George Koltanowski - (1903-2000)
George Koltanowski touched the lives of so many people in so many ways that I doubt even he could begin to imagine the impact he has had in promoting chess in the U.S. Or will continue to have.
Back in the late 1970s, a 12 year old started coming to my First Sunday Quads (Edison, NJ) on a regular basis. Nice kid, well-mannered, improving with every outing – with his mother giving him lessons and going over his games. One day she asked, “Do you know George Koltanowski?” Well, who doesn’t know George Koltanowski! I filled her in as to what George was doing and where he was living. She in turn, told me how she met Kolty in Milwaukee many unspecified years earlier, just about when she was her son’s age. After encouragement and guidance from George, she took up chess that summer – and won the playground championship. And a brand new bicycle! And she hasn't stopped since (she later became Councilwoman for Edison Township). And she wanted her son to experience what she experienced so many summers earlier.
Not the thrill of winning a bike, but a valuable lesson in self-esteem, can-do-ism, and accomplishment. Setting a goal and achieving it.
Just think of the thousands of Knight Tours, lectures, and simuls, given at chess clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, PTA meetings, B.P.O.E. halls, Rotarian Clubs, Chamber of Commerce meetings – anywhere there was an audience. The seeds he planted in the 1940s bore fruit in the 1970s. The passion for the game that he instilled in so many in the 1950s, burned anew in the 1980s.
And will continue to burn in the new millennium, as the next generation of Kolty’s kids (grandchildren and great-grandchildren, really), passes on Kolty’s enthusiasm and love for the royal game. George won’t write another column for the San Francisco Chronicle. He won’t push another pawn.
But he hasn’t abandoned us. Not by a long shot.