ChessMaine Interviews: Bill Gallagher

09.29.10 The subject of our most-recent interview is Dr. Bill Gallagher, a chess-playing dermatologist who graduated from Dartmouth College and Harvard Medical School. We caught up with Dr. Gallagher at the Bangor Public Library and he was kind enough to grant us an interview.

Bill Gallagher still plays tournament chess at age 75.

ChessMaine: You have been playing chess for quite some time. Can you describe what brought you to chess and when and where you first learned about the game?

Bill Gallagher: Basically, I like playing all games and I guess I got this from my mother who used to play cards with me when I was home from school sick with a bug. At some point, I learned how to play chess and was in the chess club in high school. It was nothing like the club these days, back then it was just some kids of various levels playing chess. When I went to Dartmouth College and then Harvard Medical School I gave up playing chess. Finally, I got back to chess after my dermatology residency at Massachusetts General Hospital.

CM: Why do you think chess holds such facination for so many people both children and adults?

BG: The fascination of chess for me is problem solving and complete absorption in the game. Chess and all games should be fun, I am pained when I see and hear little kids getting upset with losses. This is obviously another benefit of chess--incorporating the ability to accept loss with some calm.

CM: I understand you have an interesting "two degrees of separation" story regarding Bobby Fischer. Could you tell us more?

BG: I once played Harold Dondis, the chess columnist for the Boston Globe. He once beat Bobby Fischer in an exhibition match. I won our game. I beat Dondis, the guy who beat Fischer. What does that mean in the whole scheme of things?

On another note, I played one of the Ivanovs on board 1. At the beginning of a tournament in Boston I couldn't find my name on the first round pairings. It was way up there on board 1. Ivanov was the first seed and I was the 35th out of 70! So there I was up onstage. I played the Latvian. I played my usual slashing, attack style hoping for a lively game and an early death--both things happened. My style is indeed wide open, slashing, and looking for sacs. This is probably a reaction to my somewhat scholarly, reclusive lifestyle.

When I lived on the south shore of Boston, I was in the Quincy Chess Club and would often drive Jackie Peters from his home in Scituate (near mine) to the club. He eventually dropped out of MIT to become a professional chess player and the last I heard he was a chess columnist in Los Angeles. Jackie opened my eyes to superior players and the discipline needed to achieve that level. We played in the Met League in Boston where I met Roger Morin. During this time, I worked a bit on my game, but I have never put a lot if time into studying. I viewed chess and all the other games I played i.e., backgammon, tennis, squash, poker, cribbage and the games I played with my kids as fun.

CM: Are there any books that you have found particularly helpful in your chess development.

BG: In 1982, I worked in Saudi Arabia as a dermatologist. There was not much to do at night, so we played lots of bridge. I was the unofficial chess champion at the hospital community (there was not much competition) but I was periodically wiped out by a Pakistani doctor from another hospital. When I got back to the USA and Maine in 1985, I became a regular at the UMO club and encountered Danny Kopec. I really studied his book and benefited from that and used to play regularly in the Maine tourneys. Danny reinforced my conviction that great players (in chess and poker) have photographic memories. Danny would say, "Do you remember that blitz game we played last week?" I could hardly remember what I had had for lunch. I continue to marvel at blindfold chess players and those poker players who remember every hand and the betting sequences.

CM: Which chess player do you most admire?

BG: I guess the chess player I most admire is Dan Harrington who was a chess master in the MET league in Boston. He went on to be a national champion in backgammon, has won the world series of poker at least twice and has been at the final table a lot. He has written one of the best books on Texas Hold 'em Poker. If you see him on TV playing poker he is often smiling.

CM: According to the USCF website your peak rating is 1704 a very respectable level. What advice would you give to aspiring players?

BG: Advice for the kiddies: work hard and have fun--activities that are not mutually exclusive.

CM: Do you still hold chess aspirations yourself?

BG: With the emergence of poker online and on TV and the game becoming more easily available in the community I have virtually given up chess and spend time playing No Limit Texas Hold 'em. I do have many other interests and still work three days a week at age 75.

CM: Thanks very much for the interview!


Great interview. I learned a few more things about my father. I guess I do not have to search for Bobbie Fischer.

Nice, it was fun doing it. A goal that recurs and recurs for me. Nice bit of editing to make me more coherant.

It is certainly great to read correct English usage, in that you wrote of him having graduated FROM" the two schools. I don't know who started the usage of the expression "I graduated college, etc", but dropping the preposition "from" is a sure sign of ignorance and laziness on the part of anyone who has ever graduated FROM any institution of higher learning.

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