Saturday, January 29, 2011


 Robert "Uncle Bob" Scrivener–State of MS Champion 1961
"En Passant," Mid-South Advocate Vol. 4 No 2 March, 1978: (When in 1959 Chess Life asked for nominations of old-time chess personages whose stories and games would be of interest, they received replies for Mr. Scrivener, from Florida, Louisiana, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. A letter to Mr. Scrivener brought an immediate friendly reply which included material and games from his chess career for a period of more than three-score years. Your editor feels very fortunate and privileged to be able to give you a first hand account of "Uncle Bob" chess activities as they appeared in CHESS LIFE ten years ago. These will be later brought up to the present from other sources.)

Chess Life, Vol. 13, No. 18, May 20, 1959: "I am 77 years old. Saw my first chess game in the early 1890s in New Orleans at the Southern Yacht Club where my father had taken me to see a billiard exhibition between the two greats Ives and Schaeffer. Boy like, I wandered away from the match and found two men engaged in a serious study over a board in one of the smaller nooks in the club. My father found me and explained they were playing chess. He played, but I did not even learn the moves until about 1900, and began playing in Memphis about 1904, when Pillsbury and Marshall were the excitement in American chess. I played in my first Memphis Tournament in 1904 and did not win a game. After the tournament B. B. Jefferson took me in tow and prepped me for the next year, when he stayed out of the Tournament, and I won it.

1905 Memphis City Championship
 In 1913 Jeff and I entered our first big tourney, the Western in Chicago. Jefferson won the Tourney. I finished in a tie with E. Michaelson for 5th and 6th in a field of 18. I played in a number of Westerns until about 1929, when I went into aviation and dropped out of chess for a number of years. In 1935 our Company, the Chicago and Southern Air Lines, (which later was purchased and became part of the present Delta Air Lines) moved to St. Louis, and I was persuaded by the St. Louis chess boys to try my luck with them. I played in my first St. Louis District Tournament in 1935-6 and was fortunate enough to win it. The next year a newcomer appeared to give us all a run (Erich Marchand). We played in the next five St. Louis District Tourneys and each won two and the odd one was won by Edwin Woody, another fine player soon to be lost to chess and claimed by the business world. I an enclosing my first game with Milarchand as it was his first experience with the Business Man's Opening. Marchand refers to this opening in his column in Chess Life of Oct. 20, 1957 pg. 5. Marchand and I have played over one hundred hard battles and I feel sure he has the plus score. A grand opponent and a most sincere person.

Our Company returned to Memphis in 1941, and except for weekly games in the Veterans Hospital in Memphis during the war years, I did not play chess except a few games by correspondence for another 15 years. About that time the U.S.C.F. Open Championship was held in New Orleans, and a delegation headed by Hunter Leslie Weaks represented Memphis. A number of old timers asked about me, and not one of the Memphis team had ever even met me. They told inquirers that they did not know whether I still played or not. An old timer told them: "Look him up. Make him play in your next City Tournament. He may be rusty but he will beat the socks off of you." So they roused me out of my lethargy. I played in and won the 1955 Memphis Championship, just fifty years after I had won it for the first time.

Since then I have played in three Alabama Opens, tying in game scores for first in 1955, but losing to my fine young Memphis player, J. A. Wright, on tie-breaking points. I won the Alabama Open in 1957 finishing ahead of two USCF rated experts, both of whom I played.

In 1956 I had an interesting happening. I finished in a tie for second and third. This was in New Orleans (Louisiana Open) Tourney won by Irene Vines, and a sterling player she is. In this tourney there were some half dozen U.S.C.F. Experts, and sharing 2nd-3rd position with Newton Grant. I finished ahead of Al Buckland, A. L. McAuley, A. H. Lockett, Jr., with a total of 47 New Orleans District players. I received a special prize for the "Best Played Game" in this Tourney. I am told the Committee was unanimous in this selection. But the best prize was Euwe's "Complete Archives in English," and I am now reaping the benefit of this win, since I retired from Delta Air Lines three years ago, and am now doing some study on the openings for the first time in my life. In two Westerns I attended, I had not played one single game over the board between tournaments.

I was elected President of the Western Chess Association on three occasions, the first in 1913, and I think the last was in 1928 or 1929.

In the Westerns I played such magnificent players as Sammy Reshevsky, Carlos Torre, A. Kupchik, H. Hahlbohm, Sari Factor, H. Steiner, Norman Whitaker, and many, many others, all of whom taught me something, knowledge which enables me now to make a respectable showing in the tournaments I am privileged to enter, and at 77. I have gone thru three (2 AL, 1 LA) State Opens in the last three years without losing a game. There is no substitute for the experience one obtains in contact with the best in a class.   

The game with Whitaker, which I enclose, is one of two which I have played him in Tourneys. I enclose it for a real reason: one, I am proud to have defeated him as I have the greatest respect for his chess playing ability but another thing seems more important to me; I wanted to beat him more than I did anyone. There is a lesson there for the new timers: if your desire is strong enough, you can surpass your usual performances. In this Detroit game I played Whitaker in the 12th or 13th round. Tensions were mounting; Torre and Reshevsky were both much interested, as Whitaker had not lost a game. Numerous behind-the-scene prizes were being offered by individuals to the first man to beat Whitaker. I hit a nice little jack-pot in winning this game. I am still using in major tournaments the set of men I won that day. I also enclose a game played in the Florida State Championship of 1926. They had a strong field including John Winter and E. Michaelson of Chicago, and I tied with John Winter for first prize, with Michaelson third. Stoner was then the current Florida champion, and it was my task to take him on in the last round. With the White pieces I obtained an advantage thru combinative means, and was about to win an additional piece, when on his 39th move he touched his Knight to check my King, saw his mistake, and turned down his King with the remark: "I don't have to make blunders to lose to you, I resign." Rather neat I thought, and still do, especially when one considers that hero was a champion going down before his own home crowd. So I would like to include that game, as to me, it optimizes a quality in chess players and people that often impressed me - graciousness, which makes it hard indeed sometimes to keep pouring it on your very nice opponent when you are secretly wishing he would do better.

The first twenty-odd years of my business life was spent in banking, and many of my old friends of those days are among my closest, but they are dropping off one by one, and there are few of us left, and there can be no renewals. But many of my chess friends are in the teen-age group, and the future holds a promise of sufficient contacts in a pleasing and exciting field.

B. B. Jefferson, now about 85 or more, has practically retired from all chess. (In my opinion, the greatest "amateur" chess player who over lived!) A really wonderful person to know, whose book of chess knowledge has always been open for all to read, I have always basked in the sunlight of his fame and some of the reflected glory has spread over me at tines, but he has always been the fountainhead of Memphis chess, and when he goes the world will be a much sadder place."

For the games mentioned in the text click here:  TCN May 1969

"En Passant," Mid-South Advocate Vol. 4, No 4 July, 1978 (This portion of the story was told by Peter Lahde in 1969 and are his memories of Uncle Bob's last ten years.)

"Uncle Bob Scrivener won the Alabama Open in 1959. During the same year he became Co-Champion with James Wright for the Memphis City Championship. Both men won all their games and drew their individual encounter. Next year he achieved the highest score (5-2) in the Southern for a resident. The same year he also placed fourth in the first Mid-South at Memphis scoring 4-1 l/2.

In 1961 he won another state event with the Mississippi State tourney with a 4-1 score. During the same year he also achieved one of his best scores in the Tennessee Open placing 5th with a 4-2 score.

The year 1962 was the year that U.S.C.F. finally granted Mr. Scrivener the long deserved honor of Master Emeritus status. Also the same year the Southern Open was played in Memphis and the tourney was dedicated to him for his contributions to Southern chess.

During the next three years he continued playing in a number of events. Perhaps he achieved his best score in a Tennessee Open in 1965 when he placed fourth with a 4-2 score. This year also at the Tennessee Open he was made honorary member of the Tennessee Chess Association, although no longer a resident of Tennessee. No other player has ever achieved this distinction. He continued playing in the 1966, 1967 and 1968 Tennessee tourneys. He also attended the 1967 Southern.

Here is an interesting account from this event as it was reported to the "Memphis Press-Scimitar" shortly after by Uncle Bob himself. (We are indebted to John Hurt for the newspaper report.) "

Uncle Bob had a most embarrassing experience in playing in the Southern Chess Championship in Birmingham. An opponent had beaten him in a very unsportsmanlike manner.

'I went to sleep during my match,' Uncle Bob said, 'my opponent let me sleep till my clock ran out and then he advised me that I had lost on time. It was the first time I ever went to sleep in a tournament. I guess I must have slept 10 or 15 minutes, and my clock was running all the time. Most players will waken an opponent who goes to sleep, but mine didn't awaken me. He just let the clock run out.'

So, among the many championships and honors Uncle Bob had won in chess, he also held what might be a unique distinction. Maybe he was the only player who ever lost an important match because he went to sleep in the middle of the battle. Well, he was 85 at the time. And it was understandable that he might go to sleep while waiting for a slowpoke to make a move.

Uncle Bob, retired businessman, was the dean of Mid-South chess players and a champion of national prominence. He won the Memphis Chess Club title in 1905, and he had been winning various kinds of tournaments ever since, almost right up to the time of his death. He had been runner-up twice in national tournaments.  (See: TCN, May 1969, Volume 11, No. 3- The Announcement of R. S. Scrivener's passing away.)

See this link for a little more on Uncle Bob:

A few of "Uncle Bob's" titles:

 1905 Memphis City Championship   1st
1913 Western Chess Association      5-6th (out of 18 players)
1920 Western Chess Association     4-5th
1926 Florida State                            1st (tie)
1935-40 St. Louis District                1st twice (in 5 events)
1955 Memphis City Championship  1st
1957 Alabama Open                         1st
1957 Southern Open                         1st
1959 Alabama Open                         1st
1959 Memphis City Championship  1st (tie with Wright)
1960 Southern Open                         4th (5-2 score)
1960 Mid-South Open                      4th (4 1/2 - 1 1/2)
1961 Mississippi State                      1st (4-1)
1962 Southern Open (in Memphis)  Dedicated to Uncle Bob
1962 Tennessee Open                       9th (4-2)   
1965 Tennessee Open                       4th (4-2)
1968 Arkansas Open                         ?    (3 1/2 - 1 1/2)

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