by Sam Sloan

Speaking of missing persons, I have always wondered about something which happened in 1969. A chess player showed up in New York City named Danny Swomenen from Finland. He told everybody that he was an international chess master. Many players played against him. Zuckerman played him a bunch of 5-minute games and said that he was a 2100 player. This, however, did not prove that he was not an international master. There are a number of players who are international masters at tournament speed but who are only 2100 strength at 5-minute chess. At that time, there was no such thing as a FIDE rating list and no lists of international masters were regularly published. Therefore, it was not possible to be certain whether he really was an international master or not.

I do not recall whether Danny Swomenen played in any Goichberg rated tournaments, but I know that he was very active in chess during that time.

After he had been in New York for several months and seemed fairly well established on the chess scene, Danny Swomenen showed up at a Goichberg tournament at the McAlpin Hotel in New York City and handed out leaflets for a big chess tournament to be held at the Chess House of New York the following week. The tournament was to be called "The Chess House Open". It had big guaranteed prizes, much bigger than the prizes which were normally offered at that time.

The Chess House was a club on 72nd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues in New York City, owned by Charlie Hidalgo, a long established rated chess expert. A scene from a Woody Allen movie was filmed in the Chess House. It was known or believed that Charlie Hidalgo had a lot of money. His brother, Otto Hidalgo, was big in real estate. Therefore, nobody questioned that these big guaranteed prizes at the Chess House Open would be paid.

Not many players showed up for the Chess House Open, mainly because it was not advertised in Chess Life. Almost the only people who knew about it were those who had received the leaflets handed out by Danny Swomenen the weekend before.

One interesting player was an old man named Balough from Hungary. He could not speak English. He said that he had just come over from Hungary to visit relatives and would be going back soon. This was a rare event in 1969. There were several famous players in Hungary named Balough, and it was not clear whether he might be one of them.

Although there were not many entries in the Chess House Open, there were a number of strong players, all eager to win those big guaranteed prizes. Among them were Bernard Zuckerman and Walter Browne. It was at just about that time that Browne won the grandmaster title in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The Chess House Open was to be a five round event. There were three rounds on the first day and two on the second day. There were a lot of upsets. By the end of the first day, almost all of the top rated players had lost.

When the time came for the second day of play, Danny Swomenen seemed a bit late. The pairings were not posted. By 11:00 AM, several of us had gotten worried. Shortly thereafter, I was the first one, I believe, to realize the truth. Danny Swomenen had run off with all the money.

One thing which convinced me of this was that several players had tried to enter the Chess House Open by paying by check. However, Danny Swomenen had insisted that they pay by cash. In the few cases in which he had accepted a check, he had "cashed" the check with Charlie Hidalgo.

By 12:00 noon, I think that almost everybody had realized that Danny Swomenen had run away with the money. At about that time, his roommate showed up at the Chess House. His roommate was a well established chess player with an Italian name. (I think his name may have been Ralph Bucciano.) His roommate expressed great surprise that Danny Swomenen had not shown up at the chess tournament, as he had left their apartment before 7:00 AM. However, he then mentioned that Danny Swomenen had been carrying a suitcase in his hand when he walked out the front door.

I immediately called the airport and asked if there were any flights to Finland scheduled for that morning. There were no direct flights to Finland, but there were several flights to other places in Europe.

Needless to say, we never saw Danny Swomenen again. The prizes at the Chess House Open were never paid. The entry fees were not returned. Charlie Hidalgo did not come to the Chess House that day, and when he finally did show up, he claimed no responsibility for the tournament. Danny Swomenen had just rented space from him, said Charlie.

It had always been my belief that no real chess player would ever run away with another chess player's money, for the simple reason that every chess player is gnawed with that compelling insatiable desire to play chess. It has always been my belief that sooner or later, Danny Swomenen would show up at some other place somewhere in the world to play chess, however remote, and that he would be recognized and that we would be able to find him again.

But alas, 26 long years have since passed and Danny Swomenen has never surfaced again. But, there is still hope. There are many chess players in Finland on this Internet. Has anybody out there ever seen Danny Swomenen?

P. S. There was one good thing which came out of the Chess House Open. Jeffrey Kastner, then an up and coming junior player, won a brilliant game against either Walter Browne or Bernard Zuckerman. That game was published in Moscow in Shakhmaty v. SSR and in several other chess publications around the world. However, I cannot find that game in any current databases. Does anybody have that game?

I also played in the Chess House Open. I fell into one of the opening traps which opening authority International Master Bernard Zuckerman had worked out at his home. Zuckerman, who had a regular column in Chess Life at that time, sent in his game against me for publication, but Chess Life rejected it, saying that his opponent was too weak.

Here is that game:

[Event "Chess House Open"]
[Site "New York (USA)"]
[Date "1969.10.04"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Sloan Sam"]
[Black "Zuckerman Bernard"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B76"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 g6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Bg7 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Be3 d6 7. Qd2 Nf6 8. f3 O-O 9. O-O-O Nxd4 10. Bxd4 Be6 11. Kb1 Qc7 12. h4 Rfc8 13. h5 Qa5 14. hxg6 hxg6 15. Bxf6 Rxc3 16. Qxc3 Qxa2+ 17. Kc1 Bxf6 18. Qe3 Qxb2+ 19. Kd2 Bd4 20. Qd3 Qb4+ 21. c3 Qb2+ 22. Qc2 Bxc3+ 23. Kd3 Bc4+ 24. Kxc4 Qxc2 25. Bd3 Rc8+ {White resigns. "Sloan knows just enough book that he falls into all of your traps", said Zuckerman after this game. Zuckerman annotated this game and sent it to Chess Life, but they rejected it for publication.} 0-1

Contact address - please send e-mail to the following address: Sloan@ishipress.com