By Michelle Vukcevich
Shortly after my husband died, Aleksandr Kitsis contacted me with the idea of naming a monthly scholastic chess tournament after Milan. The tourney was a way of honoring Milan’s memory and the many accomplishments he achieved involving the chess world. I gratefully accepted, knowing that Milan would be both proud and humbled, for he always encouraged and appreciated new talent.

As he stated in his book, My Chess Compositions, “I think the new time limits are better and that the ratings are higher mostly because the younger players are stronger. The quality of games is better than ever, and Judith Polgar and Joel Benjamin would badly embarrass Capablanca and Alekhine.”

Milan was unique in that he enjoyed all aspects of the game of chess: over-the-board play, composing, and solving chess compositions. Alex has often enumerated the benefits of playing chess: it increases self-confidence, aids clear thinking and decision making, improves math skills and increases memory retention. Alex believes, “[Chess] will teach us how to think. It will teach us how to deal with life. You learn how to win and lose.” Milan would definitely agree. Milan stated, “If you were to ask what got us into MIT, all of us would say it was chess. The game forced us to develop our own methodology for solving problems, and we applied that throughout our education and professional lives. Chess made us better thinkers, and the creation of better thinkers could be its true role in society.”

The monthly tournaments help children to gracefully master both winning and losing in a controlled setting. They provide the children with the opportunity to build mental discipline and stamina, critical characteristics of the serious chess player. Milan had enormous mental strength—he would sit at a desk for more than eight hours, trying to solve mathematical equations in scientific problems. He played numerous simultaneous chess exhibitions (the largest was 155 opponents in 1972; he drew 3 games, lost 1 and won the remaining 151). He never backed down from a challenge. When first diagnosed with cancer, Milan vowed to fight. His explanation: “I’m a chess player. It’s not in my nature to resign!”

In 1963, Milan graduated from the Belgrade Institute of Technology as an Engineer in the field of Metallurgy. The day he defended his thesis, he left for the United States. That same year, he enrolled in MIT where he went on to earn a Master of Science in 1965 and a Doctor of Philosophy in 1967. His professional positions included professor at Case Western Reserve University, and Chief Scientist for General Electric Co. Milan’s last position was that of Chief Scientist at Saint-Gobain Crystals & Detectors in Solon. In addition, Milan served on the board of directors of Northern Technologies International Corp.

Milan was a tireless educator. He frequently gave lectures and encouraged students in both his professional and chess careers. His friend, George P. Sphicas remembered, “…He took a lot of time and effort to prepare a long, very detailed, and very enlightening tutorial, explaining how a (chess) composition was developed, from beginning to end. The tutorial he offered us was extremely useful, no doubt. But beyond its immediate usefulness, it showed great kindness and generosity on his part, a willingness to share his deep insights and masterly techniques with the rest of us.”

Following in this vein, the monthly tourneys have also included some of Milan’s friends, such as Robert H. Burns, Jr., Dan Meinking, Steven Seward, Pat McGuckin, Mike Neumeier, and Bob Basalla -- all experienced chess players and willing chess mentors. These men have generously donated their time to play, explain and analyze chess games with students and parents, alike, and hopefully, to have some fun along the way.

I believe Milan would be very pleased to see people of all ages come together to enjoy the game of chess and create a fellowship. It is pleasure for me to witness this also.

Michelle Vukcevich
April 16, 2004