Grandmaster Rohde on the National Senior Tournament of Champions

Dewain Barber, the new Dean of Scholastic Chess, and Grandmaster Alex Fishbein, Photo Henk Prinsloo

The inaugural National Senior Tournament of Champions kicked off on July 28 in Madison, Wisconsin at the U.S. Open, along with the Denker High School TOC, the Barber K-8 TOC and the National Girls TOC. Although the National Senior TOC had less and pomp and circumstance than the other Tournaments of Champions (which had group photos outdoors, processionals into the assembly hall, and announcements of all the players), the National Senior TOC nevertheless made great strides in integrating itself, making what had been a trio of headline TOCs into a quartet.

At the National Senior welcome luncheon, Dewain Barber was recounting some of the history of the Tournaments of Champions. When he hinted that someone who had played in the inaugural Denker High School TOC in 1985 was now in the Senior, I expressed doubt that anyone who had played the HS that “recently” could now be in the Senior (which is 50-and-over), and was halfway towards laying down money on it to that effect, when GM Alexander Fishbein walked into the room, in a suit, and I was like, “Oh”. And it truly was full-circle, as Alex had won the Denker in 1985, and now just barely qualified age-wise for the Senior, while his son Mitch was representing New Jersey in the Denker!

David Grimaud served as head of US Chess’s National Senior Committee. At the opening luncheon, Dave called on many of the invitees who shared stories from their colorful chess careers. This set a great tone of friendliness which persisted throughout the event, which I think  everyone enjoyed. The players were particularly encouraged to watch out for their state teammates in the other TOCs, and an unofficial tally was kept, adding the Seniors’ scores to the combined state-by-state scores in the Denker, the Barber and the National Girls. This integration will only grow in the future; one great idea which I heard from Steve Shutt is to have, later during the U.S. Open, a team event pitting each representative of a state against another state (i.e., a four-person team a la the Amateur Team).

GM Michael Rohde vs. GM Alexander Fishbein. Photo: David Grimaud

Four GMs participated in the National Senior – Alex Fishbein (New Jersey), Alonso Zapata (Georgia), Enrico Sevillano (Southern California), and myself (New York), and we all found our way into the winners’ circle eventually, but it was a very tough event overall. In the first round, Sevillano suffered a loss to Bryan Lilly, who was the host state Wisconsin’s alternate. Meanwhile, I ran into some trouble against Tim Sage of Massachusetts, after making a shaky sacrifice of the queen for a rook and a knight.

In round 3, Zapata kept winning, but Fishbein was held to a draw by the very tough Eric Cooke of Florida, and I was held to a half-point by Lilly, who was having a great tournament. Round 4 is when the event seemed to really break open. Zapata defeated Wisconsin’s original representative Vijay Raghaven (the only other player who had 3-0) while I was paired against Fishbein, even though there were 3 other players in our 2.5-point score group. This is because FIDE has no rating adjustment switch and just pairs by colors straight off. Also in Round 4, Cooke stopped Lilly, so after four rounds, Zapata had a perfect score, Cooke stood on 3.5, and many players, including Sevillano, who was quietly making a comeback, had 3 points.

In round 5, Zapata put a very professional squeeze on Cooke, finally putting his Cinderella story to rest, and Fishbein emerged from the pack as the only player able to ascend to 4/5. This set up a last-round showdown with Zapata at a perfect 5/5, and Fishbein a full point back at 4/5, and a pack of hungry wolves at 3.5. Zapata played riskily in the opening in the critical game (he would tell me later he doesn’t know why he sometimes plays crazy in the last round), and Fishbein was able to pull even with him, so they tied for first with 5/6. Meanwhile, Sevillano, myself, and the very strong FM Karl Dehmelt of Pennsylvania, were able to emerge from the muck by winning our respective games, and the three of us tied for third at 4.5.


  1. It was my pleasure to see the Denker legacy continue. Thanks to all the Seniors who participated. Next year I predict that the Senior event will go to 50 state affiliate challengers. What a title: “National Senior Champion of Champions”.

  2. Perhaps an “over 75 years old” should be added to National Senior chess events. Soon most baby boomers will be eligible.

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