William Lombardy, 1937-2017

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  • William Lombardy, 1937-2017

    William Lombardy, 1937-2017

    October 14, 2017

    From chess.com

    GM William Lombardy, an American former world junior champion also made famous for being GM Bobby Fischer's second, died Friday in Martinez, California.

    His death was confirmed to Chess.com by friend Joseph Shipman, who had visited Lombardy one week prior in Berkeley, California. Joseph Shipman, the son of the late IM Walter Shipman, who also died this year, spoke with the police officers that were on site and the coroner. Shipman reported that Lombardy "collapsed and died."

    Chess.com spoke with the Contra Costa County coroner's office who could not confirm the death since next of kin had not been notified. However, they did have a file for a William Lombardy.

    Lombardy had only recently moved to California after a well-publicized eviction from his New York apartment. He had been living with friend Ralph Palmieri, according to Shipman.

    Lombardy was born in Manhattan in 1937 to parents Raymond and Stella. He grew up in the Bronx and lived most of his life in New York until his final years. He was also a Catholic priest during his prime playing years. He participated in seven Olympiads for the U.S. and won a gold medal in 1976. All told, Lombardy compiled four Olympiad team medals (one gold, one silver, two bronze) and one individual gold medal (1970).

    In the 1957 World Junior Championship, held in Toronto, Canada. Lombardy finished with a perfect 11/11 score. He became the first of six Americans to win the title, but no one before or since has managed an unblemished score.


    In 1960, Lombardy helped the U.S. win the world student team championship in Leningrad, which included a penultimate round win over Boris Spassky.

    In 1967, he was ordained and spent several years as a practicing priest in the Bronx.
    Later, he served as Fischer’s closest chess companion during the 1972 World Championship match.

    In 1984, Lombardy married and had a son, Raymond Lombardy and less than a decade later, wife and son moved to her native Netherlands.

    In 2011, he published an autobiography with more than 100 annotated games, “Understanding Chess: My System, My Games, My Life.”

    A protracted legal battle over rent payments resulted in his leaving his longtime apartment. He moved to Chicago and then to California.


    Last edited by Wayne Komer; Saturday, 14th October, 2017, 09:37 AM.

  • #2
    Re: William Lombardy, 1937-2017

    I enjoyed his book on his chess career, but would have loved to hear about his non-chess life, like why he left the priesthood.

    He didn't like the angle on Fischer being crazy and didn't cooperate with the Producers of a recent movie on Fischer. He said he was writing his own book on his long-time friend Fischer. I wonder if anything will come from that.


    • #3
      Re: William Lombardy, 1937-2017

      Lombardy also played in the "La Presse International" in Montreal in 1973. He was the favourite, but Suttles took first with 7-1; Lombardy and Norman Weinstein had 6.5-1.5. He lost his third round game to Victor Dzera "marred by a colossal dispute" ("Chess Canada" quote). Unfortunately there is little documentation on this event except for the very brief writeup in "Chess Canada". (208 players in 2 sections; first prize was $1200).

      More on the dispute from the September 1973 issue of "Chess Canada":

      "After holding the initiative throughout the middlegame, Lombardy was outplayed in a very tactical time scramble which ended with several moves to make - both flags diwn. Tournament director John Kotsilidis initially awaded the game to Lombardy, but this brought an outburst of protest from some spectators who had seen Lombardy's flag fall first. The viewpoint was further reinforced by the fact that Dzera's clock was running when Lombardy made his forfeit claim - both flags being down. An appeals committee hastily assembled the next day decided the game should be played out." [Dzera eventually won - assuming that the continuation actually took place].


      • #4
        Re: William Lombardy, 1937-2017

        He also played in Montreal in 1956, cowinner with Evans of the first Canadian Open.


        • #5
          Re: William Lombardy, 1937-2017

          Lombardy stayed with Keith Kerns during the World Junior Championship, which he won in 1957. They exchanged Christmas cards for many years after that. I played Lombardy once in the 1981 World Open in New Paltz, New York. I remember Bill Goichberg asked me if I minded playing Reshevsky early since it was a Friday. I thought, no, I will get someone easier. Lombardy crushed me in a Torre attack. I wish I would have played Sammy instead.


          • #6
            Re: William Lombardy, 1937-2017

            William Lombardy, 1937-2017

            October 15, 2017

            Extracts from the New York Times Obituary by Dylan Loeb McClain, Oct. 14, 2017:

            Mr. Fischer was not the only impediment to an even more successful chess career for Mr. Lombardy, however. Brought up in the Roman Catholic faith, he had a competing interest — his church.

            William James Joseph Lombardy was born on Dec. 4, 1937. Though he would be known as Bill in both his personal and professional life, he disliked the name, his son said. His father, Raymond, of Italian heritage, was a supervisor for the Savarin restaurant chain, and his mother, Stella, with Polish roots, was a beautician.

            Though both his parents worked, the family struggled to pay the rent living in a less-than-adequate apartment in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. Bill Lombardy, while attending St. Athanasius School in the Bronx, slept in a room that had little insulation.

            “I think we could have stored meat in there — like a refrigerator,” he was quoted as saying in the 1974 book “My Seven Chess Prodigies,” by the renowned American chess coach John W. Collins, who taught Mr. Lombardy informally for many years. (Mr. Fischer was another of his students.)

            No one in the Lombardy family played chess, but when Bill was 9, a 10-year-old neighbor, who played the game but who always lost, decided to teach him. The neighbor wanted a sparring partner whom he could beat. In a couple of years, Bill was already showing unusual talent and playing regularly, often in city parks.

            He went on to graduate from La Salle Academy, a Catholic school in Lower Manhattan; attended City College for three years; and later enrolled at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers with the intention of becoming a Roman Catholic priest. He was ordained in 1967 by Cardinal Francis Joseph Spellman of New York and remained in the priesthood until the late 1970s.

            Most great players start out as tacticians, always looking to attack, before they evolve into strategists, plotting a long-range path to victory from the very first move. Mr. Lombardy was a strategic player, and a good one, from the beginning.

            By 14 he was a master, and in 1954 he won the New York State Championship, becoming, at 16, the youngest champion in the state’s history until then.

            Mr. Lombardy eventually left the priesthood, his son said, because he had lost faith in the Catholic Church, which he believed was too concerned with amassing wealth. Soon after, while competing in a tournament in the Netherlands, he met and married a Dutch woman, Louise van Valen, who moved to Manhattan to live with Mr. Lombardy in his two-bedroom apartment at the Stuyvesant Town complex. Mr. Lombardy had moved there in 1977 to help care for his friend and coach Mr. Collins, who died in 2001.

            The couple’s son, Raymond, was born in 1984. The marriage ended in divorce in 1992 after Mr. Lombardy’s wife had returned to the Netherlands with their son. Besides the son, Mr. Lombardy is survived by an older sister, Natalie Pekala.

            Though he was a good student in school, Mr. Lombardy did not like to study chess from books; he preferred to hone his skills through practice.

            “There is nothing like plenty of experience,” he told Mr. Collins, “doing it on the board, getting your head knocked about a bit, and learning from every win, draw and loss.



            • #7
              Re: William Lombardy, 1937-2017

              William Lombardy, 1937-2017

              October 25, 2017

              GM William Lombardy Memorial and Blitz Set for November 28 in NYC

              By US Chess October 18, 2017

              WHEN: Tuesday, November 28th ∕ 7- 10 pm

              WHERE: The Marshall Chess Club ∕ 23 W 10th St ∕ New York NY

              DETAILS: 9-SS, G/3 +2. FIDE Blitz Rated. $2500 Guaranteed! $600-450
              350-250- 150; top U2400/unr, U2200, U2000, U1800: $100 each;
              Top Senior (born in/before 1955): $100-50; Top Junior (born in/after 2001): $100-50. EF: $25; Non-MCC Mbr: Additional $25
              Mbr Fee. GMs Free. Reg: 6:15-6:45pm. Rds: Begin at 7pm and continue ASAP. Max three byes; request at entry.

              Register online:

              www.marshallchessclub.org/register. 23 W 10th St /
              NYC / 212-477- 3716.

              CONTACT: Bryan Quick ∕ MCC Executive Director ∕ 212 477 3716 ∕




              • #8
                Re: William Lombardy, 1937-2017

                William Lombardy, 1937-2017

                January 15, 2018

                The last years of William Lombardy and the help he received.

                From the National Catholic Register:


                by Kevin Di Camillo

                (the last few paragraphs of the article)

                Since I am an amateur at chess (and briefly taught it), in 2016 I reached out to Imad Khachan at New York City's famed Chess Forum to see what could be done to help the destitute Lombardy. I received this email back:

                I have spoken with Bill [William Lombardy]. He is desperate. Desperate people think desperate thoughts, so he is begging people to contact congress, councilmen, senators, newspapers, anyone with power who can help him get out of his prison-like sentence to a rehab facility.

                He is not an addict, and he's ambulatory, so there is no need for him to be in a rehab facility other than the fact that he's homeless and he has had a heart attack living on the rugged streets.

                He is imploring someone to come to his aid to provide him with a place where he can sleep and continue to live a normal life, schmoozing it up with chess players at Union Square, or taking in a cheap city movie.

                His golden years should not be "gray-bar" years, making him feel like a prisoner of poverty, which he is.

                If anyone is able to provide Bill with a place to sleep in the NYC area, please call [Bill's Power of Attorney]. If anyone is financially able to contribute a monthly stipend to Bill so that he can pay for a room, please contact me. Bill may not have many years left, given his advanced age and the desperate straights [sic] he finds himself in, so if anyone is able to contribute to the golden years of a chess legend, now is the time to do it.

                Since Lombardy was now homeless and living in subways and chess clubs, I asked around, trying to find out why he didn't give chess lessons for money. The response was depressing: apparently Lombardy did, for a time, try to give chess lessons , at about $1,200 per lesson , for royalty from the Middle East , who would house Lombardy in some of New York's finest hotels , but instead of actually teaching them anything about chess, the "lesson" would turn into a stream-of-consciousness diatribe about all the horrible things that had been done to him and what a mess his life had become. Word soon spread that Lombardy's "chess lessons" weren't worth the money.

                I offered to interview Lombardy for the Catholic press in 2017, but was told that he would only 'grant' an interview for a ridiculously large fee.

                Then I had what I first thought was a stupid idea: Since there seemed to be no harm in pursuing what I felt was at best a lame attempt to help a once-great chess player, I asked the Archdiocese of New York if anything could be done. Much to my surprise, they were eager to help Lombardy and get him into the Terrance Cardinal Cooke Residence for long-term care due to his heart condition.

                Then, one day last year, my cell phone rang. I didn't recognize the number. I picked up expecting a robo-call or some telemarketer. To my surprise it was Grandmaster William Lombardy himself, who wanted to thank me for helping him find housing. I was astounded and more than a bit humbled.

                I don't know, really, what happened after that: I had hoped that Lombardy would indeed live out his golden years under the aegis of the archdiocese he'd once served as a priest. However, the next thing I knew Lombardy had left New York, moved into the house of a friend in California, and, this past October died from apparent heart failure at the age of 79.

                In a way, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised: William Lombardy had developed a knack for alienating people, even (especially) those who had tried to help him. And, more generally, American chess players, from Paul Morphy to Bobby Fischer, have shown that being a genius on the chess board doesn't mean they have any common sense.

                Still, I'm glad and proud that the Church came to the aid of one of her (former) priests, despite the fact that apparently the help wasn't wanted or much appreciated.

                May William Lombardy finally rest in peace.