International Master Danny Kopec, 1954-2016

DannyKopec (1)FIDE International Master Danny Kopec, born February 28, 1954, was a computer science professor at Brooklyn College, chess teacher and author of eight books. He passed away at his home in Merrick, New York, on June 12, the result of pancreatic cancer.  He is survived by his wife, Sylvia; his son, David; his stepson, Oliver; and his sister Patinka Kopec-Selman. His late mother, Magdalena Kopec, died in 2009. She was an accomplished artist who created oil paintings and inspirational water colors, frequently displayed at Danny’s popular chess camps. Kopec’s father was a pharmacist who grew up in Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust, later escaped to Israel and moved his family to Kew Gardens, NY, when Danny was a toddler. Danny enjoyed going to tennis matches and baseball games with his father, but he learned chess from his cousin, Joe Donath, an expert level player from Florida. He became Greater NY High School Champion at age 14, and earned his first national master rating at 17. Kopec graduated from Dartmouth College in 1975, where he was a teammate of 1975 US Open co-champion Alan Trefler, and moved to Scotland to pursue his Ph.D. in Machine Intelligence at University of Edinburgh in Scotland.  He was two time Scottish Champion, winning in 1980 & 1981. In 1982, Kopec and Dr. Ivan Bratko designed the Bratko-Kopec test to assist in evaluating human and machine chess ability based on the presence or absence of certain knowledge. This test, with some modifications, was a reliable standard for more than two decades in computer chess circles, and is still of value in assessing overall playing strength and identifying specific tactical, positional and pawn structure knowledge deficiencies of human chess players. After receiving his doctorate in 1983, Kopec lectured at McGill University in Montreal for two years as a visiting professor.  While there, he finished tied for second in the Canadian Invitational Championship in 1984 and was invited to compete in the 26th Chess Olympiad at Thessaloniki representing Canada. He declined because, as an American citizen, he did not want to take a spot from a deserving Canadian player. He was awarded the International Master title in 1985. As a chess player, Kopec was a throwback to the old school of chess etiquette. He always dressed well, usually wearing a sport jacket at the board. “Danny was particular about player behavior,” said his long time friend and business partner, Hal Terrie. “On the last day of each chess camp, he would sit the players down and explain that they should sit quietly at the board with both feet on the floor and treat their opponents and the game of chess with respect.” He was also particular about lighting, the result of suffering detached retinas in both eyes while living in Maine in the late 1980s. His biggest complaint was the timing of rounds for large Swiss tournaments, especially when they overscheduled the normal dinner hours. After a stint on the faculty of the University of Maine, and the passing of his father in 1990, Danny moved to Ottawa in 1992 to lecture for a year at Carleton University. Following a few other stops along the way, always in academia, he returned to New York and was awarded tenure at Brooklyn College in 2004. His best finish in the US Open chess championship was a second place tie at Fort Lauderdale in 2004, with 7 points out of 9. He finished tied for first in his last rated tournament, finishing undefeated in the 7-round Queens Chess Club Championship this past November. In addition to his writing and production of nine feature length instructional videos, Danny spent his spare time playing tennis and rooting for his beloved New York Yankees. Danny loved to tell stories, especially about chess and artificial intelligence, so much so that it is not surprising that some of the stories became confounded as they were passed along.  His dissertation entitled: Human and Machine Representations of Knowledge, was completed under the guidance of Dr. Donald Michie, a well respected British researcher in artificial intelligence. During World War II, Michie famously worked for the Government Code School at Bletchley Park as a cryptographer, contributing to the effort to solve "Tunny," a German teleprinter cipher. No doubt the stories concerning his mentor were confused with his own world travels. There was an unfounded rumor circulating in the 1990s that Danny had worked for the CIA when he was in Europe and Canada. When questioned about it, he just laughed, but kept the mystery alive by quickly changing the subject. “Maybe he is not allowed to discuss it,” some of his students whispered. After his passing, Sylvia was asked about it. “Not as far as I know,” she said. “If so, we should have been expecting a government pension by now!” Despite his hard charging, get-it-done, approach to his multiple chess projects, Danny possessed a warm and engaging personality and quick wit. He was always nearly willing to analyze games with opponents and students unless, of course, it overlapped with dinner. His energy seemed limitless at times. In 2001, he was invited by Dr. Tim Redman to give a presentation on the Bratko-Kopec test at the First Koltanowski Conference on Chess in Education in Dallas. Danny flew from New York to Atlanta, rented a car, then drove all night - nearly 800 miles - and gave his presentation without sleep. He stayed around to answer question, sat in on some of the other presentations and analyzed a few chess positions with one of his students. Then, after a short nap, he made the same trip in reverse to get home. His illness drained his energy and stamina during the last months of his life, but Danny maintained his goal oriented approach until the end. “During the past year he would take periodic 30 minute rest breaks,” according to his son, David, “but no more than that. He felt that if he stayed down any longer, he might not get up.” Danny filled every minute right up to the end. He gave his last exam to his students at Brooklyn College and his last chess lesson one week before he died. “He demonstrated to his Brooklyn students what “work ethic” meant. It was a life lesson for them,” David said. He also completed his final book project earlier this year, a compilation of annotated games of GM Walter Browne, who passed away last June. He had promised his long time friend that he would publish the games and he was determined to keep his promise, no matter how weak he felt. Kopec met Browne at the 1976 Canadian Open in Toronto. “I met Walter in the middle rounds of the tournament,” Danny said in a 2011interview. “I played my system and Browne kept exchanging pieces down until we ended up in a slightly favorable (to him) knight ending. Browne displayed very fine technique and after that we went out to dinner and we’ve been good friends ever since.” Danny was a long-time proponent of a method of playing the white pieces against the Sicilian Defense known as “The Kopec System” that began with the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.Bd3. The system never became main stream but neither has it been refuted. It is still seen occasionally at the highest levels, most recently in a game between Grandmaster’s Vadim Zvjagisev (FIDE 2641) and Andrey Stukopin (FIDE 2546), won by the player with the White pieces at the 67th Russia Higher League Championship in 2014. A memorial service for Danny Kopec will be held on Tuesday, June 28th from 7 to 9 PM at The Marshall Chess Club, 23 West 10th Street in Manhattan, where Danny played frequently in his youth. The room holds 50 people, so space will is limited. Kopec's Adult Chess Camp, scheduled for July 11-15 in Bennington, VT, will go on as planned out of respect for Danny's wishes. The Camp will feature Grandmaster Lubomir Ftacnik as the chief instructor. Sylvia and David Kopec will be present to exchange greetings with the attendees. Further information can be found at Following are a few of Danny’s favorite games, starting with one of his many victories over Grandmasters.

[Event "3rd Eastern Class Championships"]
[Site "Woburn, MA"]
[Date "1994.03.12"]
[White "Kopec, Danny"]
[Black "Ivanov, Alexander"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B06"]
[WhiteElo "2478"]
[BlackElo "2659"]
[Annotator "NM Hal Terrie"]
[PlyCount "77"]
[EventDate "1994.03.??"]
[EventType "swiss"]
[EventRounds "5"]
[SourceDate "2001.03.04"]

{This game is a classic example of Danny's style - a true sacrifice of a piece
for long term pressure against the enemy king.} 1. d4 g6 2. e4 Bg7 3. Nc3 c6 4.
Bc4 b5 5. Bb3 a5 6. a3 d6 7. Qf3 e6 8. Nge2 Ba6 9. Be3 Nd7 10. Qg3 d5 11. Bg5
Ne7 12. exd5 exd5 13. Bxd5 f6 14. Be6 fxg5 15. Ne4 Nf5 16. Bxf5 gxf5 17. Nd6+
Kf8 18. h4 $1 g4 19. Nxf5 Nf6 20. O-O Qd7 21. Qf4 h5 22. Neg3 Nd5 23. Qd2 b4
24. Rfe1 Bf6 25. axb4 axb4 26. Ra5 Bb7 27. Rxa8+ Bxa8 28. c4 bxc3 29. bxc3 Rh7
30. c4 Nc7 ({The computer says that} 30... Ne7 {is a better defense but after}
31. Qb4 $1 Bb7 32. Nd6 Ba6 33. Nge4 Rh6 (33... Bxd4 34. c5 Bh8 35. Ng5 Rh6 36.
Qf4+) 34. Qd2 (34. Nc5 {is not as good, though it should win:} Qxd6 35. Ne6+
Qxe6 36. Rxe6 $16) 34... Rg6 35. Qf4 Qe6 36. Ra1 Bc8 37. Ra8 $18) 31. Rb1 Kf7
32. Rb8 Qe6 33. Rc8 $1 Kg6 ({Of course the rook cannot be taken:} 33... Qxc8
34. Nd6+) 34. Qd3 {Another indirect defense of the c8 rook, also threatening
devastating discoveries.} Rd7 35. Ne7+ Kf7 36. Qh7+ Bg7 37. Nef5 Qg6 38. Rf8+
$1 {The killer finishing touch.} Kxf8 39. Qxg6 1-0 [/pgn]

[Event "Manchester, NH"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2000.02.20"]
[White "Kopec, Danny"]
[Black "Curdo, John"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "A80"]
[WhiteElo "2432"]
[BlackElo "2307"]
[Annotator "Terrie,Hal"]
[PlyCount "91"]

1. d4 f5 2. Bg5 g6 3. Nd2 Bg7 4. e4 fxe4 5. Nxe4 Nf6 ({Stem game for this
variation is Miles-Van Mil, Isle of Mann, October 1995:} 5... d5 6. Nc5 b6 7.
Nb3 Nf6 8. Nf3 O-O 9. Be2 Ne4 10. Be3 Qd6 11. O-O Nd7 12. Nbd2 Bb7 13. Nxe4
dxe4 14. Bc4+ Bd5 15. Nd2 Bxc4 16. Nxc4 Qd5 17. Qe2 e5 18. dxe5 Nxe5 19. Nxe5
Qxe5 20. Qc4+ Kh8 21. c3 c5 22. Rad1 Rad8 23. Rxd8 Rxd8 24. Qf7 a5 25. Qb7 Qe6
26. a4 h5 27. h3 Rd7 28. Qa6 Qc6 29. Re1 Kh7 30. Qc4 Re7 31. Rd1 Be5 32. Kf1
Bc7 33. Bg5 Rd7 34. Ke2 Kg7 35. Rxd7+ Qxd7 36. Qxe4 b5 37. Qe7+ Qxe7+ 38. Bxe7
bxa4 39. Kd3 Kf7 40. Bxc5 Ke6 41. Kc4 {1-0}) 6. Ng3 Nc6 7. Nf3 d5 8. Be2 (8.
Bb5 {Kopec-Curdo, Manchester, NH, 1995} O-O 9. h3 Ne4 10. Nxe4 dxe4 11. Bxc6
bxc6 12. Ne5 Qd6 13. Qd2 c5 14. c3 cxd4 15. cxd4 c5 16. Nc4 Qxd4 17. Rc1 e3 $1
{White resigned}) 8... O-O 9. c3 Qd6 10. O-O e5 11. dxe5 Nxe5 12. Nxe5 Qxe5 13.
Be3 c6 14. Qd2 b6 15. Rae1 Bb7 16. f4 Qe7 17. Bd3 Ng4 $1 18. Rf3 {Any
discovered attack by moving the bishop is met by ...Qh4 - Terrie} Nxe3 19.
Rfxe3 Qc5 {Fritz, for JC} 20. Kh1 d4 (20... Rxf4 {allows complications} 21. Nf5
gxf5 22. Re8+ Rxe8 23. Rxe8+ Kf7 24. Qxf4 Kxe8 25. Qb8+ Kf7 26. Qxb7+) 21. Re7
dxc3 22. bxc3 Bc8 23. f5 Qxc3 24. Qe2 Bxf5 25. Bxf5 gxf5 26. Nxf5 {After this,
it is clear that White has a big advantage. - Terrie} Bf6 27. Nh6+ Kh8 28. Nf7+
Kg8 29. Qg4+ Bg7 30. Ng5 Qf6 31. Qc4+ Kh8 32. Nf7+ Kg8 33. Nd6+ Kh8 34. Ne8 Qc3
35. Qe2 Bf6 36. Re3 Qd4 37. Nc7 Rac8 38. Ne6 Qd7 39. Rd3 Qf7 40. Nxf8 Rxf8 41.
Rf3 Qg7 42. Ref1 Be7 43. Rxf8+ Bxf8 44. Qe8 Kg8 45. Qe6+ Kh8 46. Qxc6 1-0[/pgn]

[Event "Grey Whale Classic"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "1986.04.??"]
[White "Kopec, Danny"]
[Black "Lakdawala, Cyrus"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B16"]
[WhiteElo "2480"]
[BlackElo "2510"]
[PlyCount "102"]

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nf6 5. Nxf6+ gxf6 6. Ne2 Bf5 7. c3 Nd7 8.
Ng3 Bg6 9. h4 h5 10. Be2 Qa5 11. b4 Qc7 12. Nxh5 O-O-O 13. Ng3 e5 14. h5 Bh7
15. Be3 Nb6 16. Bg4+ Kb8 17. Bf5 Nd5 18. Bxh7 Nxe3 19. fxe3 exd4 20. Qf3 dxe3
21. Bf5 Qe5 22. Rc1 Rd5 23. Be4 Rd2 24. Ne2 Rxa2 25. Bxc6 bxc6 26. Nd4 Qd6 27.
Nxc6+ Kc7 28. Nd4 a6 29. b5 Rg8 30. g4 f5 31. bxa6 Qxa6 32. Qxf5 Rf2 33. Qd5
Rxg4 34. Nb5+ Kb6 35. Rb1 Bb4 36. Nd4 Rb2 37. Qc6+ Ka7 38. Qd7+ Kb6 39. Qc6+
Ka7 40. Qc7+ Ka8 41. Qd8+ Ka7 42. Qd7+ Kb6 43. Qd8+ Ka7 44. Nb5+ Qxb5 45. Ra1+
Kb7 46. Qa8+ Kb6 47. Qa7+ Kc6 48. Ra6+ Kd5 49. Qxf7+ Kc5 50. Qc7+ Kd5 51. Qf7+
Kc5 1/2-1/2[/pgn]
A version of this article will appear in an upcoming issue of Chess Life Magazine. 

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