The son of a diamond cutter, he didn't learn how to play chess until he was 14. Although he is a strong international player, he is best known for his blindfold feats, which included a 34-board simultaneous tournament in Edinburgh in 1937 - then a world record in which he scored 24 wins and 10 draws in 13-and-a-half hours. The mainstay of his many exhibitions was a blindfolded knight's tour of the board in which he first memorised 64 different objects placed on the board by the audience.
An international tournament in his honour finished a week ago today at the Mechanics Institute in his home city of San Francisco. It was organised on the Scheveningen system, in which players from two teams each play every other member of the other - a particularly good way of offering title norm opportunities.
In this case "Team A", consisting of three grandmasters, Nick de Firmian, Roman Dzindzihashvili and Walter Browne, plus two international masters and four others faced "Team B": four international masters and five others including the US women's champion, 15-year-old Irina Krush.
Although Team A was on average somewhat the higher rated, it was the underdogs who seized control and finally won by the handsome margin of 43-37.
And this international event also served its purpose splendidly by creating the impressive haul of no fewer than five new title norms.
For Team B, Rashid Ziatdinov (US), the overall top scorer with 7/9, made a grandmaster norm while Angelo Young (Philippines), Deen Hergott (Canada) and Irina Krush herself made IM norms. Meanwhile for Team A, Richard Lobo, an expatriate Englishman who has long made his home in States, also made the IM norm of 5.5/9 with eight decisive games and a draw only in the final round.
White: Nick De Firmian
Black: Jonathan Berry
This interesting ending occurred in the first round. De Firmian, the current US champion, had had to squeeze hard against the Canadian Jonathan Berry but now won by force because his king was able to force its way to the b6 pawn.
The game ended 63 a4 Kf7 64 f5 gxf5 65 Kxf5 Ke7 66 Kg6 Kd6 67 Kf6 Kd7 68 Kf7 Kd6 69 Ke8 c6 70 dxc6 Kxc6 71 Kd8 Kd6 72 Kc8 Kc6 73 Kb8 1-0.
If instead 68 ...Kd8 69 Ke6 Kc8 70 d6 cxd6 71 Kxd6 Kb7 72 Kd7 Ka7 73 Kc7 Ka6 74 Kb8 wins. Later 71 ...Kb7 72 Kd7 would transpose to this.