Thursday, December 1, 2011

Memphis' Chess History Blogspot Review

This index will direct the reader to links and locations not only within this blog, but to outside sources related to Memphis Chess Club history.  Some links have never been mentioned on this site before. 

Click "Read more" below!

Iron Man Chess

Iron Man Jim is a Fighter, But a Quiet One
by Philip Maclin (Press-Scimitar Staff Writer)

Memphis Press-Scimitar, Tuesday, June 24, 1980

If you were told that you were going to battle "Iron Man Jim," you might picture a bare-knuckle boxer outside a saloon–but James A. Wright doesn't fit that image.  Wright, 60, is small in stature; friendly with a pleasant smile and a Southern gentleman farmer from Millington, TN who rarely raises his voice.  He earned the nickname of "Iron Jim" by being one of the best (players at the Memphis Chess Club) . . .  He was third in the city (chess championship) finals this year (1980).  He was Tennessee State champion twice – in 1964 and 1970.

"I never made Master (2200 rating or higher), " Wright said.  "The closest I got was 2127 (expert) in 1970."  His current rating is 1886 (Class A).

Wright is known for his well developed positions where strong combinations are always a possibility.  He is one of the most versatile opening players in the Memphis club, using both king and queen pawn openings as white and the French, Sicilian and Alekhine defenses as black. (Jim Wright was a farmer in the Millington, TN area going back to the days when a lot of farming was done by himself and hired hands.) "Now we farm mostly with machinery," he said.  Wright is semi-retired, renting out most of the 225 acres remaining.  Approximately 350 of the original 657 acres have been sold for real estate development during the past 31 years.  "I used to have farmland with cattle grazing both sides of the highway (US 51), but now that land is all developed commercial property. Things have changed much in farming.  This is our first year not to have any cotton.  It's all soybeans and cattle now."

There is plenty of time for chess especially against two old rivals – John Hurt, a retired office machines salesman and also a former city chess champion and Ron Minor, executive director of the Millington Housing Authority. (Gary Pylant recently explained Mr. Wright's nickname. Pylant said, James Mitchell referred to Jim as "Iron Man" because Mr. Wright was always cool under fire and no matter the outcome of the game, he always said, "Thanks, I enjoyed the game.")

The Memphis Chess Club Inc. site reprinted this notice from the Commercial Appeal, December 2, 2003:

"JAMES ALFRED WRIGHT, 83, of Millington, TN, retired cotton and cattle farmer, died Tuesday at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis. Services will be at 10 a.m. Friday at First Baptist Church in Millington, where he was a deacon and Sunday school teacher, with burial in Woodhaven Memory Garden. Munford Funeral Home Millington Chapel has charge.

He was a graduate of Bartlett High School and the University of Tennessee at Martin, director of Millington Housing Authority, a World War II veteran and winner of the Memphis Mid-South Open, Tennessee Open and Alabama Open chess tournaments. Mr. Wright, the husband of Mary Virginia Wright for 60 years, also leaves four daughters, Mary Lynn White of Covington, Catherine Elaine Taylor of Como, Miss., Rebecca Margaret Crosier of Cookeville, Tenn., and Marcia James Thorp of Memphis; a sister, Ruth Conn of Memphis; a brother, Joseph E. Wright of Nashville, 10 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. The family requests that any memorials be sent to First Baptist Church building fund."

The game below was played in the West Tennessee State Championship held in Memphis, TN at the Howard Johnson's Motor Inn, 3280 Elvis Presley Blvd, June 11-12, 1977.  The time control was 50 moves in two hours. Mahlon A. Smith came in first in the tournament with 4 1/2 points out of five.  The half point was with James A. Wright.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mid-South Chess Moments

Memphis Commercial Appeal, Sat. Nov. 29, 1997

The tournament pictured above was indeed history in the making, as the traditional post-Thanksgiving Mid-South Open chess tournament moved from Memphis to Tunica, Mississippi.   Twenty-seven players participated in what was called the 37th Mid-South Open tournament in MS, and they were from AR, NC, NY, MS, AL, TX, FL – the winner was Andy Reeder from Alabama. (This tourney was actually the 38th Mid-South Open as someone had gotten off count, which was not corrected until 2011.)

From the 1st Mid-South Chess Advocate, December, 1974:  

There were 64 participants in the 15th Annual Mid-South Open (25 players in the Open & 39 players in the Amateur) from 10 states in the two- section tournament held at The Peabody Hotel in Memphis over Thanksgiving weekend.  It was a smoothly run tournament, quite enjoyable, and as always, The Peabody provided an excellent playing site with its convenient accommodations.

Vernon Vix of Nashville won on tie breaks over Warren Porter of MS, first place with equal scores of 5.  Placing 3rd was Niels Bostrom of Lexington, KY, with a score of 4 1/2.  Fourth was Eddie Middleton of Memphis on tie breaks over Fred Lindsay of Ann Arbor, Michigan with equal scores of 4 points.

From the Tennessee Chess News, January 1975: 

Albert Bowen of Nashville was the winner of the Mid-South Amateur with 5 1/2.  Second was Kent Meadows also of Nashville with a score of 5.  Four players tied for third in this order of tie-break: 3rd Mike Sulcer (Ark), 4th Jack Smith (Memphis), 5th Mark McLaughlin (Memphis), and 6th Jerry Wheeler (Nashville); all had 4 1/2 points.
John Hurt vs Kenny Thomas at the 10th Mid-South Open-1969
Games of Knights and Kings
(from the Commercial Appeal November 29, 1969)

Checker and chess fans began matching skills yesterday as the Memphis Chess Club and Tennessee Chess Association (Mid-South Open) Tournament opened at the Downtowner, and the annual Memphis Open Checker Tournament got underway at the Chisca Plaza.  Former tournament winner John, Hurt, 55, and Kenneth Thomas, 14, the 1968 city high school champion, faced each other at the Downtowner.  Both tournaments continue through tomorrow. 

From the Tennessee Chess News, January 1970

The 10th Mid-South Open in Memphis, after Thanksgiving, was topped by two Louisiana players this year. (Last year the event was dominated by Alabama players.)  Winner was Joseph Katz of LSU who scored 4 1/2 points by winning three and drawing three games.  Runner-up was E.T.C. Lewis of Covington, La.  who scored the same by the same means.  Four players scored four points in this order of tie-breaks: 3rd John Hurt (Memphis), 4th Tony Estes (Nashville), 5th Bill Willwers (Lavaca, Arkansas) and 6th Paul Hargett (Sheffield, Alabama).

The 12 player Amateur was won by Doug Ralston of Madison, a suburb of Nashville, with 5 points.  Three players tied with 4 points: Garner and Felt of Memphis and Cornwell of Madison, Tennessee.

There were thirty-one players in both events this year. Nashville actually edged the home team in attendance with 12 players to 11.  That was not too good for the Memphis delegation.  Also discouraging was the small number of players from Alabama (none from Huntsville) and Arkansas.  We were glad to see Louisiana and Mississippi represented this year.  Frank Garner did an excellent job in directing the event.

From the Tennessee Chess News, January 1969:

Alabamians had a field day at Memphis in the 9th Mid-South Open as they swept the field three places to get even with the Tennesseans winning their tournaments.  Winner was the pre-tournament favorite, Milan Momic of Muscle Shoals, scoring 5 points, yielding only two draws with Martin Appleberry and John Hurt.  Martin Appleberry of Huntsville was a clear second with 4 1/2 points.  Third place was taken by Charles Bonner, also of Huntsville with four points.  Fourth thru sixth went to Majood Hahas of Lake Hamilton, Arkansas, ahead of James Wright, Millington, Tennessee, and John Roh of Huntsville.  All had 3 1/2.  This was one of the most successful  Mid-Souths in recent years, thanks in part to the participation of members of the Junior Chess Club of Nashville.  In all there were eight players from Nashville.  Memphis, as host, had only eleven players.  As expected there were many surprises and upsets.  Perhaps the greatest was John Hurt of Memphis being upset by lower rated Nashvillians Tony Estos and Joe Jones.

The Amateur was also won by an Alabama player; Paul Hargett of Sheffield with five points.

"Uncle Bob," 84, at the 7th Mid-South with Susan Garner, 17
Mid-South Chess Stars Clash in Quiet Contest

(from The Memphis Press-Scimitar, November 26, 1966)

Thirty-one men and boys are engaged in a mental duel to the finish this weekend at the Hotel Claridge.

This is the seventh annual Mid-South Open Chess Tournament, sponsored by the Memphis Chess Club. The players range in age from 16 to 84 and they come from Illinois, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and other states.

Four boys are 16.  The 84 year-old player is "Uncle Bob" Scrivener, Nesbit, Mississippi, a tournament favorite. Scrivener is a retired, former personnel manager of Delta Airlines, and is recognized as dean of Mid-South chess buffs.

Among those from Memphis playing is Frank Garner, president of the Memphis Chess Club. "Chess players take the game seriously," Garner whispered. "It gets to be an obsession with us."

Chess players look down their noses at bridge players, who are also known for their intense dedication and concentration. "There's a difference between the two," said Garner. "Bridge players yield to destiny and we control it."

There were two rounds yesterday, two more today and finals will be tomorrow.

 From the January 1967 Tennessee Chess News:

Steve Balsai of Hot Springs, Arkansas, was the winner of the seventh Mid-South Open tournament with a 5 1/2 score.  The event took place over the Thanksgiving weekend.  Second and third places were taken by Levine of New Orleans and Ken Williamson of Huntsville with 4 1/2 points.  Fourth and fifth places were taken by Hurt of Memphis and Belke of Little Rock with four points.

The tourney was well attended with thirty-three participants.  Only one player was from East Tennessee – Emanuel Tsitseklis from Knoxville and none from Middle Tennessee took part.

For games from this 1966 event click here:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Memphis' Stellar Chess Player

 Article from an August 6, 1972 Commercial Appeal, by Paul Coppock:

As Bobby Fischer brought the rook-pawn language back into the daily news, it revived a few long memories of another era, when Memphis had its own champion.  There was even the remarkable August of 1914 when chess news moved out of Memphis by telegraph instead of coming in from Iceland.

The Memphis Champion was Bradford B. Jefferson, who had his own real estate firm.  When the Memphis Chess and Checker Club was established in 1900, he won the city championship at 25, and he repeated winning every year.  In 1913 he entered the Western (Open) Tournament at Chicago for the first time and won it.  The "West" of chess included New York State, except for New York City, and outstretched through Omaha.

It was a title that carried prestige although bigger chess news was then being made by J.R. Capablanca and Dr. Emanuel Lasker.

Another fine Memphis player, Robert Scrivener, played at Chicago in 1913 and was elected president of the Western (Chess Association) group.  Jefferson and Scrivener brought the 1914 tournament to Memphis.

A week of play was scheduled, opening August 10, 1914.  There was a morning session from 9 to 1 and a night session from 7 to 11 with the afternoon reserved for adjourned games.  As the number of challengers was usually large, (19) players from Tampa to Toronto and from Syracuse to Kansas City, most of them state champions.  Mississippi was represented by Ed Hill of Cleveland, Mississippi.

The schedule had to be stretched over to include Wednesday of the following week when the result was an astounding four-way tie.  Scores of 14-4 were held by Jefferson, E.F. Schrader of Syracuse, H. Hahlbohm of Chicago, and G.H. Wolbrecht of St. Louis.  Wolbrecht twice won the Western title and four times represented the United States in annual matches with England, winning them all.

So a playoff was held, and it resulted in another tie between Jefferson and Wolbrecht.  Another playoff was set up.  The second full week had been used up for a one-week tournament.  These players were amateurs paying their own expenses, but most of them had stayed to see who was the best player, and how he deployed his forces on the chess board.

In the second playoff, Jefferson and Wolbrecht played to a draw on Sunday.  The Monday meeting was indecisive.  On the third Tuesday of the meet, they met again and Jefferson, playing with a disadvantage of black, won 2½ to 1½.

1900-14 Western Open Trophy
1914 Western Brilliancy Trophy
The principal trophy was a silver loving cup which had changed hands annually during the 15 years of the Western Open title play.  All the time it was offered as the permanent possession of the chess master who could win the title two years in a row.  B. B. Jefferson of Memphis was the first man to do so, and he did it in his home town.  Jefferson continued to be the undisputed champion among Memphis players. (Editor: Bradford Jefferson also won the Brilliancy Prize trophy, offered by the Business Men's Club, for the best game played at the 1914 Western Open.)

The Memphis Chess and Checker Club originally was an offshoot of the Business Men's Club, predecessor of the Chamber of Commerce.  The business men met for lunch weekly in their own building at 79-81 Monroe, and some stayed after lunch to play chess.  The Business Men's Club was the scene of the 1914 battle.

When the Chamber of Commerce moved, the Chess and Checker Club rented space on the 10th floor of the Falls Building.  They paid $15 a month.

Bradford B. Jefferson
B. B. Jefferson's obituary  (died May 14, 1963) recalled his Western Open titles and the fact that he once beat Lasker.
It also mentioned the death, only five months before, of his remarkable sister, Miss Rosa Jefferson.  She was long considered the best woman player in the South although competition between women chess players is rare.

She was best known as the .  .  . (Chess News) columnist for the Commercial Appeal.  Each Sunday issue (starting on December 6, 1903) until about 1932, her name appeared over a column that usually included a problem,  the solution of the previous week's problem, and the play of some game by a master.

Rosa's column was well established when her brother won (the Western Open) in Chicago and reports on the Memphis tournament was given generous space and good position in papers overflowing with huge headlines, maps and news analysis of the start of World War I.  The Kaiser had just invaded Belgium.  The Commercial Appeal even found space for a four-column picture of all the (tournament's chess) players.

The 1914 Western Chess Association's Western Open Tournament players, Memphis, TN, hosted at the Business Men's Club (B. Jefferson: 2nd person standing from the top far left (cigar in hand) G. Wolbrecht: 2nd person seated from far right side)

The Jefferson home was at 609 Vance when the Chess and Checker Club was young.  In later years, they lived at 1352 Vinton.  These Jeffersons were distant relatives of President Jefferson himself.

More importantly, they were children of John Wesley Jefferson, a good chess player, and grandchildren of Silas Jefferson, who came from Virginia with such appreciation of the game of kings and queens that he taught the children how to play with a chess set he had carved out of potatoes.

You may also enjoy another post entitled "Chess War" 1914–Memphis, TN" at this link:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Memphis Chess Fever & Fischer–Spassky–72


Fischer All But Clinches Match

November 1971: In the final match to become the challenger to meet the World Champion Boris Spassky of the USSR, Bobby Fischer of the USA is only one point away at this writing to meet this goal.  He is playing Tigran Petrosian of the USSR, who is a former World Title holder.  The score now stands 5½-2½ in Fischer's favor.  He only needs one more point to win the match. 

John Hurt & Victor Lendermon
Just after Fischer successfully competed in the above event, the Memphis Chess Club held the 12th Mid-South Open (Nov. 26-27-28, 1971) at the Albert Pick Motel, 300 North 2nd Street, Memphis, TN.  It was a six round Swiss with a time limit of 50 moves in two and one half hours. The top winners were Elliot Winslow and W. Haines both from Missouri.  Winslow started off badly with a first round loss to Ron Harvey (1789), followed by a lucky win in round 2 from a lost position against Victor Lendermon (1577).  However, his play from then on was very convincing as he finished with a 5-1 score.  Haines almost gave up a draw to Lendermon, but from then on he played very well, giving up two draws.  John Hurt of Memphis finished third with 4½ points.  He drew Haines, Francis Banffy, and International Master Norman Whitaker.  Whiteaker finished with a 4-2 score.  The tournament was directed by Frank Garner. (As reported by Kenny Thomas in the January 1972 Tennessee Chess News.)


International News
The best offer so far for holding the match between Bobby Fischer (USA) and Boris Spassky (USSR) for the World crown comes from Yugoslavia.  It is for $60,000.  The match must take place before June 1972.

Also reported in the 1972 January edition of the Tennessee Chess News, Tennessee won a second match from Alabama quite decisively by the score of 25½-14½. (In the first match the score was 21½-18½ for Tennessee.)


Fischer's Challenge to World Crown Scares Russians
(Condensed from Chess Express)

A meeting was to be held in Amsterdam to determine the site for the World Champion Match in January between Fide's President Dr. Euwe and U.S. Challenger Robert Fischer and World Champion of Russian Boris Spassky.  But Spassky did not show up as scheduled in Amsterdam.  Fischer and US Chess Federation Executive Director Ed Edmondson were present in good faith to negotiate an agreement under Dr. Euwe's supervision.  Mr. Edmondson then traveled on to Moscow to discuss the situation further with Russian officials, but nothing definite was agreed on.

From previous discussion it was known that Mr. Spassky picked as his first choice for holding the match Reykjavik, Iceland, and Fischer Belgrade, Yugoslavia.  As a decision had to be made Dr. Euwe found what seemed to be an excellent compromise.  He announced that the first twelve games would be scheduled to take place in Belgrade and the remainder in Iceland.  Now we hear that the Russians have protested the "Belgrade-Reykjavik" formula.  A meeting between Dr. Euwe and Russian official is to be held in Moscow to resolve the matter.  The match is to begin June 25 or before.

The Cesar's Palace Hotel of Las Vegas is supposed to have come up with the highest bid of $175,000 for holding the match.  However, it came much too late for consideration. 

Reported by John Hurt in the same March 1972 issue of the TCN:

With a perfect match record of 11-0 White Station took the twelve team High School Team title of Memphis.  The teams met for eleven Saturdays at the McLean Library in Memphis under the direction of John Hurt and sponsorship of the Memphis Chess Club and the Optimist Club.


More on the Match

The Fischer-Spassky match for the World Chess Championship is scheduled to commence on July 2, 1972 in Reykjavik, Iceland.  Grandmaster Fischer played in a Celebrities' Tennis Tournament in San diego, California in early June.  He remained in seclusion until June 19, when he telephoned FIDE Vice President Fred Cramer.  It is probable that Mr. Cramer will be accompanying Fischer during the match in Iceland.  Fischer requested Cramer to make an advance check on lighting, hotel accommodations, etc. As many of you are aware, negotiations on the site, financial arrangements, etc. of the Fischer-Spassky match, have been exceedingly protracted. 

The World Championship Match will generate a tremendous amount of publicity for chess in the U.S.  I am pleased to report that throughout the match, George Koltanowski will at the very least host weekly half hour television shows on chess.  This program will be carried throughout California by educational TV stations.  In addition, negotiations are underway to extend this show to the entire National Educational TV network.  If these negotiations are successful, George will urge his viewers to write our Newburg office for a "Chess Kit" from the USCF.  By conservative estimates, if George's show is nationally televised, it should add tens of thousands of new USCF members.  The combination of the publicity given to the Fischer-Spassky match, together with the Koltanowski TV series, would give USCF the biggest membership boost in its history.  Even if it is not nationally televised, I believe that George's show in California alone will double USCF membership there.  George has been consulted for a special on Chess for National ABC television as well as for a forthcoming Life Magazine article.

TCN Editor's note:  The above article is part of a letter written by USCF President Dr. Leroy Dubeck to all officers of the USCF.  I would like to add that it is now fact that educational TV will carry the Koltanowski chess programs nationwide.  The first of these programs should take place on July 9, 1972.  For Nashville it will be carried at 10:00 AM.  For other areas consult your local newspaper or call the local educational TV station.

The July 1972 edition of the TCN added this news:

The match between Memphis and Nashville ended again in a tie by the score of 12-12.  (The last time these two teams met was in November of 1970 and the score was a 15-15 tie.)  The match took place on June 11, 1972 on the campus of Lane College in Jackson.

A high school match between players from Memphis and Nashville took place on June 4,1972 in Memphis.  It was a double round affair on eight boards with Memphis emerging as the winner by the close score of 8½-7½.  On top board Kenny Thomas scored 1½  points for Memphis over Kenny Cohen.  On second board Victor Lendermon (Memphis) and Paul Henry had two draws.  On Board three Peter Cariani (Memphis) scored two wins over Bruce Stearnes.  On a lower board, Leza Sturdivant, the only girl to play, scored two wins over Nashvillian Johnny Moore.

Top scorers of the Memphis City Chess Championship were as follows:  First was John Hurt with 9½-2½, 2nd - 3rd Kenny Thomas and Eddie Middleton with 7½-4½, followed by Hunter Weaks who had 6-6 for fourth place.  Hurt lost only one game to Victor Lendermon.

The "B" Division (Memphis City Reserve Championship) ended in a tie for first between Jim Little and Lesa Sturdivant with 10½-1½.  The event was a round robin affair.

The 1972 Memphis Speed Chess Championship saw a tie for first between Eddie Middleton and Kenny Thomas with 17½-½.

The information gathered below comes from a Commercial Appeal article, July 15, 1972:

Fischer's Off-the-Board-Moves Draw Black Curtain For Avid Chess Fans  
by Mark Schlinkmann

Memphis chess enthusiast Hunter Weaks couldn't be more serious about what he was saying.

"This may be the blackest day in the United States chess history, " said Mr. Weaks when he learned of American champion Bobby Fischer's forfeit Thursday to Russia's Boris Spassky in the second game of the international chess championship at Reykjavik, Iceland.

Mr. Weaks, a 47-year-old retiree who does little else than play, live and breathe the complicated game, looked bleakly ahead to the rest of the Fischer-Spassky duel, scheduled to resume Sunday.

"He can't stand to lose,"  Mr. Weaks said of Fischer.  "If he loses, it will probably be the end of him.  And it looks like he will."

Mr. Weaks and about 40 other members of the Memphis Chess Club have been gleaning scanty reports of the matches from newspaper accounts, radio broadcast, long-distance telephone calls and whatever else they can get their hands on.

"I tried to get information by buying a shortwave radio," said Morris Middleton, Memphis Chess Club president.  "But so far it hasn't worked well.  There aren't even any foreign stations broadcasting the match, move by move, that I could pick up."

So club members relay by phone to each other what strands of information they do manage to pick up.  Most often the calls are aimed at Mr. Weaks.

"He has more contacts with chess people around the country than anyone else here," Mr. Middleton said.  "He does nothing else except play and read and talk about chess.  He's not the very best player in town, but knows more about the game than anyone else."

Mr. Weaks doesn't like to talk about it very much, but he would admit he has assumed a sort of "clearing-house" role among the Memphis chess community, dispensing information and playing tips for the last 15 years.

Although he preferred to be vague about his past, he would say he is from Fulton, Ky., earned an English degree at Vanderbilt University and settled in Memphis in 1956.

"I've only worked at a bank for nine months or so in my entire life," he said.  He said he derives his income from an inheritance, which he said was "definitely not a fortune, but enough to live on."

In a book-stacked den surrounded by chessboard wallpaper, Mr. Weaks continued his discussion of the Icelandic duel and its impact on chess in the United States and Memphis.

"Fischer is a near-god with these people," he said of American chess players' view of the young challenger.  "The have identified with him.  He's got to do it for us.  He's the only American to ever pose a threat for the championship."

But Mr. Weaks said Fischer is plagued by what seemed to be "paranoid tendencies" that are preventing him from playing his best match against the Russian Grand Master.

He said favorable publicity from an American world championship victory could begin a wave of chess fervor here.  But, he noted, a defeat now seems likely.

"We've been sick and embarrassed about it," Mr. Weaks said of Fischer's tactics.  "I've been feeling psychologically depressed myself."

A main contact for Mr. Weaks in the quest for news of the match is Bobby Churchill, a former Memphis chess player now living in New York.  But Mr. Weaks doesn't know where he is.

"He said he was going to Iceland on a tramp steamer," he said.  "I haven't heard from him since.  He's somewhere with the boat."

Another contact is Troy Armstrong, a former Memphis resident who now attends the University of Iowa and managed to land a job at an Iowa newspaper –– near the teletype wires.

"He (Armstrong) was physically ill when he heard of the first day," laughed Eddie Middleton, a Memphis State University student not related to the club president.

The general murky feeling in the hearts of Memphis chess devotees these days was quickly transmitted to Mr. Middleton when Mr. Weaks told him of Fischer's second-day forfeit.

"Oh, my God," Mr. Middleton said, in what appeared to be near-shock.

Source for the below: TCN-September-1972-Volume-14

A new record attendance was registered as 130 players took part in  the three divisions of the 28th Tennessee Championships, September 2-4, 1972, at the Noel Hotel in Nashville. Unrated player Juan Aristorenas of Chattanooga, TN is the new Tennessee State Champion with a score of 5½-½.

Kenny Thomas of Memphis was clear first with 5-0 in the second Tennessee High School Championships.  He received the first place trophy plus $50.

Quotes below are from a Memphis Press-Scimitar article, October 5, 1972:

John Hurt & Kenneth Thomas
Memberships in the Memphis Chess Club has tripled since the beginning of the Spassky-Fischer world championship match in Iceland, reports John Hurt, club member and Memphis Chess Champion who once played Bobby Fischer.

Hurt will direct the annual high school chess championship match which begins October 14, 1972, co-sponsored by the Board of Education and the Northeast Optimist Club.

"There are about 150 chess book titles in the library catalogs, with several copies of each book, and you never can find a book on a library shelf –– they're all out," said Mr. Hurt.

Hurt said sales of chess boards are brisk.

"You can spend a lot of money on them or you can get them for a dollar," he said.  "Chess is played on the same board as checkers although most chess players don't like the harsh red and black of the checker board.  They prefer softer colors." 

Kenneth Thomas, Christian Brothers High School student is the defending champion in the annual tournament starting October 14.

"He's a brilliant chess player and makes straight A's in school," said Hurt.

One of the things which keeps Hurt busy these days is giving illustrated lectures on the recent Fischer triumph over Spassky.

He has a large screen on which are projected the board and pieces, showing the progress of the games.

Hurt, recalling his game with Fischer several years ago, said he remembered the game, move by move, but could point to no move where he went wrong.  Fischer, he said, plays chess at a level which many can't comprehend. 
Click "Read More" below to continue with this article featuring a Mr. John Hurt game:

Click "Older Post" at the bottom right of the completed blog article to work your way through more blog post from the past:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chess is Making a Comeback

While meandering around the rare book section of one of my favorite used book stores, I came upon John W. Collins' work, My Seven Chess Prodigies. This was one piece of literature that I had never taken the time to read until now.  The book was hardcover, retaining its paper cover, and was in near mint condition, but it was the contents that were quite the discovery.  I though I might have been a chess fanatic at one time, until the pages of this book enlightened me to those who were and are intrinsically dedicated to the game.  John "Jack" Collins introduces the reader to the Hawthorne Chess Club that he founded which met at his parents' home in the mid 1920s.  Moving forward to the 1950s, the homemade chess club was still going strong, and was visited and joined by some of the greatest names of chess: Bobby Fischer, Robert & Donald Byrne, William J. Lombardy, Raymond Weinstein, Salvatore Matera, and Lewis Cohen–all of whom Mr. Collins covered in his book.  

Memphis had its own home-grown chess clubs back in the 1960s.  Below we examine how the Memphis Chess Club contributed to this city's continuing chess culture from a Memphis Press-Scimitar article reprint.  

Quotes from newspaper articles from 1965:

The Gifford Family

A young chess group meets weekly at the Randolph branch library.  About 25 children, ages 8 to 18, turn out regularly for instruction and small-scale tournaments.

Mrs. Gifford has been mothering the chess club for the past two years.  "Neighborhood children began dropping by the house to play, and when the group grew to 21, it just got too hectic, and we headed for the library."

Mrs. Gifford isn't the only member of the family who has helped spread interest in chess throughout Memphis.  Her son Charles, 15, is president of the Catholic High School chess club.

A daughter, Jean, 17, is a tournament player in the Memphis Chess Club, which Mrs. Gifford serves as secretary.

Other members of the family, all of whom have their own chess boards, are Kathy, 6; Bill 8; Theresa, 10; Mary 12, and Betty, 19.  Several have won trophies, as has Mrs. Gifford.
Thomas Cutlif

"I think chess is wonderful training for children," she said, "it teaches them to concentrate and plan ahead.  And they all enjoy it."  Mrs Gifford feels almost any child can learn to play by the time he's 6.  "Some will like it more than others and really pursue it, but nearly all can and will learn to play."  The chess bug also has been spread by Frank Garner, president of the Memphis Chess Club, and John Hurt, president of the Tennessee Chess Association.

Both Mr. Hurt and Mr. Garner make visits to high school clubs at Frayser, Catholic, Tech, Messick, Christian Brothers and Central High Schools.

Although most of the clubs have been organized in recent months, Central has had one for several years and a senior student –– Mark Gilley –– was city co-champion a year ago.  He was state junior champion in 1963.

C. Pasley
Young Gilley, incidentally, is one of eight Memphians rated by the United States Chess Federation as the top 15 chess players in Tennessee.  The others are Eddie Middleton, Hunter Weaks, James Wright of Millington, Troy Armstrong, Dale Simpson, and John Hurt.

"There is increased interest among youth."  Mr. Hurt said, "and already several very fine chess players have developed from these programs."

Chances are, the chess board won't ever compete with the Little League baseball diamond and the combo dance band.  Or will it?

Quotes from the Memphis Press-Scimitar Wednesday March 25, 1964:

Good Evening!
by Robert Johnson

Kathy McDanel
Know what the kids do besides wondering about Ringo (Starr) and the mountainous problem of going to college, which involves many from the 10th grade on?  Well, a lot of them are getting mental exercise playing chess.

"The ancient game is having a terrific rejuvenation," Mrs. Charles W. Gifford tells me.  "Last summer, just after school was out, I started a club for the neighborhood children, one night a week.  We had 23 members, and were straining the walls in my living room, when John Hurt and Frank Garner of the Memphis Chess Club, in conjunction with the Northeast Memphis Optimist Club, organized the Youth Chess Club.  We affiliated with them and began meeting at the Randolph Branch of the Public Library on Tuesday nights 7-9."

"Our group is still meeting there every Tuesday, and John Hurt has another group of about 14 who meet Tuesdays at Highland Library.  There are a few adults in the group, but the oldest in ours is my daughter, 16.  We have four other girls."

Richard Bennett
Mrs. Gifford said clubs have also started at Richland Junior High, Colonial Junior High, and Catholic High.  The Park Commission got interested, and on Saturday mornings 9-12 at Kingsbury High, Charles Savery of the Memphis Chess Club teaches the Kingsbury group, and Mrs. Gifford's daughter, Jean, instructs at the Frayser Community Center.

The Northeast Memphis Optimist Junior Chess Club started its championship tournament last night.

Mrs. Gifford said it's a pleasure "to watch the younger generation think!"  She said any one of them would be happy to take me on in a game of chess, "from 7 year-old Bill on up."

What interested me most: "They're so quiet," she said.

Quotes from the Commercial Appeal September 2, 1965:

Chess Players to Vie 6 from Memphis Chess Club to Seek State Crown

The Memphis Chess Club at the Young Men's Christian Association in 1964

The annual Tennessee Open Chess Championship in Nashville this weekend will draw six members of the Memphis Chess Club.

The Tournament at the Albert Pick Motel, will start at 2 p.m. Saturday and will end Labor Day afternoon.

The six members to compete are R.S. Scrivener, 84 of Nesbit, Mississippi, former city champion and Master Emeritus; John Hurt, current chess city champion; Frank Garner, president of the Memphis club; Mark Gilley of Memphis, current Memphis high school chess champion and Tennessee junior chess champion in 1964, who graduated from Central High School in May, Louis Weis, and Bobby Churchill of West Memphis.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chess Players En Passant

Tonight I was preparing to visit Joe Spiegel, a former Memphis Chess Club president for the years 1960 & 1961, and talk with him about the very old days of chess.  Last month I noticed his name was on our USCF mailing list as residing in the Hickory Hill area of Memphis, so I was hoping he would be able to share with me some interesting stories of our club's chess players from the past.  I typed in his name on the internet to retrieve his phone number, but I ran across his obituary instead.  He died Tuesday September 21, 2010, almost one year to the day that I was going to pay him a visit.

Something like this happened to me once before when I was trying to track down Bradford B. Jefferson's son Dudley.  I was still president of the club, the year may have been 1988, and at that time I was in possession of the two trophies that Dudley's dad had won at the Western Open in Memphis back in 1914, so I wanted to interview him.  My search for Dudley Jefferson ended at the last nursing home that he resided in.  The receptionist looked up his name and said he had passed away just a few months before.  I told her, "Goodness, I just missed him!"

From the September 25, 2010 Commercial Appeal:

"Joseph W. Spiegel, 88 of Memphis, retired Director of Hunter Division of Robbins & Myers, Inc., died Tuesday, at Kirby Pines Retirement Community. Memorial services will be held at 11 a.m. on Friday, October 1st 2010, at All Saints Episcopal Church with burial in Forest Hill Cemetery, Midtown. He was a long time member of All Saint's Episcopal Church where he had served as treasurer, vestryman and lector-chalice bearer. Mr. Spiegel, widower of Beatrice Darnell Spiegel, was a graduate of Bentley College, a life member of the United States Chess Federation and a WWII Army Veteran. He was the holder of the Bronze Star Medal and 5 European Battle Stars. It is requested that any memorials be sent to All Saints Episcopal Church, Memphis Humane Society or CFC International. (CFC International, 183 Brown Rd, Vestal, NY 13850."

Joe was president of the chess club when he organized and directed the first Mid-South Open in 1960, a tournament which is still held each year; next year's Open in November will be the 53rd.

It has been a little over a year and a half since I started back playing chess at the club, and I am very disappointed that I missed meeting Mr. Spiegel.  It would have been a great honor to have had fellowship with him.  If you know of any old timers in your chess club that have faded away from play, you might want to get in contact with them before they too are gone from this world.

Tennessee Chess News May-June 1960

James Wright Wins Memphis Tourney by Half a Point

James Wright edged out Bob Scrivener by half a point to win the (1960) Memphis City title with 9½-2½.  He won nine games in this double round robin event including a game from Scrivener, but lost to Troy Armstrong and Joseph Spiegel.  His other game with Scrivener was a draw.  "Uncle" Bob Scrivener won eight and lost to Spiegel.  His other draw was with Carl Spies.

The victory of James Wright was a mild surprise as Bob Scrivener is considered a little stronger.  Joe Spiegel surprised everyone greatly by taking third place ahead of Armstrong and Spies.

The "B" tourney (reserve) was won by Mark Gilley with 9½ points even though he lost both games to second place winner Peter Snider who scored 8.

(Using the USCF rating system following the City Championships)

1.  Wright         1950
2.  Scrivener     1934
3.  Spiegel        1886
4.  Armstrong   1854
5.  Spies           1806
6.  Darnell        1758
7.  Kennedy      1742
8.  Wiseman     1694
9.  Gilley           1678
10. Snider         1678

There are two Joe Spiegel games below.  Click the bar above the Black pieces to view the 2nd game.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Queen Me vs. King Me

Position after 51. . .e1=Q (2011Memphis)
Position after 20. . .06-02 = K (Lees' Guide)

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN, Saturday Morning, November 25, 1967

Checker Kings Lecture Erudite Chessmen

Even having a hobby these days isn't a bed of roses.  A survey of two Mid-South groups meeting in Memphis yesterday, chess and checkers players turned up these items: 

A chess official said that checkers is the most skillful of  all games – next to chess.

Several checker players said chess is a pretty good game, but "less precise than checkers."

At the Hotel Claridge, the tone of the eighth annual Mid-South Chess Tourney was contemplative.  A typical player pondered his next move, puffed his pipe, pondered, puffed, rubbed his chin, pondered, puffed, took a drink of water, puffed, then moved.

John Hurt, president of the Memphis Chess Club, when told that the annual Memphis Open Checker Tournament was being played at the Hotel Chisca, said some good things about checkers, but he added a few points for the record.

"You only use half of the board in checkers," said Mr. Hurt, "and all the players move alike.  But next to chess, checkers is the most skillful of all games."

Hugh Burton of Jackson, TN, the Mid-South's co-champion checker player, didn't exactly see it that way. Nor did Dr. H. L. Cravens, here from Brownwood, Texas, to play in the checker tournament.

"Some masters who have played both games said they prefer checkers," said Mr. Burton. "You can make a mistake in chess and recover.  But in checkers if you make a mistake and your opponent knows what he is doing–you are beaten."

"Chess is the oldest known game," said Mr. Hurt.

"We know, of course, that checkers is the oldest type game," said Dr. Cravens.

"Actually checkers is played on a chess board," said Mr. Hurt.

"Chess is played on a checker board," said Mr. Burton.

Both the tournaments end Sunday.
          The Commercial Appeal 11/25/67: Concentration was the byword as Paul Hargett (left) of Sheffield, Alabama, and James Wright of Millington, Tennessee engaged in a chess match at the Claridge.

Tennessee Chess News- Volume 10 No 1 pg1

Steve Balsai Regains Mid-South Title
The eighth annual Mid-South tourneys took place over the Thanksgiving weekend in Memphis, Tennessee.  Besides Tennessee, four other states (Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, and Colorodo) were represented.  With only seventeen players, the event was quite poorly attended.  Peter Lahde of Nashville directed.

Steven Balsai of Hot Springs, Arkansas, again displayed good form to win the Open Division by winning five games and allowing only one draw.  Trailing by a point were Charles Bonner of Huntsville, Alabama and James Wright of Millington, Tennessee representing the local forces.  Bill Willowers of Russellville, Arkansas too the Amatuer Division and Ed Garner of Memphis won the Reserve.

The event received excellent coverage by the news media.

Memphis Press-Scimitar, November 24, 1973

Tourneys Side-By-Side

 The Mid-South Open (chess) Tournament and the Memphis Open Checker Tournament are both in progress at the Sheraton-Peabody Hotel.  James C. Little, pictured on the left, president of the Memphis Chess Club, and J. R. Guthrie, checker player from Humboldt, TN, compared the two games as they competed in their respective tournaments today.  Both three-day competitions end tomorrow.

Memphis Press-Scimitar, November 26, 1973

Memphian Wins Chess Tournament

John Hurt, current Tennessee state chess champion, added another title Sunday as he won the 14th annual Mid-South Open over 31 others at the Sheraton-Peabody.  

Other winners were:

Open Division – Second place, Eddie Middleton of Memphis; third place tie, Marty Appleberry of Fayetville, Arkansas, and Warren Porter of Jackson, Mississippi; Class A, Porter; Class B, John Beaton of Wynne, Arkansas; Class C, Pete Lahde of Nashville Tennessee; unrated, Ed Issa of Greenville, Mississippi.

Amateur Division – First, Terrell Bishop of Russellville, Arkansas, was tops over the 39 entries; second, tie, Glen Smith of Coldwater, Mississippi, and Richard Frothingham of Little Rock, Arkansas; Class C, Ralph Lyles of Memphis; Eustis Moody of Dyersburg, Tennessee; and unrated, M. Rajagopalam of Memphis.

Jackson, TN Man Wins Checker Tournament 

In the 20th annual checker tournament Sunday, Hugh Burton of Jackson, Tennessee, won the title.  Larry King of Memphis was second.

by Byrne Horton

Although American checkers (also English droughts) and chess may be played on the same checkerboard, the two games are essentially different as to their objectives, materials utilized in play, and in their methods of play. More specifically these two games differ as: 

Checkers: 1. The object of this game is to capture the opponent`s checkers. 

Chess: 1. The object of this game is to checkmate the opponent`s King.

Checkers: 2. The game is played on the 32 dark squares. 

Chess: 2. The game is played on all 64 squares.

Checkers: 3. Each player starts with 12 checkers. 

Chess: 3. Each player starts with 16 chessmen.

Checkers: 4. At the opening, checkers occupy all the black squares on the rows immediately before the player. 

Chess: 4. At the opening, chessmen occupy all squares, both black and white, on the two rows (ranks) immediately before the players.

Checkers: 5. Black mores first. 

Chess: 5. White moves first.

Checkers: 6. All checkers move and jump forward only until they are crowned "Kings."  

Chess: 6. The various chessmen have their own distinctive moves.

Checkers: 7. Checkers can be promoted to Kings only.

Chess: 7. Only pawns can be promoted. they may become Queens, Bishops, Knights, or Rooks depending upon the choice of the player.

Checkers: 8. Capture or "to jump" is compulsory.

Chess: 8. Captures are optional except when necessary to avoid checkmate.

Checkers: 9. Capture consist of leaping over the captured piece and removing the man that was jumped.

Chess: 9. Capture consists of removing the captured piece and taking his position.

Checkers: 10. One or more checkers may be captured at one time. 

Chess: 10. Only one chessman may be captured at one time. 

Marion Tinsley, long-time and undefeated world checker champion, said, "chess is like the ocean while checkers is like a deep well."

Editor:  The year was 1973, I purchased Fred Reinfield's book "How to Win at Checkers"at a local bookseller in order to learn how to win against a fellow classmate.  My dad was the champion checker player in our household, but he did not know how to give me any pointers.  It had only been a few months since I was taught the game of chess, and the books I had collected improved my game play in that area.  Checkers had its own type of notation, which I had to get used to.  Checkers used named variations for its opening moves, so I memorized a few of them.  As the school year slowly passed, I was able to win some games against my classmate.  Later on that same year, I noticed that my ability to see ahead in chess translated over to checkers as well.  Shockingly, it occurred to me in one match with my dad that I could win.  After all these years, age seventeen at the time, this was my turn to win at checkers. The blood left my face. I previously thought this would be a proud moment, conquering him at his own game and gloating afterward.  Instead, I was feeling the same emotion I had gotten in chess when noticing that I was about to drop a major piece.  The knowledge of my potential victory was overwhelmingly disappointing, so I let him win and he kept his crown. Within a few months, my dad went into a semicoma following an aneurism, and he died just a little over a year later.

It was once told to me that Curt Jones, who is now a Memphis area resident Master, was brought to tears the first time he defeated his dad, Joe Jones, in a tournament.  Below is a Jones vs. Jones battle but not the aforementioned one:         Music City Chess May 1978 Vol. 8 No. 2 pg. 11

Memphis Chess and Checkers Club

Memphis Press-Scimitar, Friday, December 12, 1952

Claire Luce and Bradford B. Jefferson (December 1952)

OOPS!––Claire Luce, star of Memphis Arena Theater's production of "Personal Appearance," is in trouble.  Her opponent across the chess board is B. B. Jefferson, 1353 Vinton, retired real estate man.  Miss Luce learned chess while on tour in the Isles of Greece some years ago.  But the Greeks apparently didn't tell her some of the tricks Mr. Jefferson knows.  He has been the president of the (Memphis) Chess and Checkers Club at the Young Men's Christian Association for 40 years and has been (chess) champion of the South since 1912.  The match took place at the Resthaven Nursing Home where Mr. Jefferson is recovering from a broken hip.  The winnah!––Mr. Jefferson.  (Editor: The photograph directly above was in poor condition and will be replaced once a better copy is found.)

A History of Tennessee Chess
by Peter Lahde

Game from August 1913, U.S. Open, Chicago, Illinois: