Arpad Elo Visits the 1990 World Youth Chess Festival for Peace

By Mike Nietman, Local Organizer, 1990 World Youth Chess Festival for Peace

In July of 1990 Fond du Lac’s Marian College hosted the Under 14, Under 12 and Under 10 Open and Girl’s sections of the World Youth Chess Championships. Over 170 players from 40 countries and six continents descended on the small liberal arts college located sixty miles northwest of Milwaukee. Many famous players competed in the event. International stars included Romania’s Gabriel Schwartzman and a then-relatively-unknown Peter Leko of Hungary. The Americans were led by Tal Shaked, Morgan Pehme, Josh Waitzkin and eventual Under 10 champion Nawrose Nur. But the biggest name was the world’s number one rated woman, Hungary’s Judit Polgar who arrived with her contingent and her father Lazlo.

Most teams that flew came thru Milwaukee’s Mitchell airport; this included the Hungarians. We had staged greeters at the airport to welcome the teams as they landed and to shepherd them to waiting buses for the final leg of their journey to Fond du Lac. We knew the flights most of the teams would be on, so we asked the Milwaukee representatives to notify Hungarian-born and retired Marquette University Physics professor Arpad Elo about Judit’s itinerary, as he had always wanted to meet her.

As Judit’s plane landed, Arpad met her in the terminal with a bouquet of flowers. Many pictures were taken before Judit and her teammates boarded their bus to Fond du Lac.

Arpad was happy to meet Judit but he really wanted to see her play. One afternoon, right before a round was to start, a large white van appeared outside the playing hall, Marian’s gymnasium, and out jumped the who’s who of Milwaukee and Wisconsin chess. The visitors included Fred Cramer, a past USCF President; Marshall Rohland, a past USCF Secretary and President; Henry Meifert, President of the Milwaukee Chess Club and Arpad, co-founder of the USCF.

As the group walked in, tournament Organizer Don Schultz quickly recognized Arpad and started introducing him to the tournament staff. Luckily we had a wonderful photographer from the Fond du Lac Reporter present and all hoped to have their picture taken with Arpad including Chief TD Carol Jarecki, Assistant TD Bill Snead and American coaches GM Pal Benko (also from Hungary) and Bruce Pandolfini. Later, when Judit and her father arrived, they also had their pictures taken with Arpad.

As the start of the round drew near I asked Arpad if he would like to say a few words to the assembly. Knowing Arpad’s shyness he was reluctant at first but after some encouragement on my part he agreed to speak to the players. He followed me over to the microphone which was at the midcourt line on the side of the hall. The hall was set so that I was standing at the end of the rows of tables.

Many of the players, coaches and other attendees from overseas didn’t speak English. (We were lucky if one in a delegation could speak enough English, in case we needed to discuss a tournament procedure with their team.) As I started to introduce Arpad, not many were paying close attention to me. They were finding their boards, adjusting their clocks, setting up their scoresheets and, if their opponent shared a common language, maybe conversing a little bit. I recall a lot of chatter.

I started by saying “Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, when you sit down across from your opponent, one of the first things you might ask them is ‘What is your rating?’. I understand in Europe and other parts of the world you may ask ‘What is your Elo?’. Well, ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, we have with us today the person who founded our rating system…”

Again, I specifically remember noticing that no one was listening to me!

“… please welcome Professor Arpad Elo!”

At that moment a hush fell over the room, every player’s head spun ninety degrees to look toward the microphone and finally a spontaneous applause filled the hall.

I handed the microphone to Arpad, who spoke briefly to the players. To this day I have no recollection of what he said to them because I was so taken aback by what had just transpired! Everyone in that room knew the name Arpad Elo.