FM John Curdo, 1931-2022

Image 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.

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