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Boris Baczynskyj
Boris Baczynskyj
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Boris Baczynskyj, 62, chess master

Boris Baczynskyj, 62, of Center City, a journalist and a chess master who taught the game to thousands of children and adults, died of heart failure Jan. 16 at home.

His death came a day before international chess champion Bobby Fischer's. Though the two never played each other, Mr. Baczynskyj told friend and sparring partner Mike Shahade that if he was stuck on a desert island, he would want his favorite book, Fischer's My 60 Memorable Games. In 1985, Mr. Baczynskyj wrote a summary and an appreciation for a published computer disk of Fischer's games.

Mr. Baczynskyj, whose father, Wolodymyr, taught him chess before he was 5, founded after-school chess programs at Germantown Friends School and the Philadelphia School, and organized a Saturday chess club for youngsters at Montgomery County Community College last year.

In the 1970s and '80s, he was a technical instructor to Philadelphia's Vaux Junior High School chess team, which won seven national junior high chess championships. He also coached students in elementary grades, said Stephen Shutt, director of the Philadelphia Scholastic Chess League.

At 6-foot-6, with a wide girth and big booming voice, Mr. Baczynskyj was "a gentle giant," Shutt said. He was gregarious and good-natured, and children adored him.

In 1979, he and Shutt accompanied chess players from Benjamin Franklin High School and Vaux to a tournament in Yugoslavia. Mr. Baczynskyj was the tour translator, having learned the local language in three months, Shutt said.

Mr. Baczynskyj gave private lessons to children and adults, including Pat Croce, the fitness guru and former 76ers president. He contributed articles to chess publications and was a consultant for Fidelity International, a manufacturer of computer chess products.

As a World Chess Federation master, Mr. Baczynskyj participated in numerous exhibitions and played in national and international tournaments. In 1981, he placed second in the yearlong U.S. Chess Grand Prix.

He was an active member of the Franklin Mercantile Chess Club.

Mr. Baczynskyj was born in Vienna, Austria, to Ukrainian parents who had been displaced during War World II. His family emigrated to America in 1948 and settled in Northern Liberties.

After graduating from St. Joseph's Preparatory School in 1963, he earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Yale University in 1967. While in college, he was active in the civil-rights movement and was arrested during a protest march in Florida.

He was a counselor at an Upstate New York summer camp for the National Scout Organization of Ukraine. He translated the anthem "We Shall Overcome" into Ukrainian for the campers, his sisters, Ulana and Wawa Baczynskyj, said.

After graduation, he served in the Peace Corps for three years in Thailand and remained in Southeast Asia as a freelance journalist. He was working in Cambodia in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge overthrew the government, and he returned home.

In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, his immersion in chess was interrupted when he lived in Ukraine and wrote freelance articles about the newly independent country.

Mr. Baczynskyj is survived by his sisters.

A Requiem Liturgy was celebrated yesterday at St. Michael the Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church, 1013 Fox Chase Rd., Jenkintown. Burial was in St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Cemetery, Elkins Park.

Memorial donations may be made to USCAK-Chess in care of the Fletcher-Nasevich Funeral Home, 9529 Bustleton Ave., Philadelphia 19115.


Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

 
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