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In Passing

In Passing
Bill Lukowiak Print E-mail
By Phillip R Smith   
June 12, 2013

Bill Lukowiak (1942-2012)

I first met Bill at the old Boston Chess Studio on Newbury Street in 1972 It was the height of the Fischer boom, and it seemed as if everyone was playing chess. And if you were interested in chess the Chess Studio was the place to be.

At the time, Bill was the partner of Erik Helmreich, a recent immigrant from Germany in running the studio. They made a colorful pair. Erik worked the day shift and Bill presided over the evenings. 4 days a week. Bill sat at his desk in an old sweater smoking his pipe (Yes, you could smoke inside in those days.) And he would greet the customers as they came in, usually with some acerbic observation for the regulars. He kept a bottle of Scotch in a cabinet which he would take out as the evening wore on. It made for a convivial evening. We soon became good friends. We even roomed together for a couple of years in the mid-seventies.

Bill was a good player (his peak rating was about 2300), and an even better teacher. I learned a lot from him during the days we roomed together. He always emphasized the endgame, which most American players neglect. Through our analysis together I developed an appreciation for this phase of the game from him, and this knowledge has served me well over the years.

Bill never completed college but he was a very educated and knowledgeable person. His apartment was crammed with books and he had an extensive collection of classical records. He was a voracious reader and acquired a vast, if slightly quixotic, store of knowledge.

Where Bill really made his mark was as a tournament director. He was a National Tournament Director for the USCF, and also a FIDE arbiter. He directed several international events. Even as a high school student he made his mark as a TD. He assisted in directing several US Championships in the late 1950’s. He also organized and directed the US Open Championship, held in Boston in 1988.

His most memorable moment was in the 1959 US Championship, which was won by Bobby Fischer. He collected Fischer’s score sheet after Fischer defeated IM James Sherwin. Fischer won a beautiful game which was game number 1 in his book “My 60 Memorable Games.” Bill kept the score sheet, but at some point threw it away. He didn’t realize it would become famous, and always regretted this blunder.

Bill was also President of the Boylston Chess Club for several years, both at its original location at 48 Boylston Street in Boston and at the YWCA on Clarendon street. As his “day job” Bill worked as a security officer at the historic Trinity Church in Copley Square Boston.

Bill moved from Boston to Somerville in the late seventies. He had a nice apartment and still had his great collection of books and records. He would periodically host chess events there. His most memorable event was hosting a party for Mikhail Tal during the ex-world champion’s visit to Boston. in 1988. It was a great event.

Bill and Mikhail became immediate friends, and the following evening Bill invited Tal to his apartment for a few drinks. It was a festive evening and Tal, who was a very amiable person, played blitz chess against all comers. He was chain smoking, drinking and making jokes, while giving exorbitant odds at blitz chess. It was amazing to watch his wizardry under these conditions.

In some sense this was the “last hurrah” for Bill. He had always been his own person, but in the early 90’s he lapsed into depression. He lost his job at the Trinity Church and then in 1995, after a dispute with his landlord, he lost his apartment and slipped into homeless. Nonetheless Bill would still come to visit from time to time. He would wash his clothes and clean up, and perhaps stay for a day or two when the weather was especially cold. He was still very sharp and well informed on current events. He and my wife became good friends and went to the Kendall Square Cinema to watch independent movies. The rest of his time was spent in the Malden area, especially in the area around the mystic lakes. He was a regular at the town library, and had established a daily routine.

Over the years his visits became fewer and fewer and we gradually lost contact. This past March a hiker in the woods around Malden found a body in a makeshift tent. It was eventually identified as Bill. He had just turned 70. Bill was a good friend of mine. I will miss him.

Obituary submitted by Bill Kelleher through George Mirijanian.

Bill Lukowiak may you rest in peace.

 
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