Mark Wasney, local Winnipeg chess player, has authored the following article on Kevin Gentes’ early chess career:
Kevin Gentes (1967-2021)
It was in May 2021 that we learned of the sudden passing of FM Kevin Gentes at the age of 53. Kevin was well known in Manitoba chess circles for the past 35+ years particularly for his immense chess abilities which translated into, among other numerous local tournament victories, 3 Manitoba Junior Championship titles, and 8 Manitoba Closed titles. On the national scene Kevin played in numerous other national tournaments including in Canadian Opens and Canadian Closed tournaments where several of his very best chess creations manifested themselves. These include sparkling victories over GM Yanofsky in 1985, GM Yusopov in 1986, and GM Kevin Spraggett in 1992, all proof of his profound strategic understanding of the game.
It could be said Kevin’s emergence onto the Manitoba chess scene came at a time in the early 1980s when the Manitoba chess was blossoming with talent and skill with the
emergence/ascent of some very strong players such as Dale Kirton, Aron Kaptsan, Art Prystenski, Barry Rasmussen, Glenn Johnstone, Dave Langner, Rehan Huda and others who all no doubt aspired to play at a level mirroring that of local established masters such as Abe Yanofsky, Irwin Lipnowski, Fletcher Baragar, or John Burstow. In fact, all the above players
achieved master ratings, and by the late 1980s Winnipeg boasted around a dozen masters and around 25 players playing above the expert level. On a relative basis, a very impressive number indeed! It was also well known that with such a small pool of players combined with infrequent exposure to the rest of Canada, the rise in skill level did not translate into “true” ratings since players simply traded rating points. The result was that when players did travel abroad, they frequently “punched” above their weight and were able to hold their own with some of Canada’s very best players.
It should also be said that the players during this era owe a great deal to Winnipeg’s long and storied history, which dates as far back as 1895 when Winnipeg’s club was first founded.
Although small and humble, Winnipeg has always played a pivotal role in the Canadian chess scene. There are bigger Canadian centres with greater numbers of players, but few with as rich a chess history and desire for producing quality events that attracted chess luminaries the world over. The 1958 Canadian Open, the 1967 Centennial Grandmasters Tournament, the
1974 Pan American International, the 1986 Canadian Open and Closed, and later on the 1994 and 1997 Canadian Opens.
And so, this rich aroma of history must have lingered strong when Kevin first walked into the basement of the Cornish Library in the Fall of 1981, the official premises of (at that time) the
Manitoba Chess Club. Located at 20 West Gate on the eastern bank of the Assiniboine River, the 106 year-old, single-storey, red-bricked structure opened its doors to the MCA in the Fall of 1975 reportedly thanks to the late GM Abe Yanofsky, who used his political connections to secure a spot in the Basement as the official premises for the club. There, Kevin made himself known to the local players, one of whom was future Manitoba master and 1988 Manitoba Champion Dale Kirton. Dale showed Kevin his copy of “Chess Openings – Theory and Practice” by Horowitz and together they worked through its voluminous pages. Even early on, and despite Kevin being a young teen at this time, Dale was immediately struck with how serious and inquisitive Kevin quickly became, with a deep desire to improve. On many an occasion, Dale would lend books for Kevin to read, that would later be returned with dog-eared corners loaded with notes and scribbling – an early indicator of his dedicated approach to improving.
Kevin’s first recorded rating appeared in Chess Canada Echecs #57, November-December 1982 with a provisional rating of 1324 after 5 games. One may infer then, that the time between the Fall of 1981 and his first provisional rating (about a year) was spent playing informal games, watching tournaments, or soaking up the general kibitzing that was a trademark of “The Dungeon”, particularly on any evening when the late Albert Boxer was presiding over the evening’s affairs.
Around the same time, Michael Kulczycki, a long time Manitoba chess player from the 1980s and 1990s recalls meeting Kevin at the Belgian Chess Club sometime in 1983 when he was 16 years of age. Kevin reportedly frequented the Belgian club in the years 1983-1985 where him and David Langner were the club’s strongest members and played at approximately the expert level. Mike describes his rise in strength as not necessarily fast, but not slow either. When asked by Kulczycki to comment on the steady growth in his play, Kevin replied in his own polite laconic manner, “I study lots of games”.
Between the 2 clubs, Kevin was provided ample opportunity to hone his skills. Indeed, a review of Winnipeg Free Archives indicates that shortly after his first provisional rating noted above, the following tournament results presented themselves indicating Kevin’s obvious progression.
|May 1983||Manitoba Open||Top Junior (With Dave Langner)||1484|
|September 1983||Winnipeg Chess Centre Class Championships||Top Class “B” Prize with Ray Kuryliw||1612|
|December 1983||Christmas Open||Top Class “B”||1680|
|August 1984||Summer Open||1st Place ahead of Frank Kollar and Art Prystenski||1725|
|September 1984||Labor Day Open||Top Class “B”||1779|
|January 1985||Canadian Junior||4.5/11 (Rated 1960 CFC).||1960|
|March 1985||Manitoba Closed||Tied for 4th (With Art Prystenski)||2010|
|November 1985||Remembrance Day Open||1st Place (Ahead of D Kirton & M. Hopper)||2131|
FM Fletcher Baragar, another local legend who faced Kevin on numerous occasions throughout the 1980s & 1990s, described Kevin’s devotion to chess as being almost spiritual. That is, he was a player whose modus operandi was not necessarily “chalking up a point” but rather to probe deeply into a position to achieve greater insight into a nuanced position of say, a
particular middlegame structure. Baragar also noted that his chess “ethos” and profound reverence for the game was such that during study sessions it was clear that Kevin would never
accept the notes of a chess authority as final verdict merely because of their title or notoriety. That is not to say he disdained authority in a chess sense, but rather he would question and
probe into a line or position until he arrived at what he saw was the truth.
And out of this search for chess truth, Probably one of Kevin’s greatest strengths that developed was his deep positional and strategic understanding of middlegame structures that
allowed him to navigate murky positions that Class players, and even his peers, had difficulty assessing properly. Play through enough of his sparkling tournament victories and you’ll note a hallmark of his play involved getting a playable opening position followed by a slow inexorable build-up of forces involving the accretion of small advantages – the accumulation of space or inducing weak color-complexes, which often proved too much for his opponent.
A perfect example of his strategic understanding is the following encounter from the May 1985 Manitoba Open against no less a personality than many time Canadian Champion Abe Yanofsky At the time, although Yanofsky’s appearances in tournament were rare, his chess play at this time would still have to be ranked among the very best in Canada. Indeed, at the 1986 Canadian Closed played approximately a year after this game, he finished equal third in the CDN Closed Championship performing well over 2400.
Dale Kirton also recounted that during the 1980s it was not uncommon for local masters to host get-togethers involving reviews of openings and theory – exchanging and comparing ideas, and laying it all bare under the microscope. A truly remarkable example of some deep preparation occurred a few months later yet again against Yanofsky, at the Canadian Open held in Edmonton that year. Going into Round 6, both players were cruising at 4/5 and met in the following encounter where both no doubt realized the importance of a victory to stay in
Abe Yanofsky – Kevin Gentes, Canadian Open 1986.
- d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 b6 5. Bd3 Bb7 6. Nf3 Ne4 7. Qc2 f5 8. a3 Bxc3+ 9. bxc3 O-O
- O-O Rf6 11. Nd2 Rh6 12. g3 (see diagram below).
An interesting middlegame position has arisen. Black has just played a rook lift from f8-f6, followed by Rh6, which effectively shows Black’s aggressive intentions of wanting to crash
through on the kingside. But, although the h1-a8 diagonal has been compromised and the cleric on b7 is a “howitzer”, is there any effective plan to utilize these “trumps” to black’s
advantage or is this a fruitless caveman attack? After all, Black has only a single minor piece and a rook on the king’s half of the board. The answer is Black was being extremely cunning
with his rook maneuvering as we shall soon see. But first, a little anecdote! Dale Kirton, who also was part of the Manitoba contingent who participated in the Edmonton tournament
recounted how Kevin and he had done a fair bit of preparation prior to making the sojourn out west. As part of their prep, Dale and Kevin had poured over a spectacular little miniature from a 1974 Czechoslovakian tournament in 1974, between 2 (then) IM strength players. That game went:
1.Nf3 c5 2. b3 Nc6 3. Bb2 Nf6 4. e3 d5 5. Bb5 e6 6. Ne5 Qc7 7. O-O Bd6 8. Bxc6+ bxc6 9. f4 O-O 10.
Rf3 Nd7 11. Rh3 g6 – (Plachetka – Zinn, Decin 1974).
Position after 11..g6.
See a similarity? You should, as it’s a very nearly identical position to the diagram above with colors reversed! Nearly identical in that here black has not inserted a6, making Abe’s position against Kevin a tempo behind. Remarkably, Kevin and Dale had studied this position (including the final blow) prior to the tournament. And despite these 2 games having dissimilar openings (Nimzo-Indian vs. a Zukertort), the mating motif was identical, and is a wonderful display of familiarity with middlegame positions, irrespective of color or opening name! In the above diagram, black’s dark squares gave been fatally weakened and white un-corked the thunderbolt
- Qh5!!. There followed 12..Nf6 13.Ng4 gxh5 14. Nxf6+ Kh8 15. Rxh5 h6 16. Nxd5+ 1-0!
And so, Kevin being freshly aware of the above, played 12..Qh4 !!
Here, the weakening of white’s light squares is completely fatal. Yanofsky, no doubt with his tournament standing on the-line, the prestige of the tournament, and the 350 point rating differential, played on:
- Nf3 Ng5! 14. gh4 Nxf3 15. Kh1 Rxh4 16. h3 Nxd4+ 17. Kh2 Nxc2 18.Bxc2 Rxc4
19.Bb2 Rh4 20.Rg1 Rh6 21.Rad1 d6 22.Bb3 Nd7 23. Rg5 Nc5 24. Ba2 Bf3
25.Rdg1 Bg4 (white resigned).
A natural course of any strong chess player’s development is to have opportunity to play in larger, more prestigious events, to get much needed exposure to stronger players, and players
you are not used to facing. Between 1984 & 1986, Kevin participated in three consecutive Canadian Juniors (Winnipeg, Toronto, Edmonton) with increasingly consistent results:
His final attempt at the Junior title, Kevin earned a tie for first place with the other Manitoba representative (Rehan Huda), and 1980s junior superstar Vinny Puri, each with 8.5/11. In his individual encounter with Huda, Kevin served notice he had no intention of finishing second by outplaying his fellow Winnipegger on the white side of an Alekhine’s Defense:
Kevin Gentes (2210) vs. Rehan Huda (2168) – Cdn Junior (86/87 – Round 7)
- e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. Nf3 Bg4 5. Be2 e6 6. c4 Nb6 7. O-O Be7 8. Be3
O-O 9. Nc3 d5 10. c5 Bxf3 11. gxf3 Nc8 12. f4 Bh4 13. Bd3 g6 14. Qg4 f5 15. Qh3
Be7 16. b4 b6 17. a3 a5 18. Kh1 axb4 19. axb4 Rxa1 20. Rxa1 Nc6 21. Ra4 bxc 22. bxc5 N8a7 23. Nb5 Nxb5 24. Bxb5 Nb8 25. c6 g5 (diagram)
26.Qh6! gxf4 27. Bxf4 Kh8 28.Ra1 Bh4 29. Ra3 Rf7 30. Rh3 Be7 31. Qxe6 Rg7 32. Qxf5 Qg8 33. Rg3 Rxg3 34. fxg3 Qe8 35. e6 1-0
As a result of the three-way tie, a playoff was held later that year to determine the Champion. This resulted in Puri and Gentes both scoring 2.5/4 while Huda scored 1/4. Puri was given the title on tie-break giving Kevin a still respectable second place. As luck would have it, Canada had awarded the World Junior Championship that year to Canada which meant the “host” nation could field not only their junior champion, but a second delegate as well which meant Kevin, having finished second would rightfully participate. However, in a very odd twist, the organizer that year could not come up with the required funds to field the event (!?), and the prestigious event was then held in Baguio City, Philippines. As a result, only one Canadian made the trip that year (Puri) which proved costly for Kevin. The world junior that year fielded no less than 2 GM’s and 14 IMS and included a veritable who’s who of future elite chess stars including Viswanathan Anand (!), Jeroen Piket, Ivan Sokolov, Vladimir Akopian, Simen Agdestein, Gregory
Serper, Patrick Wolff, etc. Who knows for sure what exposure to this calibre of players would have done for Kevin’s progression (!!).
Kevin leaves behind a legacy and a mark on Manitoba chess that will be remembered. In speaking with some people that knew Kevin during his formidable years on the local Manitoba chess scene, a common occurrence was that he regularly found time during a tournament to impart kind words to aspiring juniors and the “rank and file regulars” who almost always took his advice to heart. I distinctly recall a situation where a young junior in a late 90’s tournament opened with 1.e4 c5 2.b3!?, during one of the middle rounds, and Kevin, walking by after having blitzed out his own opening on top board, proceeded to observe for a few minutes on how play would develop. At the end of the round, Kevin sought out the promising junior, who’s eyes remained owl-like and in awe as Kevin gently discussed the opening, hinting at promising lines and positional subtleties in a manner that was easily understood – A gesture that I am certain has never been forgotten. Nigel Hanrahan, a former regular on the Manitoba chess scene, also recounts during difficult tournament post-mortem situations that involved polarizing opinions where no one seemed to be correct, that Kevin would simply offer a zen-like retort “Just play chess”, and the situation would immediately dissolve and everyone would forget and move on.
Local records indicate the following notable titles he achieved while being active in the local chess
Manitoba Junior Champion in 1984, 1985, and 1987; and
Overall Manitoba Champion in 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1998, 1999, 2007, and 2015
Finally some words from players across the country who remember Kevin (taken from
“I had the opportunity to enjoy several refreshments with Kevin and Nick (IM Bryon Nickoloff)
during the Canadian Open, Winnipeg, 1994. The two of them were analyzing the games they
had played and I was struck by the reverence and respect that Nick showed for Kevin’s analysis.
Nick was very much interested in how he could improve upon his own games by asking Kevin
questions about where he may have gone wrong. Kevin more than once suggested that Nick
should simply “sit” on the position and wait for his oppenent to make some kind of mistake, but
of course this methodology was foreign to Nick’s insatiable thirst for perfection, and he would
shun the idea and look for something more until Kevin convinced him that there was simply
nothing more to be found in the given position”.
FM Hans Jung:
“Very sad news. Kevin was one of the Canadian super talents and he played in 8 Canadian
championships. In 2015 at Guelph a picture was taken of all the “veterans” of Canadian
championships. I reflected later that Kevin was only in his 40’s at the time but definitely one of
the veterans. I participated with him in several championships but it wasn’t until 2007 that we
played and it was a hard fought draw. Kevin had a great understanding of positional concepts
and I enjoyed seeing him analyze and partaking in analysis sessions with him. He is a Canadian
chess legend. Rest in peace Kevin.
IM Brian Hartman:
“I have previously posted my admiration for Kevin’s chess talent. I spent several times with
Kevin, in particular, the 1987, 1989, 1992 Canadian Closeds (when they were closed). He was a
gentle person, with a sincerity I greatly admired. Of the many interactions, perhaps the most
amusing was when we were sharing a beer in 1989 at a Windsor roadhouse called California’s
(an extraordinary place), we were sitting near the stage and watching the action, and enjoying
the music (CCR), when Kevin told me he could break dance. He asked if I wanted to see it; I
replied sure…he went on the stage and did the most amazing splits, and martial arts style
dancing I have ever seen…however, each night at this venue there were altercations, and thus
Kevin suddenly attracted the six staff bouncers…I quickly intervened and we were successful in
returning to our seats unscathed…”