William Lombardy

jan2018clfcs.jpgWhen I became an active tournament player in the 70s, I was certainly aware of the priest/grandmaster Bill Lombardy. He served as Bobby Fischer’s second (chief assistant) for the first half of the 1972 world championship match in Reykjavik, Iceland. He was also a top international competitor in his own right. His early career on the international scene included two notable accomplishments: a perfect record as World Junior Champion (11-0) in 1957, and top performer for the winning US Student Team in 1960 (besting the Soviets in a totally unexpected upset).

On the brink of a fruitful (if underpaid) chess career–including a coveted spot on the path to World Champion in a 1962 qualifying event–instead he packed off to seminary for the Archdiocese of New York and ordination in 1967.

Compared to Bobby Fischer, he wasn’t the leading light of his chess generation. Maybe #2 wasn’t quite as burnished in his view. Or his call to service in the Church was stronger for a time. Who knows? Chess journalists generally don’t cover and comment deeply on spiritual journeys. Interesting that the Russians described him as wearing a “priest’s outfit” when he was assisting Bobby Fischer in Iceland.

There is a good feature on him here. I also found the biographical material in this month’s issue of Chess Life to be both illuminating and sad.  I also found coverage at the NCReg.

Bill Lombardy wanted to continue both a chess career and a priestly ministry. It seems strange to my ears that he thought he could be a representative of the Church among chess players and as a competitor. His bishop summoned him to a meeting and insisted he take a pastoral assignment. That was Cardinal Terrence Cooke. I can only imagine what Lombardy’s first bishop, Cardinal Spellman would have said to the notion of a chess-playing ambassador/priest.

Lombardy left ministry in the late 70s. The peaks of his chess career were behind him. In the US, a new generation of young turks butted heads with émigré Soviet grandmasters. In his personal life, marriage, a son, a divorce, and a life that generally spiraled into poverty and old age.

There’s a meme, not always accurate, not always inaccurate, about chessplayers (andother types of competitors) whose lives just spiral out of control. Is there an answer to that? But for the grace of God …

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About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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