Many would argue that not every chess legend needs to have the suffix of “GM” before their name. In the Soviet Union there was the attacking genius IM Rashid Nezhmedtdinov, and then there was also the blitz-playing welder Genrikh Chepukaitis - neither won a major tournament, yet both were rightly feared by the very top Soviet chess-playing elite. And in America, one player who fell into this category was IM Emory Tate, who sadly died with his ‘boots on’ last Saturday while in the middle of a tournament game.
Tate, 56, was playing in the GM Sam Shankland Championship in San Jose, CA, and was on a score of 1.5/2. According to reports posted by his colleague, GM Christian Chirila, he came out of the restroom mid-game, mumbling ‘Call 911’, and then suddenly collapsed. Despite players trying to administer first aid, and medics quickly arriving within 10 minutes, he was confirmed dead at the scene.
Over the board, he was a swashbuckling player who arguably became one of American greatest attacking players of his time - here was a warrior born to forever thrust his h-pawn up the board with either colour to launch a sizzling, sacrificial attack. He first came to recognition though when he served in the Air force by winning the All-Armed Services tournament five times, setting a record that still stands to this day.
Emory Tate was a linguist who specialised in Russian, and stationed in Germany, who rose through the ranks to become a staff sergeant. But with the end of the Cold War, by 1992 he returned home to civilian life in Indiana, going on to win the state championship six-times. He did however find life tough outside of the military and constantly fought his inner-demons through the rest of his life. And during this period, he mostly led a nomadic lifestyle, almost as if existing from tournament to tournament as he crisscrossed the country, playing from coast to coast.
His pyrotechnics at the board led him to become a trailblazer for the growing African-American chess scene, prompting GM Maurice Ashley to pay tribute by saying ’His super tactical style as well as his incredibly entertaining post mortems were legendary. His charisma and charm captivated anyone who met him, and his love for chess permeated every pore of his being.’
And Tate took down so many grandmasters with crashing, sacrificial attacks, that on the Internet Chess Club he soon developed an almost cult-like status. Whenever he logged on to play, hundreds of ICC members would quickly switch to follow his games; and one such memorable ‘kibitz’ I will long-remember from an ICC member being: ‘In the Soviet Union, they called Mikhail Tal "the white Tate”’.
Personally, I got to know Emory through his one and only appearance at the 2006 US Championship, in San Diego, CA; the last to be sponsored and run by the AF4C. A complex and controversial character, his reputation for being temperamental went before him, and after a few initial troubles finding an address to send his playing contract for him to sign and confirm his acceptance to play by return, everything - well, eventually - turned out fine.
He had a lack of funds during this time, and we discovered he was embarrassed he couldn’t pay his hotel accommodation in advance to take-up his qualifying spot in San Diego, and this was the reason for the delay in accepting his invite. We managed to resolve the situation by giving him an advance on his winnings - and he was overjoyed he could finally play in the US Championship.
And once in San Diego, he didn’t disappoint the loyal fan-base he’d built up over the years of his spectacular, swashbuckling play - who would almost religiously follow his games live online - as he systematically tore apart in the opening round one of America’s strongest grandmasters, Varuzhan Akobian, in a typically Tate sacrificial attack.
IM Emory Tate (1958-2015) R.I.P.
IM Emory Tate - GM Varuzhan Akobian
US Championship 2006, (1)
1.Nf3 The first shock from Tate on the first move of the first round of his first (and only) US Championship: Akobian had expected 1.e4 from his opponent and some sort of aggressive, all-out attack against his French Defence, only to discover his opponent can also play the positional stuff. 1...d5 2.e3 c5 3.b3 Nf6 4.Bb2 Bg4 5.h3 Bh5 6.Bb5+ Nfd7 You may think this looks like a mistake from Akobian, but it is his only hope here, as the "natural" 6...Nbd7 runs into 7.g4! Bg6 8.g5 Ne4 9.Ne5 Bf5 10.Qf3! Nd6 11.Qxd5 winning. 7.0-0 e6 8.Be2 Nc6 9.c4 Nb6 10.Na3 Rc8 11.d3 a6 12.Nc2 f6 Black has to develop his dark-squared bishop and castle somehow - and this was practically the only way to do so. 13.Qe1 Bd6 14.e4 0-0 15.Nd2 Bf7 16.f4 Qc7 17.Qh4 dxc4 18.dxc4 e5 19.Bd3 Rfd8 20.Ne3 Nd4 If 20...exf4 21.Nd5 and suddenly White has an overwhelming attack ready to crash through, and the best Black can hope for is: 21...Bxd5 (21...Nxd5? 22.exd5 opens up mating attacks on h7 or the lose of a piece, now that the bishop on d3 has been activated.) 22.exd5 g5 23.Qh6 Be5 24.Bxe5 Nxe5 25.Bf5. 21.Nd5 Nxd5 22.exd5 Bg6 23.f5 Bf7 24.Ne4 h6? Ultimately the losing move, as later it becomes the focal point of Tate's breakthrough sacrifice. Instead, Akobain has to seek immediate counterplay, and should have continued here with 24...b5 and hope for complications with the opening of the b-file. 25.Rae1 Kf8 Akobian tries to run his king to safety on the queenside, rightly seeing that all of the White forces are now ready to launch an all-out attack on the kingside. Regardless of the run, the sacrifice still crashes through. 26.Re3 Ke8 27.Bc1! With the bishop not doing anything on b2, Tate - after first bringing his queenside rook into the fray - redirects it towards the main target. 27...Qa5 28.Rg3 Bf8 29.Bxh6!! (see Diagram) This sacrifice hits through the Black pawn structure like a wrecking ball - there's no defence for his king that gets caught in the middle of the mayhem. 29...gxh6 30.Nxf6+ Ke7 The only way to preserve his winning chances. 31.Ng4+ Ke8 If 31...Kd6 32.Nxe5! Kxe5 33.Rg6! and Black's king is soon snared in a mating net, with no defence to Qf4 mate. 32.Re3 Kd7 33.Nxe5+ Kc7 34.Nxf7 Tate's stunning sacrificial breakthrough has led to him winning three pawns - but now watch how he snuffs out any chances of a GM save by now switching gears to swap off major pieces for a simple win. 34...Re8 35.Qe1! Qxe1 36.Rfxe1 Rxe3 37.Rxe3 h5 38.g4 It's all over bar the making of the time control at move 40. 38...hxg4 39.hxg4 Bd6 40.Nxd6 Kxd6 41.g5 1-0 After 41…Rg8 42.g6 Black is paralysed to White winning now with the simply king march Kg2-g3-g4-g5 etc.