Saying goodbye is always hard; I have a friend who used to be an avid skydiver… logging more than 300 skydives a year. One day he just quit and cut all ties, I asked him why. He said, “To be an active member of this community means to lose a friend and someone you deeply care about on a regular basis. I just couldn’t take it anymore. All the great people I knew… and that’s part of choosing this hobby.”
Sadly, of late, it has felt much the same in the chess community… We have lost many great talents recently whether they were organizers, directors, players or supporters (IA Ken Ballou, Local Chicago Organizer John Porter, Former USCF President Harold Winston, WIM Arianne Caoili, even Garry Kasparov’s mother Klarna). Some of these people have been colleagues and others friends but on July 30th I lost someone that to me was a friend, mentor and teammate. And now another titan passes, the #5 US correspondence player at the time of his passing with a rating of 2540, SIM Kurt Stein born July 4th, 1959 died of heart failure on Friday July 30th, 2021 immediately after moving out of his apartment. I had last spoken to Kurt the night before. A great obituary piece was written for the ICCF by Kurt’s dear friend SIM Ken Holroyd. I am going to do my best to supplement my own memorial in Kurt’s memory.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am sure we all have some friend or closed loved one to be mourning but for me losing my friend Kurt Stein has been rather gut wrenching. When I first met Kurt over a decade ago, he did not take a shine to me. In fact, quite the opposite, he found out that I was a highly rated correspondence player and took every opportunity to tell me that I was wasting my time since no one could beat chess engines. In 2015, Kurt began to play correspondence himself. And soon thereafter, he joined my team at the Downers Grove Chess Club for the Chicago Industrial Chess League. After a few conversations around correspondence, Kurt sheepishly admitted to being wrong about correspondence and then excitedly began to talk about all the amazing little things he was discovering in the sport. From there a real friendship began to blossom, Kurt’s quick ability to analyze just about any situation lended to great and deeply meaningful conversations (not just chess but anything as Kurt had both a JD MBA from Northwestern and was a Masters in Engineering from University of Michigan). During the lockdowns in Chicago, I usually talked to Kurt on the phone for hours every night (often joking with him that these conversations were what kept me sane).
No chess obituary is complete without at least a few games, but I like to also include stories and context for some games. In April 2018, I won a game over the board in the Bangkok Open as white that featured a Benko. The reason I share this game is because the win was inspired by a Kurt Stein correspondence that he won in 2015. The Benko often produces wins for white because Black has sacrificed a pawn for a solid structure, pressure and often endgame advantages. What rarely happens in the Benko though is White pushing through a stunning Kingside attack. As I sat at the board looking for ideas because all the regular Benko strategies for White were not working, I remembered a lovely kingside attack by Kurt in his correspondence game. Aside from being in the Benko, they are completely different lines entirely but both feature very nice kingside attacks.
Bangkok Open April 14th, 2018
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.bxa6 g6 6.Nc3 Bxa6 7.Nf3 d6 8.g3 Bg7 9.e4 Nbd7 10.Bxa6 Rxa6 11.0–0 0–0 12.Re1 Ng4 13.Qe2 Qa8 14.Ng5 Ngf6 15.f4 Ne8 16.Be3 Nc7 17.h4 Nb6 18.h5 Na4 19.hxg6 hxg6 20.Qh2 Rb8 21.Qh7+ Kf8 22.f5! Rxb2 23.fxg6 Ne8 24.gxf7 [24.Ne6+; 24.Rf1] 24...Nf6 25.Rf1 Nxc3 [25...Nxh7 26.Ne6#; 25...e5 26.Ne6+ Ke7 27.Qxg7 Kd7 28.f8Q#] 26.Qg8+ Nxg8 27.Ne6#
Stein,Kurt W. - Kurbasov,Sergey Aleksandrovic
CT21/pr53 ICCF, 01.10.2015
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.bxa6 g6 6.Nc3 Bg7 7.e4 0–0 8.Be2 Qa5 9.Bd2 Bxa6 10.Nf3 d6 11.0–0 Bxe2 12.Qxe2 Qa6 13.Qd1 Nbd7 14.a4 Qd3 15.Ne1 Qa6 16.Nf3 Qd3 17.Ne1 Qa6 18.b3 Rfb8 19.Rb1 Ne8 20.Qc2 c4 21.b4 Bxc3 22.Bxc3 Qxa4 23.Qd2 Nef6 24.f3 Ne5 25.Nc2 Nfd7 26.Nd4 Qa2 27.Qh6 Qa3 28.Rfc1 Nf6 29.Kh1 Qa7 30.b5 Nh5 31.g4 Nf6 32.Rg1 Qa3 33.Nf5 gxf5 34.gxf5+ Ng6 35.Rbc1 Qa7 36.Rg3 Rxb5 37.fxg6 fxg6 38.Rcg1 Rb7 39.h4 1–0
However, probably my favorite Kurt Stein correspondence win was the following game (please play this one out with a physical board! I promise it is worth it!):
Stein,Kurt W. - Oppermann,Peter
CT21/pr53 ICCF, 01.10.2015
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3 c5 4.d5 d6 5.e4 Bg7 6.Ne2 0–0 7.Nbc3 Nbd7 8.Ng3 a6 9.a4 h5 10.Be2 h4 11.Nf1 Re8 12.Bg5 h3 13.g4 Nh7 14.Be3 Ndf8 15.Qd2 e6 16.Ng3 exd5 17.cxd5 Nd7 18.0–0 Ne5 19.Qd1 Qh4 20.Kh1 Rb8 21.Bf2 Qe7 22.f4 Nd7 23.g5 f6 24.f5 Nxg5 25.fxg6 Ne5 26.Nf5 Bxf5 27.exf5 b5 28.axb5 axb5 29.Bxb5 Rxb5 30.Nxb5 Qd7 31.Qa4 Rb8 32.Nc3 Qxf5 33.Bg3 Qxg6 34.Bxe5 dxe5 35.Rf2 Rb4 36.Qd7 Rd4 37.Rg1 Kh7 38.Re2 Qd3 39.Rg3 Rf4 40.Qxh3+ Nxh3 41.Rxd3 Nf2+ 42.Rxf2 Rxf2 43.d6 Bf8 44.Ne4 Rxb2 45.Nxf6+ Kg6 46.Nd7 Bh6 47.Nxe5+ Kf5 48.d7 1–0
At this time, there is no Funeral information to provide but his memorial service will most likely be in September but the date has not been determined.