Friday, May 16, 2008

Happy Birthday Dr. Saidy

Quote of the Day: "Chess is not to him a means to an end, a subsidized sport, a forum for testing philosophic hypotheses, or an outlet for baser emotions. To Fischer, chess is an end in itself." -- Anthony Saidy
Dr. Anthony Saidy. Photo by James F. Perry from the 2002 US Championship in Seattle.

Dr. Anthony Saidy was born on May 16, 1937, so today is his 71st birthday. Happy birthday Tony!! I wish you many, many more.

Spending most of my career as a hospital administrator, I have met a lot of physician chess players during the past 38 years. The highest rated among them is probably Sofia Polgar's husband, GM Yona Kosashvili, an orthopedic surgeon now living in Canada. I met Yona in 2004 at a dinner hosted by GMs Boris Gulko, Susan Polgar and Lev Alburt at a kosher restaurant in New York City.

With a peak Elo rating of 2532 (in 1964), IM Anthony Saidy has to be the strongest American physician of the group. Even today, Dr. Saidy still carries a 2336 FIDE rating. GM Reuben Fine was most likely the strongest American GM/MD of all time, but he was a psychiatrist... and I never had the privilege of meeting him.

On more than one occasion I have made note of my amazement at how well many physicians play chess despite their busy occupation. One smartass, who will remain nameless, responded that many docs have learned how to be excellent golf players while maintaining a full medical practice, so why not chess? Hmmm...

In any case, Dr. Saidy is one of the best ever and not sufficiently recognized, in my opinion, for his strong play. He is perhaps best known for his two popular books; I grew up reading them both. The first was The Battle of Chess Ideas, published in 1972, and since translated into Spanish and French. The book reflects Saidy's understanding of and appreciation for the greatest living players, most of whom he faced over the board. The second is entitled The World of Chess (1974), a colorful work of art co-written with Norman Lessing, which sat on my coffee table for most of my adult life. The 72 extra-large pages are illustrated with more than 200 paintings, prints and photographs.

The amazing thing about Saidy's books is how well they have held their value or, in fact, appreciated in value. Despite the myriad of chess books from the early seventies that can be picked up on for a buck, The Battle of Chess Ideas goes from $8.50 for a heavily used paperback to $143.08 for a hardcover in very good condition. Last night, I saw a copy of The World of Chess on eBay with a starting bid of $50.00. To me, the current resale value of Dr. Saidy's books says everything about the the quality of his writing.

Dr. Saidy earned his International Master title in Italy in 1969. He played third board on the 1964 US Olympiad team in Tel Aviv and finished as high as second in the U.S. Championship (1967, Atlanta). He also finished tied for 4th in 1974. He won the Canadian Open (1960) and the American Open twice, 25 years apart (1967 and 1992)! He was captain/coach of the U.S. Women's Olympiad Team at Buenos Aires in 1978. Dr. Saidy attended Fordham University and is the son of playwright and screenwriter Fred Saidy.

He was a contemporary of Bobby Fischer and, of course, he played chess against him many times. More significantly, Dr. Saidy was a key figure in the mammoth effort necessary just to get Bobby Fischer to the chessboard against Boris Spassky for their World Championship match in 1972. Both Saidy and Fischer's second, GM William Lombardy, have recounted the story many times about Fischer hiding out in Saidy's place in Douglaston, New York (located where Queens meets Long Island). Dr. Saidy used all of his persuasive powers and bedside manner to get Fischer out of his house and onto a plane bound for Reykjavik, Iceland, where he was supposed to be playing his match.

Like me, Saidy is an avid book collector*. According to Jeremy Silman, Saidy "is a prodigious book collector and possesses an enormous library on many subjects, including one of the largest privately owned collections of chess books in the United States."

Click this link to play over one of his many wins against GMs, this one a 33-move Najdorf against Edmar Mednis in the 1963 U.S. Championship.

Dr. Saidy greeting the Polgar sisters in his hometown of Los Angeles, 2005. left to right, Susan, Judit, Sofia. Photo by Paul Truong.

It is my strong belief that Dr. Anthony Saidy should be on the short list of future inductees into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame, currently housed at the World Chess Hall of Fame & Sidney Samole Chess Museum in Miami.

Some more Games:
Saidy vs. Suttles, Tel Aviv 1964
Saidy vs. Goichberg, 1967 US Open
Saidy vs. Bisguier, 1970 USA
Janosevic vs. Saidy, Sarajevo 1971
Ree vs. Saidy, Las Palmas interzonal, 1973
Shirazi vs. Saidy, 1982 USADr. Anthony Saidy, 1969. Photo courtesy of the John G. White Collection, Cleveland Public Library.

*Subsequent note: As of June 12, I was able to add to Dr. Saidy's book collection by selling him one from my library. The proceeds from the sale will go to the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Education (S.P.I.C.E.) at Texas Tech University.