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Jerry Hanken (left) shaking hands with USCF President Bill Goichberg
JERRY HANKEN, 1934 – 2009
Jerry passed away from complications of diabetes on October 1. His family was with him, and a number of chessplayers had visited him in the hospital during the preceding days. Jerry is survived by his former wife, Barbara, and their children, Andrea and Dan
Chess was an avocation for Jerry, who was an admired probation officer for Los Angeles County for 39 years, but it was clearly what he most enjoyed. He was widely noted as a journalist, with many dozens of articles published in Chess Life and other magazines. His “parting with the lady” series on queen sacrifices (generally with necessity or desperation as the mother of invention) was widely noted and enriched the chess lexicon. In recent years Jerry reported on most of the major open tournaments for Chess Life. He won many awards from the Chess Journalists of America and served as its president for the last four years, signing up many members with his infectious enthusiasm.
In chess governance, Jerry served on USCF’s Policy Board (today called the Executive Board) for ten years between 1978 and 1994 and was a regular at the Delegates meeting until this August, when ill health kept him from his first U.S. Open since 1972. Never shy about asking questions or making suggestions, Jerry made many contributions to the organization’s health. His oratory, influenced by his Shakespeare scholarship, carried the day more often than not. He was instrumental in the creation of the Southern California Chess Federation in 1977, when California was split for USCF purposes, and served on its board for many years, including a term as president.
As an organizer, Jerry was responsible for bringing two successful U.S. Opens to Los Angeles, in 1991 and 2003. His efforts saved the American Open after it lost its corporate sponsorship in 1990 (he played in 44 straight American Opens since its inception in 1965). His work with the late Louis Statham and Isaac Kashdan contributed to the success of the Lone Pine grandmaster tournaments between 1972 and 1981.
However, Jerry was proudest of his accomplishments as a player. He won the California Open against a strong field in 1964, and earned the Life Master title (300 games as a Master) many times over. (He coined the term “Original Life Master” when less-meaningful versions of that title came along.) In what turned out to be his penultimate tournament, the 2009 World Open, he upset young FM Daniel Yeager, a game that earned publication in the master-oriented New in Chess magazine.
Jerry had a strong personality and could be difficult to work with. One aspect of this personality was a devotion to principle, displayed in 2002, when the president of FIDE (a man with a well-earned reputation for human rights violations in his Russian satrapy) was introduced as an honored guest at the USCF delegates meeting. This writer (sitting in the corner of a semicircular room) turned his chair around, a gesture that went unnoticed. Jerry, joined by Bill Goichberg and a few others, forthrightly walked out. That’s the Jerry Hanken I will remember. RIP, my friend.
-- Randy Hough
Randy Hough (left) in discussion with Jerry Hanken during the 2006 US Open