The History of the Capital International Tournaments

American players complained about their competitive disadvantage compared to their European counterparts, especially those behind the Iron Curtain, because of the dearth of high-level round-robin tournaments held in the U.S. Many players wanted opportunities to earn FIDE titles (International Master and International Grandmaster) without crossing an ocean, but those opportunities were rare in the United States in the 1980s.

 

In 1989, David Mehler invited a few Maryland players to compete in such a tournament in Kensington, Maryland. With the sponsorship of Californian Edward Labate, and assistance from the Maryland Chess Association and the American Chess Foundation, he put together an event with two foreign players and two players who already had at least the IM title (a requirement for earning norms*).

 

The Capital International was held at The Newport Schools, a private school where future U.S. Chess Center instructor Norm Constantine was a teacher. The school generously allowed the tournament to be held in their Board Room during spring break, so long as Mr. Constantine directed the event and kept things under proper control.

The field of players in front of the Newport Schools venue. From left to right: Richard Delaune, Walter Morris, Alex Sherzer, Vladimir Epishin, Rosendo Balinas, Allan Savage, and the tournament organizer David Mehler.
Between rounds, in one of the school classrooms, Alex Sherzer and Richard Delaune analyze a game with Virginia state champion Macon Shibut seated behind.

Competing in the tournament was Vladimir Epishin, a talented Soviet player who, despite winning the 1987 St. Petersburg Championship, had not been given opportunities to compete for titles. Rosendo Balinas, a Grandmaster from the Philippines, had been one of Asia’s strongest players in the 1970s. With two brothers living in Maryland, he was comfortable in the area and agreed to participate in this event.

 

International Master Walter Morris was (and still is) a math professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. A very talented junior player from the Midwest, he decided that mathematics held greater professional interest than chess but retained a strong personal interest in the game.  Rounding out the field were Allan Savage, the Maryland State Champion, Richard Delaune, a popular player who grew up in Virginia but lived in Maryland, and Maryland’s most promising junior, Alex Sherzer. All three of those players held the title of FIDE Master.

 

With an average international rating of 2380, this tournament was a FIDE Category VI event, meaning that a player would need to score 6 points in the 10-round event to earn an IM norm. Both Epishin and Sherzer earned IM norms at this tournament en route to their grandmaster titles.

1989 Capital International

NameNationFIDE123456Total
1Vladimir EpishinURS2465X | X½ | ½½ | ½1 | 11 | ½1 | 17 ½
2FM Alex SherzerUSA2360½ | ½X | X½ | 01 | 11 | 1½ | 17
3GM Rosendo BalinasPHI2390½ | ½½ | 1X | X1 | ½1 | 0½ | ½6
4FM Richard DelauneUSA23750 | 00 | 00 | ½X | X½ | 11 | ½3 ½
5IM Walter MorrisUSA23650 | ½0 | 0½ | ½½ | 0X | X1 | ½3 ½
6FM Allan SavageUSA23150 | 0½ | 00 | 10 | ½0 | ½X | X2 ½

Here are the gamescores we have from the 1989 tournament, in PGN.

Allan Savage and eventual tournament winner Vladimir Epishin about to start their game.
Walter Morris and Rosendo Balinas getting ready to play.

In 1990, the tournament was repeated, this time without a sponsor other than Mr. Mehler. Vladimir Epishin, now an International Master, returned to try to defend his championship. With him came his friend Alexey Dreev, a grandmaster fresh off his win at the European Junior Championship.

 

Finnish International Master Timothy Binham, the spouse of a diplomat, volunteered to play. Richard Delaune, who had one IM norm and was soon to earn the other two he needed to achieve that title, returned.  Maurice Ashley, who had demonstrated a great deal of talent but did not yet have an international title, came down from New York. He later became the first African-American Grandmaster and a U.S. Chess Hall of Fame inductee. Stanley Fink, who had recently won the title of Maryland Champion, rounded out the field.

 

The 1990 field, with an average international rating of 2423, was a high Category VII tournament, the strongest tournament ever held in the National Capital area.  Dreev won the tournament by a half-point over Epishin but no norms were achieved, as the two top finishers already had their grandmaster titles.  Both Dreev and Epishin would go on to distinguished international careers, maintaining rankings in the top 20 players in the world for several years in the 1990s.

1990 Capital International

NameNationFIDE123456Total
1GM Alexey DreevURS2605X | X½ | ½1 | 11 | 11 | 11 | 19
2IM Vladimir EpishinURS2550½ | ½X | X1 | 11 | 11 | 11 | ½8 ½
3IM Timothy BinhamFIN23400 | 00 | 0X | X0 | ½½ | ½0 | 12 ½
4FM Richard DelauneUSA23600 | 00 | 01 | ½X | X1 | 00 | 13 ½
5Maurice AshleyUSA23800 | 00 | 0½ | ½0 | 1X | X1 | 14
6Stanley FinkUSA23050 | 00 | ½1 | 01 | 00 | 0X | X2 ½

Here are the collected games from the 1990 tournament, in PGN.

*A “norm” is a part of an international chess title.  Generally, a player needs three norms to achieve an International Master or International Grandmaster title, and a norm is acquired by performing above a set rating level in a competition against a certain number of titled players.  FIDE, the World Chess Federation, sets the requirements for earning title norms, and these requirements have changed over the years.  The FIDE Handbook has more information if you are interested in learning specific details about the norms required for each particular title.