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Larry Evans was a United States chess champion at 19, a grandmaster at 25 and one of the foremost journalists and authors on the sport over the past 40 years. He was honored as “the Dean of American Chess” at the 2007 American Chess Associations 150th Anniversary.
Evans, a longtime Reno resident, died on Nov. 15 at Renown Regional Medical Center due to complications from gall bladder surgery. He was 78.
“(Grandmaster) Evans is arguably the most versatile figure in American chess history,” wrote Larry Parr, a former editor of “Chess Life,” in a tribute to Evans on the website of the United States Chess Federation. “Larry Evans was the Chess Teacher of America. He did everything.”
A native of New York, Evans was born March 23, 1932 in Manhattan. He won the Marshall Chess Club championship at age 15 and was New York state champion at 18, earning a spot on the United States team in the Chess Olympiad in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, where he won an individual gold medal.
He won his first United States Championship in 1951 at age 19 and repeated as champion the following year. He also won U.S. titles in 1961, 1968 and 1980. He also won four United States Open championships, and played on eight Olympiad teams.
Always a teacher, he helped prepare Bobby Fischer for the World Chess Championship in 1972.
He moved to Reno in 1968 where he met and married local artist Ingrid Seiver.
He wrote a syndicated column titled “Evans on Chess” which appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world, including the Reno Evening Gazette (later the Reno Gazette-Journal). He also authored or co-authored more than 20 books on chess.
Evans was also an expert commentator for Time magazine and ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” for some of the most important chess matches of the past 40 years, including the 1972 Fischer versus Boris Spassky match, the 1993 world title battle between Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short and the Braingames world chess championship match between Vladimir Kramnik and Kasparaov in 2000.
In Reno, Evans occasionally participated in exhibitions in which he would play 20 or more games at the same time.
Bill Rockenbeck, 42, was a 6-year-old when he had the opportunity to play in one of those exhibitions against Evans.
“I loved playing chess at the time and thought I was pretty good,” said Rockenbeck, who now lives in Redmond, Wash. “I’m told he was very nice to me and let me go on for a while — while he was beating me and 60 other people simultaneously. I remember it was a shining moment for a 6-year-old.”
In a 1988 interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal, Evans said he tried to use his place in world of chess to help others.
“I try to be a force of good in the game,” he said.
He is survived by his wife Ingrid and two step-sons Mike and Gary Seiver. At his request, there will be no memorial service. Family and friends will gather in the near future for a private celebration of his life.