Lubomir Kavalek, a chess grandmaster who fled Czechoslovakia after the 1968 Soviet invasion and became a three-time national champion after moving to the United States, died Monday at his Reston, Virginia home. He was 77 years old.
His wife, Irena Kavalek, said the cause was cancer.
From the mid-1960s to around 1980, Mr. Kavalek (pronounced kuv-AH-lick) was consistently one of the best chess players in the world and won more than a dozen major international tournaments. His world ranking reached 10th place in 1974.
He was also one of the first and most elite players to flee the Soviet bloc for the West.
Mr. Kavalek was participating in a tournament in Poland in August 1968 when the Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia to quell the rising tide of political liberalization and dissent. Mrs. Kavalek, then Irena Koritsanska, was with him in Poland. It was immediately clear to them that they did not want to stay in the East.
As soon as the tournament was over they drove back to Prague, where Mr. Kavalek just took a break to collect a few things. Then he jumped into his car and drove to Austria. He had a visa to enter the country where he expected to be in a tournament in a few weeks. From there he went to Munich to stay with his father, who worked for Radio Free Europe and whom he had not seen for 20 years.
Only 24 hours after leaving Poland, Mr Kavalek was safe in West Germany.
Ms. Koritsanska left Czechoslovakia a month later on a student visa for Amsterdam. She did not return, lived there for four years and saw Mr. Kavalek from time to time.
Mr. Kavalek stayed with his father until 1970 when he emigrated to the United States with the help of the United States Chess Federation. He eventually became a citizen. Ms. Koritsanska was able to join him in 1972 and they married shortly afterwards.
From the moment he entered the US, Mr Kavalek, often referred to as Lubosh, was among the top players in the country.
In 1972 he was first in the US championship. It was a qualifying tournament for the cycle for the World Cup, but Mr Kavalek lost the playoffs to Robert Byrne. The next year he was there for the first time, this time with John Grefe.
In 1978 he finally made it clear.
Mr. Kavalek became a member of the United States’ biennial Chess Olympiad team and played for it seven times from 1972 to 1986, including three times as the top executive. In 1976, he played in the team that became the first American team to win the gold medal since the 1930s, although the victory was spoiled: the Soviet bloc countries had boycotted the competition because it was held in Israel.
Lubomir Kavalek was born on August 9, 1943 in Prague as the only child of Ludomir and Stephanie (Kreipl) Kavalek. His father worked in the film industry and his mother was a nurse.
When he was 5 years old, his parents separated and his father went to West Germany.
Mr. Kavalek was around 11 years old when he started playing chess. He joined a chess club at his school and immediately took part in the game.
In 1962, shortly after he was 19, he won the Czechoslovak championship and became the country’s youngest champion. He won the title again in 1968 just before fleeing the country.
In 1965 he was named the title grandmaster, the highest of the game, by the World Chess Federation, the governing body of the game. At that time there were fewer than 100 grandmasters in the world; There are now more than 1,700.
He studied communication and journalism in Czechoslovakia, and upon arriving in the United States, he studied Russian literature at George Washington University in Washington for two years.
During his first two years in the United States, he worked for Voice of America. As part of his work, he reported on the 1972 World Cup match in Reykjavik, Iceland, between the American Bobby Fischer and the Russian Boris Spassky. He also helped Mr. Fischer analyze some of the games during the game. (They had played against each other once during a World Cup qualifying tournament in 1967. That game ended in a draw.) After Mr. Fischer won and became world champion, he gave Mr. Kavalek an exclusive interview.
In 1973, Mr. Kavalek became a full-time professional chess player. In addition to making tournament prize money, he wrote about chess, especially in his later years. He has written several chess books and articles for Chess Life, the official magazine of the United States Chess Federation and the British Chess Magazine. From 1973 to 1986 he was the chief editor of the chess publishing house for a small company, RHM Press.
He also wrote a chess column for the Washington Post from 1986 to 2010 and, after the Post canceled the column, for the Huffington Post until 2017.
Ryan Grim, head of the Huffington Post’s Washington office from 2009 to 2017, sometimes edited Mr. Kavalek’s columns. “He was a very good writer,” said Mr. Grim. “His column needed very little editing.”
In addition to his wife, his son Steven and a grandson, Mr. Kavalek, survive.
In 1979, Mr. Kavalek tried his hand at chess sponsorship and organized an elite 10-player tournament in Montreal, in which most of the world’s best players participated, including Mr. Kavalek. The tournament was won by Anatoly Karpov, the reigning world champion.
The format was that each player competed twice against everyone else. In the first half of the tournament, Mr. Kavalek finished last, scoring only 1.5 out of a possible 9 points. However, in the second half, he roared back and played the best of all to score 6.5 points.