(03/11/1937 - 05/10/2003)
By Michelle Vukcevich

Milan Radoje Vukcevich was a renowned scientist, world class chess champion, loving husband and father, and a cherished friend to many. Milan cut a dashing figure: tall, handsome, with dark, wavy hair. He had an engaging smile and possessed intense energy and confidence. His benevolence and charm always emerged, despite his masterful strength on the chessboard.

Milan was born on March 11, 1937, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia and came from a prominent European family. His ancestors helped create the country of Yugoslavia; his heritage was Montenegrin.

His parents were Christina (nee Trivanovic) and Radoje J. Vukcevich. Radoje graduated from Columbia University with a degree in law. He also studied at Kings College in England, at the Sorbonne in Paris and received a doctorate in economy from Heidelberg University in Germany.

Milan grew up without his father, who was a liaison officer between the Royal Army of Yugoslavia and US forces. Despite his heroic anti-Nazi activities, his father was senselessly branded an enemy by the occupying Soviets and was forced to flee to the US. As a child, Milan endured the confiscation of family property, food rationing, and the incarceration of his mother. Milan, himself, at age eight, was branded a “war profiteer”.

Milan learned chess at an early age. His uncle, Milan Trivanovic, gave him his first chess set in an effort to quiet the boisterous 5-year old long enough for the family to listen to BBC radio without distraction. Milan began playing chess and never stopped!

He credited his uncle, Milan Trivanovic, his brother, Ivan Sprung, and a friend, Trandaphilos Siaperas as being his greatest teachers and inspiration. At age nine, he published his first chess problem. At age eleven, he won his first international chess-problem tournament and also began playing tournament chess.

In 1955, he became the Junior Champion of Yugoslavia. In 1960, he won first place on the second board at the Student Team World Championship in Leningrad. He received a prize for the best game and best-played endgame, helping his team to win a Bronze Medal. Later that year, he became a member of the Yugoslav Olympic chess team and again, won a Bronze Medal.

In the chess world, Milan was known as a tournament player, a composer of chess problems, and a problem-solver. He composed chess problems and played over-the-board games simultaneously. “Of course, when one plays and composes at the same time, the inspiration flows in both directions. My problems from the late fifties often reflected the player’s tendency to shock the opponent. Also, some of the problems were impressionistic renderings of my favorite games.” (Chess by Milan-Problems and Games of Dr. Milan R. Vukcevich, 1981, MIM Company, Burton, Ohio.)

In 1964, he won the state championships in Massachusetts and Maine. In 1967, Milan moved to Cleveland where he spent the remainder of his life. In 1969, he was a US Open Co-Champion with Benko and Bisguier. He credited many Cleveland masters and experts such as, Kause, Wozney, Sprague, Burns, Noel, Schroeder, Harkins, Blocker, Keske, Pavlovic, Gilchrist, Ellison, Wishnak, Nasvitys, Paruta, Szilagy, and Cunningham for the rise in the quality of his games. (Chess by Milan-Problems and Games of Dr. Milan R. Vukcevich, 1981, MIM Company, Burton, Ohio.)

In 1978, he met and married Michelle Kravcisin. He had two sons, Marko and Ivan, from a previous marriage. No matter how busy Milan became, between his professional endeavors and in chess interests, his family was a priority.

In addition to tournament chess and chess problems, Milan also played speed chess, and gave simultaneous chess exhibitions. His largest exhibition was in Cleveland Heights, Ohio in 1972 where he played simultaneously against 155 opponents. Milan drew 3, lost 1, and won 151 games. In 1973, Milan was the City Chess Champion of Cleveland.

“Vuky”, as he was known in chess circles, played in numerous domestic and international tournaments including the 1975 US Closed Championship (placing third); the 1976 Reykjavik, Iceland tournament, and the 1976 Hastings, England tournament. He also played for the Cleveland team of the National Chess League. Dubbed as the Yugoslavian, “James Bond”, he was also building his career as a professor and a theoretical scientist. Milan did not obtain an international title as a player. In order to qualify either as an international master or international grandmaster, one must participate regularly in international competition. Milan stated, “Let me tell you immediately, I would love to have that title. I’m as vain as any other guy down the street—probably more vain—but it would require an extended effort of roughly three years. I don’t think I can go three years without science.” ("Wargames”, Northern Ohio Live, February 1985.)

He also once said, “I cannot be just a chess player or just a scientist. I have to be both. I have to get to my lab next week, even though I will be playing in the tournament…I have a very happy life, happier than many others.” (“Milan R. Vukcevich, Chess Grandmaster”, Obituary, The Plain Dealer, May 14, 2003.) His last years of competitive chess included telephone matches with the “Cleveland Kinghunters.” He achieved a USCF rating of 2530.

As David B. Davis noted, “Anyone who received the benefit of a game post-mortem from him [Milan] knows how thorough he was as a teacher, and how much he saw at the board. Milan Vukcevich never looked down on any chess player, was willing to talk to master or patzer, was never selfish with his immense chess knowledge.” (“OTB Accomplishments of Milan Vukcevich”, Ohio Chess Bulletin, November 2003.)

According to IM John Donaldson, Milan’s chess style was characterized by “extensive and original opening knowledge, the ability to calculate deeply and accurately, and a penchant for problem-like solutions.” (“Milan Vukcevich (1937-2003)”, Obituary, Chess Today, http://www.chesstoday.net, May 30, 2003.)

Indeed, Milan preferred to concentrate on the beauty of chess and devoted the last twenty years of his life to creating chess problems. His problems appeared regularly in The Cleveland Plain Dealer Sunday chess columns in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Quoting Milan,
“Problems and games are two equal aspects of Chess and the difference between them is more in the intensity than in the substance. Relative to the game, a good chess problem activates more force per move, uses pieces more efficiently and stresses more their cooperation and interference with each other. A good problem may combine a dozen separate elements into one extraordinary event, in the same way in which a good novel may condense a dozen real lives into a single lifetime of its fictitious hero.”

“I am not defending chess problems by showing how similar they are to the game. The art of problem composing and the logic of problem solving do not need to be defended. They exist by themselves, irrespective of the fate of the game. What I am trying to do is to convince the chess players and the problemists alike, that all existing and imaginable forms of chess have the one and most important thing in common: the logic by which the method of conquest is selected.”
("Chess By Milan, Problems and Games of Dr. Milan R. Vukcevich," 1981, MIM Company, Burton, Ohio.)
In 1988, Milan became the first American FIDE (Federation International D’Echecs) Grandmaster for Chess Composition, a title that is almost three times harder to win than the international master title in the same field. A GM title requires 70 published problems in the FIDE albums, while an IM must only have 25. ( “Milan Vukcevich Enters Hall of Fame”, Chess Life, October 1998.)

Over the past 20 years, more than 100 of Milan’s chess problems were reproduced in these volumes. The FIDE album is produced every three years, and it includes approximately 700 of the best problems published in the previous cycle. Many experts consider him the best composer ever. He was one of few composers whose compositions encompassed a wide range of problem types: twomovers, threemovers, moremovers, selfmates, directmate, helpmates, fairies, endgames, studies, etc.

According to the obituary in The London Times, Milan composed “significant masterpieces” in almost every genre. “The freshness of his ideas, even in areas where originality is hard to achieve, was astonishing.” ( “Milan Vukcevich”, Obituary, The Times, June 11,2003.)

Physically, a chess composition or “problem” is a position on a chessboard with a condition (e.g., “Mate in 2”, “Helpmate in 3”, etc.) attached to it. In a correct problem, there is only one way to fulfill the specified condition. Composing chess problems is considered an art, so measuring compositional skill is difficult. However in the FIDE 1983-1985 World Chess Composition Tournament (WCCT), Milan had the best individual result. His 63 points (12.5 points ahead of the nearest competitor) were the major part of 132 points that brought third place to the U.S. Team. In the 1996-2000 WCCT, the US came in eighth place with 102 points, 97 of which were earned by Milan—again, the top individual result.

Milan is ranked 11th on the all-time list of composition grandmasters by FIDE. He acknowledged help he received from other composers: Edgar Holladay, Eric Hassberg, and Newman Guttman, as well as, Mike Prcic, Bob Burger, Dan Meinking, Dave Brown, Robert Moore, Gianni Donati, Alex Markevitch, Danny Dunn, Mike Neumeier, and John Meyers. (My Chess Compositions, 2003, StrateGems, Westlake Village, CA.)

Composers recognized and acknowledged Milan’s influence as well. Eugene Rosner wrote, “His enthusiasm for anything related to chess problems was amazing. He brought out the best in you, for as great a composer as he was, he was an equally great teacher and inspirer. In a classic kind of way, he would encourage and know EXACTLY how to provide corrections, suggestions and vision to a problem’s development and make you feel good about your endeavors.” (StrateGems supplement Dr. Milan R. Vukcevich 1937-2003 , Vol. 6, SG23, July-September 2003.)

John Rice, writing for The Problemist, stated, “The breadth of his invention was truly astonishing, and he was possessed of a constructional technique that enabled him to realize his prodigious ideas with what seemed like effortless ease.” (“Milan R. Vukcevich, Obituary, The Problemist, The British Chess Problem Society, Vol 19 No 4., July 2003.)

Others, such as his friend, Bob Burns Jr., described his problems as “beautiful, logically tight, with nothing wasted, focusing on a theme. The pieces always had energy and seemed hard to contain. They seemed to explode off the board.” And judge B. Fargette commented on a problem he awarded second prize in Phenix 1997-9, in the April 2003 issue, “The economical and harmonious construction is beyond reproach, as always with this author.”

Marjan Kovacevic described him as this: “’Spectacular’ was Milan’s trade mark. Where ambitious composers lacked subtlety and esthetic ones strength, his ideas sounded the way he did: loud, clear and witty. One more thing: Vukac (a nickname) was always young in spirit and that star of youthful inspiration shown intensely in his works until the end.” (StrateGems supplement, Dr. Milan R. Vukcevich 1937-2003, Vol.6, SG23, July-September 2003.)

Milan held extremely high standards for himself. “At any given moment, I have at least ten twomovers among my finished compositions. Unfortunately, they seldom meet my criteria for publication, and not more than ten percent appear in print.”

“All my life, I dreamed of creating problems that would amaze solvers with their difficulty or outrageousness.” (My Chess Compositions, 2003, StrateGems, Westlake Village, CA.)

Milan described the process of “evolution” when creating a chess problem in his first book. “Problem No. 192 received rather favorable comments including a great compliment in the form of a question: ‘How does one set about to compose a problem like this?’ …that long check-mate evolved from a much shorter helpmate—No. 152! Eight years separate the birthdays of these two problems, which is how long it took me to come upon the mechanism which repeatedly forces back the white knight and the black bishop in No. 192. After that scheme was found, it took me less than a day to finish the problem.” (Chess by Milan-Problems and Games of Dr. Milan R. Vukcevich, 1981, MIM Company, Burton, Ohio.)

Or, alternatively, “This one ‘fell into place’ in less than half-an-hour. In a bathtub, on a pocket set. I jumped out screaming like Archimedes and mailed it to Barnes with soap still behind my ears.” (Chess by Milan-Problems and Games of Dr. Milan R. Vukcevich, 1981, MIM Company, Burton, Ohio.)

Milan could also solve the compositions of others at an extremely high level of skill as well. In 1981, in Arnhem, Holland, Milan ended third in the FIDE World Problem Solving Championship. In 1990 and 1991, he had the highest solver-rating in the World: 2775 points, or 65 points ahead of the nearest competitor. He is one of only four Master Solvers as recognized by the Society of U.S. Chess Problemists.

In 1998, Milan had the great honor of being inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame located in Miami, Florida. Only 27 other individuals have been inducted since the museum’s inception in 1986. This award had special significance for Milan, for it ensures that his contributions to chess will endure beyond his lifetime. During his keynote address at the induction ceremony, Milan spoke about the importance of chess. Remembering his chess-playing days at MIT, Milan noted, “The game (chess) forced us to develop our own methodology for solving problems, and we applied that throughout our education and professional lives. Chess made us into better thinkers, and that should be its true role in our society…Sports only teach you team play, but chess can do much more for the soul of our society.”

His most recent book, My Chess Compositions (copyrighted 2003) was completed shortly before his death. (Details on how to purchase copies of Milan’s books are listed below.) Milan also served as section editor for StrateGems, the US Chess Problem Magazine ( www.strategems.org).

With regard to his career as a scientist, Milan received his PhD from MIT in 1967, and went on to become a university professor, and Chief Scientist for both General Electric Co. and Saint-Gobain Crystals and Detectors. He published many articles on science and chess, and authored several books on both subjects.

Milan was a distinguished theoretical scientist and innovator. After graduating from MIT with a PhD, he began his career as an Assistant Professor of Metallurgy and Materials Science at Case Western Reserve University (1967-1973). His work included research on brittle fracture of metals, stability of lattices, solid-state diffusion, and theory of silica glasses. While at Case, Milan published, “The Theory of Fused Silica”, and co-authored, “Evaluation of Vacuum Degassing Procedures for Carbon, Low and Medium Alloy Molten Steels”.

From CWRU, he joined General Electric Company where he worked until 1995. During his GE career, he grew from a Consulting Engineer to Project Leader, to Technical Leader, to Manager of Metallurgical Engineering and Chief Scientist for Refractory Metals. Milan had over twenty years of work in the theory of materials and general lamp technology, including lamp design, tungsten filament, theory of silica glasses, design of electric fuses, and design of ultrasonic welders and new metal-working processes.

Milan was a co-inventor on seven U.S. patents and authored the book, The Science of Incandescence. From that book, “…I tried to summarize the situation and identify areas of promising research. Many of those ideas will require a lot of hard work, others will need inventions, and some will verge on impossible. I hope that the possible will arrive fast and give us time to achieve the impossible.” (The Science of Incandescence, 1992. Published by Advanced Technology Department, GE Lighting, Nela Park, E. Cleveland, Ohio.)

Edward J. Covington, a colleague of Milan’s at General Electric, has written an extensive article about Milan and his lighting contributions, including a brief description of his many patents. The article can be found at: home.frognet.net/~ejcov/milan5.html

In 1995, Milan joined Saint-Gobain Crystals & Detectors where his primary projects were on scintillation properties of cadmium tungstate, properties and production of calcium fluoride, mechanical shaping of sodium iodide, and annealing of cadmium-zinc-telluried. He retired as Chief Scientist in 2001.

Also, in 1995, Milan became a member of the Board of Directors of Northern Technologies International Corporation (NTIC), a company that is a developer, manufacturer and marketer of proprietary corrosion-inhibiting products. “He was an outstanding scientist and brought, above all, integrity and humanity to the company”, said CEO, Philip M. Lynch.

Jorg Kuhlmann said, “With his demise, we not only lost one of the most versatile and visionary composers ever, but also a decidedly humanistic and magnanimous fellow.” (“Moremovers—In Memory of Milan Vukcevich”, The Problemist, September, 2003.

Milan died May 10, 2003 from a rare type of cancer (leiomyosarcoma). He was 66 years old.