Grandmaster, Priest, Fischer Coach William Lombardy (1937-2017) Dies

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.

The August 1960 cover of Chess Review: Jerry Spann, Raymond Weinstein and William Lombardy heading to the world student team championship in Leningrad.

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.”

William Lombardy, played by Sarsgaard (left) and Bobby Fischer, played by Tobey Maguire

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.’”

William Lombardy was honored at the 2017 US Open in Norfolk, Photo Jim Doyle

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. 

Comments

  1. He was a true pillar of American Chess– a man of deep principles and fierce independence– a pioneer who was never afraid to go his own way even if meant going it alone.

    Lombardy was instrumental in Fischer’s ascendancy to the world championship. Not only as Bobby’s teacher as a little boy (when as Fischer said, he suddenly “got good”) but as his inspiration during the 1972 match. When Fischer was down 0-2 at the very beginning, it looked like he might not even finish the match. I am convinced that he did continue because of Bill’s efforts, going on to win the 3rd game, and the match, brilliantly.

    If it were not for William Lombardy, I don’t believe Fischer would have been World Champion in 1972.

    Think of how much different everything would be today if it were not for Bill.

  2. If you leave a remembrance here and are willing for us to use it in Chess Life too, please add #ChessLife at the end of your post. Items used in Chess Life are subject to editing.

  3. I was shock to hear the passing of the great GM (Father) William J. Lombardy. I met him during the late 70’s in the Philippines which I think he played in an International or Invitational Chess Tournament there. I also played some blitz games with him. R.I.P. Fr. Lombardy and condolence to his family.

  4. What is the Association of Chess Professionals Veterans Stipend? Who are the distinguished players who have been recipients of this award?

  5. When I was 12, I started taking lessons from Jack Collins. Bill would come to Jack’s place for special events or when Jack staged team events with the Collins Kids playing kids from West Point Academy, Iceland or at the U.S. Amateur. Bill became friends with my parents often sharing his ideas about how to bring up a strong chess player. My first draw against a grandmaster came about when another Collins Kid, Sal Matera and Bill gave a tandem simul at the Marshall Chess Club. It was an inspiration for me to achieve such a result against my childhood idol. I didn’t meet too many grandmasters in those days!
    Bill was also very devoted to Jack Collins. When one of Jack’s students who was already master strength left for a different coach, Bill was shocked. I heard that he was at times a difficult man, but we always had the best relations, and I will always remember him as the first grandmaster who gave me real chess advice. In this he was a true champion!

  6. I was introduced to William Lombardy by a mutual friend, Jim Buff, 52 years ago. In 2009, William was first board on our team in Parsippany at the World & USATE. It was an enhancement to the usual experience there with the esprit de corp of the chess community. He said he wanted to live another three years in order to write three books. He was a great player and a principled and purposeful man. Perhaps, having goals helps to keep us going.
    #ChessLife

  7. He inspired my son at the US Open held in Madison in 2013 and we still talk about those moments with him. He told Des, “Read…read lot’s of books-you don’t need school.” We bought his book, bought his lunch, and would never forget.

  8. William Lombardy – a genius of his chess generation. Mentor and second to Bobby Fischer is a qualification that stands on its own merits.

  9. As a kid, I remember studying his great book “modern opening traps” and that was the book that got me hooked on chess. His comments and narration made reading the book fun and interesting. I credit GM Lombardy for introducing me to a life-long hobby. 41years later and I’m still enjoying this wonderful game. RIP GM Lombardy and may God forever keep you in His loving care.

Leave a Comment

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Announcements

  • US Chess Press