- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2017

He was the greatest chess-playing Catholic priest since Ruy Lopez but only the second-greatest player in his own hometown, but we still honor the legacy of GM William Lombardy, who passed away from a suspected heart attack last week at the age of 79.

The Bronx-born Lombardy was one of the most promising U.S. talents of the 1950s, famously winning the 1957 World Junior Championship in Toronto with a perfect 11-0 score and brilliantly defeating rising Soviet star Boris Spassky at the World Student Team Championships in Leningrad three years later.

But Lombardy’s early successes were unavoidably overshadowed by the astonishing rise of a Brooklyn boy six years his junior — Bobby Fischer. There was some doubt in the mid-1950s over which of the young New Yorkers was the more promising talent, and some Lombardy partisans say he could have gone on to greater things had not so much support and resources gone Bobby’s way.

But the generous and big-hearted Lombardy never seemed to resent his younger rival’s success, and later would provide crucial emotional and technical support as Fischer’s second in the storied world title match with Spassky in Reykjavik in 1972.

Lombardy’s chessplaying career took a sharp swerve when he entered the seminary in the early 1960s to become a Catholic priest. That he managed to remain a grandmaster-class talent despite the rigorous seminary training and his priestly duties is a testament to Lombardy’s native genius.*

Despite never winning an outright U.S. championship in Fischer’s heyday, he won several U.S. Opens and finished second in the national title tournament in 1974. Leaving the priesthood in the late 1970s, he would marry and start a family, but remained a dangerous opponent well into the 1990s.

Lombardy turned down a place at the 1962 Stockholm Interzonal to enter
the priesthood, but did compete in the 1973 Manila Interzonal, evenwinning the brilliancy prize for his game against Argentine GM Miguel Quinteros. Black’s failure to castle in this sharp Najdorf Sicilian line induces Lombardy to embark on a speculative piece sacrifice that turns out spectacularly well.

After 11. Be2 Rb8?! (Quinteros should really be considering castling hereabouts, as his king is too exposed in the center) 12. Qg3 Rg8 13. Rhf1 b5, White launches the thematic Sicilian sac with 14. Nxe6!? fxe6 15. Qg6+ Kd8 16. e5!, looking to open central lines before Black can organize a defense.

The relentless pressure pays off on 21. Bg4 Rb6? (see diagram; Black offers the exchange to blunt the attack, but the dogged 21…Qe6! 22. Rh5 Qd6 23. Kb1 Rb7 24. Rh3! leaves the outcome in balance) 22. Rxf6!; Black has four ways to recapture and each one loses.

The finale: 22…gxf6 (Qxf6 23. Nxf6; 22…Nxf6 23. Nxb6+ Kc7 24. Qxg7+ Kxb6 25. Qxf8 Bxg4 26. Rd6 and wins; or 22…Rxf6 23. Qxg7 Re6 [Bb7 24. Qe7+ Kc8 26. Qe8 mate] 24. Qf7, with the decisive threat of 25. Nxb6 Qxb6 26. Bxe6) 23. Qg7 Rb7?? (losing on the spot, but White also wins in the cute line 23…Re8 24. Nxb6 Re7 25. Qg8+ Re8 26. Bxd7! Bxd7 27. Qf7! Re7 28. Qf8+ Re8 29. Qxf6+! Kc7 [Qxf6 30. Rxd7 mate] 30 Rxd7+ Kxb6 31. Rd6, pinning and winning) 24. Qe7 mate.

Lombardy-Quinteros, Interzonal, Manila, Philippines, October 1973

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bg5 e6 7. f4 Be7 8. Qf3 h6 9. Bh4 Qc7 10. O-O-O Nbd7 11. Be2 Rb8 12. Qg3 Rg8 13. Rhf1 b5 14. Nxe6 fxe6 15. Qg6+ Kd8 16. e5 dxe5 17. f5 exf5 18. Bxf6 Bxf6 19. Nd5 Qc6 20. Rxf5 Rf8 21. Bg4 Rb6 22. Rxf6 gxf6 23. Qg7 Rb7 24. Qe7 mate.

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email [email protected].

*The original column incorrectly identified Mr. Lombardy as a Jesuit priest. He was ordained after studying St. Joseph’s Seminary and College in Yonkers, New York.

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