Farewell to an International Master

By Jonathan Whitcomb (February 13, 2016; Murray, Utah)

I was sad to learn, from the Feb-2016 issue of Chess Life, of the passing of IM Kim Commons, who was originally from Southern California. He died in Arizona on June 23, 2015, at the age of 63, after a major stroke. I remember playing a tournament game with him when we were teenagers . . . he thrashed me.

The Phoenix New Times reported the following:

A native of Southern California, Commons was a teenage chess prodigy who earned worldwide fame in the 1970s when he defeated Russian grandmasters, dueled with Bobby Fischer, attained the status of international master . . .

From that report, it seems he set aside serious chess competition in the 1980’s.

We fought over a chess board on September 6, 1968, in the first round of the A-B section of the Long Beach Classic Open tournament. I played White in a Closed Sicilian, and he demolished me in 24 moves. He must have been about 16 years old at the time (I was 19) and rated 1869, not much different from my own USCF rating, as I recall.

My own limited success in tournaments came partly from studying chess books. The impressive successes of Kim Commons, however, may have come from a more natural ability in the royal game. At any rate, he continued winning many games in chess tournaments into the 1970’s, soon becoming one of the top American masters and entering into international competition. (I dropped out of formal competitions around 1971 but would occasionally notice his name in chess news.)

White: J. Whitcomb

Black: K. Commons

Long Beach Classic Open, Sections A & B (players rated 1600-1999), Sep 6, 1968, round 1 [translated into modern algebraic notation]

1) e4     c5

2) Nc3  d6

3) d3    g6

4) g3    Bg7

5) Bg2  Nc6

6) f4    e6

7) Be3  Nge7

8) Nf3  O-O

9) O-O  Rb8

10) Rb1  f5

White: Whitcomb; Black: Commons

11) Qe2  . . .

I believe this was my first small mistake, although many players would not see anything wrong with it. Perhaps the white queen would have been better placed on d2 than e2. On d2, it would allow for the possibility of later moving the knight at c3 to e2. The queen on d2 would also protect the knight on c3, while it is there, allowing for the possibility of moving the b-pawn to b3, in case that would be useful.

11) . . . .  b5

My best move now would probably have been a3.

12) Nd1  . . . .  This is not quite as trivial a mistake

12) . . . .  b4   Now I do not have the option of a3

13) c3    . . . .

I would have done better with c4 on my 13th move, for the en passant capture must be done immediately or that option is lost to Black. As it is, my opponent now has the option to capture my pawn on c3 later.

13) . . . .  Qa5

14) b3    bxc3

15) Bf2  fxe4

16) dxe4  Ba6

Black is winning this middle game of chess

The black bishop on a6 skewers White’s queen and rook, winning material

The game is pretty much over at this point, but I held onto a wispy hope for a miracle.

17) Qe3   Bxf1

18) Bxf1  c2

19) Rc1   cxd1(Q)

20) Rxd1  Nd4

21) Bc4   Qxa2

22) Nxd4  Bxd4

23) Bxe6+  Kg7

24) Rxd4  Qxa1+

White resigns

I don’t know how my opponent could have done any better than he did with his queen-side attack. I have found many points for improvement in my own game, however. Kim Commons improved his rating after this tournament, soon getting into the expert level (2047). According to chessgames.com, he won the California state championship in 1972, just four years after the above game was played. Apparently his performance rating for the Haifa Olympiad (1976) placed him at a level comparable to that of the 15th highest rated chess player in the world at that time.


Chess Book Reviews

[Comparing two books: How to Beat Your Dad at Chess, by Murray Chandler, and the newer publication Beat That Kid in Chess, by Jonathan Whitcomb]

The first is not really about defeating your father; the second is not really about defeating a kid. Both are exceptional at teaching you to win a chess game, but only within narrow limits: two different skill levels in chess.

New teaching method in a new chess book

The new paperback Beat That Kid in Chess may be the first publication to systematically use [the teaching method] “nearly-identical positions” (PIN). It was also written especially with the “early” beginner in mind.

Beginners’ chess book

Do you know someone who learned to play chess but then got discouraged from losing? “Beat That Kid in Chess” is for readers of many ages: adults, teenagers, and many older children. It accepts you as you are, leading you into knowing how to win.