The death of Mikhail Gorbachev, on August 30, holds meaning for Lindsborg, where the former Soviet President spent two lively and memorable days in late October, 2005.
Gorbachev’s arrival illuminated a shift in global politics and an emergence of global chess in Lindsborg. He was in America to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Peristroika, reforms that led to the dissolution of what was once the Soviet Union and the Eastern European Soviet bloc.
Joining Gorbachev in Lindsborg were Anatoly Karpov, a seven-time Soviet world chess champion, and four-time women’s world champion Zsuzsa (Susan) Polgár, a Hungarian-born American chess grandmaster. Karpov’s multi-national initiative, “Chess for Peace”, would begin here with Gorbachev’s blessing – a planned convergence.
Eight years earlier, chess took hold in Lindsborg at Jan Cambridge-Lewis’s coffee house, where a few young people gathered to play. Wes Fisk, a retired private investigator and chess whiz, had moved to Lindsborg from Pasadena, Calif., with his wife, Suzie. He was also a senior writer for Chess Life, a widely distributed publication (circ.100,000) of the U.S. Chess Federation.
Fisk quickly organized the Lindsborg Chess Club, affiliated with the U.S. Chess Federation, and started group classes. In 1998, students from the club entered the first Kansas State Scholastic Championship at Wichita. In 1998 and 1999, the club held two USCF tournaments. The club grew to 60 members.
In December 1999, Mikhail Korenman and his family moved to Lindsborg, where Korenman (Russian-born, Ph.D. at Kansas State) would teach chemistry at Bethany College. Korenman, a chess master, had a passion for competitive chess and for teaching the sport. He and Fisk became friends and continued the chess club after the coffee house closed.
Korenman befriended Grandmaster Yury Shulman at a chess tournament in Oklahoma. In turn, Shulman introduced Korenman to Grandmaster Alex Onischuk, who knew Karpov. Onischuk had played in international tournaments in Lindsborg and told Karpov that it would be a good place to train.
“In Russia it is better to have 100 friends than 100 rubles,” Korenman was fond of saying. He and Fisk began to call on their friends, drawing international competitors to matches in Lindsborg.
Karpov came to Lindsborg in December, 2002 to train for his upcoming match in New York with Soviet Grandmaster Garry Kasparov. (Karpov won the four-game rapid chess match, two games to one, the final game a draw.)
In April 2004, Lindsborg was host to the Final Four competition in the U.S. Intercollegiate Chess Championships. Headline in the News-Record: “Maryland outlasts Texas.”
Lindsborg was chess-busy that year, including the U.S. Junior Invitational in July (14 year-old Daniel Ludwig won a $50,000 scholarship to the University of Maryland-Baltimore). The city also was host for the Kansas Open and the U.S, Junior Open.
In September, Karpov and Polgár competed in Lindsborg – a “clash of the titans” that drew worldwide attention, the first sanctioned match between male and female world champions. They battled to a draw over two days, Sept. 18-19, at the Smoky Valley Middle School auditorium.
In December, the Lindsborg Open featured 37 of the world’s best chess players, including world grand masters from Ukraine, Russia, Poland and Sweden. Over the tournament Dec. 17-23, grandmasters Alex Moiseenko, Ukraine, and Ildar Ibragimov, formerly of Kasan, Russia, tied for first place.
In early April 2005, Maryland-Baltimore won its second straight Intercollegiate championship, defeating arch-rival UT-Dallas in a grueling two-day series April 2-3 at the Rosberg Conference Center (now Bank of Tescott).
Less than two weeks after the Final Four, Karpov returned to Lindsborg to announce plans for his October global initiative, Chess for Peace, promoting cultural exchanges among the youth of dozens of countries.
Karpov agreed to deliver a written invitation from Lindsborg Mayor Ron Rolander to Gorbachev to celebrate the launch of Chess for Peace. Karpov returned to Russia, delivered Rolander’s invitation, and Gorbachev quickly accepted.
Gorbachev and Polgár arrived on Oct. 29, 2005, Gorbachev in a caravan of black SUVs with a contingent of body guards. Rosberg House bed and breakfast was command central. He, Karpov and Polgár spent the day and overnight in Lindsborg to endorse the Chess for Peace initiative and the newly-formed Karpov International chess school.
That extraordinary moment seems ages ago – a grand parade, the media swarms, a formal banquet at the Sandzén. Later in a packed Presser Hall, the Wall Street Journal’s Alan Murray interviewed Gorbachev on stage over a game of chess. After that, many parties. Gorbachev headed downtown to Lindsborg’s iconic pub, Öl Stuga, where he held court, the crowd about him surveyed by large grim-faced agents. He drank vodka and cranberry juice. This instantly became Öl Stuga’s “Gorbatini.”