1982 Badger Chess Interview with William Martz

Reprinted with permission of Bill Williams, Badger Chess editor from the October 1982 edition.

This interview was conducted about two weeks after Wisconsin’s William Martz had won the U.S. Open Co-Championship with GM Andrew Soltis.  It took place in the chess room of the townhouse apartment that he and his wife, Norma, dwell in Wauwatosa.  The walls are lined with bookshelves, each one packed with chess volumes on every subject one might wish to examine, and atop the bookshelves are the many trophies he has accumulated in his 20-odd year career as Wisconsin’s leading player.  Also present for the interview (although he declined to comment for publication) was his good friend Dr. Robert Huebner, a name well known to chess fans.  The interview ended abruptly, when the tape recorder used to record his answers ran out of tape—much to the embarrassment of this confused editor.

When and where did you begin playing chess?

I began playing chess when I was a senior in high school at about age 15, and I was brought up on the tournaments in Milwaukee.  It was the custom in those days to hold the Thanksgiving and Fourth of July tournaments at good hotels; either the Plankington or the Schroeder, or similarly good sites. They were quite well organized and playing conditions were very good when compared with modern swiss-system events.  So, I became interested in chess because it seemed a pleasant thing to do. Being competitive by nature, and being a little artistic, one finds chess a good means to express oneself … a good outlet for a competitive spirit.

Where did you attend college?

I attended the University of Wisconsin for three or four years and took a degree in mathematics which I haven’t seen fit to use.

I understand you also studied law

Yes.  I have a Doctor of Law degree from Marquette University.  I also don’t practice law.  I don’t feel that the education is lost—It’s not necessary to work in the field you study, and I haven’t found it convenient to do so.

Many people who don’t know you well might only association you with your shopping mall exhibitions because, until about a year and a half ago, you have been fairly inactive in the Midwest—

Now you’re showing that you’re a Johnny-come-lately to midwestern chess.

In the 60’s in particular I played a large number of tournaments in the area and in many other states.  I have played tournament chess in 31 states and 11 foreign countries.  I’ve played an enormous number of games against almost all the established midwestern masters.

It’s true, in the last few years I’ve either become more finicky in my selection of tournaments because of conditions, or perhaps tournaments are worse.  Now organizers are more interested in the quantity of players rather than the quality of play.  They don’t seem to attend to the wishers of the stronger players; they don’t seem to have any interest in inviting them to their tournaments; so I play less frequently.

So it’s not that you’ve lost your desire to play—but rather that it’s difficult to find tournaments that meet certain conditions?

Right.  I don’t require prize funds of any particular size—in fact, I’ve often played only for trophies—but I do like it when the organizers make special effort to see that the conditions are satisfactory so that it’s possible to produce the best chess that the players are capable of.  I think this is very important.

I don’t like the games to be decided by who is better physically prepared; who can ignore noise better; or who has the biggest ear muffs.  I don’t want this type of thing to be decisive.  I would rather that the player who beats me actually plays better chess than I do and that we’re both in reasonably good form.

I don’t like to play three games a day—even two games a day is a hardship against strong players.  The tournament site should be well chosen and the higher boards should be segregated so that spectators cannot lean over the boards and comment on the game during play.

It’s very hard to be a good tournament organizer and director.  These are not simple jobs and I don’t think the USCF does a service by proliferating the numbers of these people without tightening the qualifications.  It should be a post that is not simple to obtain.  One should have to do a little more studying and have more experience before one gets recognition.

Of course we need directors in every area of the country—even in small clubs—but there should be many more levels of competency.  Some type of graduation of directors—much as the ratings of players—should be in effect.  Directors should be assessed in their duties, and by the number of complaints lodged against them, so that they, too can compete to demonstrate their excellence.

You recently played in the strongest tournament in the U.S. in ten years—the Cloverline.  How would you assess your performance there?

As your readers will already know, I finished last, but I was seeded last and the players against me were all strong grandmaster.  Most of them, I would venture to say are professional players.

My plan was adequate.  I lost four games out of ten—but certainly I wanted to do better than this.

I played well in the first part of the tournament.  I was, I think , in the fight for a grandmaster norm until the midpoint of the tournament when I lost two games in a row.  The game that I lost to Korchnoi in round five was a disappointment.  I sharpened play intentionally in a position that I felt competent to draw.  I took chances making moves that I knew were quite apt to be punished.  My opponent was in bad form and, indeed, did not punish them, but I failed to capitalize on my opportunity.  It was a game I might well have won if I had played up to par in the critical moment.

After the game my play was not particularly sharp.  It was a rear-guard action to have an honorable result.  I tried unsuccessfully to escape the last place.

You played a very sharp game against Dr. Huebner in the first round—

You give me too much credit.  It was my opponent who sharpened play in this game by adopting unnecessarily risky tactics in the opening phase of the game.  Walter Browne summed it up correctly at the end of the tournament.  He said that as the lowest rated player in the tournament by far, I could well expect that the other players would feel obligated to beat me, and that I was bound to get good positions—it was just a question of whether I was a strong enough player to take advantage of my opportunity.  Indeed, the rating system proved correct; I didn’t take advantage as I could have.

Would you like to play in another tournament like that one again?

Yes.  It was a good experience.  I hadn’t played in a grandmaster tournament in seven years, and so it was almost a new experience for me to play with strong players.  I don’t feel that I was overmatched in all the games—these players, were they in good form, could certainly play better chess than I do at my best—but I don’t think any of the others walked over me.

On the heels of the Cloverline tournament you became U.S. Open co-Champion.  Did the Cloverline help sharpen your game for this event?

It could be.  Certainly is a sobering effect.

To play in the U.S. Open against players who do not have the credentials of your recent opponents gives you a lot of confidence.  You know that if you play as well as you have recently you can have a successful result.  In this case I was able to become co-champion.  I was satisfied with my final score—although my play was not what it could have been.

What was your best previous result in a U.S. Open?

I missed the first prize by one half point on two other occasions.  I scored 9 ½ /12 in each of those tourneys.

You mentioned that tournament conditions are important to you.  Were you satisfied with the conditions at the U.S. Open?

Maybe I’m too fussy, but I didn’t like many of the conditions and I had words with several on the tournament committee at different times.  They seemed to put emphasis on all the wrong items.

For example:  Tournament committee people could be found chasing players, spectators , and people not at all related to the tournament from public areas of the hotel adjacent to the playing rooms and near to the washrooms and bar.   Certainly the tournament committee had doubtful authority to ask people to leave a public area which was not part of the rooms they rented—but apparently the noise was bothering certain players.  A better alternative was to relocate the boards near the door to other rooms-especially later in the tournament after all of the withdrawals.  There was quite a lot of space available.

I made a complaint that cameras were being permitted right up until the time control.  In the last minutes of a session of play people were clicking merrily away with their cameras, at quite close range, while players were in time pressure—despite standard practice not to allow cameras after the first 15 minutes or half-hour at the very most.  This is very disturbing to players.  I know grandmasters who leave the board during a picture taking session until the cameras are removed from the room.  At any rate, the cameras were permitted even after my complaint.

There was a great delay in posting the wall charts—three days is just too long—and then the room that they were posted in was locked for much of the day.  Also, the pairings weren’t posted until an hour or less before the start of the round.  This led to great crowding as everyone had to rush to find their boards.

Many mistakes were made, but perhaps this is common in all tournaments.

You have probably won more state championships than any other Wisconsin player—

I’m not so sure of that.  I’ve seen the argument in print that Arpad Elo has won more often than anyone else.  The question is a difficult one because I count shared titles as championships.  I have played 12 times in the Wisconsin championships:  six times I won outright, three times I shared the first prize and three times I failed to even tie for first.  Most of these were when I was just learning chess.

I choose not to break ties.  If you look at the tiebreaks maybe you can declare that Martz was the winner because he played the computer that won all the games by forfeit—some silly thing like that.  I don’t agree with this.  I count them as shared titles unless there was a playoff match.

You haven’t played in a state championship for a long time now.  Isn’t it important to you anymore?

Oh no.  I like to play.  I’d like to resolve the question of whether Elo or myself has won more times.  However, the conditions of play in the state tournament have sunk to the same nadir as other weekend tourneys.  It’s really not better than tournaments elsewhere and it’s important to me that conditions of play are very good.  It’s very seldom that I will play in a tournament where I know in advance that the director is a fellow whose judgement is something I don’t respect or can’t agree with; or that the hotel isn’t a very good place to play.

If organizers do not make the effort to gain the participation of those Wisconsin players who, in my opinion, are essential for the proper resolution of the state championship, then they don’t need to have those players play, and their welcome to call whomever they wish the champion—Even though that player doesn’t meet the admittedly strongest opponents.

If I’m not mistaken, neither Leonid Bass, Dr. Angos, nor I play in the state championship with regularity.  I’m sure the reason is that the conditions of the tournament are not adequate. 

Besides Bass, Angos, and Moore, are there other players in Wisconsin with strong potential?

There are no doubt a number of players with the ability to improve, but who they are is not for me to determine.  Some may not have the master rating even now—they may have the expert rating, or even lower—and have not been identified as talents.  If we make no effort to secure the participation of the strongest players—and I don’t mean just Wisconsin players--they cannot realize their potential.

There is no reason that we can’t have strong open tournaments.  Minnesota runs their state championship as an open tournament on the first weekend of play, and then has a playoff among the highest finishing Minnesota players, the current champion, and perhaps one of two other seeded players in a six player round robin on the following weekend.  This is a good system.

They bring in outside master to do their open tournament.  Perhaps it is due to the prize fund or calling the players and arranging exhibitions at their local clubs for such and such a fee … It attracts the masters.  Whatever is necessary to secure the participation of the masters is necessary if you want to improve the quality of overall chess.

I don’t see how it can be done without getting the masters to play.  It’s a catastrophe each time you hold open tournament with a weak constitution at the top.  You’ve missed an opportunity for your younger players to benefit.

In other words, Wisconsin chess is a “closed shop” because we don’t encourage outside masters to play?

Maybe we don’t choose the right weekends to play, either, but we certainly don’t solicit their participation.

I can remember when the Western and North Central Opens drew large numbers of masters.  I recall a tournament with 15 masters-which was quite an ordinary Western Open—as late as the middle sixties.

True, at that time the prize fund was about the same as it is now, and that was a lot more money then, but I’m convinced that master will come and play without large sums of money if you cater to them, if you make it clear that they are wanted very much and make every effort to help them with exhibitions or travel and hotel.

The Cloverline was an example of that.  I think we held a top-grade tournament at less expense than it could have been done somewhere else.  We ran after the players and catered to them and made them comfortable.  You can do the same with open tournament or small master tournaments.

We’ve had master tournaments in Milwaukee with virtually no prizes which were strongly contested events.  Last year there was a tournament with Kudrin, Bass, Loren Schmidt, Craig Chellstrop, Dr. Martinovsky and myself—an average rating of about 2450—and the players played for very minimal prizes.   First prize was something like $300.

For these people to travel to play for this prize fund is quite unusual, but it’s just a question of satisfying all of their needs so they are secure that they will not lose money to play in the tournament; that they will enjoy themselves; that they’re not going to have to fight with the arbiters.  We attempted to make it a pleasant experience—that is most important.

Who are some of the strong players you have met over the board?

Well, besides Korchnoi and Huebner who are certainly in the top three of four in the world, I have played Petrosian, Larsen, and players like Gligoric who were very strong at different times in history.  I’ve also played as a number of Soviet players before they became grandmaster in the USA-USSR matches at the Student Olympics—sometimes with success—but again, they were still developing as players.

Do you have a favorite game?

Oh, I have lots of good games, but my favorite is a game I won from Kuzmin (sp?—Ed.) in the 1968 Student Olympics.

This, by the way, is where I first met Dr. Huebner.  I won his friendship because he was in competition against my opponent for the board prize, and the German team was in close competition with the Soviets in the team competition.

The team competition ended in a tie, but the Soviets were declared the winners on some obscure tiebreak system.  Huebner did win the board prize.

One midwestern master once told me that, once he turned 21 it was difficult to get invitations to international tourneys because the emphasis is on extremely young players, and the USCF wasn’t interested in helping.  Have you found this to be true?

This could be true—but I don’t think that a player should rely on the USCF for his invitations.  I made it a point, that when I did get chances to play overseas, to meet the organizers and to make a favorable impression.

If today I decided I wanted to play in Spain next year I would know who to call . . . I would contact the organizer myself and ask them whether it was possible to participate if I paid my own travel expenses.  It’s a little more expensive but I don’t see that a dependence on a national organization is advisable.  I don’t like that.

It’s true that when we hold tournaments in the United States, too much emphasis is put on the very young players.  I think that they’re thrown into tournaments before they’re ready in some cases.

A famous instance is Robin Alt, who won the U.S. Junior Championship (this was around 1960 or ‘61, I think) and was seeded into the U.S. Championship—just as the Junior winner today is—and he lost every game.

He was no match for the professional players in many cases.  The top players in the United Stated destroyed him.  Once he started losing games in the beginning no one could afford to give him an easy draw, so they played very hard against him so as not to lose a half-point to the other competitors.  He had many adjourned games and he suffered.

He dropped out of chess after this tournament and I don’t believe he’s played a serious game since—and he was the U.S. Junior Champion—our most promising Junior.

You also won the U.S. Junior, did you not?

Yes.  I won the last year before they started having a separate tournament.  It was the last year when masters were forced to play in the Junior Open to win the title.

After I won this tournament in 1965, apparently it was decided in the national office that it wasn’t worthwhile to send anyone to the World Junior Championship.  I wasn’t even told about the tournament, although I was quite prepared to pay my own expenses.  So, we didn’t send a representative.

Do the players in the midwest get the same opportunities as players in New York?

It’s definitely true that it’s an advantage if you’re close to one of the major sites of chess activity.  You do get more chances to play in strong tournaments, and whether that’s by accident or design isn’t clear.

For many years, though less so now, players who did not live in New York had a distinct disadvantage in playing abroad.  If you spoke with my colleague Curt Brasket, from Minnesota, you would find that in 1953 or so, Curt won the U.S. Junior Championship and, when it came time to select a player to go to Copenhagen for the World Junior Championship, James Sherwin of New York was selected over Brasket.

This was particularly distressing because shortly after Sherwin came back Brasket defeated him very convincingly in a game in the U.S. Open—demonstrating that their choice of the player selected was . . . Well, they went to great pains to avoid selecting Curt, and even so it was a mistake.

This used to happen, but much less so nowadays.  If you get the right rating and make good results, you can get at least the opportunity to play in the Championship.

Has being in the midwest hampered your progress as well?

Yes.  You know what really bothers is the psychological problem.  When you live in an area like the middle-west, where there are not many strong players, after you reach a certain strength of play it becomes unnecessary to improve to win the tournaments in which you are playing.  So, unless you do get invited to master tournaments or can go and play in opens where strong players play (and this usually means New York or California), you tend to stagnate.  After all, why should one study openings; why should one learn how better to play, if you’re never going to get a chance to use this knowledge?  You’re never going to get a chance to demonstrate what you know about this or that opening because no one you’re playing is even good enough to reach that position against you.  You can win the tournaments at your current level of play, so you lose your incentive.

Has the arrival of Leonid Bass in the area given you more incentive to compete?

Well, I seem to be playing at a much higher rating level, but I don’t know whether that’s true because of rating inflation which has expanded the ratings in all classes atrociously, or what.  Players who in my opinion play at about 2400 strength by the old ratings are now at 2550 or 2600 even, but, to answer your question, it does help to have some good competition.  As far me though, I no longer have ambitions.  It’s just a question of enjoying the game.