Evelyn Koshnitsky 1915-2014

Evelyn Koshnitsky 1915-2014

I’ve just heard the sad news that the “grand old lady” of Australian Chess, Evelyn Koshnitsky AO, BEM, has passed away quietly in her sleep in her nursing home in Sydney last Friday.

She was aged 99 years and 5 months, just short of the century, and spent most of her life promoting chess, particularly junior chess and womens’ chess.  With her husband, former Australian Chess Champion Gary Koshnitsky (who passed away in 1999 aged 91), she formed a formidable partnership which probably had no equal in world chess. Both Evelyn and Gary were Honorary Members of FIDE (the World Chess Federation), Life members of the ACF plus Evelyn was  awarded the Order of Australia, the British Empire Medal and other awards too numerous to mention.  Indeed a life well lived in service to chess.

Their two children, Peter and Nicholas, also played chess but not at the level of their parents, but to generations of keen young chess players Evelyn was like a friendly grandmother who wanted to help us in the pursuit of the game we all loved.

I’m sure that most chess players of my generation have their own stories to tell of the impact that Evelyn had on their chess development.  For me it started in 1967 when I played in my first Australian Junior Championships (and my first interstate tournament) as a shy 15 year-old boy.  The tournament was of course run by the Koshnitskys and, whilst I didn’t finish in the prize-list I did win a special encouragement award, “donated by Evelyn Koshintsky” for the best result of a player in the lower rated half – a beautiful little wooden pocket chess set which I still treasure.  Needless to say I was “encouraged” and four years later returned to Adelaide for my first adult national tournament the famous Karlis Lidums Australian Open Championship 1970-71 which, of course, was run by the Koshnitskys. It was, and still is, my favourite chess tournament.  It was the first time that a number of grandmasters had come to Australia to play and it really opened up Australian Chess to the world of international chess.  At the time I was just a promising junior but I performed well enough in the tournament to then be selected to represent Australia in the 1971 World Junior Championships in Athens, and my chess career, as it were, began to take off.  The Koshes went on to organise many more prestigious chess tournaments, including the 1988 World Junior Championships in Adelaide, and in so doing have provided countless opportunities and inspiration to young chess players such as myself.

When I moved into chess administration I very much wanted to in some small way repay Gary and Evelyn for the help that they had given me and so many others.   In 1982 I persuaded the ACF to introduce the “Koshnitsky” medal for service to chess administration and there was no doubt as to who would be awarded the first medal.  Evelyn Koshnitsky!   Both Evelyn and Gary were already Life Members of the ACF so in 1994, as ACF President, I was delighted to present them with a “distinguished service award.”   Some years later, I think it was in 2001, when the Australian Junior Championships came to Adelaide again Gary had passed away and many of the new juniors were perhaps too young to have remembered what Evelyn had done for Australian Chess.  I therefore came up with the idea of the ACF making a special award to Evelyn as “the most loved person in Australian Chess.”  To commemorate the occasion I arranged for a print of a large chess board and had most of the leading Australian chess players and officials each write some comments about Evelyn in one of the squares.  In the centre of the board was a colour photo of Gary and Evelyn and the board was then framed and presented to Evelyn at the closing ceremony of the Australian Junior.  I hope that Evelyn treasured this unique memento, but I have a confession to make.   I had a second copy made and it now hangs in pride of place in my lounge room!

The last time I saw Evelyn was a couple of years ago when I went to Sydney to visit the Australian Open and of course took the opportunity to see Evelyn in her nursing home.  We had a very nice chat, which I recorded for posterity, and I thanked her for all she had done for chess.   Her contribution however is best summed up by Gary Wastell in what he wrote on the chessboard that I presented to Evelyn in 2001.  It simply said “So many years, so many champions, but Evelyn, in so many ways you have been the champion of them all!”

May she rest in peace.


But life must go on, and you guys have a puzzle to solve.   I hope that you can do better than IM Gary Lane did last week in New Zealand.

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One Response to “RJ’s Chess Puzzle #240”

  1. October 16, 2014 at 1:57 am, Bill Kerr said:

    Very nice tribute to a great lady. Thank you.