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In Passing

In Passing
Edward S. Northam Print E-mail
By Phillip R Smith   
April 28, 2010
Edward S. Northam (1927-2010)

Edward Stafford Northam, a USCF life member from Orono, Maine and a prominent contributor to computer chess and chess variants, died at home of congestive heart failure on March 13, 2010. He was 82.

He was born October 18, 1927 in Lansing, Michigan, the son of Edward Arthur Northam and Mildred Carolyn (McMillan) Northam. He received a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and a master of science degree in physics from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He earned a doctorate in mathematics from Michigan State University in 1953. From 1953 to 1954, he worked in the research department at Bendix Aviation in Detroit before beginning a teaching career at Wayne State University in Detroit. He taught math there from 1954 to 1964. While on sabbatical, he attended Princeton University in New Jersey. In 1964, he and his family moved from Michigan to Orono, where he taught math at the University of Maine, transferring to the computer science department in 1985.

It was at the University of Maine that he met fellow mathematics professor George S. Cunningham, who was a member of the USCF Policy Board and later interim USCF executive director. Mr. Northam had competed in chess tournaments in the 1950s and 60s. But before he retired in 1991, he conducted research into new chess game variants, including Chess960, also known as Fischer Random Chess, where he suggested that players be allowed non-random setups of the initial positions of the pieces. His colleagues in computer chess included Hans Berliner and Danny Kopec. All three were involved in producing a taxonomy of concepts for evaluating chess strength, resulting from a computer conference held in October 1990.

Obit submitted by George Mirijanian, Massachusetts Chess Association