FM Ricardo Szmetan (1952 – 2010)

FM SzmetanI met Ricardo at a chess tournament in Chicago in the summer of 1975. This young chess master, age 22, had traveled from his native Argentina to spend a few months visiting a maternal uncle’s family in Skokie. He played in several tournaments in the Chicago area over a period of about 4 months. He took first place in all but one of the events he participated in. One of his games was featured in the Christian Science Monitor. He was an excellent blitz player frequently giving 5-1 time odds, and winning every game. He loved telling stories of games he played at the Argentine Chess Club in Buenos Aires against the leading Masters of the day. He came from a family of chess players. His older brother, Jorge, is an International Master and 1976 National Champion of Argentina.

Ricardo was a polyglot. Besides Spanish, he spoke English, French and Rumanian. He had a working knowledge of all Romance Languages. He had been a student in Rumania from 1976 to 1981, and also lived in Switzerland prior to coming to the U.S. in 1985 to do graduate studies. He studied at the University of Pittsburgh, Northwestern University in Evanston, and Temple University in Philadelphia where he earned his PhD in Spanish and Latin American Literature. Among the U.S. higher education institutions he worked at are Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and the University of Texas, Kingsville.

Ricardo was the 1986 Illinois State Champion. The late National Master Richard Verber was one of the players favored to win the title. Their individual encounter, a hard-fought Sicilian Defense game, ended in a draw after 46 moves. Some time after that, Ricardo won a Midwest Masters Invitational Tournament in Chicago. At the Greater Peoria Open in 1999 Ricardo and I played our only tournament game. I was very lucky to get a draw against him and tie for first place in the tournament.

While a Lecturer in Latin American Studies at the University of the West Indies, Dr. Szmetan became the 2002 Barbados National Champion. He was part of the National Team at the Chess Olympiad 2002 and remained a member of the Barbados Chess Federation until his death. Besides being a FIDE Master, Ricardo was also a certified FIDE Trainer. After Barbados he spent a couple of years in Spain working as a chess trainer. Assignments as chess trainer in the Mexican states of Tabasco and Oaxaca were next up for him. In Mexico, he was recruited by the University of Puebla Chess Team to compete in a Team Championship.  At this contest, held in Mexico City, he beat Illinois G.M. Nikola Mitkov.

More recently -2007/2008- Ricardo earned a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. While working on his studies at Illinois, he would periodically participate in Sevan Muradian’s North American Chess Association Master Tournaments. Earning his degree at Illinois coincided with the downturn in the economy. Unable to find a job in the U.S., he returned to Argentina in October, 2009. He had heart problems – had undergone heart surgery at Illinois- and his overall health was not good. On December 31, 2010 – barely a month past his 58th birthday- Ricardo passed away.

Adiós amigo Ricardo.

(Photo of FM Szmetan taken in 2002, courtesy of Cathy Rogers)