Person of day - 4 DECEMBER 2023
William James Lombardy was born on 4th December 1937 in New York. His parents lived very modestly and shared a small living space with other families. William’s school friend Eddie taught him the secrets of the game, and soon Lombardy went to the famous trainer Jack Collins, who also worked with Robert Fischer.
William made his debut in the American arena in 1954 and two years later he won the New York State Championship and split first place in the open Canadian championship. The novice was noticed and shortly afterwards he received an invitation to play a training match against Reshevsky himself. 2,5 points out of a possible 6 against a legend of America chess further enhanced Lombardy’s reputation.
In 1957, he became history’s first American junior world champion and a silver medallist as a member of the American squad in the team juniors’ world championship. The second place in Mar-del-Plata in 1958 and superb performances at the Olympiads in Munich and Leipzig brought him the title of grandmaster. Lombardy was the second player of the team under the flag of stars and stripes, only Fischer was higher. In the American national championship of 1960, he became best among equals- Robert outplayed William by 2 points.
Despite all the successes, William left chess for a while. He surrendered his right to participate in the inter-zonal tournament, becoming a Catholic priest. Lombardy received his main education in St Joseph’s seminary and, despite subsequent education in New York University and the University of St Louis, he remained true to spiritual canons.
His return happened in the mid-1960s. William won the open American championship and won 4,5 out 9 points in the super-tournament in Monte Carlo, which brought together a constellation of superstars: Fischer, Smyslov, Geller, Larsen, Gligoric and others. In 1968, he was included in the American team for another Olympiad, but this time only as a substitute. However, in 1970 in Siegen, Lombardy became the best among the reserves, confirming that his old form was returning to him.
In another qualifying cycle, Robert Fischer began his march to world championship, and beside him were his loyal friends, Collins and Lombardy- the only people whom the American trusted.
“Bobby and I met when I was eleven and a half and my new friend said that he will be the world chess champion. Since then I considered that my job- to be his friend and trusted accomplice, to do everything to fulfil his dreams. I voluntarily signed up to be Bobby’s trainer in the inter-zonal tournament in Portoroz, when Fischer, having qualified for the candidates’ tournament, became the youngest grandmaster in history.
In the Match of the Century, I was the only one who saw the other side of the battle between Fischer and Spassky, I saw everything from the inside. In Reykjavik, 14 matches were players and, please note, we did not make a single technical error, not for one moment did we lose to the whole brigade of Soviet analysts helping Spassky.” (W.Lombardy)
However, contemporaries testify that, when Lombardy brought his analyses before the final matches, which brought Fischer victory, and the contender didn’t open the door, muttering that he was not to be disturbed while analysing, the priest could not hold back the tears. In the film “Pawn Sacrifice” about the match in Iceland in 1972, Lombardy’s role was played by the famous Hollywood actor John Peter Sarsgaard.
After Fischer’s departure from chess, his second continued to perform actively, became an Olympic champion and a prize-winner in several Olympiads as a member of the American team, won several difficult tournaments, but could not qualify for the inter-zonal tournament, in which he once rashly declined to participate…
He is the author of “Modern Chess Opening Traps” and a tournament compilation of the American championship of 1975. A priest who defeated Spassky, Korchnoi, Polugaevsky, Timman, Portisch and drew with Fischer, Botvinnik, Tal, Petrosian, Bronstein, Keres and Geller, he preached close to his hometown towards the end of his life.
Lombardy died on 13th October 2017.