Chicago chess legend FM Albert Chow dies

FIDE Master Albert Chow died shortly after 5pm on Saturday, October 30, 2021. According to his friend Bill Brock, he had been diagnosed with metastatic squamous cell carcinoma (neck cancer). Chow was born on January 26, 1964, and was 57 years old on the day of his passing.

FM Albert Chow
FM Albert C. Chow
(January 26, 1964 – October 30, 2021)
Photo Karen M. Larkin (Facebook)

Chow had been consumed with the care of his mother whom he was very close to. It was during this time he noticed a lump on his neck. However, he remained focused on the care of his mother Joyce and delayed treatment. After her death in 2018, he was completely devastated by the loss of his beloved mother and took time to mourn and handle her affairs. Over time, he noticed physical changes. Six weeks ago, he visited the physician and the diagnosis was metastatic cancer. Unfortunately, it had traveled to his bone structure.

Brock visited him last Saturday and stated that Chow wanted to leave the hospital and return home. He was released two days later on Monday. As climbed the stairs to his home, he suffered a heart attack and had to be revived twice. He was with loved ones in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) when he passed away. It is truly a devastating blow to Chicago chess as we have lost a home-grown talent and a library of chess knowledge. He was loved and admired.

Chow playing long-time friend Bill Brock
Chow playing long-time friend Bill Brock with Vince Berry watching.
Photo by Chicago Chess Center

Chow had a very interesting perspective on life. He has passionate about a lot of topics and his LinkedIn page lists some of his interests as “Animal Welfare, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights and Social Action, Disaster and Humanitarian Relief, Economic Empowerment, Education, Environment, Health, Human Rights, Politics, Poverty Alleviation, Science and Technology, and Social Services.”

From High School to Pros

Al Chow clearly made his mark in Chicago chess. A standout scholastic player, he played top board for Lane Tech H.S. I remember seeing this diminutive freshman walk in the room in the 1979 City Championship. Everyone had heard of him.

The next year, I played Chow for the first time in the 1980 City Playoffs as the first board for Chicago Vocational H.S. (CVS). While his rating was around 1800, he was probably 200 points higher in strength. Coach Thomas Fineberg drove us to Lane Tech in the middle of the week. CVS was grossly underrated, but Lane was a clear favorite. Despite losing to Chow, my teammates swept the other boards, and the following weekend, we claimed the City Championship unexpectedly. It would be my only consolation against Chow (+0-4=1).

By Chow’s own account, he won about fifty games as a scholastic player with a sole loss being the controversial loss to Chris Slupik. This incident was described in Illinois Chess Bulletin (June/July 1980, page 3), but the commentary is given here by Slupik who was the scholastic editor at the time. Many felt that Proviso’s state title was tainted by this situation.

While this was a devastating loss, it was also a pivotal event in Chow’s life. After being totally disgusted with this situation, he made clear his intentions to leave scholastic chess and enter the professional chess realm.

Joining the Illinois Elite

Chow was totally passionate about his pursuit of chess and would talk about how his mother supported his decision. He took pride in that. As he continued to get stronger and stronger, he became a tremendous threat to the strong masters like Leonid Bass, Leonid Kaushansky, and Morris Giles. His breakthrough may have come after winning the Illinois Open in 1982 when he was only 18 (pictured right).

By this time, he has passed all of his high school contemporaries, most of whom had relegated chess as a hobby and entered universities. Chow charged on and begin winning all of the major tournaments. His friend Bill Brock told him privately that Chow was clearly one of the strongest players in Illinois during the 80s.

“Although he denied the claim when I made the assertion to him last month, Albert was clearly the strongest player in Illinois for a brief period in the mid-1980s, as evidenced by his seven Illinois Open titles. In 1994, he tied for the US Open Championship held in Rosemont, Illinois.”

FM Morris Giles playing FM Albert Chow in the 5th round of the 1988 Prairie State Open.
FM Albert Chow (right) playing FM Morris Giles in the 5th round
of the 1988 Prairie State Open.

Albert Chow playing Anatoly Lein at HB Global Chess Tournament in 2005.
Chow playing GM Anatoly Lein at HB Global Chess Tournament in 2005.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

Chow had 15 years of progression before his peak. He won the Illinois Open outright in 1982, 1984, and 1995, and tied for the title in 1985, 1996, 2002, and 2008.

In 1994, he scored his crowned achievement tying for joint first in the U.S. Open with five others including Smbat Lputian, Dmitri Gurevich, Ben Finegold, Georgi Orlov, and Leonid Kaushansky. This would be a deserving victory given all the time and effort he invested. To go in the annals of history as having won the U.S. Open, is something only a select few non-GMs can claim.

Legacy

Chow had been a National Master since 1981, was a USCF Life Master and earned FM title. His peak USCF rating was 2489, and his peak FIDE rating was 2360. According to his LinkedIn page, he still had the goal to earn the IM and GM titles. Before leaving the game to care for his mother, he listed the following activities:

“CHESS. Playing. Winning. Teaching-Coaching. Writing. Tournament Director. Book reviews. Simultaneous Exhibitions of up to 50 people at a time. Organizer. Club creator consultant. Collector of fine chess sets and art.”

2016 Chicago Open, Westin  Chicago North Shore (Wheeling, Illinois, USA)
FM Albert Chow at 2016 Chicago Open
Photo by Daaim Shabazz

Chow will be remembered as a gentle soul. He was kind, yet passionate about social justice. He had also developed an interest in preserving the legacy of Chicago chess legends and had the game collection of Dr. Eugene Martinovsky. He congratulated me on the Emory Tate biography and talked about the importance of keeping the memory alive of these players such as Martinovsky, Tate and Morris Giles. Indeed, there may need to be a game collection of players… now we will have to include Albert Charles Chow.

Selected Games of Albert C. Chow

peace

Peace and Blessings

Visitation at Christian Funeral Home
3100 W. Irving Park Rd.
Nov 11, 2021, 4-9 p.m.
773-478-3240

Daaim Shabazz

Daaim Shabazz is the founder of The Chess Drum, while serving as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds a B.S. Computer Science from Chicago State University, an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in International Affairs & Development, both from Clark Atlanta University. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

22 Comments

  1. In my senior at CVS, we entered the city playoffs winning our first two matches. We would travel to Lane Tech and I would play Chow on board 1. He won in an Accelerated Dragon after mounting queenside pressure and winning the ending. It would be the only win for Lane as we scored a 4-1 upset victory and went on to take the city title beating defending city champions Carver (defending state champion Melvin Alsberry on 1st board).

    At the 1980 IHSA state tournament were the traditional Chicago powerhouses, Whitney Young (Larry Chachere) and Carver (Alsberry). CVS was the unheralded city champion with me on board 1. Lane Tech would also be in contention along with the suburban schools Proviso West (Chris Slupik), Riverside-Brookfield (Marty Biskowski), and Homewood-Flossmoor (David Rubin). Downstate teams to vie for honors were Evanston, Urbana-Champaign, East St. Louis Senior, and Edwardsville.

    Despite losing to CVS in the city, Lane was a contender and would meet Proviso West in the very first round. Chow was playing Slupik on board one. The game was intense, but both were under severe time pressure to make move 40. The scene was described by Slupik was the editor of the scholastic column in the Illinois Chess Bulletin. Some, including Paul Segedin (board 1 of Evanston) thought his article left out critical details.

    In the manic time scramble, Slupik made an illegal move, and hit the clock. Chow pointed out the illegal move and the move retracted. The clocks started again, Slupik blitzed out a move, hit the clock, and upset the pieces a bit. As Chow was trying to reassemble the pieces, his flag fell before he could make his 40th move. There was pandemonium in the hall. I saw a large crowd around the board and Chow gesturing with his hands and appearing very upset.

    Larry Stillwell, the tournament director came to resolve the dispute, and after an intense debate, the result stood. Many thought it was bad sportsmanship to make an illegal move, upset the pieces and hit the clock. What made the situation even complicated was that Stillwell was Slupik’s coach. He should have recused himself from the arbitration process.

    While some may believe favoritism was at play, there was an agreement that Chow should’ve stopped the clock, and summoned the tournament director. After about 50 wins, this would be Chow’s only loss in scholastic chess. Unfortunately, he was totally disgusted after this incident and never played in another scholastic tournament.

  2. It should also be mentioned that Albert Chow for a while wrote for the Chicago Sun Times on chess, including some interesting problems for readers to solve. I remember how after Dr. Martinovsky passed away that Albert took to modeling himself more after the good doctor, and took to dressing up for chess tournaments. Al’s wit, wisdom, and play will be sorely missed in Chicago.

  3. A sad loss to Chicago and the world . I knew Albert Chow going on 40 years , outside the world of Chess . He always brought a smile to my face whenever we would run into each other . Albert always made time to catch up with what was going on in our circle of friends . Our world was a better place with him around .

  4. On Kevin Bachler’s getting the name “Caveman”…

    The nickname Caveman and the concept of caveman chess was thrust upon Kevin in 1981. At the time he was an Expert, working to become a National Master. Kevin had just finished playing fellow Expert Jack Young at a tournament at the College of Lake County – a college that held a number of chess tournaments in the 1970’s through 1990’s.

    Jack and Kevin were doing a post-mortem analysis, and FIDE Master Albert Chow walked up and was watching. The game was fairly tactical in nature, and Jack and Kevin were both willing to explore ideas that were “off-the beaten path”.

    After a few minutes of watching, FM Chow shook his head and said to Kevin “You play stone age chess. You play like a caveman!” Of course, Kevin’s friends immediately ran with this and the nickname “Caveman” was born.

    The nickname was reaffirmed the next year, during the first Midwest Masters tournament. Although not a master, Kevin was invited to the tournament by organizer Helen Warren to have a chance to learn and improve. Ranked 29 out of 30, after four rounds, Kevin had a score of 3-1 with no losses. At that moment he was rated over 2200, and while he knew he would play the last game, had to momentarily consider whether to play the last game.

    National Master Chuck Kramer commented “You have to play. YOU’RE the Caveman.” Chuck was correct, of course.

    https://www.cavemanchess.com/the-caveman-way

  5. I’ll never forget the blitz battle between Chow and Marvin Dandridge in the skittles room of Jules Stein’s old Chicago Chess Center. I tell this story in more detail in my piece on Dandridge, but let’s just say it got very intense when Chow started losing. Dandridge started piling on the trash talk and added color to his comments. Some were stepping over the line a bit and Chow started fuming, swept the pieces and stormed out. Later Chow realized he had overreacted a bit and laughed at himself.

  6. I am very sad to hear about Albert’s passing. I grew up with Albert and his younger sister, Ellen in the same high-rise buidling in Lakeview before his mom got the house on Seminary. He and I are the same age and I was Ellen’s (RIP) best friend at the time. As kids, Albert was already into chess back then and would tell me then quiz me about chess players. There was one time he was babysitting Ellen and she wanted to go outside with me but in order to we had to tell him what the name R.J. meant (his cat). I for sure didn’t remember but Ellen did so we went out. 🙂 Even then he was a chess force, the dude just loved chess and was played great AF! I adored his mom, Joyce. RIP AC and keep on keeping on with all the chess greats up there.

  7. I made a mistake. It was 1979 that I first saw Al Chow and not 1980. I remember him being very small and hearing that he was a freshman. He would’ve been two years behind me. We played in the 1980 City Playoffs which would be his sophomore year. That was his last year of scholastic chess. He would’ve been 15 when he turned professional.

  8. Once Upon a Time…
    My introduction to USCF chess occurred when I was 20 years old at the Oak Park-Forest Park Chess Club, Fall 1982. A novice to competitive chess, I asked several veterans of the club who was their strongest player. The unanimous reply from 7-8 players was the man 1 year my junior: Albert Chow. R.I.P

  9. I am sadden to hear of the passing of Albert Chow.
    I remember Albert from Chicago chess in th 1980’s. Most weekends he could be found at Jules Stein’s chess center on Southport avenue. In the 1980’s ( his twenties), he was one of a handfull of strong masters who dominated Chicago chess. He along with Giles, Dandridge, Martinovsky, Kaushamsky, and Szmetan were always at the top of the leader boards. I had many epic games with Albert during the 1980s’ at the Chess Center, Midwest masters, and Illinois State Championships.
    He was a kind, gentle person who is surely missed!

    1. Yep… good memories at Chicago Chess Center. Jules Stein’s art made it a wonderful place to play.

      Oh… and Leonid Bass has a short run as well. Those were the renaissance years and just after the Verber years. The Palmer House held many big tournaments, but the CCC was a social watering hole for chess and you were able to play every week!

  10. Albert devoted his life to the game. He even dropped out of high school, in part because Fischer had done so. I basically begged him not to, but to no avail. Decades later, he acknowledged that his dropping out had been a mistake.

    We were best friends in the late 70s/early 80s. I had long hair at the time, which inspired Chow to wear his hair long, which he did for the rest of his life (except for that one time he shocked us by shaving it all off). He denounced me as a “chess traitor” in 1983 when I left Chicago to attend Columbia Law School. He wasn’t kidding. We didn’t speak for years after that. We eventually reconciled, but our relationship was never the same.

    He was a very strong player at his peak. By 1985, he was a FIDE Master, a Senior Master, and a Life Master. I thought he would become a GM, or IM at least, but he never went beyond that. He eventually ended up around his rating floor of 2200.

    In 2018-20, we both played for the “Rogue Squadron” team in the Chicago Industrial Chess League. Because of COVID, there have been no league games since early 2020. I played first board and Chow only third board, since my league rating was about 80 points above his. His understanding of the game was much greater than mine, of course.

  11. Although I read this months ago, I was hesitant to write a comment. I have been undecided which stories to tell. There are so many. I first met Albert in 3rd grade, long before chess tournaments. For the next 1 1/2 years, we were more focused on pranks than board games. After Albert moved out of my neighborhood, we stayed in touch. Our get-togethers would include several games of chess. Because I would always beat him, Albert decided to borrow some chess books from the library. I thought reading chess books was lame until he started winning games against me. Just before we entered 8th grade, Albert discovered Lincoln Park Chess and Games. We both joined and started tournaments.

    Although it was exasperating, the Slupik incident was not the cause of Albert leaving scholastic chess. (More on that later.) Albert and I had numerous discussions about attending the same high school. Unfortunately, we had different picks and were very stubborn about our choices. It was ironic that I could not sway Albert from Lane Tech, the school with the established reputation at that time. Albert was almost always thinking far outside of the box and was, later on, certainly never afraid to take a path less traveled. In any case, I had wondered a lot what might have happened had we joined forces in high school. Eventually, we both learned to accept that team match results are not determined by what happens on 1st board. Had he not dropped out of high school, I am sure he would have continued playing for his team.

    At the beginning of my junior year, Albert surprisingly did not show up for a chess match. When I called him. he not only confirmed that he had quit high school, but he had also moved out from home. I merely concluded that Albert had gone off the deep end to pursue professional chess. It was not until last October that I learned any further details. One day, at age 16, he was forced out of his home at gunpoint by his mom’s boyfriend. I knew the guy had a criminal record and other horrible stories, but I never imagined the situation became that bad.

    Thanks, Daaim, for writing this excellent article for Albert. By the way, his cat, R.J., was named after Robert James Fischer, of course.

  12. Thanks Frederick and Larry!

    I learned so much from both of your posts.

    Frederick,

    Didn’t know about the long hair and the fact that he exiled you. Actually, we all knew you were at Columbia and exiled you too! How dare he go to New York to go to Columbia? 🙂

    I knew you were an influence on Al at Lane Tech. It was important for some of us to have role models. Seeing Al hanging around strong players during his HS-age years was intimidating.

    It’s interesting. I played in CICL in the mid- to late-80s for four years at Argonne National Laboratory. We won two championships and came in second two years.

    Larry,

    Enjoyed your reflections. Didn’t know you and Al were neighbors. Nice! If Chow had gone to Lane Tech, it would’ve been a couple of state championships. Interestingly, I thought of transferring to Whitney Young, but to play baseball. I couldn’t quite make CVS varsity.

    Wow about Chow’s domestic situation. That domestic episode must’ve been tough because he was close to his Mom. I knew he had started wearing dark clothing and seemed like he was adopting a punk rock lifestyle, but we shrugged and focused on his heart and kindness. He never changed being a kind soul.

  13. I was a student of Albert for about three years, sometimes through school, sometimes privately. He… had a unique personality where chess was his main focus, although that’s not to say he couldn’t strike a discussion for a while. He loved teaching kids chess, and I remember moments where he would get angry at schools without good chess programs or ones that would take a slow approach to the game. He was very versatile and wanted students to have a thorough knowledge of openings, but he wasn’t exactly the type of person to do puzzles. More often than not, he would play a different opening each game, and after it was finished he would analyze it and point out mistakes and mainlines. He has high expectations, but he was happy when students did well. I’ll miss him.

  14. I was shocked to learn of Al’s passing. While I never played him, I remember meeting him at Jules Stein’s Chicago Chess Center many many years ago. Al must have been a fairly young teenager at the time and was unhappy about something. Jules was trying to perk him up. Jules, Al, and I were the only people in the place that evening. I think his rating at the time was less than 1700.

  15. Al was my private chess tutor when I was in grade school…. 25 years ago! We would meet him at a small diner in the city and part of the agreement was to pay for his meal. We would eat together and go over my scholastic games mostly. I remember rushing to find an old game sheet minutes before we had to leave for the diner so I wouldn’t show up empty handed. I was never as disciplined, focused, or passionate as him (few were probably), but I remember wanting to be. He motivated me in that way. I also remember him as being extremely passionate during those game analyses, visibly and audibly upset (although not always loud) after seeing a blunder I made – moving the pieces around with a brisk yet gentle precision to show me the right sequence in kind of a “you see it now?” kind of way. I went on to play board 1 for the 2004 class A state title team (Thank you, Al) but also competed throughout the scholastic years with the likes of Andrew Hubbard and Robert Riddle – 1990s Illinois scholastic chess legends. Now as a high school science teacher, I run the chess team at my school and think often about how Al would want me to run it. Very unique guy. No doubt a legend. He will be missed but also remembered. Thank you for everything, Al! RIP.

  16. I knew Albert when he was 6 years old, I was a friend of his parents when we all were neighbors at 3639 North Pine Grove. As a little boy he was very intelligent and sweet. I was so sad to learn of his passing. The last time I saw him is when his father died in the 70s.

  17. So sad to hear this, I knew Al when he was a small boy in 1970 as a neighbor at 3639 N. Pine Grove in Chicago.

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