This is the Peoria Chess History Project. Our goal is to recover as much of Peoria's chess history and publish it here on the Internet. The early years were relayed by Dean Lybarger, Glen Babcock and Art Hartwig. The more recent stories are from my memory and those still active in Peoria Chess. Not all of what we know is here yet and there is much we still do not know. It is a work in progress. If you have any information regarding Peoria long chess history, please share with us so we can share with the world.Thanks
Records of organized chess in Peoria prior to 1938 are very sketchy, but chess was very popular here and there were many chess clubs around. 1938, however, marked an important date in Peoria chess history. It was then that the 15 year old Dean Lybarger walked into the Kingsmen Chess Club which met at the Jefferson Hotel in downtown Peoria. Chess was active in Peoria then with several chess clubs. which spurred activity locally. George Koltanowski gave one of his simultaneous exhibitions here at that time.
Early records on the Peoria Chess Association are still being sought and will be included here when available. Some early officers were: Jess Anderson, a former President of the Kingsmen Chess Club, Hank Cramer, who fathered the original plan forming the Peoria Chess Association, and Art Hartwig, who has continued to play organized chess until the early 90's. This group was among the first in the nation to become an affiliate of the United States Chess Federation.
The Hotel Pere Marquette played host to the US Open in 1945. Co-sponsors were the Peoria Chess Association and the Illinois State Chess Association. Thirty-three players competed. The war was still on, the draft had taken many active players, and transportation was tight.
The USCF wasn't able to hold the annual US Open until Art Hartwig, then a manager at Caterpillar, convinced the company to sponsor the event and hold it at the local hotel. The annual business meeting, held in conjunction with each US Open, was most significant this year, as the rebirth of F.I.D.E. was organized. It had been dormant since the beginning of the war.
Peoria was represented at the chess tournament by Lorence O'Russa, Chester Lyon, Clarence Darnell, Harvey Krebill (who drew with Angelo Sandrin), Hank Cramer (who won over Bill Byland, 5th place finisher) and Ray Shipman.
The year after the US Open in Peoria was significant for Peoria chess: the Peoria Chess Association united its efforts with the Kingsmen Chess Club, a coalition which existed effectively until 1965 when the officers of the PCA turned the reins over to a newer group of chess enthusiasts, and the GPCF was born.
Here is a story about the 1945 US Open with some local flavor of the times: 1945 US Open in Roarin’ Peoria
The Peoria Industrial Chess League was formed in October 1943 under the guidance of Art Hartwig of Caterpillar, Hank Cramer of the U.S. Post Office, and Jess Anderson of CILCO.
The first (1943) Peoria Industrial Chess League season saw only four teams participate with Caterpillar and the Post Office sharing the title. The league quickly stabilized at six teams with no single member able to dominate play.
Finally in the 1947-48 season, the Northern Regional Laboratory team, named NorLab, won the title for the first time and then proceeded to dominate play, winning four of five championships. Records of the early 50's seem to have been lost, but from discussions with the players active in that era, it appears that enthusiasm for league play waned and only Caterpillar, led by John Roecker, was able to maintain a strong team in contention for the title. As surely as NorLab dominated the pre-Korean War years, Cat dominated the 50's winning at least five championships in the seven year period 1955-61.
The early sixties witnessed the collapse of league play in Peoria, and with it all organized chess play in the area.
The Greater Peoria Chess Federation was formed in the fall of 1964, but it wasn't until the start of the 1967-68 season that league play was resumed. The league was renamed the Peoria Chess League. Ron Millard, who had participated in the last days of the former league and was one of the few players to remain active during the dark age, organized and nurtured the league back to health serving as League Vice President until 1971.
The 1974-75 league season was possibly the strongest league season ever. There were twelve teams; six in the Morphy Division and six in the Fischer Division. There were 6 players per team, making the total league roster a whopping 72 players.
The chess league was disbanded after the 1998 season. Interest seemingly disappeared as the league dwindled down to four 3 board teams. Perhaps someday interest will rekindle.
The Greater Peoria Chess Federation was formed in 1964 at a time when chess participation in Peoria hit a low point. Attendance at the Friday night Kingsmen Chess Club had fallen off to only a few locals. Players like John Roecker, Harlod Saberhagen, Dr Bill Witte, Ron Millard and Art Shanahan still attended regularly but the league had disbanded and there were no tournaments in Illinois outside of the Chicago area. Younger players, led by Murrel Rhodes and Tom Mabee then formed the GPCF as a way of affiliating with the USCF to hold local tournaments. This is how and why the Bradley Summer Open and the Greater Peoria Open were born. Both of these are now USCF Heritage tournaments of 50+ years and still going strong.
The Greater Peoria Chess Federation was originally a federation of chess clubs to coordinate tournaments and other chess activities. It included the Kingsmen Chess Club, the Bradley Chess Club, several high school chess clubs, the Peoria Chess League and a new committee to plan and run USCF rated tournaments.
Through the years, the Bradley chess club has disappeared and reappeared as the student body changed. The Chess League, which prospered during the Fischer boom, finally disappeared in 1998 after attendance dwindled, leaving only the Kingsmen as a federation participant. In late 2019 the descion was made to merge the federation into the Greater Peoria Chess Foundation.
The original Bradley Summer Open was played in the summer of 1964. Although the University Student Center was closed for the summer, the University opened the ballroom for our initial tournament. The inaugural BSO was won by David Taylor, then an Expert but now a Master and correspondence champion. The 2018 Bradley Summer Open will be the 55th Annual event.
The Bradley Summer Open is usually held in August just after students return to campus. The goal is to provide a high quality tournament with strong competition to allow club players from the central Illinois area to mix and play games with Masters and other strong players. A large prize fund is provided to draw top players. Players are divided into 2 Sections. Anyone can play in the Open Section giving everyone a opportunity to play against a Master. The reserve is restricted to players rated 1400 or below to provide competitive games for everyone.
The first Greater Peoria Open was played in the spring of 1965 at the old Jefferson Hotel (since razed and replaced by the Peoria Civic Center). There were 51 players at the first GPO, won by Master Ross Sprague who was then US Armed Forces Champion. We are celebrating the 54th annual Greater Peoria Open in 2018. Several masters from Chicago, including Senior Master Dick Verber, played in the inaugural event.
The Greater Peoria Open is held in the Spring of each year. The goal is to provide a high quality tournament with strong competition to allow club players from the central Illinois area to mix and play games with Masters and other strong players. A large prize fund is provided to draw top players. Last year saw a 4 way tie for first, including masters Pete Karagianis and Tim McEntee. Players are divided into 2 Sections. Anyone can play in the Open Section giving everyone a opportunity to play against a Master. The reserve is restricted to players rated 1400 or less to provide competitive games for everyone.
The Peoria City Championship was re-instituted in 1997 after a long number of years of not being held. The format from 1997 to 2006 was a 6 man round robin invitational. The first qualifier was the previous years champion. The second qualifier was the previous year's Greater Peoria Open winner or highest placing local player. The third qualifier was the Membership Tournament winner. The winner of the annual December tournament qualified. The winner of the Class Championships also qualified. The sixth player was an at Large Invitee.
The format was changed in 2007 to include two two player sections with the winners meeting in a playoff match for the title. The first to accumulate 2 points with a lead in score is the match winner. If the score is tied at 2-2, additional 2 games are played at G30d5 and 2 games at G5d3, played in a single meeting.
To be qualified to participate, players must live in the area served by the GPCF or be regular members of the Monday night Kingsmen Chess Club.
The 1989 K-9 National Championships
The 1998 K-12 National Championships
The Greater Peoria Chess Foundation