Carol Jarecki, Respected Chess Referee, Dies at 86

She was known for her practical, no-nonsense approach at scores of major tournaments. She was also a pilot and a nurse and, with her husband, conquered the game of roulette.


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In 1997, Garry Kasparov became the first world chess champion to lose a match to a computer, I.B.M.’s Deep Blue. Other than Mr. Kasparov and Joseph Hoane, the engineer running the computer, the only other person in the room, at the Equitable Center in Midtown Manhattan, was a woman named Carol Jarecki.

She was in the room two years earlier, too, when Mr. Kasparov defended his world championship by beating Viswanathan Anand of India in a match on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center.

Ms. Jarecki wasn’t there as a rich patron of the game; she was there as the match arbiter, or referee. In a game that is dominated by men, Ms. Jarecki was one of the world’s most respected arbiters because of her practical, no-nonsense approach.

“Organizing a successful chess tournament was easy,” Nigel Freeman, who for years organized the Bermuda Open, wrote on Facebook after Ms. Jarecki’s death on Sunday at 86. “One selected the right players, looked after them properly, invited Carol Jarecki to be the arbiter and did whatever she told you to do!”

Her death was announced by the World Chess Federation on its website. The announcement did not say where Ms. Jarecki died. She revealed on Facebook in December that she had pancreatic cancer.

Ms. Jarecki first became interested in tournaments in the 1970s when her son, John, started playing chess and quickly became a noted prodigy. She earned her certification as a tournament director, or arbiter, from the United States Chess Federation, the game’s governing body, and was certified as an international arbiter by the World Chess Federation in 1984.

Her job as an international chess arbiter was just one of several lives she lived.

Carol Fuhse was born in Neptune, N.J., on Feb. 13, 1935. Her parents had a chicken farm in Freehold, N.J. She was their third child. Her brother died in childhood, and her sister died in a car crash in the 1990s.

When she was 8, she contracted polio. At the time, there were no treatments for the disease, and she had to stay in bed for several months, but she recovered. “I guess I was just born tough,” she said last year in an interview for this obituary.

Ms. Jarecki went to Asbury Park High School, studied anesthesia at the Graduate Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and began working as a nurse in New Jersey. It was there that she met Richard Jarecki, a doctor who had also grown up in Asbury Park and who was doing his residency. They married in 1964.

Three years later, the couple moved to Heidelberg, Germany, where Dr. Jarecki had received his medical degree, so that he could continue his studies in electrophoresis, a procedure that uses electricity to separate DNA, RNA and other protein molecules.


Ms. Jarecki in an undated photograph with her daughters Lianna, left, and Divonne and her husband, Richard. The Jareckis made money in the 1960s and early ’70s by frequenting casinos and discreetly keeping track of the spins of the roulette wheels.Credit…Jarecki family archive

While in Germany, the Jareckis embarked on a rather unusual career: frequenting casinos and discreetly keeping track of the spins of the roulette wheels. Sometimes they recorded more than 10,000 spins for a particular wheel. They found that the wheels tended to land on some numbers more than others, because of minute manufacturing defects or normal wear and tear. They then used this information to bet against the house.

They were wildly successful, winning more than $1.2 million (more than $8 million in today’s dollars) in casinos throughout Europe in the late 1960s and early ’70s. A casino in San Remo, on the Italian Riviera, caught on to the Jareckis’ scheme and managed to have them barred from the country for a while, though they successfully appealed the decision to the government.

Dr. Jarecki died in 2018. Ms. Jarecki is survived by her son; two daughters, Divonne Holmes a Court and Lianna Jarecki; and six grandchildren. She had homes in Las Vegas and Boulder, Colo.

With the Jareckis’ new wealth, Ms. Jarecki fulfilled a childhood dream: She learned to fly and obtained her pilot’s license. Ms. Jarecki, who bought a 1979 Cessna Turbo 210 in 1986 that she owned for the rest of her life, estimated at one point that she had flown more than 4,200 hours, including 41 round trips across the United States, 13 round trips between the United States and the British Virgin Islands, and a round trip from Nevada to Alaska.

Many of those trips were solo, accompanied only by Cricket, her Jack Russell terrier. “He hated flying because of the noise,” she said last year, “but he hated more to be left behind.”

In 1974 the Jareckis moved back to the United States, where John started playing chess. In 1981, at age 12, he became the youngest master in United States history, a record that has since been broken many times. Ms. Jarecki took to shepherding John around to his tournaments, sometimes flying him there.

Though John quit competitive chess in his teens, Ms. Jarecki stuck with her new profession, rising up the ranks and sometimes flying herself to work. In 1989, she became the first woman to officiate a match in the cycle for the world championship when she was the arbiter for the quarterfinal contest between Anatoly Karpov of Russia and Johann Hjartarson of Iceland.

Over the next few decades, she would direct or be the deputy director of more than 100 prestigious national and international tournaments, including the women’s division of the 40th Chess Olympiad in Istanbul in 2012; the Women’s World Chess Championship in 2013; the United States Chess Championship in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016 and 2017; and the top sections of the Millionaire Open in Las Vegas in 2014 and 2015, the only tournaments to ever offer a prize totaling $1 million.

She was also among the directors of the annual Amateur Team Championship in New Jersey, the largest team championship in the world, every year for decades.

Over the years, Ms. Jarecki’s daughters urged her to write her autobiography, but she never found the time. She did come up with a working title, however: “The Happy Wanderer.”

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