Illinois Loses Chess Legend Erik Karklins, 102


Weeks after celebrating his 102nd birthday, Erik Karklins has passed away.

Born in Riga, Latvia, the city which also brought us Mikhail Tal, Mr. Karklins was an architect who immigrated to the United States in 1951, ultimately making Chicago his home. His peak rating was believed to be 2305.

Mr. Karklins' surviving family includes his son, FM Andrew Karklins. In his December 2010 Chess Life article, Ken Marshall says the duo formed the strongest father-son combination in Illinois history. (The Turguts now may have something to say about that).

First appearing in the MSA in 1992 (in his late 70's), Mr. Karklins was then a high Expert who became floored (2000) around the year 2000. His rating climbed to 2089 when he tied for second in the Experts! section at the 2010 Midwest Class with Sam Schmakel and two others.

(Footnote: Thanks to his performance in the event, Schmakel officially became a USCF Expert, early in his freshman year in high school).

According to, which currently hosts 44 of Mr. Karklins' games, many against the stalwarts of Chicago-area chess:

  • In his youth, he played in a simultaneous exhibition given by World Champion Emanuel Lasker.
  • He shared first prize with August Rankis in the 1947 Latvian-English Zone Championship in Germany.
  • He tied for 2nd place in the 1963 Illinois State Championship.
  • He attained the National Master title in 1984, at the unusually advanced age of 68.
  • At age 95, he was by far the oldest player on the USCF's August 2010 list of the top 100 players age 65 and up.
  • At age 97, he tied for third in the Expert Section of the 2012 Midwest Class Championships.

Mr. Karklins was a fixture at many of the Continental Chess Association events in Wheeling through his 99th year.

This reporter has enduring memories of witnessing Mr. Karklins stoically walking to the tournament site from one of the less expensive motels just south of the upscale Westin.

My tournament directing history will be indelibly footnoted by enforcing a clock expiration in Mr. Karklins' final tournament game against Marissa Li at the 2014 Midwest Class.

He had flagged in several prior games at the event but the opponents did not possess the temerity to request enforcement. When I advised him of the opponent's claim, Mr. Karklins interrupted his comprehensive analysis of the position, suggesting the numbers on the clock had been too small. I suppose it's now too late to recommend the resumption of that match to see how it might have turned out.

Time marches on, but for a beloved legend in Illinois chess, unfortunately time has run out. We'll miss him.

Ken Marshall's wonderful piece in the December 2010 Chess Life  appears by US Chess agreement elsewhere on this site: