Years back, Mr. Eric Yussman wrote and published a wonderful chronology of the Louisville Chess Club. Due in large part to his efforts, we have knowledge of the personalities who helped shape Kentucky's chess landscape. When I decided to create a Hall of Fame to commemorate these individuals, it seemed only fitting to hand the reigns over to Mr. Yussman. This project would not be possible without his contributions, which is why I have named it after him. I have asked him to adapt passages from his book and compose a paragraph for each inductee. We hope to locate and add pictures wherever possible. We are in the initial stages of the effort, and you'll hear more about it as we progress.
- Daniel Brennan
state champion in 1949, 1966
Cohen’s peak USCF rating was in the high 1900’s in the early 1990’s, so it is likely he was around master strength earlier in his career before the computer ratings existed. He described himself as an attacking tactical player as a young man, and more of a positional player in what he referred to as his second chess career. He was generally considered to be among the most gentlemanly of players in the Louisville chess scene. Among the great grandmasters he particularly admired Capablanca, Rubinstein, Marshall, and Bronstein. Cohen, also a master level bridge player, practiced law for fifty years and served in the US Air Force in Korea.
Louisville Chess Club’s top player—and one of Midwest’s best—in late 1800s, early 1900s
Conen joined the Louisville Chess Club in 1892 and dominated. In addition to a win over Harry Pillsbury, Conen also beat Jackson Showalter and David Janowski. In a 1946 article, Courier Journal chess columnist Merrill Dowden remarked, “During his long reign as one of the dominant masters of the Midwest Conen produced many games remarkable for their sheer poetic beauty.”
Courier-Journal’s chess columnist from the 1940s-1970s
In 1945 at age 42, Dowden began a series of weekly chess columns—entitled “The King’s Men” — in the Courier-Journal’s sports section. Combining charm, wit, and a reverence for the game, Dowden discussed chess like a proud grandfather telling family stories to a grandkid bouncing on his knee. A mere four months after his column’s debut, Dowden trumpeted a tournament to determine a state champion; the tourney owed its existence to Dowden and a handful of other local players celebrated his column’s 30th anniversary in 1975, and a few months later in February 1976 the last of his “King’s Men” pieces appeared in the Courier. Dowden died at age 88 in 1991.
main organizer of Louisville Chess Club from the 1960s-1970s; state champion in 1967
In many respects, the viability of the Louisville Chess Club and the organization of the annual Kentucky Opens in the 1960s and ‘70s resulted from Fulkerson’s efforts and enthusiasm. A formidable player, he was accomplished at simultaneous exhibitions.
state champion in 1948, 1957
Dowden’s obituary of Shields in 1968 says it all: “Shields death leaves a void in the chess fraternity that will be felt for years to come. This is true because Shields was more than a gifted player. He used his talents to promote the royal game and develop new players. Never did I know a man to work with more energy or influence in popularizing the game which was so dear to his heart. He was ever magnanimous in victory and gracious in defeat. A player of national stature, he scored victories over some of the
nation’s leading masters. And for some years it was his custom to give simultaneous exhibitions in Central Park, taking on all comers.”
five-time US Open champion in the late 1800s, early 1900s
Showalter, a five-time U.S. Champion, was one of the top players in the entire country in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Oxford Companion to Chess wrote that Showalter was "known as the Kentucky Lion after his birthplace and his mane of hair, but also perhaps on account of his playing strength." His games were known for sparkling combinative play and sacrifices. Harry Pillsbury once was asked what success American players would have if they played internationally. He responded, "Jackson Showalter would make a good score in any company."
main organizer of Louisville Chess Club in late 1800s and early 1900s
Theiss was the driving force behind the Louisville Chess Club in its formative decades of the late 19th century. A medical doctor who later became principal of a local elementary school , Theiss derived much pleasure from reading Dickens but spent most of his leisure time practicing chess. Theiss was not the strongest player in town but he was the most respected ambassador of the game, lecturing less experienced players on strategies as well as the origins of the game. Some family members’ most vivid memories of Theiss concern giving him rides to and from Club meetings during his later years in the 1930s and ‘40s. Theiss died in 1945 at age 97.
Larry Bell began organizing scholastic chess tournaments in 1987 and has coached sixteen state champions at Garden Springs Elementary, Beaumont Middle, Lexington Traditional, Dunbar High School and Sayre School. At the 1992 Middle School Nationals, he coached Lexington Traditional to a third-place finish. He has coached seven kids who progressed to become state individual champions. Larry hosted, at Steve Dillard;s request, the first consolidated State Team Championship at Garden Springs Elementary School in 1987, and he worked with longtime friends Steve Dillard and Dr. Wayne Bell to create the scholastic chess state championship series that is still utilized today in Kentucky. In 1992 Larry was co-organizer of the High School National Championships, which was the first national championship tournament to break the 1000-player barrier (and brought in then-reigning world champion Gary Kasparov as a special guest). Two years later, Larry helped organize the 1994 Lexington Winter Scholastic, which was the largest non-championship scholastic tournament held in Kentucky (474 entries from nine states). Larry gives all the credit to the work ethic and passion of the kids. His best “feel good moments” are those when he can see the light come on for a youngster. As a player, Larry won the 1987 Amateur State Championship and achieved a top rating of 1906.