Hall of Fame

The Yussman Hall of Fame

Celebrating the historical cornerstones of Kentucky Chess

Years back, Mr. Eric Yussman wrote and published a wonderful chronology of the Louisville Chess Club.  Due in large part to his efforts, we have knowledge of the personalities who helped shape Kentucky’s chess landscape. When I decided to create a Hall of Fame to commemorate these individuals, it seemed only fitting to hand the reigns over to Mr. Yussman.  This project would not be possible without his contributions, which is why I have named it after him.  I have asked him to adapt passages from his book and compose a paragraph for each inductee.  We hope to locate and add pictures wherever possible.  We are in the initial stages of the effort, and you’ll hear more about it as we progress.  ~ Daniel Brennan

Edwin Cohen

state champion in 1949, 1966

Cohen’s peak USCF rating was in the high 1900’s in the early 1990’s, so it is likely he was around master strength earlier in his career before the computer ratings existed. He described himself as an attacking tactical player as a young man, and more of a positional player in what he referred to as his second chess career. He was generally considered to be among the most gentlemanly of players in the Louisville chess scene. Among the great grandmasters he particularly admired Capablanca, Rubinstein, Marshall, and Bronstein. Cohen, also a master level bridge player, practiced law for fifty years and served in the US Air Force in Korea.

Alex Conen

Louisville Chess Club’s top player—and one of Midwest’s best—in late 1800s, early 1900s

Conen joined the Louisville Chess Club in 1892 and dominated. In addition to a win over Harry Pillsbury, Conen also beat Jackson Showalter and David Janowski. In a 1946 article, Courier Journal chess columnist Merrill Dowden remarked, “During his long reign as one of the dominant masters of the Midwest Conen produced many games remarkable for their sheer poetic beauty.”

Merrill Dowden

Courier-Journal’s chess columnist from the 1940s-1970s

In 1945 at age 42, Dowden began a series of weekly chess columns—entitled “The King’s Men” — in the Courier-Journal’s sports section. Combining charm, wit, and a reverence for the game, Dowden discussed chess like a proud grandfather telling family stories to a grandkid bouncing on his knee. A mere four months after his column’s debut, Dowden trumpeted a tournament to determine a state champion; the tourney owed its existence to Dowden and a handful of other local players celebrated his column’s 30th anniversary in 1975, and a few months later in February 1976 the last of his “King’s Men” pieces appeared in the Courier. Dowden died at age 88 in 1991.

Sam Fulkerson

main organizer of Louisville Chess Club from the 1960s-1970s; state champion in 1967

In many respects, the viability of the Louisville Chess Club and the organization of the annual Kentucky Opens in the 1960s and ‘70s resulted from Fulkerson’s efforts and enthusiasm. A formidable player, he was accomplished at simultaneous exhibitions.

Richard Shields

state champion in 1948, 1957

Dowden’s obituary of Shields in 1968 says it all: “Shields death leaves a void in the chess fraternity that will be felt for years to come. This is true because Shields was more than a gifted player. He used his talents to promote the royal game and develop new players. Never did I know a man to work with more energy or influence in popularizing the game which was so dear to his heart. He was ever magnanimous in victory and gracious in defeat. A player of national stature, he scored victories over some of the nation’s leading masters. And for some years it was his custom to give simultaneous exhibitions in Central Park, taking on all comers.”

Jackson Showalter

five-time US Open champion in the late 1800s, early 1900s

Showalter, a five-time U.S. Champion, was one of the top players in the entire country in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Oxford Companion to Chess wrote that Showalter was “known as the Kentucky Lion after his birthplace and his mane of hair, but also perhaps on account of his playing strength.” His games were known for sparkling combinative play and sacrifices. Harry Pillsbury once was asked what success American players would have if they played internationally. He responded, “Jackson Showalter would make a good score in any company.”

O.B. Theiss

main organizer of Louisville Chess Club in late 1800s and early 1900s

Theiss was the driving force behind the Louisville Chess Club in its formative decades of the late 19th century. A medical doctor who later became principal of a local elementary school , Theiss derived much pleasure from reading Dickens but spent most of his leisure time practicing chess. Theiss was not the strongest player in town but he was the most respected ambassador of the game, lecturing less experienced players on strategies as well as the origins of the game. Some family members’ most vivid memories of Theiss concern giving him rides to and from Club meetings during his later years in the 1930s and ‘40s. Theiss died in 1945 at age 97.

Jerry Baker

Jerry Baker’s chess career started as a senior in high school at a Murray State University tournament run by Wayne Bell in 1986. He was instantly hooked and soon left for college where he organized his first club with great input from Wayne Bell. Baker’s Kentucky State University team won the first two KY Collegiate Team Championships before he transferred to the University of Kentucky. Finding no organized club, he quickly built a UK team that won a Regional and qualified for the now defunct National Collegiate Recreational Games competition.  Individually, he was able to win his first KY Action Championship in 1991 and repeated that title in 2007, 2014, and 2016, thus winning an adult state title in three different decades.  He also finished first at the KY Open on three occasions: 1994, 1996, and 1999. However, his most notable win was the KY Closed Championship in 1999.  Living in Lexington afforded him the benefit of learning from Billy Woodward on how to run a more effective club when Billy handed him the reigns to the Bluegrass Chess Club. With Billy’s direction and the many tips and suggestions he received from Steve Dillard, he has been able to organize almost 200 separate events while still being able to compete in nearly 400 chess tournaments, all while keeping his rating near Expert level for 20+ years.

Wayne C. Bell

Dr. Bell taught mathematics at Murray State University from 1976 until 2008. He was a founder of the MSU Chess Club and used the University’s outreach program to promote chess in West Kentucky.  In 1986 he was one of the founders of the KCA’s scholastic chess program advocating the regionals-finals system and more formality in KCA’s structures. He was the KCA’s first Scholastic Coordinator and later served as President and then Treasurer.  He worked in tournaments at all levels – from where a national championship was at stake to those where you get called to a table where White is waving a knight above the board and nobody knows what square it came from!  In 1990 he became Kentucky’s first National Tournament Director.  

He was the Kentucky Open Champion in 1988 and the Kentucky State Champion in 1994. 

But his favorite chess role was that of Teacher-Coach in Murray, Kentucky. For Bell the appreciative awe on parents’ faces when they first see a large room full of quiet children thinking about their next chess move is exceeded only by the exhilaration on a child’s face when he finds the right one.

Steve Dillard

Steve Dillard learned chess from his father as an eight-year-old, then was introduced to tournament chess in 1974 by Allen Erlebacher, a student teacher at Atherton High School who also encouraged Dillard to direct his first few events in 1977.  Dillard subsequently served as Chief TD for 1285 events and worked a total of 3979 sections, directing tournaments in 31 states. He’s been the Organizer of the Jefferson County Public Schools Chess League since 1982, the Sports Chairman of Chess for the Blue Grass State Games since 1996, and the Chief Tournament Director for the Academic Sweet Sixteen for 4 years. Dillard was selected for a meritorious service award in 2013 by the USCF and awared USCF TD Lifetime Acheivement award at the USCF annual meeting in 2014. He’s also been “Volunteer of the Year” in Kentucky chess. Dillard has served as Treasurer, Secretary, Vice President and President of KCA in addition to being Secretary and President of the Louisville Chess Club.  Dillard’s rating has placed him as high as 16th in the state and firmly in the top 25-40 since the year 2000.

Larry Bell

Larry Bell began organizing scholastic chess tournaments in 1987 and has coached sixteen state champions at Garden Springs Elementary, Beaumont Middle, Lexington Traditional, Dunbar High School and Sayre  School. At the 1992 Middle School Nationals, he coached Lexington Traditional to a third-place finish. He has coached seven kids who progressed to become state individual champions.  Larry hosted, at Steve Dillard;s request, the first consolidated State Team Championship at Garden Springs Elementary School in 1987, and he worked with longtime friends Steve Dillard and Dr. Wayne Bell to create the scholastic chess state championship series that is still utilized today in Kentucky. In 1992 Larry was co-organizer of the High School National Championships, which was the first national championship tournament to break the 1000-player barrier (and brought in then-reigning world champion Gary Kasparov as a special guest). Two years later, Larry helped organize the 1994 Lexington Winter Scholasticwhich was the largest non-championship scholastic tournament held in Kentucky (474 entries from nine states).  Larry gives all the credit to the work ethic and passion of the kids.  His best “feel good moments” are those when he can see the light come on for a youngster. As a player, Larry won the 1987 Amateur State Championship and achieved a top rating of 1906.