Grandmaster William Lombardy died in Martinez, California the morning of October 13, 2017, of a heart attack. He won the World Junior Championship in 1957 with a perfect 11-0 score, shared first in three US Opens and represented the US chess team in numerous team competitions. Lombardy was also an ordained priest and had degrees in Philosophy, Ethics and Educational Psychology.
IM John Donaldson told US Chess, “The word legend is over used, but Bill Lombardy really was an American chess legend. The only player to win the World Junior Championship with a perfect score, he led the United States to first place in the 1960 World Student Team Championship. Lombardy won six individual and team medals in seven Olympiads and played a key role in Bobby Fischer’s development.”
Well known for coaching Bobby Fischer during the 1972 World Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland, Lombardy was memorably portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard in the major motion picture “Pawn Sacrifice.”
IM Anthony Saidy, team-mate of Lombardy, recalled to US Chess Bill’s jocular nature. During skittles, Bill would say, ‘Strong moves!’ slyly mocking one’s attacking attempts. “Just imagine if Bill had 1) not detoured into the priesthood 2) had a trainer/coach to correct habitual severe time pressure and make him an opening expert and 3) had financial security.”
In recent years, Lombardy struggled with financial issues, and the New York Times covered his two year long eviction battle in 2016, after which he left New York, ultimately ending up in the Bay Area.
Lombardy was featured in an article by Eric Vigil for US Chess in February of this year, when he visited the Port of Burlington Open.
“I made GM Lombardy a coffee, and he sat down at the fair trade marketplace of The Loft where he proceeded to hold court. Players would go down and chat. GM Lombardy signed whatever was placed in front of him, told stories and answered questions about Bobby Fischer, and went over the games of any player who had guts enough to approach him. Well, once the first player did, then everyone started doing it.
Dr. Connie Pieper came up to me while her 11 year old sons, Justin and Eric, were having one of their games analyzed by GM Lombardy. She was amazed and asked, ‘Is that really GM Lombardy? Is it the same one that coached the 11-year-old Bobby Fischer and is now explaining my son’s chess game move by move?’
I could only look back at her and smile, “’Yes it sure is.’”
Reporting for chess.com, FM Mike Klein points out the many parallels between Lombardy and Fischer, starting with their respective 11-0 sweeps in the US Junior and US Chess Championships:
“That 11/11 further aligns him with his compatriot and confidant, Fischer, who several years later would also score the only perfect score (also 11/11) in U.S. Championship history. Lombardy and Fischer both share the middle name “James” and both had the same early teacher, Jack Collins. The duo were also both good in their early years at fantastic offerings of the queen.”
Play through some of Lombardy’s games below (including some queen sacrifices) and look for more updates on this story on US Chess and in Chess Life Magazine, including further memories of Bill from the chess community.
Also see obituaries on chessbase, chess.com, Kevin Spraggett’s blog, and soon in the New York Times. Also find details on a Memorial blitz tournament set for the Marshall Chess Club, November 28.