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Bill Mason (1964-2014) Print E-mail
By Steve Mayer   
April 22, 2014
BMasonson.jpgBill Mason of Bethesda, Maryland died at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda after a short, sudden illness two days short of his 50th birthday on March 16, 2014.  He leaves behind his wife, Sonha Mason, and their sons, John and Brian.  Bill held the title in USCF play of Original Life Master.

Bill grew up in Alexandria, Virginia and was born to Robert G. Mason and Carol Downs. The fourth member of their nuclear family was his younger sister Peggy.  All of them survive him, in addition to a stepfather, a step-brother and sisters, nieces, nephews, close cousins, et al.

Bill began playing USCF chess in late 1977 and soon had a rating over 1400.  This author met Bill in the spring of 1978 at the Arlington Chess Club.  We became fast friends, as only seven weeks separated us in age.

I was already rated a bit over 1700.  My father, Jack Mayer (1932-1993) had played USCF chess since 1944; his highest ranking  was  25th in the U.S. on the year-end 1963 ratings list.  Bill quickly sized up the situation and soon had me as his "chess brother" and Jack as his "chess dad." Jack made sure Bill & I were grounded in fundamentally sound positional play and an ability to evaluate and/or calculate positions quickly and with reasonable accuracy.

 Bill also played regularly for more 30 years at the Arlington Chess Club and in the Open Section of the D.C. chess league. Bill was a USCF Master when he graduated high school in 1982.  Some years later, when the Samford Fellowship began, Bill was asked to submit his chess qualifications for consideration.  He did so, but didn't receive it.

As an adult, Bill was sometimes very active in chess and sometimes didn't play much at all.  He was part of a chess team centered out of Duke University that won the U.S. Amateur Team Championship at least once back in the mid-1980s.  (Bill attended Duke as an undergrad and was graduated from there in 1986.)  Perhaps Bill's greatest individual tournament achievement was winning the Virginia State Championship in 1991.

The first GM he defeated was Sergei Kudrin; this was shortly the ratings history on the USCF website that begins its detailed records in late 1991.  The USCF website shows that in the 1990s Bill traded wins with such Grandmasters as  Alexander Ivanov and Jaan Ehlvest.  He also had draws with other GMs and wins and draws against many IMs starting as early as pre-1985. Bill's rating was in the 2390s on multiple occasions over the years.  He was also FIDE rated and at least as good as what's called "a strong FM" today, but for some reason he was never awarded that title.  As GM Alex Yermolinsky wrote of Bill in his classic 1999 book The Road to Chess Improvement, Bill had "profound positional understanding" and quick tactical sight of the board.

After he graduated from Duke, Bill subsequently went on to gain an MBA from the prestigious Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.  When he "settled into" his professional career, he worked in important jobs for two crucial Federal agencies in the Washington, D.C., area for over 20 years, where his friendly and trustworthy demeanor- coupled with the powers of analysis that he had gained or developed through chess and a good education- earned him excellent job evaluations and a high reputation among all of those who worked with him.

 About 250 people from all walks of life attended a memorial service for Bill that was held in April, 2014.  Bill knew so many people from so many circumstances that I think his memorial could have been five to ten times larger if he hadn't been struck down so unexpectedly by a fast moving cancer.

 The Washington, D.C. area chess scene is one that's vibrant and has a long collective memory. Bill's sudden death is the most painful thing to hit us since the even more sudden loss of IM Richard "Rick" Delaune a decade ago.  Many of us are still numb with shock and grief at the loss of a terrific member of our chess family.

 I'll let you in on a little secret, though. The Mayer-Mason School of American chess, whose patriarch began playing tournaments in 1944, has its newest member.  8 year-old Brian Mason began playing USCF chess last fall.  I live now in the Phoenix area, but will be meeting Brian for chess instruction and play later this summer. Check back in ten years to see if the Mayer-Mason school is celebrating its 80th year of active tournament play. 

Here is an exciting draw of Bill's that was played when he was 25.  It's against IM Walter Morris, who had recently moved to the D.C. area to work as a professor of mathematics at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. Walter kindly donated this game, which I don't believe is in any databases yet.  It's typical of the styles of both, as Mason tries to crash through on the queenside, while Morris hopes to subdue Mason's play long enough to bury White's king via a strong attack. After gaining an early advantage, Bill drifted a bit too much and almost lost, but recovered to hold a tough draw.  Its the kind of tough, gritty play that any good player has had to expect in the Virginia Closed Championship if they hope to win it.

 Bill Mason-IM Walter Morris, Virginia Closed Championship, 1989
1.d4 g6 2.c4 Bg7 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 0-0 5.e4 d6 6.Be2 e5 7.0-0 Nc6 8.d5 Ne7 9.Ne1 Nd7 10.Nd3 f5 11.Bd2 c5
11c5.jpg
(Fischer's suggestion from My 60 Memorable Games) 12. f3 f4 13.Rb1 g5 14.a3 Nf6 15.b4 b6 16.Be1 Rf7 17.Bf2 Bf8 18.Rb2 (Not a bad move per se, but I think Bill "sat on" his queenside advantage too long.  He needed to chop at c5 around here and start feeding his pieces into the queenside before Morris could get too far in his attack.) 18...Rg7 19.h3 h5 20.Be1 Ng6 21.Nf2 Nh4 22. bc bc 23.Qb1 g4 24.fg hg 25.Nxg4 Nxg4 26. Bxg4 Bxg4 27.hg Rxg4
27rg4.jpg
(Now it's clear that Mason is trying to survive.  As Bill used to say in this kind of situation "Bring crash pads.") 28.Qd1 Qg5 29.Bxh4 Qxh4 30.Rf3 Qg5 31.Qa4 Qg7 32.Qc6 Rd8 33.Kf1 Rd7 34.Qc8 Rg6 35.Nd1 Rf7 36.a4 Qf6 37.Rbf2 Qg7 38.Rb2 draw
 
 
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April - Chess Life Online 2014

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