Shelby Lyman Dies at Age 82

A long-time nationally syndicated chess columnist and the face of the Fischer-Spassky match in America, Shelby Lyman died Sunday at age 82.

courtesy subject

The nephew of Harry Lyman, the “dean of New England Chess,” Lyman cut his chess teeth in Boston, where he attended Harvard, before moving to New York and becoming a master.

Lyman’s star turn came in 1972, when America was deep in the grip of Fischer-fever. He led PBS’s coverage of the Fischer-Spassky match, bringing chess to millions of people who, in other circumstances, might never have been exposed to the game. The show became so popular, Lyman told Dylan Loeb McClain in 2008, that it temporarily pushed Sesame Street off the air.

Lyman’s storied career as a chess columnist began immediately after the 1972 match ended. Originally written for New York’s Newsday, it was at its peak syndicated to 82 newspapers, with 45 still carrying the column when Lyman died.

Lyman is survived by his wife, Michele, and a large, loving family.

US Chess invites its members to add their memories of Lyman and the 1972 match to the comments to this page.

Comments

  1. My condolences to the Lyman family and his extended families. I first met Shelby in June 1964, when he played in the 4th Central New England Open in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. That tournament was won by IM William Addison. Shelby, who was 27 years old at the time, was one of the runners-up. He was at the tournament in Fitchburg with his uncle, Harry Lyman, who had taught him the game when he was 9 years old. Shelby certainly made his mark in chess, both as a TV chess personality and a longtime chess columnist. It is reported that Shelby’s weekly chess column was published – at its peak – in 82 newspapers worldwide. I believe no other chess columnist has his column appear in so many papers around the world. It must be a record. Rest in peace, Shelbourne “Shelby” Richard Lyman.

    • Fitchburg Access Television (www.fatv.org) in Massachusetts will present on Monday, September 9, 2019 a tribute to Shelby Lyman (1936-2019) on its popular program “Chess Chat,” produced by members of the Wachusett Chess Club at Fitchburg State University. The show can be seen via live streaming at FATV’s website on that day at 7 p.m. The program will present one of Shelby’s games from the past, talk about his life and career, and show various photos of Shelby.

  2. Listening to Shelby and Edmar Mednis was fantastic. Still rings clear in my brain almost 50 years later.RIP-you and Edmar brought me much joy

  3. I had just started playing tournament chess in late 1971 while in high school. My chess friend and I were transfixed by every world championship game on Channel 13 in NY. I still remember the teletype ding, followed by “we have a move”. I was lucky enough to meet (and play) him at a simul the following year. Very gracious and down-to-earth person.

  4. I put this on “All Things Chess” Forum the other day:

    “I am sad to announce the news that Chess Master, and Columnist, Shelby Lyman passed away the other day as he was 82. Speaking of 1972, it was then that I first saw Shelby Lyman on PBS during the Fischer Vs. Spassky World Championship match that was occurring at this time, and he would go on to provide live commentary on subsequent World Championship matches. I seem to remember that this was kind of my first exposure to The Royal Game and he provided the viewing audience with interesting stories about the great grandmasters and he will forever be missed.

    RIP Shelby Lyman and thank you for providing a great service to chess!

    Respectfully Submitted,

    David A. Cole, USCF Life Member, Franklin, NJ”

  5. Shelby was the greatest chess teacher of his era (as related to me years later by the great Bruce Pandolfini). He taught myself and my junior high chess team in group lessons at Hofstra University on Long Island. I can still remember he concentrated on tactics, and our rating soared. He encouraged our play. I am ever indebted to him encouraging our participation in the US Junior High Championship in Waltham, MA, where Marcy acted as our chaperone (we had a girl on the team who couldn’t participate unless a woman accompanied us). I would not have become US Amateur Chess Champion without the foundation he laid for me. Rest in Peace my friend. Lenny Chipkin

  6. I want to thank all of you who shared your memories of my husbands chess history.
    It was so nice for me to read what you all had to say.
    Shelby was a special human.
    My sincere thanks
    Michele Lyman

  7. Today’s players don’t know that it was a different world back then. In the 1960’s, chess in Massachusetts consisted of a handful of men who kept the fire burning – among them Shelby Lyman, Harry Lyman, John Curdo, E. M. Reubens and others. In our present time we can walk into a tournament room and see five grandmasters, twenty or thirty masters, and dozens of experts. Not back then, when just a few individuals made all the difference.

    I didn’t know Shelby, I only met him once briefly. I knew who he was and how much he mattered.

    Best to his family,

    Charles N. Landey
    Waukesha (Wisconsin) Chess Club

    • Two other players who had to be reckoned with over the board in Massachusetts in the 1960s were MIT graduate Larry Kaufman, who has made great contributions to computer chess, and Jack Peters, who went on to become the chess columnist for the Los Angeles Times – a column he no longer writes but is written by an out-of-stater. Peters was certainly a strong threat in the late 1960s to the veteran players like Curdo and others,including Harlow B. Daly, who was still active in tournament play despite his old age.

  8. I got interested in chess because of him.

    I used to watch him in the early 70’s on CH 13 following and analyzing the moves in the Fischer/Spassky match.
    I remember seeing Edmar Mednis, Rachel Crotto and many others as guests.

    My mother would watch it with me.

    In the 80’s I followed him on TV analyzing the Karpov/Korchnoi match.

    Fascinating stuff !!!!

    So sad to learn
    of his passing .

  9. As the youngest of the four Lyman children I was exposed to chess early by Shelby. He brought his friends from Harvard to visit and he had them playing chess with me even though I wasn’t that skilled. Later Shelby encouraged me to play chess with remedial reading students I taught as a reward for completing their lessons.

    I miss Shelby’s witty conversations and above all his warmth and brotherly love.

    • Myra, my deepest sympathy. I’m sure you wouldn’t remember but I do remember, when you introduced me to your brother in his Manhattan apartment in 1967.

  10. With profound sadness I learned of the passing of Shelby Lyman today. He, his Uncle Harry, and George Mirijanian were all inspirations to me back in the 80s when I helped make it possible for IGMs Nigel Short and Lev Alburt to play in the International US – UK Match of Chess Champions sponsored by the Foxboro Rotary Club in MA. Rest in peace, dear Shelby.

    • While WNET in New York did not have the foresight nor the wisdom to preserve the video recordings of the programs that Shelby Lyman produced for it in the summer of 1972 with the Fischer-Spassky match, Joel D. Altman, a truly remarkable man who came up with the great idea of organizing a US – UK Match of Chess Champions in January 1985 between Lev Alburt and Nigel Short, saw to it that Foxboro Cable Access TV, which recorded all the games of the match, preserved those recordings. Hats off to Joel D. Altman!

  11. Thank you Shelby. I still remember running around looking for a friend/brother when I heard, “we have a move.” It was also a pleasure between moves, the discussions, the paper board with stick-on pieces. We learned more from those debates then the rapid fire reports now on line.
    We will miss you. Bob G, former 2nd board, Asbury Park, HS

  12. While a Junior at Brookline High School in 1954, I met Shelby briefly when we played the Boston Latin High School Chess Team. The following year when our teams met again, I had the privilege of sitting across the board from him and learning a few things (He won). Together, we adjudicated a few of the teams’ games that ran too late to complete.

    In 1972 I was entranced by his TV presentation of the the Fischer-Spassky championship games. Fast forward a few decades and I enjoyed reading and learning from his Chess column in the local newspaper.

    But more than anything else, I remember Shelby’s quiet voice,generous good nature, and his amiable personality.

  13. I am Shelby’s niece through his oldest sister, June, and was very close to him growing up. He had many good and long visits with all us (my parents, twin sis, & me) in Whitestone, Queens in our 2 BR apartment and came to many Thanksgivings. He lived by St. John’s Cathederal and I remember him joyfully skipping down Manhattan streets encouraging me to join him. This was funny and he was being himself while demonstrating not to care what everyone thinks. I ventured into “the city” many times alone as a young teenager to see him.

    We were all glued to the TV when Shelby hosted the 1970’s Chess Championships. I remember it like yesterday though we were only 8 or 9 years old! I recall it was concurrent with President Richard Nixon’s resignation and if not mistaken we were flipping channels between Shelby & President Nixon. He was a real natural on TV just like when with us. We were thrilled seeing Aunt Marcy on TV with him. She was always so kind and the coolest role model. He always talked very fondly about Edmar Mednis and his chess friends. It was fun hearing behind-the-scenes goings-on about his broadcasts.

    When Shelby was to appear on Wonderama with Bob McAllister at the height of its popularity he asked my parents if I could appear with him. In a move still haunting me (kidding), our parents said no! I remember people coming up to him so happy to meet him in the streets and asking him chess questions. He was always friendly, accommodating, and genuinely just as interested in them. I remember his mentioning Dustin Hoffman and Dick Cavett had requested private lessons.

    He always came for Thanksgiving and loved to pick me up and flip me upside down which we both loved. My Mom played chess well because of him and taught us. I won our elementary school chess championship and learned that some boys disliked losing to a girl.

    During high school in the 80s, I was the “ghost artist” prepping his chess column diagrams. This involved pasting the tiniest little pieces on blank chess boards (pre-Computer aided design) as perfectly straight as possible. This was no easy feat. I learned it was to appear in dozens of newspapers so I took it just as seriously as Shelby did. It is so sweet to know he successfully produced this column for decades which brought much joy to his devoted readers. It is sad realizing his chess columns now cease with his passing after his deep dedication to them. I will remember the many good years very fondly with our smart and unique Uncle Shelby.

  14. I don’t know how I’ll kick start my brain every morning without his puzzles. I’ve read him daily for decades, and I loved his games that he published and his quotes. I will miss him dearly.

  15. Gratitude for all the chess columns over the years — the puzzles provided a great brain exercise day after day, year after year! Shelby Lyman will be missed!

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