Former chess champion checkmates Donald Trump

by Alexey Root
2/7/2017 – On January 30, 2017, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued to block key portions of President Trump’s executive order on travel. Trump’s executive order had barred entry to the United States by refugees and VISA holders from seven predominantly Muslim countries. On February 3, a judge granted Ferguson’s request for a temporary restraining order, meaning that federal employees cannot enforce Trump’s executive order. Result: Ferguson-Trump 1-0. Report by Alexey Root, who knew Ferguson as a chess opponent.

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That was a familiar score to me, as when I was still Alexey Rudolph I lost a chess match to Bob (then Bobby) Ferguson. Like the Ferguson-Trump showdown, which was on the front page of the New York Times, Ferguson-Rudolph was front page news. Except that Bobby and I were on the front cover of Northwest Chess. Its editor, Robert Karch, had decided that Bobby and I should play a four-game match. Karch put up $150 as prize money. He solicited contributions to the prize fund, and three chess players kicked in $10 each. So Bobby and I were playing for $180. Big money in 1978 for two 13-year-old kids!

Click to enlarge

Before that match in December of 1978, I had drawn Bobby twice in other tournaments. The first game of the match was adjourned at move 49, on December 29 in Seattle, Bobby’s hometown. Bobby was ill for the second game, scheduled for December 30 in Seattle. But he didn’t tell me in time. So, forfeit win for me! Unfortunately, that was my last win of the match. When the match resumed in March in my hometown of Tacoma, I lost the adjournment, drew game three, and lost game four. Here is Bobby’s fourth round win:

[Event "Chess Match"] [Site "Tacoma, WA"] [Date "1979.03.04"] [Round "4"] [White "Rudolph, Alexey"] [Black "Ferguson, Robert"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B20"] [PlyCount "80"] [SourceDate "2017.02.07"] 1. g3 Nf6 2. d3 g6 3. Bg2 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Ne2 c5 6. O-O Nc6 7. Nd2 Rb8 8. f4 Ng4 9. Nf3 f5 10. c3 e6 11. h3 Nh6 12. d4 b6 13. d5 exd5 14. Qxd5 Bb7 15. Rd1 Nd4 16. Qc4 d5 17. exd5 Bxd5 18. Qd3 Bxf3 19. cxd4 Bxd4+ 20. Be3 Bxe2 21. Qxe2 O-O 22. Bxd4 cxd4 23. g4 fxg4 24. hxg4 Re8 25. Qd3 Nxg4 26. Qxd4 Qxd4+ 27. Rxd4 Rbd8 28. Rad1 Rxd4 29. Rxd4 Re1+ 30. Bf1 Ra1 31. Re4 Rxa2 32. Bh3 Nf6 33. Re2 Nd5 34. Rf2 Ne3 35. b3 Rxf2 36. Kxf2 Nc2 37. Bf1 Nd4 38. Bc4+ Kf8 39. Ke3 Nf5+ 40. Ke4 Nd6+ {and Black won in five more moves.} 0-1

However, I defeated Bobby in the summer of 1980, when I won the “Future Hopes International,” a six-player round robin tournament held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 5-0. Bobby, my fellow Washington State resident, was second with 3.5-1.5. Thus both of us finished ahead of Tom O’Donnell of Vancouver, British Columbia, who was third but later became an International Master.

Bob became a national master (US Chess ratings) and was also rated as a master by FIDE. IM John Donaldson emailed, “Bob won the Washington State Championship (an annual eight player master round robin) in 1984 and 1987. Here is a pretty win:”

[Event "Berlin Open"] [Site "?"] [Date "1984.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Berg, Klaus"] [Black "Ferguson, Robert"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "D32"] [PlyCount "38"] [EventDate "1984.??.??"] [SourceDate "2017.02.07"] 1. Nf3 c5 2. c4 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e3 e6 5. d4 d5 6. cxd5 exd5 7. Be2 Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. dxc5 Bxc5 10. b3 Be6 11. Bb2 a6 12. Rc1 Ba7 13. Na4 Ne4 14. Nd4 Qh4 15. g3 Qh6 16. Nxc6 bxc6 17. Bd4 Bh3 18. Re1 f5 19. f3 Qxe3+ $3 0-1

Although we were over-the-board rivals, Bobby and I were friendly off the board. I sometimes stayed at his family’s home in Seattle when I played in tournaments there. He was the second youngest, with one younger brother, one older sister, and four older brothers. Since I just had two younger sisters, I marveled at his huge family. Here's a family photo, Bobby framed in the light of the window, from December 1981.

Regarding his family, Bob emailed on February 7, 2017 “I have six siblings: five brothers, one sister. All are still alive and doing well. My mom is now 88. My dad passed away a decade ago, a great father. My Uncle Bill Hausmann was a Jesuit for many decades. He passed away just a few years ago. Wonderful man and a real role model for me.”

Bobby occasionally stayed at my home in Tacoma, meeting my dad, Wallace Rudolph, who was the dean of a law school. I don’t know if my dad had any influence on Bobby’s career choice. However, Bobby got his undergraduate degree at the University of Washington and his law degree at New York University.

Other Seattle-area chess players shared their memories of Bobby with me. Former Washington Junior Chess Champion Dave Zick is three years older than Bobby. Dave remembers that Bobby and Bill Phipps (who later became an options trader and backgammon champion) were best friends.

Bobby Ferguson, Bill Phipps and Alexey Rudolph from December of 1981

The above photo is from the Washington Junior Closed 1981, provided by Philip Peterson, Northwest Chess Editor 1990-1993. It shows in the front row, left to right, Bobby Ferguson, Paul Zurybida, Jerry Prothero and in the back row, left to right, Bill Phipps, David Archer, and Philip Peterson. I was living in Wisconsin during the 1980-1981 academic year, so did not play in that tournament. Dave Zick said that Bobby signed his scoresheets “Bobby F.” a reference to the more famous Bobby Fischer. He described Bobby Ferguson as soft-spoken and well-behaved.

Similarly, Dan Marshall (who is eight years older than Bobby and a chess expert) described Bobby being very nice, smiling a lot, and generally “a bright, good kid.” Marshall recalls, “I played Bobby twice, once when he was about 15 or 16, probably very early 1980s (I won that game) and once when he was an adult and a master (I lost that one).” About Ferguson checkmating Trump, Marshall wrote, “He is getting national coverage! I have never been prouder of a fellow chess player in my whole life!”

Although Bob Ferguson is very busy now, with a hearing this afternoon (February 7, 2017) before the Ninth Circuit, he emailed: “I often use chess analogies when speaking to my team at the Attorney General’s Office. Outside of my family, the most formative experience of my life was playing chess quite intensely as a young person. That experience has shaped the way I think about the law and how to utilize the law to achieve my goals. Lastly, I wrote an article for The Seattle Times after Bobby Fischer died. I think that sick story about signing scoresheets as Bobby F. is in there!” Bob added: “My executive assistant's email is JudyG@atg.wa.gov. I would love to hear from chess players!"

Press coverage

There are hundreds of reports on Bob Ferguson standing up to President Trump's entry ban for seven predominantly Muslim countries. Go to Google News to view as many as you like.

Here are a couple of examples, and a video report on the chess master Ferguson:

Friends and colleagues say "chess is central" to understanding Ferguson, the former King County legislator who is now ten months into his job as Washington State's 18th Attorney General. He's played the game since childhood, is a two-time state champion and has the aura of intensity you’d expect from an internationally-rated chess master. His proficiency is on full display when he describes how he operates: thinking several steps ahead, studying the opponent, working a detailed plan and taking a calculated risk when the calculation looks good. Read the full story at Crosscut.

BOB Ferguson looks like the man least likely to go into battle with the President, but their David and Goliath encounter has stopped Donald Trump in his tracks. The Washington State Attorney General and former chess champion filed the challenge to Mr Trump’s travel ban from Seattle last Monday, after the ban triggered protests across the US. On Friday, that complaint saw a federal judge freeze the implementation of the President’s executive order — meaning thousands of previously “banned” people are able to travel to and from the country. Read the full article here.

Video report on Q13 Fox: One-on-one with state Attorney General Bob Ferguson

Watch the Q13 Fox video here



Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.