A History of the Kenilworth Chess Club

by Michael David Wojcio

1972-1980 | 1980-1990 | The Club Championship | Exhibitions | The Future


The Old Timers

In the early 80’s Joe Waln came to the club. He was our oldest player. He was handicapped, with a wooden foot, and he moved about on crutches. Joe always said that he was a “D-player.” He never played in a rated tournament to establish a rating, but in my opinion his strength was about “C” (1400-1599) or even “B” (1600-1799). I was a D and sometimes C player at that time. Joe had a great sense of humor. He would look at a difficult position and if he could not figure it out he would call it a master game. I truly think it was then that the Kenilworth Chess Club players in the 1980’s had the most fun, but when you get older you tend to favor those good old days over the present time. I will always remember that Joe recited his favorite poem many times when he played a game and none of the members would mind, even if they were playing a serious game. They just laughed. I remember he recited it one night during a snow storm when it was very apropos:

The Cremation of Sam McGee

There are strange things done in the midnight sun. By the men who moil for gold; The Artic trails have their secret tales That would make your blood run cold; The Northern Lights have seen queer sights, But the queerest they ever did see Was that night on the marge of Lake Labarge I cremated Sam Mc Gee.

Now Sam Mc Gee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows. Why he left his home in the South to roam ‘round the Pole, God only knows. He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell; Though he’d often say in his homely way that “he’d sooner live in hell”.

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail. Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail. If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see; It wasn’t much fun, but the only one to whisper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow, And the dogs were fed. and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe, He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he, “I’ll cash in this trip, I guess: And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.”

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no; then he says with a sort of moan: “It’s the cursed cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone. Yet ‘tain’t being dead-it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains; So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll creamate my last remains.”

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail; And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale. He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee; And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn’t a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven, With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid, because of a promise given; It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: “You may tax your brawn and brains, But you promised true, and it’s up to you to creamate those last remains.”

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code. In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load. In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring. Howled out their woes to the homeless snows - O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow; And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low; The trail was bad, and I felt half med, but I swore I would not give in; And I’d often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of the Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay; I was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the “Alice May” And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum; Then “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry, “is my cre-ma-tor-eum”.

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire; Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher; The flames just soared, and the furnace roared-such a blaze you seldom see; And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like to hear him sizzle so; And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow. It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don’t know why, And the grassy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear; But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near; I was sick with dread, but I bravely said; “I’ll just take a peep inside. I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I looked”,…then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar; And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: “Please close that door, It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm- Since I left Plum tree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”

There are strange things done in the midnight sun. By the men who moil for gold, The Artic trails have their secret tales That would make your blood run cold; The Northern Lights have seen queer sights, But the queerest they every did see Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge I cremated Sam McGee.

Robert Service (1874-1958)

Then as we entered 1984 not many players came to the club. I was busy myself and more often drove by on club nights than stopped in. Sometimes I noticed the lights were on and would stop to find Irving Ellner there by himself as if keeping a vigil. He would just be analyzing games. I tried to come more often, if only to support Irving’s efforts, but it was really Irving alone who kept the club running from about 1980 to 1986. Some time around 1985, as Irving was giving more responsibility to me, I decided to start a drive for more members to keep the club alive. I called all the older members and tried to find new ones. I was on the phone and travelling to other clubs constantly. The club started to become more active again. Soon, as many as 15 to 20 players were coming every week.

The Story of a Club Record

A player appeared sometime after 1985 and his name was “Doc.” I don’t recall if anyone ever asked him if he was a doctor. No one ever knew much about him. He liked playing chess with Joe Laskowski. Joe was a member for more then 10 years by then and was rated about 1200, but he occasionally won a game against a stronger player. I remember Richard Lawrence (a B-player) telling me one evening on the phone that Joe beat him last night. When I first met Rich he would usually beat me, but he would always checkmate Joe in 5-minute chess. Soon Joe stopped playing in our tournaments and just played with Doc. After a while they would come to the club and just play each other 5-minute chess every week.

One day Joe and Doc showed up and they started playing at 7:00 p.m.--an hour before the club typically opened. After 11:00 p.m., only four members (including myself) were playing and I remember that night like it was yesterday. I was laughing since they were so serious and just trying to beat each other through many games. I stayed late with several other members until about 2:00 a.m. and I remember telling Doc and Joe to close up and gave them the keys. Well the next week Joe told me they closed up at 1:00 p.m. the next day! Joe told me they just kept playing each other and would only stop when someone had to go to bathroom. So they played for about 18 hours straight, all though the night, at that same 5-minute time control! He told me some games would last the full ten minutes, but then when they started to get tired someone would blunder right away and they would start a new game and Joe mentioned to me that it got to a point where their 5-minute games lasted about a minute each. He said that he thinks they played more than 250 games and he didn’t have any idea who won more games!

I really cracked up when Joe told me this story. I remember once playing chess all night when I was a student in Sacramento, California (soon after I returned from England), but I never played 18 hours straight. I might have played 10 or so games of a half-hour each. Of course, there have been some chess players in the world who probably played longer. No doubt Guinness has something about that. But I don’t think Doc and Joe's record will ever be beaten at the Kenilworth Chess Club. It was sad since Joe died several years later from a heart attack and I never saw Doc again after that.

A Ghost Story?

From 1985 to about 1989 I was the unofficial president, until officially elected in 1989. Sometime between 1986 and 1988 it wasn’t that enjoyable going to the Kenilworth Chess Club, since another club had the main room and we had to meet in the smaller room (where the TV is now). Consequently things were a little cramped. The thing that was a nuissance was that we could not even use the bathroom in that main room. So if nature were calling the players would have to go to the Kenilworth Diner or Rapetti’s Restaurant across the street. Those were tough times for the club.

Around the beginning of 1987 Irving told me a story about what happened one night. An “Expert,” Irving was our strongest player during the decade of the 80’s until National Master Scott Massey started coming regularly in about 1989. One very cold winter night Irving opened up the club around 7:30 p.m. I drove by about 10:00 p.m. and saw the light on. I didn’t go in that night, since I knew the snow would limit the turnout and I had to do progress reports for the students I taught. Maybe the ghost of Sam McGee was there trying to get warm? Well Irving was sitting there by himself analyzing games, as usual, and was about to leave around 9:00 p.m., since no one else showed up. Just when he was crossing the threshold, in came an International Master of local renown (I’m sure you can guess who I mean). I don’t ever remember this IM coming to the Kenilworth Chess Club before or after (he has since passed away), but he was there that night. Well Irving’s over-the-board rating at that time was about 2020 and the IM had an over-the-board rating of over 2400. Irving started playing him a game with the black pieces. He told me that the IM dropped a pawn in the opening. He thought it was a gambit that he had never seen before. Then in the middle game Irving told me the IM kept on telling him to move faster, since they didn’t play with a chess clock. Finally as time went by the IM dropped a second pawn and was losing the game. The IM then left without saying anything to Irving. Irving thought he had stepped out to go to bathroom across the street. He waited for more than a half hour, but the IM never came back. In fact he was never seen at the Kenilworth Chess Club again.

My Years as President

When I was officially elected to be president of the club in 1988 we also elected officers and some were Rich Falcetano, Greg Tomkovich, Scott Massey, Bill Cohen, Ed Rodda, Barry Jaffe, Joe Walyus (one of the original founders). We still had the old regulars there like Sy Fish and George Zayat, both of whom were founding members. George was rated about 1300, but he must have been one of the best 1300 players who ever played speed chess in New Jersey and I am not exaggerating this point. He just wiped out most of the B-players. By that time I had become a B-player myself and George usually beat me too. When George entered a tournament for the usual $1.00 every week we had three prizes and George would smile and get his usual $2.00, $3.00 or $5.00 pay-off depending on how many entered the tournament. When we had a fast time controlled event and an under-1500 prize George would usually win it. Everyone could not believe his rating. George was really a B- to A-player, who just didn’t play any rated games since the 70’s. In slow chess we could beat George, but at speed he was way better than his rating.

In 1989 the club started to grow again. Sy Fish at that time played many games with Frank Lamantino and many new people started joining the club like Master Scott Massey, Pat Mazzillo, Ira Sack, Bill Cohen, Pedro Figeuroa, Rich Lewis (although he was even more active in the Westfield Chess Club), Bill Simonitis (from Kenilworth), Frank Fioritti, Barry Jaffe, Greg Tomkovich, Mark Schwarcz, Ziggy Bliznikas, Jerry Grzyb (from Poland), Ken Clausen, Jack McCorkell, Dennis Perri, Al Mays, Peter Olszewski, Tom Shih, Rene Ray, Michael Ferrante, and Carlos-Sanchez-Vilaro. Other members that joined about that time and into the 1990’s were Phillip Enrico Jr., Rick Pijuan, Jerry Culligan, Luis Gonzalez, Joe Renna, Pedro Figueroa, Dennis Perri, Jack McCorkell, Pete Cavaliere, Pat Tarasco, Dennis Perri, Ray Massey, Ed Selling, Bill Bluestone, Ed Rodda and Richard Falcetano. Out of all the names I just mentioned only Scott Massey, Pat Mazzillo, myself, Pete Cavaliere, Andy Wolman and Sy Fish still attend at least occasionally. Pat Mazzillo did a lot as Treasurer and Member at Large. Ed Rodda came from Cuba and was an active club member from about 1988. At that time the dues were up to $5.00 a year. Ed’s twin brother Jorge, who is an expert chess player, lives in Cuba. Ed got a precious chess book from his brother signed by Capablanca. He tried to sell it at the club, but no one was interested, so I assume he still has it.

Bill Bluestone

Bill Simonitis

Jack McCorkell

Jason Cohen


As we neared the end of the 1980s, Irving was not coming that much anymore and we renamed the club the Kenilworth Chess Club again. Actually, most of the members were calling it the “Kenilworth Chess Club” for the past five years anyway, but in 1989 we made it official. I started the "Kenilworth Kibitzer" in 1988 and wrote it every month for 12 years. It was a fun publication and many times I would include pictures too. Our treasurer Jack McCorkell would let me use his copier at his business near the club. This was good since I sent the Kibitzer to many chess players throughout New Jersey. Greg Tomkovich continued the Kenilworth Kibitzer for two years while he was president from 2000 to 2002. I kept a copy of most every one of them and they have been indispensible in writing and fact-checking this article.

Sy Fish (partial), Frank Lamantino, and Vin Smith (seated)

George Zayat and Irving Ellner


Looking back, there are a few things I regret.

We have only rarely had women members throughout the years. Only Pat Tarasco, who also played in many of our simultaneous exhibitions, came more than a few times. Chess has always attracted more men than women as players. But it may also be that, however open we are to women, our all-male membership does not make them feel completely at home. If anyone has any suggestions for how we might change that, let me know.

We also never had a regular Kenilworth Team in the U.S. Amateur Team Tournament. I played, of course, as did many members. But we did not represent the club. I was on the Chessaholics. Other members were on teams with names like The Space Invadors, Nasty Boys, Elliot Chess and the Unmatables, and The Legion of Doom. It was good to see the Kenilworth Chess Club enter two teams into the 2005 U.S. Amateur Teams East, and for our A-team with Steve Stoyko, Scott Massey, Ed Allen, and Mike Goeller to take the prize for “Best New Jersey Team.” I hope this becomes a Kenilworth tradition.

One thing that we never did was have a chess match with the Kenilworth Chess Club located in the Midlands in Kenilworth, England. I have traveled to 11 Kenilworths in the world and Kenilworth, England four times. If they don’t want to play us a match I hope we can just play them a friendly game someday. Mind you, I visited their club once and enjoyed the experience very much. You can learn a great deal from other clubs.

Finally, I regret that we did not have more team matches generally. When I was in Kenilworth, England they showed me a list of clubs that they had matches with. The Kenilworth Chess Club in England has many more club matches than we have in America. I hope we can start having matches as much as they do. Pete Cavaliere and Ed Selling arranged matches with the Staten Island Club. Even though we have not had many matches during our 33 year history we played the Staten Island Club the most--about five times. Pete is also the president of the Staten Island Chess Club. The last time that the Kenilworth Chess Club played team matches was in the mid 1980’s to mid 1990’s when we used to go to the West Orange Chess Club in West Orange and play matches there on Tuesdays. We did have a good time and almost won the championship there one year. Some years two teams from Kenilworth went to West Orange to play in these matches. Joe Demetrick is organizing one this summer and again in the Fall, and I hope we play more matches against other clubs in the future.

Here are a couple of games from team matches we had against nearby Westfield Chess Club. In the first, Pete Cavaliere defeats Ernesto Labate, a well-known player at Westfield for many years who was a Judo champion at an advanced age. Ernie still helps out quite a lot with Westfield tournaments.

Cambridge Springs Defense 
Yugoslav Variation 

Ernesto Labate
Pete Cavaliere

Kenilworth CC at Westfield CC, Team Match
Westfield, NJ USA, 1996

1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Nbd7 5. e3 c6 6. Nf3 Qa5 7. cxd5 Nxd5 8. a3?! This does not help White meet the threats along the a5-e1 diagonal. Necessary was 8. Qd2 Bb4 9. Rc1 = 8... Nxc3 9. Qd2 Bb4! 10. Rc1 Nd5 11. axb4 Qxb4 12. Bd3?! This appears to expose the Bishop to attack and therefore gains no real time. White might have more compensation for the pawn after 12. e4 12... Qxd2+ 13. Kxd2 f6! 14. Bh4 Nb4 15. Bc4 Nb6 16. Be2 N6d5?! 16... >= Kf7 17. Bg3 Na2? Now White gets pressure along the a-file by attacking the Knight with gain of time. 18. Ra1 Nab4 19. e4! Ne7 20. Bd6 Na6 21. Rhc1 Nb8 22. Bxb8 Rxb8 23. Rxa7 Bd7 White has won back his pawn and now has the edge. Pete has a lot of work to do to battle back. 24. Rca1 O-O 25. Bc4 Kh8 26. b4 Nc8 27. R7a2 Nd6 28. Bd3 b5 29. Ke3 Nc4+ 30. Bxc4 bxc4 31. Ra7 Rfd8 32. Rb1?! Ra8 33. Rba1?! 33. Rxa8! Rxa8 34. Rc1! Ra3+ 35. Kd2 33... Rab8! 34. Nd2 c3 35. Nb1? c2 36. Nc3?! 36. Na3 Rxb4 37. Nxc2 Rb3+ 38. Kd2 36... Rxb4 37. Kd2? Necessary was to round up the advanced c-pawn with 37. Rc1 37... Rxd4+ 38. Kxc2 e5 39. Rc7 Be6 40. Rxc6 Rd2+ 41. Kc1 Bb3 42. Ra3 Bg8 43. Rc7 Rxf2 44. Nd5 Bxd5 45. Rd3 Ra8 0-1


Here Dr. Richard Lewis, one-time president of the Westfield club, suffers a rare defeat in team play at the hands of Greg Tomkovich. Greg has a rocky start but a smoothly played finish.

Sozin (with...a6 &...b5) 

Greg Tomkovich
Richard Lewis

Kenilworth CC v Westfield CC

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 Nf6!? A finesse that Mike Valvo once analyzed at the Westfield Club after studying the games of Gheorghiu. 4. Nc3 cxd4 5. Nxd4 a6 6. Bc4 e6 7. O-O Be7 8. Bg5 b5 9. Bd3 Bb7 10. Kh1 Perhaps first 10. a3 10... b4 11. Bxf6 Bxf6 12. Nce2 d5 13. f3 O-O 14. exd5 Bxd5 15. c3 Qb6 Black should use the opportunity to inflict a weakness on White with 15... bxc3! 16. bxc3 Qc7 and the two Bishops and White's weak c-pawn should give Black a solid edge. 16. Qc2 g6 17. Qd2?! 17. Be4 17... Rd8! 18. Qf4? Bg7? Both players must have overlooked how Black's Queen defends the Bishop at f6 on 18... e5! forking the Queen and Knight. 19. Nc2 bxc3 20. bxc3 Bxa2? Pawn-grabs like this are often punished. 21. Bxg6 Desperado! White can win the exchange by 21. Rxa2! Rxd3 22. Qe4 Rd2 23. Qxa8 Rxe2 24. Nb4 Rxa2 25. Nxa2 21... hxg6 22. Rxa2 Qb3 23. Rfa1 Bxc3 24. Nxc3 Qxc3 25. Ne3 Qb3?! 25... Nc6 26. h3! Qb5 27. Ng4! Nc6?! Black has wasted the last three moves and played without attention to Greg's growing threats. Necessary was 27... Nd7= 28. Qf6! Qb7 29. Ra4! Rd5? 29... Qe7 30. Nh6+ Kh7 31. Qxe7 Nxe7 32. Nxf7 30. Nh6+ Kf8 30... Kh7 31. Rh4!-> 31. Rf4! Nd8 32. Qxg6 Greg could win Rich's Queen with 32. Nxf7! Qxf7 (32... Nxf7 33. Qh8+ Ke7 34. Rxf7+ Kxf7 35. Qh7+ +-) 33. Qh8+ Ke7 34. Rxf7+ Kxf7 35. Rc1! +- 32... Ra7 33. Re1! the gang's all here... 33... Qc7 34. Qg8+ Ke7 35. Rxf7+ Nxf7 36. Qxf7+ Kd8 37. Qg8+ Ke7 38. Rxe6+ Kd7 39. Qe8# A nice finish! 1-0



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Updated June 08, 2005