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."
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