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 www.kopecchess.com.

Following are a few of Danny’s favorite games, starting with one of his many victories over Grandmasters.

A version of this article will appear in an upcoming issue of Chess Life Magazine. 

Comments

  1. A worthy tribute. Comprehensive, inspirational, humorous when appropriate, and even instructional!

  2. Bill Goichberg posted the following at the Continental Chess website:

    DANNY KOPEC, 1954-2016

    I was very sorry to hear of the passing of IM Dr. Danny Kopec today. Danny was a frequent and popular lecturer/analyst at CCA tournaments in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, having lectured and done analysis of games submitted by players most recently at the New York State Open in Lake George, NY in May and Eastern Class at Sturbridge, MA in April. He was an active tournament player and prolific chess author and lecturer, also known for devising his “Kopec System” against the Sicilian Defense. His first experience in organized chess was playing in the 1966 Greater New York Elementary School Championship that I directed, where he scored 6 points out of 8 and won a USCF membership. He will be missed by many in the chess world, including CCA players who benefited from his activity at our events.
    -Bill Goichberg, 6/12/16

    The following information is from Danny’s son David and his widow Sylvia:

    Dear All,

    As you have almost all certainly heard by now, my father passed away on Sunday, June 12th, 2016 after a heroic battle with pancreatic cancer. We will be holding a memorial service for him on Tuesday, June 28th from 7 to 9 PM at The Marshall Chess Club in Manhattan (who are graciously hosting). The room holds 50 people, so we expect space will be limited. We completely understand many will be unable to attend due to distance or conflict. We have likely missed many close chess friends of his from this list, so please feel free to let them know that they are welcome.

    Danny Kopec Memorial Service
    Tuesday, June 28th 7-9 PM

    The Marshall Chess Club
    23 West 10th Street
    New York, NY
    10011
    http://www.marshallchessclub.org

    Thank you,
    David & Sylvia

    PS Here is the obituary:
    http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?pid=180329330

  3. Danny sounds like he was a great person. I remember as a teenager being fascinated by the Kopec System in the Sicilian. Also, I always played over his games in Chess Life. No doubt, Danny will be missed. My condolences to his family and friends.

  4. I still remember the day like it was yesterday. I was crying walking out of the tournament room and to my car. I went 0/5 with a rating of 1600 in class About a year ago. So as I was crying IM Danny Kopec caught me crying, he barely knew me, but I went to like all of his lectures. So he saw me and made me hug him and punch him to let the emotions then he said to me something that I will never forget. “You do know you will never quit chess and have another tournament next time right? Just remember a chess player is one who can hold their emotions in, but when I see you, you seem like more than just a chess player.” This has stuck to me forever. It was very unfortunate that we lost him. After that tournament and I saw him again he looked at me and said” I told yoou so.” With a wink.

  5. I was very sad to hear this news. Danny and I were good friends during our Graduate School years at the University of Massachusetts (1974-8). We both played for the UMass Chess Team.
    Danny was a much better player than I was, but I got much enjoyment going over games with him and studying some lines. I stayed at his parents’ house in Kew Gardens one year while we both attended the World Open in 1975. I send my condolences to his family – Ed Roche

  6. To the Kopec Family,
    I am so sorry for your loss. At last year’s summer camp I was never so impressed by a persons spirit for commitment to others and his lust for life after Dr. Kopec injured his wrist playing tennis during the afternoon break. He insisted on completing the evenings lecture without going to the hospital. His performance that evening became outstanding the next day after we learned that he had broken or sprained his wrist and had spent the night in an emergency room. His students were of more importance than a mere broken wrist. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to know Dr. Kopec after finally attended his summer chess school. My regret is that I did not attended sooner. I look forward to greeting you in Bennington next week at Dr. Kopec’s camp. Don Klug

Leave a Comment

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Announcements

  • US Chess Press