James Tarjan and Retirement from Chess

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  • James Tarjan and Retirement from Chess

    James Tarjan and Retirement from Chess

    I have recently (in the Great Chess Quotes thread) discussed retirement from chess.

    Another name from the past has come up – the American, James Tarjan (b. 1952). He became an IM in 1974 and Grandmaster in 1976. He played for the American team at five straight chess Olympiads. He began at Nice 1974, then played at Haifa 1976, Buenos Aires 1978, Lucerne 1982, and Valletta 1980.

    He won the Keres Memorial 1976 in Vancouver ahead of Kevin Spraggett. I have not been able to find any of his games from that tournament online.

    He retired in 1984 and recently resurfaced. You can read about it in Dana Mackenzie’s blog:


    The introduction:

    Rip Van Winkle Returns

    A few years ago, Santa Cruz seemed to have more good players hiding in the woodwork than any other city its size. But this week, one of them has come out of hiding in a big way! I refer to James Tarjan, a grandmaster and frequent contender for the U.S. championship in the 1970s, who has not played a single tournament game since 1984. He dropped out of chess and for at least the last ten or fifteen years he has been a librarian for the Santa Cruz Public Library. Now, for reasons I do not know, he has entered the U.S. Open in Florida, and when last I checked he was doing pretty well (with a draw in round five against the number one seed).

    When Tarjan moved to Santa Cruz the local players made some efforts to contact him and draw him out of retirement, but he wouldn’t budge. He was just a librarian, and all that chess stuff seemed to be in the past. The one thing he did, which I thought was classy, was donate a lot of his old trophies to Gjon Feinstein for him to give away in his scholastic chess tournaments.

    One of his notable games was as black against Jesus Nogueiras at Santa Fe, Bogata (1979). Its interesting analytical history can be found at:


    and at


    Bogata 1979
    Jesus Nogueiras – James Tarjan
    B87 Sicilian Defense, Fischer-Sozin Attack, Flank Var.

    1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cd4 4. Nd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bc4 e6 7. Bb3 b5 8. O-O Be7 9. f4 O-O 10. e5 de5 11. fe5 Nfd7 12. Be3 Qc7 13. Rf7 Rf7 14. Ne6 Qe5 15. Bd4 Qf5 16. Ng7 Qf4 17. Ne6 Qf5 18. Ng7 Qf4 19. Ne2 Qe4 20. Qf1 Bf6 21. Bf6 Nf6 22. Nh5 Qe3 23. Kh1 Qb3 24. Nf6 Rf6 25. Qf6 Qe6 26. Qd8 Kg7 27. Nd4 Qg8 28. Qg5 Kh8 29. Qe5 Qg7 30. Qe8 Qg8 31. Qe4 Ra7 32. Qe5 Rg7 33. Qb8 Rg2 34. Qe5 Rg7 35. h3 Qf8 0-1

    (36.Nf5 Qxf5 37.Qxf5 Bxf5 38.Re1 Rd7 39.Re2 Bxh3 40.Kh2 Bg4 41.Rf2 Be6 42.a3 Rd6 43.Kg3 Bc4 44.Rf4 a5)

    Howard writes in chessgames.com:

    USCF members back in 1980--such as myself--might still recall this particular game as the subject of a "chess challenge" article that Tarjan wrote !

    Simply put, he presented this game (Among other things he said that White's strong 13. Rxf7! woke him up "faster than a cup of Columbian coffee.") with fairly detailed notes, but then stated that even though he won, he couldn't help but suspect that nonetheless he probably had a lost position at some point. Despite analyzing the game with some other players at the Bogota tournament, no one--at the time--could find an absolute forced win for White.

    So Tarjan's "chess challenge" to Chess Life readers was to see if anyone could indeed prove that White had a completely won position at some point.

    Fast forward to an early 1981 issue of 
Chess Life, where Tarjan ran several letters from readers, including Yasser Seirawan, which pointed to certain positions in the game along with possible "improvements" as to where White could have won. Seirawan's attempt was apparently a case of close-but-no-cigar, according to Tarjan.....

    .....but another leading American player Lubosh Kavalek presented some detailed analysis of a certain position in the game, arguing convincingly that White had a win at that point. Tarjan's response was "Very precise analysis ! I can only concur."
    Last edited by Wayne Komer; Sunday, 2nd August, 2015, 03:05 PM.