After a life in chess, the former US Chess Federation president WIM Ruth Inez Haring died Thursday, November 29. She was 63.
Haring was also the current FIDE zonal president for the United States.
Haring lived in Chico, California and her death was confirmed by her son, Theodore Biyiasas. She is also survived by her other children, Lauren Biyiasas and Tina Biyiasas.
If that last name is familiar to readers, that’s because Haring was once married to now-retired GM Peter Biyiasas. According to Theodore, they met at a chess tournament in the 1970s. The two divorced in 2005.
US Chess Federation executive director Carol Meyer said, “US Chess has lost one of its most treasured members. Ruth was a thoughtful, principled leader who relentlessly promoted the mission of US Chess. She was a mentor to me in the short time I knew her, and I valued her guidance in navigating this community. Ruth’s passing is a terrible loss for US Chess and the world chess community. Her legacy is our enduring gift.”
WIM Ruth Haring at the 2018 Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia. Photo courtesy: Panu Laine.
Haring was born on January 23, 1955 on an Air Force base in Maine. She began playing tournament chess in 1969. Haring spent some time in Alaska, then moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she said that any tournament within 700 miles was fair game. Haring traveled to Kansas City, Tulsa, Memphis, Dallas, and other cities for events.
She graduated from the University of Arkansas and married her first husband, Bill Orton, who was also a chess player. They once even had to play each other on top board for their respective colleges at the Pan-Am Intercollegiate Championship (a draw).
Haring quickly rose to represent the national team at five consecutive Olympiads from 1974-1982. She played in several U.S. women’s championships. In her first iteration, in 1974, she went undefeated and finished second to the legendary seven-time winner Mona May Karff. Haring won $150 for that finish but pocketed $50 extra for this “best game” prize:
In 1976, the same year that the U.S. won Olympiad gold as a team in the open section, Haring took an individual bronze medal on the first reserve board.
Also that year, she played in her only interzonal. A good example of her fighting spirit came there:
Haring will remain better known for her role in chess politics and governance. She was elected to the US Chess (then USCF) executive board in 2009, beginning as vice president. Two years later she rose to president, where she remained until 2015. She then ended her term on the board one year after that. Prior to those public postings, she was even president of her high school and college chess clubs.
“I love chess and I want to see it grow,” Haring once said. “I want to see more people play, more events, greater recognition of our sport amongst the general public, and better media coverage.” Indeed, in her seven years on the board, membership in US Chess increased by more than 13 percent.
One of those tournament players she recruited was her son, Theodore.
“My dad had trouble teaching my sisters as they called the knights ‘horsies’ and were very young, so my mom did most of that,” Theodore said. “When I was a kid I’d play my dad and he’d go easy on me to keep me interested. Ruth didn’t believe in that. She crushed me every time we played until I became a tournament player.”
Theodore Biyiasas and Ruth Haring in 2016. Photo courtesy of her family.
Interestingly, Theodore didn’t take up competitions as a child, as is the case with most chess families. His first tournament didn’t come until his late teens.
“There was pressure and encouragement on all of us to pursue chess which kind of turned us off to it,” he said. “When she started playing again and got involved in the politics in 2008 she invited me to play a tournament, the U.S. Open in Texas, and it became a huge part of my life. We traveled to tournaments together all the time after that.”
Theodore has played in more than 100 tournaments in the last decade and would go on to become an expert. In 2016 he was only 20 points away from national master. He remains active to this day.
Current US Chess president W. Allen Priest said, “I have always looked up to Ruth as a mentor and treasured her as a friend. I was honored to serve with her on the board and was inspired by her efforts to change the culture of US Chess.”
Haring at a tournament in Berkeley, California in 2016. Photo courtesy of her family.
In remembrance, one common theme kept reappearing: that Haring rose above the fray, managing to keep up relationships of sometimes disparate groups. She also represented her state association (CalChess) on its board of directors. According to one colleague, she served in politics without being political.
“For me, Ruth loved chess, and always tried to avoid politics,” coach Jay Stallings said. “She eagerly listened to everyone so she could help out in any way that her position would allow.”
“Ruth was a class act, kind and gentle to anyone who she came in contact with,” GM Maurice Ashley said. “Her incredible contributions to US Chess will be felt for years to come. She will surely be missed.”
“Ruth was one of the most dedicated chess promoters and supporters on every level,” former U.S. women’s champion WGM Sabina Foisor said. “She has supported me in my transition to US Chess, but also taking to first step to becoming a U.S. citizen.”
Haring wasn’t done with service in the chess world. Just this year she ran as general secretary on GM Nigel Short’s FIDE president ticket. Short didn’t win, but Haring went on be elected to the FIDE ethics commission. While in Batumi, she also attended the meeting for the FIDE commission for women’s chess.
Ruth Haring and Nigel Short at the Batumi Olympiad. Photo courtesy: Nigel Short.
“I grew to appreciate her immensely,” Short said. “She was very positive and someone I could depend on. She was really looking forward to changing things within FIDE. She was a wonderful woman.
“[She] could not stand chess politicians who only cared for their own advancement.”
Her son also seemed keen to the fracas happening in domestic chess around the time she entered chess governance.
“It was important to her that USCF promote chess and help the players,” he said, “which was the opposite of what was happening when she returned to the chess world in the midst of the infamous Polgar lawsuits.”
In September, 2018, Haring stood to watch a blitz game with former women’s world champion GM Nona Gaprindashvili. Photo courtesy of her family.
That diplomacy may have been learned in her more than two decades of experience in corporations she worked for like IBM, Lockheed, TRW, and eBay. Indeed, in a past issue of Chess Life she conflated the success of her chess and business careers:
“These experiences helped to form who I was, provided valuable life lessons about teamwork and leadership, and were part of the essence of the computer professional I later became—and it was all due to chess. I can’t imagine a better way to be educated and learn about people and the world.”
The U.S. delegation in 2017 in Antalya, Turkey: (Left to right) Walter Brown, Grant Oen, Ruth Haring, and Michael Khodarkovsky. Photo courtesy of her family.
According to Theodore, there is no official cause of death, although he said she had entered the hospital recently and had been recovering from the flu and pneumonia. Her home in California was right next to the devastating forest fires that nearly wiped out the nearby town of Paradise, California. Theodore said she struggled with the poor air quality so he forced her to evacuate for a few nights.
He said she loved large national events. Her twice-yearly visits to tournaments in Reno, Nevada were her favorites.
“One of her favorite memories was bearing witness to one of Emory Tate’s legendary post-mortems, or listening to Viktors Pupols eccentric rants about the Latvian Gambit,” Theodore said. “She took great interest in the games of strong young American players at tournaments, particularly Aleksander Lenderman and Timur Gareev [The last two U.S. Open champions —M.K.].”
Here’s how Theodore would like his mother to be remembered:
She wasn’t anywhere near as strong as she was in the 80s when her peak was around 2200, but she just loved to play. She didn’t care she was on her floor, thought occasionally she’d find her form and casually crush masters or experts. She wasn’t afraid of anyone either. She approached all her games the same way: playing to win, regardless of if she was playing a GM, a club player, or an aspiring youth. I hope she is remembered for her love of chess. And as a player even though her political contributions overshadow her playing career, she got involved because she loved to play.