Obituary: Curt Brasket, king of chess

  • Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 1, 2014 - 6:56 PM

A giant in Minnesota chess has died.

Chess master Curt Brasket, who won the state championship a record 16 times, died in his sleep on Jan. 24. He was 81.

For Brasket, of Bloomington, chess was so much more than pieces on a board.

“He saw chess as making the right moves in life at the right time,” said Rita Brasket, his wife of 50 years. “And it didn’t matter whether you were rich or poor or how much money you made, or where you lived. If you played a good chess game, it told that you were a deep thinker.”

Nobody has come close to Brasket’s record; current champ Sean Nagle has won five times.

“Curt was a truly a towering figure in Minnesota chess,” Nagle said. “It is difficult to overstate the magnitude of his achievements or of his dominance of the Minnesota chess scene during his prime years. Curt’s love of the game led him to remain an active tournament player despite his battle with Parkinson’s disease.”

Born in 1932, one of the worst years of the Great Depression, young Curt grew up in a family of 10 in tiny Tracy in southwestern Minnesota. His passion began at 13 when he wanted a library book on checkers but could only find one on chess.

He developed his analytical skills the way many strong masters do — playing chess through the mail, said fellow chess master Roger Rudolph.

“He loved chess because if he did his best, he was happy with it, whether he won or lost,” Rita Brasket said.

High school valedictorian, he went on to the University of Minnesota and St. John’s University, earning math and French degrees.

At age 20, he hopped a train to Omaha and won the 1952 U.S. Junior chess championship.

After college, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served two years in Japan. Then he became a computer programmer, cracking codes for Sperry (Univac/Unisys).

In 1963, Brasket married Rita Bronk. They raised three daughters in Bloomington, where he also enjoyed candy, comic books and singing cowboy Gene Autrey.

Despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1973, Brasket was not only 16-time state chess champ but also lauded as an international master by the World Chess Federation. In 2013, he won U.S. Chess Federation’s Outstanding Career Achievement Award.

His last tournament was in 2000 against Nagle, who, like other young players, learned from playing against Brasket.

“While his advanced Parkinson’s disease prevented him from being a serious contender for the title, he was still a dangerous competitor, and I was lucky to escape with a draw in our head-to-head match up,” Nagle said.

Nagle said in a testament to Brasket’s love of the game, he played a remarkable 583 tournaments since 1991 when the U.S. Chess Federation began keeping records online.

Brasket’s daughter, Monica Wedin of Litchfield, said he’d play against up to 20 people at a time at the Festival of Nations, Renaissance Fair and various exhibitions.

“He was very intense and concentrated at the chess board, very difficult to play against,” said Rudolph, who battled Brasket in many tournaments. The two also played “pots” chess, putting in nickels, dimes, quarters for fun.

Brasket spent his last three years at Minneapolis VA hospital, a chess board set up outside his room. He played to the end, Wedin said.

“He was a dear friend, and a tough old warrior, and we’ll soon be following him,” Rudolph said. “We’re looking forward to playing pots in paradise once we get back together again.”

Other survivors include daughters Barbara Romanelli of Edina and Rebecca Leahy of Houston; siblings Richard Brasket of Eden Prairie, Doris Peluzzo of Washington, D.C., and Patricia Klawitter of Champlin; and eight grandchildren.

Services have been held.

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