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John Grefe in Australia – The Chess and Meditation Tour Print E-mail
By David Lovejoy with material by GM Ian Rogers   
February 26, 2014
Grefe300.jpgJohn Grefe stood out not only because he was one of the rare untitled players to win the US Championship but also because of his appearance. Apart from his long flowing locks, he would usually play with a round badge on his chest, a badge showing the picture of Guru Maharaj Ji, the spiritual teacher who created the Divine Light Mission, a religious movement which began in India and established a branch in Denver in 1971.

As in the US, sponsorship for chess in Australia is notoriously hard to secure, but in the southern hemisphere summer of 1974/75 US Champion John Grefe toured Australia sponsored – remarkably – by the Divine Light Mission.

The tour came about because Garry Koshnitsky, then President of the Australian Chess Federation, had a son who was, like John Grefe, a follower of the guru. The present writer was at that time the general secretary of the DL mission in Australia, and Garry proposed that the federation would pay for John’s air travel from the US if my organisation would undertake to cover all his accommodation and travel within Australia.

As a chess tragic myself (a fact which Garry had shrewdly earlier ascertained by inviting me to play blitz with him) I leapt at the offer. It wasn’t entirely selfish: a tour by a well-known chess master allowed me to publicise the mental advantages of the meditation taught by my guru.

John Grefe in those days was an impressive figure. With his long hair and calm, centred demeanour he fitted perfectly into our ashrams, and his good looks stirred the hearts of not a few of the ‘house mothers’ designated to look after him. He was an excellent ambassador for the guru, patiently answering journalists’ questions about meditation and chess that were often uninformed on both topics, and occasionally hostile. The discipline of the ashrams worked well for John too, helping him develop his spiritual life free of any distractions – apart from blitz games with me.

For two months John travelled round the eastern capital cities, and I put off all my other work to accompany him. He gave half a dozen simultaneous exhibitions, in Melbourne losing to a 14-year-old who had not long before started out in tournament chess.

Melbourne 1975


and Black won on move 33. 13.Nd5!? would have kept the position messy.

While in Australia Grefe played in two of Australia's biggest tournaments. He won the first, a tournament in Queensland's capital of Brisbane, an event running through the New Year period of 1974/5 which was originally billed as the Australian Open but which had the title stripped as a result of a dispute between the organiser and the Australian Chess Federation.

Few of Grefe's games from the Brisbane Open have been preserved but here is a typical attacking effort from one of the early rounds.

Brisbane Open 1974/5

White: J.Grefe
Black: J.Harris
Opening: Sicilian Defence

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6 7.Be2 0-0 8.f4 d6 9.Nb3 a6?!


The famous Alekhine-Botvinnik game from 1936 continued 9...Be6 10.g4 d5 with crazy complications, but now White's attack is much harder to meet.
10.g4! e5?!
A move which was once played by Anand in a rapid game. (He lost.) Apart from that recommendation, only 10...b5 makes sense.
11.g5 Ne8 12.h4!


This loses by force. 12...exf4 was necessary.
13.Bc4+ Kh8 14.h5! fxg5 15.hxg6 h6 16.Rxh6+! Bxh6 17.Qh5 Kg7 18.fxg5 Bxg5 19.Qh7+ Kf6 20.Nd5+ 1-0

Gref300.jpgAfter Brisbane, the top local and Asian players who had competed in Brisbane headed to Melbourne for the Zonal tournament, while Grefe began his trip down the east coast, eventually arriving in Adelaide, Koshnitsky’s home town, where the 'real' Australian Open was to take place. Koshnitsky enjoyed John’s unique chess and meditation tour too, and for this final event invited Filipino Grandmaster Eugenio Torre, who had just won the Melbourne South-East Asian Zonal.
After beating top seed Torre in the seventh round of the Australian Open Grefe was well in the race for first place but had to be satisfied with third after a penultimate round loss to untitled local player Srbo Zaric. Australian Olympian Max Fuller played the tournament of his life and eclipsed the foreign masters.

Adelaide AUS Open 1975

White: J.Grefe
Black: E.Torre
Opening: Pirc Defence
Notes by John Grefe from the tournament book

The kind of game in which it is difficult to pinpoint the errors of the losing side.
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Nf3
This line tends to lead the struggle along positional lines. Other popular choices here are 4.f3 and 4.f4.
4...Bg7 5.Be2 0–0 6.0–0



6...Nc6 is a less common alternative. A recent interesting example is Karpov Korchnoi, Leningrad Interzonal 1973: 7.d5 Nb8 8.h3 c6 9.a4 a5 10.Bg5 Bd7 11.Re1 Na6 12.dxc6 Bxc6 13.Bb5 Nb4 14.Qe2 h6 15.Bf4 e5 16.Bh2 Rc8 17.Rad1 Qe7 18.Rd2 h5 Drawn; 6...Bg4 was popular for a time but lately has been overshadowed by the text.
7.a4 a5

Karklins-Grefe, Houston 1974, went 7...Qc7 8.a5 e5 9.dxe5 dxe5 10.Bc4 Nbd7 11.b4 Nh5 12.g3 Re8 13.Ng5 Re7 14.b5 Bf6! and White had a slight advantage.

Keene recommends 8.e5 dxe5 9.dxe5 Ng4 10.Bf4 Qxd1 (Not 10...Qc7 11.Qd4 Rd8 12.e6! and White has an advantage.) 11.Bxd1 Na6 12.h3 Nh6 13.g4! Nb4 14.Rc1 Be6 15.Be2 Rad8 16.Be3 f6 17.Nd4 Bc8 18.exf6 exf6 19.Nb3 f5! as in Langeweg-Bobotsov, Beverwijk 1965, with advantage for White. But of course improvements for Black are always possible.
8...Na6 9.Bf4 Nb4 10.h3 Qb6

An unusual try would be 10...Nh5 11.Bh2 f5!? as if Black plays passively, White will quietly consolidate his position: Rc1, Bf1, Qd2, Bh6, etc.

11.Bf1 also deserves consideration.
11...d5 12.e5 Ne4 13.Nxe4 dxe4 14.Ng5 Nd5

14...Bf5 15.g4 etc.
15.Nxe4 Bf5

15...Nxf4 16.Qxf4 Qxb2 17.Bd3 with advantage for White.
16.Nc5 Qxb2



17.c4 Qxd2 18.Bxd2 Nb4 with advantage for Black.
17...Qxc2 18.Rxb7 Rfd8
18...Rfb8 19.Rxb8+ Rxb8 20.Qxc2 Bxc2 21.Bd2 with advantage for White.
19.Rc1 Qxd2 20.Bxd2


Both players have strong and weak points in their positions, but the better coordination of White's pieces and the fact that Black's weaknesses are more vulnerable add up to a big plus for White. During the game I was sure White stood better, but I didn't realize how great his superiority was, as Black had made no obvious errors.

After this Black's position quickly becomes hopeless, but alternatives seem no better, e.g. 20...f6 21.e6 Rd6 22.Bf3 Bxe6 23.Nxe6 Rxe6

24.Rxc6! and White wins.
21.Rb3 f6 22.Nb7 Bxb7 23.Rxb7 fxe5 24.dxe5 Bxe5 25.Rxc6 Rdb8 26.Rb5 Nb4 27.Rxb8+ Rxb8 28.Rc5 Bd6 29.Rxa5

The rest of the game is played by Black under extreme time pressure, but in any case his game is lost.
29...Nc6 30.Rb5 Rc8 31.Bg4 Rc7 32.Be6+ Kg7 33.Bc3+ Kf8 34.Bb2 Ra7 35.Bd5 Nb4 36.Bb3 Nd3 37.Bd4 Ra8 38.g3 Ke8 39.a5 Rc8 40.a6 Nc5 41.Bxc5


Garry Koshnitsky created the most friendly and light-hearted social scene around the serious business of chess, with house parties, beach excursions and his own genial presence. Grefe and Torre were frequent blitz opponents at these parties and I seem to recall that John won the majority of their games.

John Grefe’s ‘Guru Tour’ was a great success and I did not receive the reprimand for trivialising meditation that I half expected from mission headquarters. For myself, I derived great personal pleasure from John’s friendship during those summer months, and a few years later, when I began to play tournament chess, I discovered that playing hundreds of (one-sided) blitz games with an international master had raised my game to state championship level.

Vale, John Grefe, brilliant player and gentle soul.

David Lovejoy is the founder editor of the Byron Shire Echo and the author of Between Dark and Dark and Moral Victories - the Story of Savielly Tartakower.