Joe Tamargo is Seriously Ill

Joe Tamargo, 65, is seriously ill in Flushing Hospital in Queens, New York. Tamargo was found lying on the floor of the bathroom of the rooming house where he lives. His landlady, Carol, found him there. Yet, Tamargo said that he was OK and that he would get up and go to his room.
Joseph Tamargo
Joseph Tamargo

The next day the landlady came back and found Tamargo still in the same place. He had not been able to move. Yet again Tamargo insisted he was OK, that he did not need to go to the hospital and that she should not call the ambulance. She called the ambulance anyway and it is a good thing too, because by the time that they got Tamargo to the hospital he was just about dead.

It is a miracle of modern medicine that Tamargo is still alive. He has been saying for the past month that he has the gout. This turned out to be a wrong diagnosis. He had blood clots in his legs. In the hospital, they gave him anti-cloting drugs, amputated his left leg, and gave him medications to slow down his heart rate, which was beating at the rate of over 200. He is now in the Emergency Cardiac ECU, but they believe that they will be able to transfer to a regular hospital ward on Monday.

I only found out yesterday that he was in the hospital and nobody else other than his landlady seems to know. Tamargo has no family. His parents and uncles died years ago. He has two long time girlfriends, Diane Dawley and Mindy Sperling. However, Diane Dawley moved to Costa Rica some years ago to live with her father there.

The reason I only found out yesterday that Tamargo was in the hospital is that I have been so busy with my election campaign that I did not have time to speak to him or to anybody else. My wife noticed that he had not called in several weeks, so I decided to try to call him. Eventually, I reached his landlady, who told me what had happened.

I spent an hour and a half yesterday in his hospital room. He knew who I was and told the doctor and the nurse that he has known me for 40 years, which is exactly correct since we met in 1964. The doctor said that he is expected to live. I would have never imagined so, however.

Joe Tamargo is famous as a player of two games, chess and go. He wrote a book, "Really Speak Spanish", for persons who have studied Spanish but find that they still cannot speak it. The book is just about ready for publication, but has not been published yet.

Joe Tamargo was an early chess rival of Bobby Fischer, as they were about the same age. Fischer still to this day speaks of him often, frequently referring to the strength and power of Tamargo. Tamargo has a fierce reputation over the chessboard and even the strongest grandmasters would not take lightly the prospect of meeting Tamargo in a serious chess match.

Tamargo is two years older than Bobby Fischer and they played two tournament games against each other when both were teenagers. The first was a draw and has never been published. Tamargo says that he no longer has the score sheet. The second was a win for Fischer. Played at the Manhattan Chess Club in 1956 at just about the time that Fischer won his "Game of the Century", Tamargo played the risky Morra Gambit and got a small advantage. The game developed into a dead drawn rook-and-pawn endgame. Tamargo offered a draw. Fischer, aged 13, screeched back "Are you kidding?" Tamargo was so upset that he made a horrific blunder on the next move, the kind of blunder even the strongest grandmasters occasionally make when the mind plays a trick and they visualize the board upside down or backwards.

This game is included in every anthology of Fischer's games, but Tamargo complains that his name is always spelled wrong as Tomargo and that the score of the game is wrong too, as the last moves shown are not what was actually played. Tamargo has never bothered to correct the record, however.

Tamargo was at one time the second or third strongest native born American player at the game of go. He was never the best however, as there was always one American who could beat him. Tamargo may however have been the best go player in the world who never visited the Far East. All of the other top players have spent time in Japan or Korea.

Born in 1941, by 1964 Tamargo was without doubt the strongest combined chess and go player in America, and possibly in the world. Another player who might have made this claim was Edward Lasker. However, Tamargo was several stones stronger than Lasker at go (they played many games against each other) and by that time with Lasker advanced in years Tamargo was much stronger at chess, too.

By the early 1970s, Tamargo had stopped playing go. One evening in about 1970, Tamargo was hanging around Charlie Hidalgo's "Chess House" on West 72nd Street, in New York City. (The Chess House was the location of one of the opening scenes in the Woody Allen Movie "The Front" where Woody goes to play a chess game against a blacklisted writer.) At the Chess House, a match had been arranged between a team of top players from Japan and a team of top players from Korea. However, one of the Japanese players had not shown up, so they went around the Chess House asking if anybody knew how to play go so that each team would have the same number of players. Finally, Tamargo said that he used to know how to play go but had not played in years. Happy to have found somebody who knew how to play go, the Japanese team adopted him. In order to improve their chances of winning the match, they put Tamargo on the top board against the top Korean player as a sacrifice. They were all astounded, flabbergasted and unbelieving when Tamargo won the match. They had never seen anything like this before.

In recent years, Joe Tamargo has made his living hustling chess in Liberty Park in front of Ground Zero and the World Trade Center, taking on all comers at $5 a game. Fortunately for him, he had not gotten to work yet when the World Trade Center fell on 9-11.

Although the most famous chess game ever played by Tamargo was against Bobby Fischer, his most famous win was against Grandmaster Andy Soltis, who is now the chess columnist for the New York Post. In the 1976 Marshall Chess Club Championship, Tamargo had the tournament of his life, winning almost every game against an all master field. The critical game was against Grandmaster Soltis. Soltis resigned thinking that Tamargo had mate in three. However, subsequent analysis showed that Soltis had a defense and could have won the game. This became famous as a game where a grandmaster resigned in a winning position. However, modern re-analysis of this same game has established that Tamargo really did have a win with best play when Soltis resigned, although it is unlikely that either Soltis or Tamargo would have found all the best moves over the board.

Joe Tamargo is still alive and it is too early to write an obituary. A speedy recovery is not possible, but we can still hope for a recovery.

Sam Sloan

[Event "?"]
[Site "Manhattan Chess Club, New York"]
[Date "1956.??.??"]
[Round "02"]
[White "Tomargo, Joseph"]
[Black "Fischer, Robert J"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B21"]

1.e4 c5 2.d4 cxd4 3.c3 Nf6 4.e5 Nd5 5.cxd4 Nc6 6.Nc3 Nxc3 7.bxc3
d5 8.Bd3 e6 9.Ne2 Be7 10.O-O Bd7 11.f4 g6 12.g4 Qc7 13.f5 gxf5
14.gxf5 exf5 15.Ng3 O-O-O 16.Nxf5 Be6 17.Kh1 h5 18.Qf3 Rdg8
19.Nh6 Rf8 20.Bf5 Qd7 21.Bd2 f6 22.Bxe6 Qxe6 23.Qf5 Qxf5 24.Nxf5
fxe5 25.Nxe7+ Nxe7 26.dxe5 Kd7 27.Bg5 Ke6 28.Bf6 Rhg8 29.Rab1 b6
30.Rfd1 Rc8 31.Bxe7 Kxe7 32.Rxd5 Rxc3 33.a4 Ke6 34.Rdb5 Ra3 35.a5
bxa5 36.R1b3 Rxb3 37.Rxb3 Rg5 38.Rb7 Kxe5 39.Rxa7 Kd4 40.h4 Rg4

[Event "Marshall Chess Club Championship"]
[Site "Marshall Chess Club, New York"]
[Date "1976.03.28"]
[Round "09"]
[White "Soltis, Andy"]
[Black "Tamargo, Joseph"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C91"]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 O-O
8.d4 d6 9.c3 Bg4 10.a4 exd4 11.cxd4 Bxf3 12.gxf3 Na5 13.Bc2 c5
14.Nc3 b4 15.Ne2 Qb6 16.Ng3 g6 17.d5 Nd7 18.f4 Bf6 19.Qg4 Qc7
20.e5 dxe5 21.Ne4 Bg7 22.f5 b3 23.Bb1 Nc4 24.fxg6 hxg6 25.Ng5 Nd6
26.Qh4 Nf6 27.Rxe5 Qd7 28.h3 Nh5 29.Re6 Rae8 30.Rxg6 fxg6 31.Bxg6
Re1+ 32.Kg2 Bd4 33.Bh7+ Qxh7 34.Nxh7 Rxf2+ 35.Qxf2 Bxf2 36.Kxf2
Rd1 37.Ng5 Nf6 38.Ne6 c4 39.Nc7 a5 40.Ke2 Rh1 41.Ke3 Kf7 42.Kd4
Nd7 43.Nb5 Rd1+ 44.Ke3 Nf5+ 45.Ke2 Rh1 46.Rb1 Ne5 47.Na3 Rh2+
48.Kd1 Nf3 49.Bf4 Rf2 {In this position, a grandmaster resigned
in a winning position. White resigned believing that he had no
defense to N5d4 followed by Rf1# checkmate. However, it was soon
discovered that White did have a way out and in fact could have won
the game. Can you find the saving defense for White?
wKd1,Na3,Bf4,Rb1,Pa4,b2,d5,h3/bKf7,Nf3,f5,Rf2,Pa5, b3,c4
8/5k2/8/p2P1n2/P1p2B2/Np3n1P/1P3r2/1R1K4 w - - 0 50} 0-1

[Event "Marshall Chess Club Championship"]
[Site "Marshall Chess Club, New York"]
[Date "1976.01.18"]
[Round "01"]
[White "Bernstein, Sidney"]
[Black "Tamargo, Joseph"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "B25"]

1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.g3 g6 4.Bg2 Bg7 5.d3 d6 6.f4 e6 7.Nf3 Nge7
8.O-O O-O 9.Be3 Nd4 10.Nh4 f5 11.Qd2 Rb8 12.Nd1 Kh8 13.c3 Ndc6
14.Nf2 b6 15.exf5 gxf5 16.Rfe1 a5 17.Qe2 Qe8 18.Nf3 h6 19.Nd2 Nd5
20.Nc4 Nxe3 21.Qxe3 Qd7 22.a4 Ne7 23.Qe2 Nd5 24.Ra3 Rf6 25.Bxd5
exd5 26.Qe8+ Kh7 27.Qxd7 Bxd7 28.Re7 Rb7 29.Ne3 Bc6 30.Rxb7 Bxb7
31.Rb3 d4 32.Nc4 Re6 33.Kf1 Bf3 34.Rxb6 dxc3 35.bxc3 Bxc3 36.Rb1
Re2 37.Nxd6 Bd4 38.Nde4 fxe4 39.Nxe4 Rxh2 40.Rb7+ Kg8 41.Rb8+ Kg7
42.Rb7+ Kf8 43.Rb8+ Ke7 0-1

[Event "Marshall Chess Club Championship"]
[Site "Marshall Chess Club, New York"]
[Date "1976.02.01"]
[Round "02"]
[White "Tamargo, Joseph"]
[Black "Hulse, Brian"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B22"]

1.e4 c5 2.c3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.d4 Nc6 5.Nf3 e5 6.Be3 cxd4 7.cxd4
Bg4 8.Nc3 Bb4 9.dxe5 Bxf3 10.Qxf3 Qxf3 11.gxf3 Nxe5 12.Bb5+ Nc6
13.Rg1 g6 14.Bd4 f6 15.Bxc6+ bxc6 16.a3 Bxc3+ 17.Bxc3 Rd8 18.Rg4
Nh6 19.Ra4 Rd7 20.Rd1 Re7+ 21.Kf1 Kf7 22.Rd6 Rc8 23.Rxf6+ Kg8
24.h4 Nf5 25.h5 c5 26.hxg6 Nd4 27.Rc4 Rcc7 28.b4 Nb5 29.bxc5 Nxc3
30.Rxc3 hxg6 31.Rxg6+ Kf7 32.Rd6 Re6 33.Rxe6 Kxe6 34.c6 Ke7 35.f4
Kd8 36.Ke2 Re7+ 37.Kf3 Kc7 38.f5 Rh7 39.Kf4 1-0

[Event "Marshall Chess Club Championship"]
[Site "Marshall Chess Club, New York"]
[Date "1976.02.22"]
[Round "05"]
[White "Robinson, Richard"]
[Black "Tamargo, Joseph"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C00"]

1.e4 e6 2.b3 d5 3.Bb2 dxe4 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.Qe2 Bb4 6.O-O-O Qe7 7.Kb1
Ba3 8.Ba1 a5 9.Nxe4 Nbd7 10.f4 a4 11.Nf3 axb3 12.cxb3 O-O 13.Ne5
Nd5 14.h4 f6 15.Nd3 c5 16.Nc3 Nxc3+ 17.dxc3 b5 18.Nb2 c4 19.bxc4
b4 20.Qe4 Rb8 21.Bd3 f5 22.Qd4 bxc3 23.Qxc3 Bb4 24.Qd4 Nc5 25.Bc2
Bb7 26.Kc1 Bc6 27.Rh3 Ne4 28.Bxe4 Bxe4 29.Rg3 Rb7 30.Nd3 Ba3+
31.Kd2 Rd7 32.Qe5 Bd6 33.Rxg7+ Qxg7 34.Qxg7+ Rxg7 35.Bxg7 Kxg7
36.Ke3 Ra8 37.Rd2 Ra3 38.g3 Bc5+ 39.Ke2 Be7 40.Ne5 Rxg3 41.Rd7
Kf8 42.c5 Bxc5 43.Rd8+ Kg7 44.Rd7+ Kh6 0-1

[Event "Marshall Chess Club Championship"]
[Site "Marshall Chess Club, New York"]
[Date "1976.03.14"]
[Round "07"]
[White "Early, Brian"]
[Black "Tamargo, Joseph"]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C36"]

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 d5 5.exd5 Nxd5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.Qe2+
Be7 8.Nxd5 Qxd5 9.Bc4 Qd6 10.d4 Be6 11.Bxe6 fxe6 12.O-O O-O
13.Bd2 Nd7 14.Rae1 Rf6 15.Qe4 Rd8 16.Kh1 h6 17.Ne5 Nc5 18.Qe2
Qxd4 19.Bc3 Qd5 20.Nf3 Rf7 21.Nd4 e5 22.Qxe5 Qxe5 23.Rxe5 Bf6
24.Rxc5 Bxd4 25.Bxd4 Rxd4 26.Kg1 Re7 27.g3 fxg3 28.hxg3 Re2
29.Rf2 Rdd2 30.Rxe2 Rxe2 31.Kf1 Rd2 32.Ke1 Rg2 33.Rc3 Kf7 34.Kf1
Rh2 35.Rb3 b6 36.Ra3 Rxc2 37.Rxa7+ Kf6 38.b4 g5 39.Rb7 b5 40.Ra7
Kf5 0-1

[Event "Marshall Chess Club Championship"]
[Site "Marshall Chess Club, New York"]
[Date "1976.03.22"]
[Round "08"]
[White "Tamargo, Joseph"]
[Black "Kane, George"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B22"]

1.e4 c5 2.c3 e6 3.d4 d5 4.exd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Bb5 Bd6 7.Be3
cxd4 8.Bxd4 Nf6 9.O-O Ne4 10.Be5 Bxe5 11.Nxe5 Qd6 12.Nxc6 bxc6
13.Bd3 Nc5 14.Re1+ Be6 15.b4 Nd7 16.Nd2 a5 17.a3 axb4 18.axb4
Rxa1 19.Qxa1 O-O 20.Qa6 Bg4 21.h3 Bh5 22.Nb3 Qf6 23.Nd4 Ne5
24.Bf1 Bg6 25.Re3 Rb8 26.Rxe5 Qxe5 27.Nxc6 Qc7 28.Nxb8 Qxb8
29.Qa5 1-0

[Event "Marshall Chess Club Championship"]
[Site "Marshall Chess Club, New York"]
[Date "1976.04.04"]
[Round "10"]
[White "Tamargo, Joseph"]
[Black "Popovych, Orest"]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "E62"]

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 O-O 5.O-O d6 6.d4 Nc6 7.Nc3 Bg4
8.d5 Na5 9.b3 Qd7 10.Re1 c5 11.Bb2 a6 12.Qd3 Rab8 13.e4 b5
14.cxb5 axb5 15.e5 Nh5 16.Ne4 c4 17.Qc2 Rbc8 18.b4 Nb7 19.Bc3 h6
20.exd6 exd6 21.Bxg7 Kxg7 22.Qc3+ Kg8 23.Nd4 f5 24.h3 fxe4
25.hxg4 Nf6 26.Ne6 Rf7 27.Bxe4 Nxg4 28.f3 Nf6 29.Bxg6 Nxd5
30.Bxf7+ Qxf7 31.Qd4 Nxb4 32.Re4 h5 33.Rg4+ hxg4 34.Qxg4+ Kh8
35.Kg2 1-0

[Event "Manhattan Chess Club Championship Preliminaries"]
[Site "New York NY"]
[Date "1971.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Tamargo, Joe"]
[Black "Sloan, Sam"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A16"]

1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 O-O 5.e3 c6 6.Nge2 d5 7.cxd5
cxd5 8.d4 Nc6 9.Nf4 e6 10.O-O a6 11.Na4 Nd7 12.Nd3 Qc7 13.b3 h5
14.Ba3 Re8 15.Rc1 b5 16.Nac5 Qa5 17.Nxd7 Bxd7 18.Bc5 Rec8 19.b4
Qd8 20.a3 Bf6 21.f4 Kg7 22.Ne5 Ne7 23.h3 Nf5 24.Qe1 Be8 25.g4 Bh4
26.Qd2 hxg4 27.hxg4 Ng3 28.Rfd1 Ne4 29.Bxe4 dxe4 30.g5 Bxg5
31.fxg5 Qxg5+ 32.Qg2 Qxe3+ 33.Kf1 f6 34.Ng4 Qxa3 35.Qxe4 Bc6
36.d5 Bxd5 37.Qf4 Qh3+ 38.Ke2 Qg2+ 39.Ke3 Qh3+ 40.Kd2 Qg2+ 41.Kc3
Qh3+ 42.Rd3 Qh4 43.Kb2 e5 44.Qxf6+ Qxf6 45.Nxf6 Bc4 46.Rd6 a5
47.Rh1 Bg8 48.Rd7+ Kxf6 49.Rf1+ Kg5 50.Rg1+ Kf5 51.Rf1+ Kg5
52.Rg1+ Kf5 53.Rf1+ 1/2-1/2

UPDATE: Joe Tamargo has survived and is almost fully recovered except for the loss of a leg. He is in a nursing home undergoing rehabilitation.

He has asked me to post the following update on his situation:

I want to correct some direct lies that my ex-landlady told Sam about me. Notice that almost all these things tend to make me look like a fool. My ex-landlady is not a very nice person, and neither is she overly bright.

It was not the ex-landlady who found me lying on the bathroom floor. It was her son. I never asked anyone not to call an ambulance. It was one occasion, not two.

I indeed had a bad case of gout, and I was being treated for it by various podiatrists and by a private doctor. Some days before I keeled over I had gone to Flushing Hospital to get some gout medicine.

The doctor listened to my heart, found it was very rapid, and panicked. I was forced to stay overnight in the heart ward. When I tried to leave they called a security guard to prevent me. Now, I have had tachycardia (rapid heart beat) for many years. Ten years ago I had a little physical examination for a job, and the doctor (one of a long series of incompetent doctors) wrote that I was unfit even to do light office work. This was when I was working out regularly: carrying two ten-pound weights up and down six flights of stairs ten times. That's sixty flights up, and sixty flights down. If there had been anything wrong with my heart it would have killed me.

That I might not even have been in good enough shape to do light office work was absurd. (In fact, I worked at that place for three years.) That I was actually kept prisoner overnight in Flushing Hospital for the same thing is a scandal. There was no discussion of a blood clot, and no examination for that.

I threatened to sue them, but an intern off-handedly said that I might also sue if they let me go home. I was not allowed to sign myself out until the next day. It was "against medical advice," but my experience has been that medical advice is usually bad.

Well, I find myself getting angry writing about it. I'll add that I was not 63 but 65, and turned sixty-six in November. These days I find myself more interested in backgammon than in chess, and I am not a bad player.

I want to thank my friend Sam Sloan for the (mostly) nice article about me.

Addendum: After I had submitted the above correction I talked it over with Sam. He told me that he wasn't really sure about what my ex-landlady had said or hadn't said, because she was droning on and on, and he wasn't interested anyway.

So I'll offer my apologies to Carol the ex-landlady. Sam could perhaps been more careful and considerate, but he is a very nice fellow who has done a lot of things for me. He visited me a few times in the hospital, has done errands, such as buying handkerchiefs and shorts, for me and he brought me my computer (without knowing that I was going to give him a hundred dollars for that).

Joe Tamargo

UPDATE: Joe is feeling better now and has contributed the following Heartwarming Story from the 19th Century: Christmas Pudding

Here are links:
Sam Sloan's Chess Page

My Home Page

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