Dr.Nathan Divinsky passed away this weekend at age 86. His passing marks the beginning of the very end of a colourful generation of Canadian chess politicians — that includes Phil Haley, who is still alive (as of this writing) — noted as much for their outwardly refined, gentlemanly behaviour as for some of their more controversial contributions to chess.
Nathan’s generation did much to help create a stable chess structure in Canada, with the CFC having a promising business-like model (K.Pugi) by the mid-1970’s, but when the chess ranks started to thin in the 1990’s this generation was surprisingly ineffective in dealing with its downward spiral into the chaos that exists today in Canadian chess , as predatory chess entrepreneurs such as Bevand and Bond teamed up to undermine the CFC business model so as to cannibilize its assets for personal profit.
As a result, the legacy of Divinsky’s generation will always be under a cloud of controversy and debate. Nathan leaves Canadian chess in worse shape than he found it…
A university math professor by profession, Nathan was also a prolific–but controversial— chess author and television personality. Possessing great wit ( sometimes he over did it), and loving to hold court, he was something of a lady’s man in his youth and married several times, once to Kim Campbell, who would much later become Canada’s shortest reigned Prime Minister.
Can you recognize Nathan here? (Canadian Chess Championship)
As a chess player, Divinsky played in a number of Canadian Championships and even represented Canada at the Olympiad twice, the last time in Cuba (1966). He was probably a master level player (approximately 2300 by today’s standards).
Nathan played a significant role as a chess politician inside Canada, dating back to the 1950’s, though this activity would sometimes be interrupted by long periods of more or less forced exile. His behaviour could at times be difficult, and I was told that he and Phil Haley were once bitter rivals when they were both younger. So much so, infact, that Phil’s wife Betty-June once feared for the life of her husband should he attend a meeting of the CFC when Divinsky might also be there!
Nathan served in more recent times in several positions within the CFC, including president and FIDE delegate. There are differing views on his effectiveness in these roles…
I met Divinsky for the first time in 1985 at the Montpellier Candidates Tournament when he came up to me and started to talk to me as though we were life-long buddies.
I can’t say I ever liked Nathan, though his charms often compensated for his defects. Many of his actions and political standing inside the chess world did more harm to Canada’s reputation and influence than they did good, but I will always respect Nathan’s courage for speaking his own mind, regardless of consequences or of who was listening…
Below is an excerpt from an interview conducted by Brian Hartman during the 2004 Calvia Olympiad, that was published on the now defunct WCN. Nathan’s remarks about Canadian chess politicians – no holds barred – is as insightful today as back then. Pay special attention to his use/choice of words when describing the typical Canadian chess organizer and CFC politician: charlatansand incompetents especially.