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:

Tennessee Chess News, February-March 1984 pg. 4

1983 Crossville Scholastics

Once again records fell as 390 enthusiastic young chess players gathered in Crossville, TN for the 1983 Crossville Scholastics.  The tournament was the largest of any kind ever held in Tennessee and was one of the largest ever held in the South.

Forty-six teams and individuals representing 63 different schools competed for the 95 trophies and $500 in cash prizes awarded.

The 124-man High School Section was won by Curtis Ikeuchi of Evanston Township High School, Evanston, Illinois, with a perfect score of 6-0.  Richard Brink of Woodrow Wilson Junior High School in Terre Haute, Indiana, took to honors in the 126-player Junior High Section with a perfect 6-0 score.  The 107-player Elementary Section found four young players tied for 1st with scores of 5 1/2-1 1/2.  Alex Chang and his sister, Angela Chang of Cherry River Elementary in Richwood, West Virginia, and Jeff Shelton and Noah Spaulding of Pulaski Middle School, Pulaski, Virginia, all were declared co-champions.  Oliver Tai of Auburndale School, Cordova, Tennessee, captured 1st place outright in the Primary Section with a score of 4 1/2-1/2.

Grandmaster Arthur Bisguier was once again the hit of the tournament, playing over 75 participants in a Friday night simultaneous and analyzing game and giving lectures to the young students throughout the tournament.  The tournament was sponsored by the Cumberland County Chess Club and the American Chess Foundation and directed by Harry Sabine, Chief TD and a host of other volunteer workers.

Tennessee Chess News, June-July 1985 pg. 12

Auburndale Chess Club Update
by Dale Flickinger

 The Auburndale Chess Club of Cordova, coached by Dale Flickinger, has 125 members, which represents 18% of the school's enrollment!  Since its beginning in 1981, the Elementary Team has grown into a National power.  This article will serve to introduce those who aren't aware of the stuff that comprises a championship team and will indicated just how deserving Auburndale is of its acclaim.

In the Memphis City (scholastic) championships in October Auburndale won every team and individual championship!  The roll call: HS champion, Jason Coleman; JH champion, Chris Hardwick; Elementary champion, Oliver Tai; Primary champion, Nicholas Saeger; HS Girls champion, Karin Adalberth; JH Girls champion, Stephanie Tai; Elementary Girls, Jennifer Doll; Primary Girls champion, Kelly Horgan.

At the State Championships, Auburndale collected 6 State Championships and 41 trophies.  The State Champions were the HS Novice Team, Elementary Team, Elementary Novice Team, and the Primary Team.  In addition, 4th grader Oliver Tai won the Elementary State Championship and Alec Horgan won the Primary State Championship.

At the HS Nationals in St. Louis, Auburndale's Championship Team placed 23rd and the Novice Team placed 17th.  At the JH Nationals in Terre Haute, Auburndale placed 13th in the nation.  At the Elementary Nationals in Charlotte, N.C. the Elementary Team placed 5th, paced by Oliver Tai who placed 5th individually with 5 wins and 2 draws.  The Auburndale Primary Team placed 4th in the nation paced by Nicholas Saeger (5 out of 7).  Josh Grounds won a category trophy.

Auburndale has many players on the national top 50 list for their age groups;  Oliver Tai (2nd, 8th and under), Alec Horgan (9th, 8th and under), Nicholas Saeger (16th, 8th and under), Elian Levatino (19th, 8th and under), Vinay Kini (26th, 8th and under), Chuck Hamlett (33rd, 11th & 12th), Sarah Radford (39th, 8th and under), Jason Balogh (42nd, 11th & 12th), and Craig Klein (43rd, 9th & 10th).

Auburndale has many players on the State Top 10 lists.  Auburndale also dominates the State Women's Top 10 list with (1) Karin Adalberth, 12th grade, from Sweden at 1445 and the Doll sisters (Jennifer, 4th grade-1322, Melissa, 9th grade-1221 and Elizabeth, 10th grade-1202).

A listing of other pertinent accomplishments:  Auburndale has won the Elementary State Title three (3) times in a row.  In four years, Auburndale and its representatives have won over 300 trophies.  In simuls, Oliver Tai has defeated GM Arthur Bisguier, and 5th grader Craig Klein defeated IM Sunil Weeramantry.  Only one Auburndale elementary player is a 6th grader . . . watch out next year!!

Chess Life, September 1988 pages 24-27 (yearbook pages 630-633)

National High School Championship
April 15-17, 1988, Albuquerque, N.M.
Open Section

Individual Awards: 1st-9th:  Andy Fischer, Santa Fe, New Mexico; Elvin Wilson, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Oliver Tai, Cordova, Tennessee; Henry Yu, Munster, Indiana; Jesse Kraai, Santa Fe, New Mexico; Kyle Miller, Santa Fe, New Mexico; James Schuyler, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York; Marc Jimenez, Mesa, Arizona; Harold Yazzie, Tuba City, Arizona; Score: 6 points (9 way tie for 1st)

National Attendance Record Fall In 1988 Scholastic Championships
by Vince McCambridge
Scholastic Coordinator
(Abridged articles)

There are many standards by which to measure the growing success of the National Scholastic championships – the quantity of participants, the level of competition, the attention and excitement in the media and in the community, or the level of corporate and community sponsorship to the event – in all of these areas, the 1988 events far surpassed earlier achievements.

But there is an underlying foundation for this success that is growing in depth and breadth and strength each year – the adult volunteers across the nation who coach, organize, coordinate, fund-raise, promote, and do much more – all because they believe in the value of scholastic chess.  This dedicated, hard working group is the key to our current success – and yet they rarely receive much credit.

Program Guide
The volunteers who take on the organization of a national scholastic can count themselves among the most energetic and courageous of all. This year (1988), the cities of Albuquerque, New Mexico,  Detroit, Michigan, and Memphis, Tennessee did themselves proud in hosting a total of 2144 young chess players – over 300 more than at last year's record-breaking events . . .

Memphis' Gaston (Scotty) Scott and Dale Flickinger combined to produce a National Junior High Tournament with 548 in attendance, almost 100 better than the previous year's event.

Numbers, however, tell only part of the success stories of these events.  Planning and organization for these undertakings began almost two years before the event.  All of the organizers performed admirably, particularly in learning from the mistakes and accomplishments of past nationals.

1988 National Junior High (Memphis, Tennessee)

 This tournament, which hosted 548 players, was held in three sections: Kindergarten through 9th grade; Kindergarten through 8th grade; and the Junior Varsity section, which is open to players 8th grade and under who are rated under 1300 b the U.S. Chess Federation.  The tournament's attendance was surpassed only by the events in Terre Haute in 1983 (576) and 1985 (631).

Open Section

The 1988 National Junior High Chess Championship was sponsored by the Auburndale School Chess Booster Club and the U.S. Chess Federation.  Additional sponsors included Xerox Corporation, Allen & Hoshall Engineers, Boatman's Bank of Tennessee, Lloyd's Big Star Supermarket, Northeast Memphis Optimist Club, Dobbs International Services, Inc. Dixie Printers, Patterson Publishers, Inc., Northwest Airlines, Auto Shack, Delta Airlines and Bartlett Travel.

Dale Flickinger

Gaston Scott and Dale Flickinger of Memphis were the chief organizers.  Chief Director was Bill Snead of Amarillo, Texas.  He was assisted by Harry Sabine, Bob Tanner, Dale Flickinger, Paul Linxwiller, Kenney Keck and many others.  (Blog Editor's Comment: The "many others" (assistant Tournament Directors) not mentioned in Chess Life: Mark Ishee, Bill Orgain, Wayne Bell, Dewain Barber, Ellis Jones, Dwight Weaver, Randy Senn, Charles Dangeau, John (Mike) Fore, Garry Newsom, Terry Horgan, Ramadas Kini, Tracee Lee, Shannon Cohen, Sean O'Daniels, Brad Bradley, Dan Bongard, Thomas Davis, Chris Albonetti; Note: Memphis area chess clubs such as the Memphis Chess Club,  Horn Lake Chess Club aka N. MS Chess Club and the Pillsbury Chess Club were represented at this tournament by their TDs. One other assistant TD not mentioned in the official documentation was Steven "Steve" Shifflett from the Horn Lake, MS Chess Club.  During one of the rounds, Steve was able to "lay down the law" to one chess coach in the playing area who was illegally readjusting one of his student's chess clocks long after the game had been in progress.  I worked out a few incidents myself during the tournament, but one chess coach thanked me for what he thought was a friendlier group of floor TDs than he had experienced in other parts of the country.)

Tennessee Chess News, August-September 1988 pg. 9

by Paul Linxwiler

Much has been written about the young Oliver Tai in recent chess publications, and with good reason.  His talent for the game is genuinely extraordinary.  His resume' of tournaments and titles won is as long as it is impressive.  Oliver has been the "defacto king" of scholastic chess in Memphis for years, and he has at least tied for first (if not outright WON) all of the different sections at the rigorous Crossville Scholastics.  Only the Tennessee High School State Championship has eluded his conquering of regional scholastic events. (Blog editor's note: Oliver Tai won the TN HS State Championship title in 1990 and he was co-champion in the same event with Mark Cobb in 1991.)

Oliver won the 1983 National Primary Championship in Albany, NY., the 1987 National Junior High School Championship in Los Angeles, CA, and in a massive nine-way tie for first, took home a piece of the 1988 National High School Championship in Albuquerque, NM.

Tai, having just celebrated his twelfth birthday, enjoys a 2114 USCF rating.  Many questioned if this rating realistically reflects his playing strength since many of his rating points have been earned against scholastic players, a group whose ratings are notoriously over-inflated.  Tai himself has put many of these doubts to rest by successfully qualifying for the City Championship (usually an all-adult field) for two years in a row.  More astonishingly, Oliver has defeated the last three Masters he has encountered in Over-The-Board play.

Although Oliver recently failed in his bid to win consecutive National Junior High School titles (In 1988 he fell a 1/2 point short of the winners in Memphis, Tennessee), he is someone who will undoubtedly continue to add to his already unbelievable list of titles.  We in the chess community will doubtless hear much about him in the future.

Click the bar above the Black pieces on the board below to select each of the 3 games played:


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