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 served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.