IN MEMORIAM: Nathan Divinsky (29 October 1925-17 June 2012)


Fred McKim
Treasurer, Chess Federation of Canada
July 16, 2012 

Last month Canada's "Chess Renaissance Man" passed away at the age of 85. He was one of the initial inductees into the Canadian Chess Hall of Fame in 2001. I met Divinsky several times 25-30 years ago at CFC AGM's. At the time he was simply a Governor from BC. it was only later that I learned of his prior contributions to Chess in Canada that led to him eventually being in the Hall of Fame. Those of us that have met him have probably seen him only in the role of a Chess politician. He was CFC President 1993-4 and served as Canada's representative to FIDE (and consequently Zonal President) from 1987-1993 and again from 2004-2008. I still remember him consoling me after I (as NBCA President) had failed to secure a 1989 Canadian Open bid for Edmundston at the 1988 meeting (even though he had voted against our bid!). Sure enough we were able to get approval for the 1990 event a few months later.

His chess career started in Winnipeg, which was one of the hot beds of chess in Canada following the triumphs of Abe Yanofsky. He made 3 appearances in the Canadian Closed Championship (1945, 1946, 1951) with his best performance being 1945 where he finished =3rd. No FIDE ratings existed at that time, but that performance in today's environment would likely be good enough for an IM title. He won the Manitoba Championship in 1946 & 1952. Divinsky left Winnipeg around 1947 to pursue a PhD and eventually settled in Vancouver where he was a member of the UBC Mathematics faculty for 40+ years. He later participated for Canada in two Olympics. Both times he was 6th board; 1954 (.5/1) and 1966 (4.5/8).

From the 1951 Canadian Closed, Nathan takes down Feodor Bohatirchuk, whose exploits in Russia are well known and was still at least 2400 strength in the 1950's and 60's.

[Event "Canadian Championship"]
[Site "Vancouver, British Columbia"]
[Date "1951.??.??"]
[Round "3"]
[Result "0-1"]
[White "Bohatirchuk, Feodor"]
[Black "Divinsky, Nathan"]

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 b5 7. Bb3 d5 8. dxe5 Be6 9. Qe2 Na5 10. Nbd2 Nxd2 11. Bxd2 c5 12. Bxa5 Qxa5 13. c3 Be7 14. Rfd1 Rd8 15. a4 O-O 16. h3 Qb6 17. axb5 axb5 18. Bc2 Ra8 19. Qd3 g6 20. Qe3 Rxa1 21. Rxa1 Qb7 22. Qe2 b4 23. Qd2 bxc3 24. bxc3 Ra8 25. Rb1 Qa7 26. Bd3 Rb8 27. Rxb8+ Qxb8 28. Qa2 c4 29. Bc2 Bc5 30. Qa5 Qb6 31. Qxb6 Bxb6 32. Nd4 Bxd4 33. cxd4 Bf5 34. Bxf5 gxf5 35. Kf1 Kg7 36. Ke2 Kg6 37. Ke3 Kg5 38. g3 f4+ 39. gxf4+ Kf5 40. f3 h6 41. Ke2 Kxf4 42. Kf2 h5 0-1

Canada's #1 magazine up until at least 1973 was Canadian Chess Chat. He was one of the hard working editors of the magazine from 1960-78. Later on he served as Chess commentator (Radio & TV) on a number of occasions and wrote several chess books: Around the Chess World in 80 Years, Warriors of the Mind (co-author), The Chess Encyclopedia, and Life Maps of the Great Chess Masters.

Probably his final recorded game (well past his retirement from tournament play in the mid 60's) is against the World Champion....

[Event "Simul - Kasparov"]
[Site "Brussels"]
[Date "1993.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Kasparov, Gary"]
[Black "Divinsky, Nathan Joseph"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "D36"]
[PlyCount "137"]
[EventDate "1993.??.??"]
[EventType "simul"]
[EventCountry "BEL"]

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Bg5 Be7 6. e3 O-O 7. Bd3 c6 8. Nge2 Re8 9. Qc2 Nbd7 10. O-O Nf8 11. f3 h6 12. Bh4 Be6 13. Kh1 Nh5 14. Bf2 Bh4 15. Bg1 Qd7 16. e4 Bd8 17. Rad1 Rc8 18. e5 g6 19. Qd2 Ng7 20. Qxh6 Bf5 21. Qd2 Nfe6 22. Ng3 Bg5 23. Be3 Bxd3 24. Qxd3 Bh4 25. Nge2 Nf5 26. Bg1 Kg7 27. g4 Nh6 28. h3 Rh8 29. Kg2 Rh7 30. f4 Rg8 31. Bf2 Bxf2 32. Rxf2 Rgh8 33. Rg1 Kg8 34. Kf1 Ng7 35. Ke1 Kf8 36. Kd2 Ng8 37. Rf3 Ne7 38. Rgf1 Ke8 39. Kc2 Ne6 40. Qe3 Ng7 41. a3 Kd8 42. Kb1 Kc7 43. Nc1 b6 44. Nd3 Kb8 45. Ka1 Rh4 46. Nb4 Ne6 47. Rd1 a5 48. Nc2 Nc7 49. Qd3 Ka7 50. f5 gxf5 51. gxf5 R8h5 52. Rdf1 Qc8 53. f6 Ng6 54. Ne3 Rxh3 55. Nf5 Rxf3 56. Qxf3 Rxf5 57. Qxf5 Qxf5 58. Rxf5 Ne6 59. Ne2 c5 60. dxc5 bxc5 61. Nc3 d4 62. Nb5+ Kb6 63. Nd6 Nd8 64. Rg5 Kc6 65. Nxf7 Nxf7 66. Rxg6 Kd5 67. Rg7 Ke6 68. Rxf7 Kxf7 69. b3 1-0

Divinsky's achievements were just as numerous away from the chess board. He was a Bridge life master, school board member and later councilman for Vancouver, Professor Emeritus at UBC, author of Mathematical books, designed Math puzzles for Discovery TV, restaurant co-owner and food columnist, played piano and sang opera, etc.

He is survived by his wife, Marilyn, two daughters, Judy (Neil) Kornfield and Pamela Divinsky , and two grandchildren (Dory and Megan). He was pre-deceased by daughter Mimi.

Three obituaries for more information:
Ron Csiilag Toronto Globe and Mail
Kim Nursall Vancouver Sun
Stephen Wright BCCF Bulletin #242

Other sources include CFC, Jonathan Berry, David Cohen Web Sites

The following memories are from CFC Forum and/or Chess Talk.

From Hal Bond
I was quite saddened to learn that my old friend had died. I remember when Nathan became our FIDE Rep following the passing of the late John Prentice in 1987. He was a strong advocate for all things Canada and an esteemed member of the FIDE General Assembly. He had an opinion on most things but respected the views of others. Nathan also served a term as CFC President in the 90's, and was a frequent Captain and generous donor to our Olympic Teams.

From Jonathan Berry
I remember that Divinsky and I long ago discussed the sudden death of Elod Macskasy in his sleep. While I regretted that he had died so relatively young, Divinsky said: what a great way to go, suddenly in your sleep, no protracted illness, no pain. So I hope he managed to go the same way........
Divinsky spoke with great aplomb and authority. He was not under any delusions about his own chess strength, but he didn't see it as a bad thing that somebody could listen to him and take away a positive impression about chess.

From Brian Hartman
Among other interactions, I was lucky enough to enjoy three weeks in Calvia 2004 with Nathan, where he held court at team dinners, regaling us with past stories of his own celebrity and intersecting with other famous people/players.
Nathan and I shared long breakfasts together each morning discussing various topics of mutual interest, and he continually amazed me with his knowledge and quick wit.
My favorite memory was when Nathan invited me to dinner with his good friend GM Lothar Schmid and his lovely wife, where I sat in awe of their stories of Fischer, business (Lothar founded, among other things, a successful publishing enterprise), and Europe.
Nathan showed me some of his early theoretical work on radicals in mathematics, and when I asked what the practicality of this work was...he replied "The future will reveal it"...I suspect many of Nathan's contributions will only be appreciated in future.
I for one, am in great debt to Nathan for the positive influence he had on me, which I unfortunately cannot now reciprocate directly, but hopefully to others.

and finally (and hilariously) From Paul LeBlanc
A couple of years ago, I was present at the Duncan Suttles book launch in Vancouver where I overheard Nathan tell Lawrence Day a Bobby Fischer story. According to Nathan he was on the sidelines watching a Fischer-Petrosian post mortem along with a few GMs. Nathan made a couple of move suggestions that seemed to interest Fischer. At one point Fischer apparently said to Petrosian "OK, Petrosian you're outta here, you (Divinsky) sit down here"