The Legend of Buster Smith

by Adam Langer, Chicago "Reader", February 12, 1993
Part 5 - January 15, 2005

When Kaplan and Kuperman came to America, a rivalry developed between the Soviets and Smith. He and Kaplan, who is now retired and living in Brooklyn, played a number of two-man tournaments. Smith could not beat Kaplan in a match until 1981, when he defeated him twice in a 14-game match in New York. The rest of the games were draws. The last time they played was in Chicago in 1988. In this 14-game match, Smith won 1-0.

"Even though we played against each other, he was my very good friend for 20 years," says Kaplan, the author of several books about checkers. "We played matches in New York and he stayed at my home, and when we played in Chicago, I stayed at his home. He was very hard to defeat because he was such a strong defensive player. He knew a lot of methods to defend difficult positions. He was a real gentleman and a wonderful player. He probably had more Russian checker books than I did. Nobody can say a bad word about Carl Smith."

"When you talk about someone from America going to Russia and being able to compete with a Kaplan, It's like someone coming from Russia and being able to compete with Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan," says Fred Shurn, a systems analyst and a member of the Chicago American Pool Checkers Association.

"A lot of people talk about Michael being the best basketball player," says Carl Prince, a Chicago attorney and an avid checker player. But then there's Bird you have to take into consideration. You don't have those types of people in the American Pool checker world that can touch a Buster. You have to talk about Buster, and then you have to talk about the others in a different light altogether. He was so far ahead of everybody else."

In 1991, Smith finished ahead of Iser Kuperman in the National tournament. Kuperman disputed the title, reportedly storming out without even shaking Buster's hand. He did not return to the tournament in 1992, when Buster finished first again.

"I played all the guys in the tournaments and I didn't fear any of them," remarked Al Lambert, an administrator with the Department of Children and Family Services and an up-and-coming checker star. "I feared Buster though. I truly feared him."

It's been said that chess and checker players lose some of their abilities, as they grow older. But talking to those that knew him best, it appears that if anything, Smith got better with age. Once he retired from the post office, he studied constantly, and he became virtually unbeatable.

...To be continued