Friday, August 17, 2012

Chess Emissaries Remembered With Regard

John "Big Johnny" Hurt
Robert "Uncle Bob" Scrivener
Here we have a few articles that were collected with care by John Hurt, one of Memphis' greatest promoters of the game of kings, and placed in a scrap book, which can be found at the Main Public Library in Memphis.  When there wasn't much chess news, local Memphis newspapers would grandstand a few local area players in outstanding articles.  Now-a-days it is the youth and scholastic players that seem to get the spotlight, but not so in the 1960s.  May these random news stories enlighten and encourage all you aging chess players into staying the course and continue to do what Mr. John Hurt used to be heard saying, "Push Pawn!"

Good Year? Chess!

1961 Memphis Newspaper Article (newspaper name unknown, and the author is a Mr. Eldon, last name unknown) Wednesday December 20, 1961

The Mid-South should be proud of 80-year-old Uncle Bob Scrivener who lives at Nesbit, Miss., just a few miles south of Memphis.

He is the oldest chess champion in the U.S.!

He has been playing chess all his life, and has won many championships–city, state, and sectional.  His greatest triumph in 1961 was the winning of the Mississippi title.

Although Uncle Bob lives in Mississippi, he is president of Memphis Chess Club.  They have members of all ages and meet every Wednesday night in the assembly room of the Associated General Contractors, 320 S. Dudley.  They play from 7 p.m. till midnight.  A serious or tournament match usually takes from four to five hours, but at their weekly meetings many play games in less than an hour.  They just get reckless and move without too much cogitation.

The thing that got me chess minded today was a Christmas card from Uncle Bob.  On it he wrote––

"Dear Eldon:  As your chess emissary, I am proud to report that Memphis chess is booming.  Some really talented youngsters are developing fast and aren't neglecting their school work either.  Witness:  In the last three years, three fine young players have won scholarships (not athletic) to three major colleges.  Another promising young player represented our section in the spelling bee in Washington.

Memphis teams have defeated, in 1961, first-class teams from Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Nashville, Tennessee.  A player still in his 20s has won the reserve section of three strong tournaments.  (Signed:) Uncle Bob Scrivener, Nesbit, Mississippi."

Uncle Bob is a retired executive of Chicago-Southern Airlines (now Delta). He has a 50-acre place with two small lakes, and enjoys country life along with his chess.  He makes about 10 tournaments a year.

P.S.  His statement that three fine young players had won college scholarships aroused my curiosity.  I wasn't sure whether they had won the scholarships because of their chess ability, so I called him and asked about that.  He said, no, the scholarships weren't for chess, but for high grades.  So far as he knows, no college gives chess scholarships, but maybe some college should, by golly!

As a sport, though, I doubt that chess will ever get the support football gets from the alumni.

150 to Play Chess

1962 Memphis Newspaper Article (source and writer unknown)

While most people are burning meat in the backyard or skin at a pool or lake, July 4, 1962, John Hurt will be doing something more exciting.  He'll be locked in combat at the All-Southern Chess Congress in Huntsville, Alabama. They'll be about 150 players from 15 states.  The tournament lasts three and a half days.  Games average four to five hours.

John came to Memphis three years ago from his native West Virginia, representing Consolidated Foods for Monarch and Richelieu products, and has already become a well-known citizen.

He was just elected president of the Northeast Memphis Optimist Club, succeeding Jack Stepherson of the Big Star Stepherson brothers.  John has organized several chess clubs, is three-time Memphis city champion, and president of the Tennessee Chess Association.  He was West Virginia champion four times, has played in the National Amateur three times.  Milam Monick, Jugoslavian Grand Master, who recently moved to Huntsville, is considered strongest in this part of the country, has lost only two games in three years.  John got him two out of four.

A trim 50, John has many other interests––tennis, basketball, drama, music.  He went to Marshall College and lives on S. Perkins with his wife Jane, John III, 14, and Mr. Hurt's mother.

For Fancy Moves

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Wednesday Morning, March 31, 1965

Dudley S. Jefferson, of 1380 Lamar, looks over the Mexican-made ornamental chess set on display at the National Bank of Commerce, of 42 South Second, during the Memphis Chess Club's annual (City Championship) tournament which ends April 9, 1965.  The trophy, which will be inscribed with the name of the (City Chess Championship) winner (each year) and was donated by Mr. Jefferson in memory of his father, the late Bradford B. Jefferson, who was recognized as one of the top chess players in the country.  (B.B. Jefferson won the U.S. Open Chess Championship in 1913, in Chicago, Illinois, and in 1914, in Memphis, Tennessee at the Business Men's Club.  B.B. Jefferson tied for second place in the U.S. Open in 1920, which also took place in Memphis, TN.)

On Display

Memphis Press-Scimitar, Wednesday, September 29, 1965

At the Randolph Library Branch, 2752 Given, is a chess display owned by Fred Garner, 5550 Park, president of the Memphis Chess Club.  John Hurt, a Memphis chess champion and organizer of the chess program in city schools, examines the display, which includes a set hand carved-out of ivory.  Several other sets are also collectors items.  Hurt said, "The display is valued in the hundreds of dollars."

Monday, May 28, 2012

"Fed" Up With Chess? \ John's First Visit

Dimensional Chess in Memphis
 by Dwight Weaver

"Fed" in 76 at the University of Memphis
What a wonderful season the summer of 1976 was in the Bluff City.  The United States was preparing to celebrate the bicentennial in July, but before that national event the Memphis Chess Club was presenting the city's chess players a miraculous moment, the 11th U.S. Junior Invitational Championship Chess Tournament; this Memphis event would be repeated only once more in 1978, and in both events, John Fedorowicz participated, thus beginning a friendship with our city's chess players that has lasted unto this day (  I was in preparation to be wed in July of 76, a couple of weeks after the bicentennial celebration, and the only thing that could distract this chess player from his fiancee, for seven evenings actually, was a bunch of well-known, high-rated chess Masters clashing over a checkered board.  Thankfully my future bride was a chess player herself and fully understood–somewhat.  

For more information about the age of the players in 1976 and their achievements, click on each of these two links:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

OLIVER TAI & The Memphis Chess Club

The name Oliver Tai is probably unfamiliar to many of you in the chess world of the 21st Century, but in the 80s and 90s he was one of the most promising, up-and-coming chess prodigies to ever come out of the Memphis Chess Club.  Oliver's last USCF tournament was the National U.S. Amateur Team East in Parsippany, NJ on February 22, 1994.  He finished number 93 out of 898 players with 4 1/2 points out of 6.  His last rating was 2157.

I first met Oliver at the chess club around 1987, and he was a nice, quiet fellow about the age of twelve at the time.  My recollections of young Oliver would not do him justice, so below are most of the articles that I could find concerning his chess career.  He indeed was a legend in his time, and in the first article, you can learn from him. If your club attendance is low and in need of fresh new faces, Oliver shows you how to promote the game of chess to the public. 

Here are the articles in various order:

From the Commercial Appeal, 1990
by Dave Hirshman

Chess Whiz, 14, Drills Challengers by the Dozen in Quiet Showdown

Child prodigy Oliver Tai checkmated Oak Court Mall visitors Saturday a dozen at a time.  The 14-year-old chess master strolled from one challenger to the next for four hours Saturday afternoon, dispensing humility.

If he hadn't been in the mood for chess, the junior at Memphis University School could have put on a martial arts demonstration.  He's a black belt in Taekwondo.  Or do a concert.  He's an accomplished violinist.  Or a lesson in higher mathematics.  He had nearly a perfect score on the math portion of a college entrance test when he was 10 years old and passed the Advanced Placement calculus test during the ninth grade.

"He might be able to become another Kasparov or Karpov if he wants to," James Jones, president of the 40-member Memphis Chess Club, referring to the two Soviet Grand Masters who recently wrapped up their battle for the world chess championship.  "But he'd have to devote his life to it, and he wants to be a physician, " Jones said.

Tai's opponents Saturday varied widely in ability.  But the Germantown, Tennessee resident said he was confident none would beat him.  "I don't think I'll lose today.  At least I hope I don't, " he said.  "As a straight question of probability, it's not very likely."

Tai's sister Stephanie taught him to play chess about seven years ago.  "Once I showed him how the pieces move, it wasn't long before he started beating me. It was pretty depressing," said Miss Tai, at 17 already a junior at the prestigious Massachusetts institute of Technology.  Miss Tai spent the afternoon shopping at the mall and watching the chess demonstration with her mother and father ––  who have doctorate degrees in physics and chemistry, respectively.  "She didn't know she created a monster," nodded Christine Tai, their mother.

Keith Macon, 24, a mall security guard, was Tai's first victim.  The checkmate and perfunctory smile and handshake came after about 20 moves.  "I let his knight and queen move in on me, and the queen set me up," the bewildered Macon said.

Greg Krog, 31, an assistant district attorney, went down in 22 moves.  "I blundered the opening, dropped a knight, and it all went  downhill from there," he said.  "The kid is definitely sharp."
Please click "Read More" below to continue with more on this article: