88, John swept the second-to-last tournament he played in with a 4-0 score. It took nothing less than a pandemic to stop him from playing.

In a September 2018 Boston Globe chess column, FM Christopher Chase noted that John had just won his 1,000th tournament at the end of August 2018. I reviewed John’s online tournament history since then, and it appears that his final total was a staggering 1,009 tournament victories.

John had a terrific sense of humor, and one of his favorite jokes involved future IM Jack Peters. Jack annotated many of his weekend battles with John in his role as Games Editor for the Massachusetts Chess Association magazine Chess Horizons, and I enjoyed reading these articles as a teenager during the 1970s. During the summer of 1976, when Jack moved from Massachusetts to Los Angeles, California, John wrote in his July-August 1976 Chess Horizons column “… there is a false rumor around that I offered to pay Jackie Peters’ expenses to California, etc. This is misleading. I offered him a one-way ticket!”

I fondly recall playing a seven-hour, 66-move draw with John at the Boylston Chess Club in Boston during the third round of a tournament on a bitterly cold Saturday night in January 1982. Internet weather records for that morning list a low temperature of one degree Fahrenheit. The game ended around 1:30 a.m. and John knew that the Boston subway system had stopped running at 1:00 a.m. At that time I was a junior at Boston University, living about a 20-minute walk away, so John offered to give me a ride home to my apartment. As he dropped me off he said, “You’re lucky you didn’t win the game, kid — you would have had to walk home!”

John wrote the chess notes for his good friend Harold Dondis’ Boston Globe chess column for many years, and he penned a Chess Horizons column featuring his games during the late 1970s. John wrote also four books. The first was John Curdo’s Chess Career — Forty Years at the Top, edited by Bob Sanchez and published by the Massachusetts Chess Association in 1988. He followed this up with Chess Caviar, More Chess Caviar, and Still More Chess Caviar.

John played an impressive number of games against a continuous wave of rapidly improving junior players and strong titled players for decades. Here is a partial list of the players he had to contend with starting in the late 1960s: IM Jack Peters (45 games), IM James Rizzitano (68 games), IM Joseph Fang (59 games), IM David Vigorito (49 games), GM Alexander Ivanov (51 games), and IM Igor Foygel (72 games). John’s most frequent opponent was Michael Odell (150 games).

My first book, Understanding Your Chess (Gambit Publications, 2004), includes 11 games and game fragments from our battles. John was always a challenging opponent and I managed a slight plus score with 24 wins, 20 losses, and 24 draws after 68 games played between 1975 and 2011.

One of the distinctive features of John’s play was his skill at creating imbalance in a wide range of positions, like his chess hero Emanuel Lasker. John did not have a clear preference for bishops over knights or knights over bishops — he handled both kinds of pieces equally well. He was particularly effective as White with a light-squared bishop on the d3-square aiming at Black’s kingside. Let’s take a look at a game he drew versus six-time U.S. Champion GM Walter Browne.



IM Danny Kopec was a dangerous attacking player, but in this game he gets blown off the board in a miniature.



The legacy of John Curdo is that you should pursue your dreams no matter your age. John became a full-time chess player and chess teacher in 1979 at age 47, and he spent most of his life perfecting his craft and doing what he enjoyed most — playing chess and competing at a high level. Rest in peace, John.


This text originally appeared in the November issue of Chess Life.


FM Curdo was truly the dean of New England chess. He was all business at the board and a total professional. Very dry sense of humor and blunt with his assessment on chess. As IM Rizzitano notes, you would not play dubious openings against him as he would blow you off the board as very sound in all phases of the game. He was a true gentleman when we played (all 3 were draws in Two Knights Defense) and always a force in any tournament. He is one of the main guys that made Masachusetts one of the best chess states in the country. May he rest in peace.

I was oh-for-two against Mr. Curdo. This year the oldest living International Grandmaster Yuri Averbakh passed away. The oldest living International Master Abram Khasin passed away. Was John Curdo the oldest living FIDE Master?

1,009 tournament first place victories..??? You are joking! In the words of all-time great chess occasion punctuation
via Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan "Oh My"
Fantastic article by Whizz Rizz who has incredible classical chess historical theory/ chess training books on sale worldwide via Amazon books and global......I should know.. I own all of them. My favorite item here by far ; the paltry 68 games James Rizzitano contested with the Godzilla monster chess dean in a mere 36 years!
For new readers please note SEVEN MORE terrific
Mr. John Curdo games hidden beneath the wonderful US Chess easy to play over on screen diagrams with spicy feisty Sir James commentary.
Mr. John Curdo once said :"I would rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond." This permitted low cost, low fatigue and no horrendous travel ...kill at your local high school gymnasium in sub zero nighttime for one half century plus .. ...absolute familiarity and pro level preparation for his opponents including many area grandmasters.
Strangely in 67 years of chess road running -chess in 46 states and 20 nations ...I never once met him. He sent a hundred shadows in his place. GREFE/PETERS/Browne...
Jude Acers/ New Orleans

A lot of the chess players here in NJ and the NYC Metro Area referred to John Curdo as "The King of New England Chess" as he would constantly win most tournaments that were in New England. I had the privilege of competing in 2 of those tournaments that John Curdo won, and got to play him in both of those tournaments with a loss in the 1992 Green Mountain Open in Burlington, VT and a draw in the 1997 White Mountains Open in Lancaster, NH. In both of those events, he scored 4.5 out of 5, so at least I was somewhat of a blemish on his White Mountains ledger. He was a very tough competitor and was really on top of his game for so many years, and his games live on! RIP Mr. Curdo, you are still "The King of New England Chess".

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