William Lombardy (1937-2017)

by Macauley Peterson
10/14/2017 – Grandmaster Bill Lombardy died in California on Friday morning, of a likely heart attack. Lombardy was the World Junior Champion in 1957 (the first American to win that title) scoring a perfect 11-0, a performance that has never been repeated. He shared first at the U.S. Open Championship three times (1963, 1965 and 1975). But he is perhaps best known as a coach of Bobby Fischer. Lombardy was with Fischer throughout the 1972 World Championship match in Reykjavik. He would have turned 80 years old in December.

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RIP 'Father Bill'

William Lombardy died Friday, October 13th, at a friend's home where he was staying, in Martinez, California (approximately 50 kilometers northeast of San Francisco) of a suspected heart attack. Another friend, Joseph Shipman, confirmed the news to ChessBase and reported visiting with Lombardy at a cafe in the nearby town of Berkeley on October 6th:

Bill was in good spirits and looked good. We went over the key Caruana-Carlsen game from the Isle of Man tournament and his criticisms of Caruana’s play were on target.

Although Lombardy was hospitalized for several months earlier this year, in recent months he was active and travelling, so news of his death came as a shock.

Lombardy was the youngest ever winner of the New York State Championship when he won in 1954 with a score of 9/11 (+7−0=4). The same year he met an 11-year-old Bobby Fischer, for whom he served as friend and confidant.

JWC Lombardy Fischer

Lombardy (left) with Jack Collins and Bobby Fischer (late 1950s) | Photo: Chess Life, January 1968

Lombardy has the distinction of being the only player to win the prestigious World Junior Championship without a loss or draw, going 11-0 in Toronto, Canada, in 1957 at the age of nineteen, and earning the International Master title. He became a grandmaster in 1960.

Lombardy served as Fischer's second in the 1958 Interzonal in Portorož, Slovenia (then Yugoslavia), and coached him through his 1972 World Championship match in Reykjavik.

According to Frank Brady, former president of the Marshall Chess Club, and author of the Fischer biography Endgame: "It’s kind of like Mozart and Salieri...Lombardy might have been the greatest of his generation if Bobby hadn’t come along."

Lombardy came second in the 1960–61 U.S. Championship behind Fischer and qualified to the 1962 Interzonal tournament in Stockholm, but elected not to play, as he decided to pursue a career in ministry.

He tied for first in the 1963 U.S. Open with GM Robert Byrne, and shared first again in 1965 with GM Pal Benko. Lombardy was ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1967, but continued to play sporadically in tournament competition, including another shared first with Benko in the 1975 U.S. Open.

Lombardy became disenchanted with the Catholic Church and its leadership in New York, particulary the practice of celibacy in the priesthood. In 1984 he married and had a son, but the couple became estranged and his wife, who is Dutch, returned to the Netherlands with their son, Raymond, in 1992.

In 2016 he was evicted from his New York apartment, after falling on financial hard times, and was briefly homeless, during which time he was assaulted and hospitalized. The 79-year old Lombardy was released in June from a three month stay at Cardinal Cooke rehabilitation hospital on 5th avenue in Manhattan.

He visited the U.S. Open in Norfolk, Virginia, in August:

He was a recipient of the Association of Chess Professionals 'Veteran Program' award in 2017, and ACP President Emil Sutosky's tribute was one of several appearing on social media in the past 24 hours:

 

Lombardy authored six books, most recently Understanding Chess: My System, My Games, My Life (Russell Enterprises, 2011), which is currently out of print.

Here was his last recorded game in MegaBase:

 

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And one of his most famous wins, over future World Champion Boris Spassky, from the 1960 World Student Team Championship in Leningrad:

 

You can find 49 other tournament games at database.chessbase.com/?search=lombardy.

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Macauley is Editor in Chief of ChessBase News in Hamburg, Germany, and producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast. He was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.
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Resistance Resistance 10/20/2017 10:04
Thanks for the article, Mac. Rest in peace, William...
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 10/18/2017 01:37
@ Raymond Labelle : Topalov also supported Kovalyov ; Martas pointed it out under one of the articles about the Kovalyov case (http://en.chessbase.com/post/the-kovalyov-report-editorial).
bridgpro bridgpro 10/18/2017 04:35
The death of 'father Bill' is yet another loss from a golden generation; The Byrnes, Evans, Mednis, and of course the mighty Fisher. They're were giants in those days.
vanhelsing vanhelsing 10/18/2017 03:03
Rest in peace, Bill.
Raymond Labelle Raymond Labelle 10/17/2017 04:33
"Anyway I wants to praise Emil Sutovsky who does a great job as president of ACP" Tambourine Man.

Mr. Sutovsky, to my knowledge, is the only high-level player to openly have supported Anton Kovalyov in the blatant injustice done. Mr. Sutovski's behaviour in trying to help Mr. Lombardy is also exemplary.

That Mr. Lombardy ended up homeless is very sad, especially given his contributions.
turok turok 10/17/2017 02:23
Does chess like football and other sports have a benefits etc for their professional players? maybe a union or such a thing like it would be good to support chess players later in age.
turok turok 10/17/2017 02:21
are you telling me that if a person is not a nice guy they should not be helped as a human being? Sorry but most geniuses in chess have poor personalities if you think about it.
dixondeuxyeux dixondeuxyeux 10/16/2017 10:00
I am honored to have made probably the last sitting portrait of GM William Lombardy in his apartment in Stuyvesant Town, NY where I was a neighbor. As a professional photographer and avid chess player I often wished I was a professional player and an amateur photographer. We will all will him at the cafe, looking at our games and nodding. He has forgotten more than many of us will ever learn about the game. RIP
CoachJay CoachJay 10/16/2017 06:34
I watched the final couple of minutes of the Peters vs Lombardy game referenced here. I was surprised to see no spectators, and, as I recall, Jack made a move as I approached the board. GM Lombardy surveyed the position somewhat casually as his precious few seconds ticked down with only 3 moves until move 40 would give him more time. After his time expired, Jack calmly delayed his claim for 5 to 10 seconds. Lombardy angrily accepted his loss, and I walked out with him. In the hallway outside the playing hall, he told me that he had seen that position "thousands of times" and could draw it easily. He talked for another 30 minutes or so, as fans would stop by and get a photo or autograph, or just stop and listen to him tell me stories. I don't think I saw him again until this year's US Open.
virginmind virginmind 10/15/2017 08:28
R.I.P.
Woodpusher16 Woodpusher16 10/15/2017 04:57
A great GM of his times. Junior World Champion, won against top GM. A great coach to Bobby Fisher and other children. Please do not judge him on his personal life. No one is perfect even in chess.
Rambus Rambus 10/15/2017 04:33
RIP Bill
macauley macauley 10/15/2017 01:16
@initiative - Thanks. You're right. Corrections made and Spassky game added.

@PEB216 - 1) I can't answer that definitively, but his writings indicate that he didn't believe that celibacy for priests belonged in Catholic doctrine for various reasons. 2) That's basically right. According to the New York times Raymond saw his father just twice after 1992.
daftarche daftarche 10/15/2017 01:07
what does "not so nice a guy" even mean?
initiative initiative 10/14/2017 11:38
Three quick corrections - feel free to delete this if/when you make the changes. First, the city in California with the famous university named after the Irish philosopher is "Berkeley" - three e's. Second, the picture with Fischer and Collins may have appeared in the January 1968 Chess Life, but it's clearly from the late '50s or the very early '60s at the latest. Third, the Stockholm Interzonal was in 1962. Also, it would be nice to give one or more of his important or impressive wins, rather than (just) a loss from long after the end of his active career. One obvious candidate would be his win over Boris Spassky from the World Student Team Championship in 1960.
PEB216 PEB216 10/14/2017 11:31
Without question, Lombardy was an exceptional talent. But there were a few points raised in this article that I find confusing: (1) If he opposed the Catholic Church's stand on celibacy, then why did he become a Roman Catholic Priest? (2) He was married and had a son named Raymond. Today, Raymond Lombardy would be in his thirties. Did William Lombardy have no contact at all with his son? I know if I had had a son, then I would have done everything in my power to stay in contact with him.

In the comments, KrushonIrina said, "Fantastic player, not so nice a guy." This comment might or might not have been appropriate, but it might very well explain why people were not willing to help Lombardy in his declining years. Personally, I would like to know why KrushonIrina said what he (or she) said.
genem genem 10/14/2017 10:06
An important figure in US chess history, including his central role in helping the Match of the Century occur.
Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 10/14/2017 10:05
I think it's bad style to come up with such comments now KrushonIrina and that even if it would be true. Anyway I wants to praise Emil Sutovsky who does a great job as president of ACP and even trying to help Lombardy from far away, many people would not have cared, even though I think a rich a country as the United States should be able to take better care of its own citizens.
KrushonIrina KrushonIrina 10/14/2017 08:58
Fantastic player, not so nice a guy.
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