This summer I am passing two big anniversary milestones: the 40th anniversary of my first official chess tournament and the 500th post of this blog.
To celebrate both of these anniversaries, I’m going to post a recap of my first tournament, which I wrote back in 1972, when I was 13 years old. Today’s entry (my 499th post) will cover the first day of the tournament, and my next post (post number 500!) will recount the second.
Let me make a couple of little disclaimers before we get started. First, let me remind you that I was thirteen years old when I wrote this. There are certain things that, if I were writing today, I would either not say or I would say much more diplomatically. If anybody who is described here should happen to read this and take issue with the way I portrayed them, I apologize in advance. I think (and hope) that the chance to see the world unfiltered through the eyes of a young teenager will compensate for any raw edges in the writing.
I’ve taken out a few boring passages, e.g., long drawn-out (and not entirely accurate) descriptions of games. I also moved one paragraph to a more logical place. Aside from that, I have not made any editorial changes.
And now, let’s settle back into our time machines and go back forty years. Set your dials for the year 1972, and the place West Lafayette, Indiana …
On Saturday, June 17, 1972, “Sad Joel” Boaz, Blaise Morton and I went to West Lafayette for the Indiana State Closed Chess Tournament. Joel was extremely “uptight” and Blaise and I doubted that any of us would fare well. Rony Adelsman, who was once the junior champion of the state, said that Blaise would probably do no better than two wins and maybe an 1100 to 1200 rating. That notion was quickly dispelled.
When we arrived at the chess clinic, two players named Mike Gant and Murray Newcomb were playing five-minute chess. Since all of us are totally incompetent at speed chess, the sight of these players making instantaneous decisions did nothing for our morale. In addition, Joel, who had recently been hospitalized with an ear infection, began to have one of his recurrent dizzy spells.
An hour late (11:00) the tournament began in a hall whose only entrance from the outside made one expect a maintenance room or a fallout shelter. However, the inside was not bad for holding a chess tournament in. There were four rooms: the “good room,” for the first and second boards, which had carpeting and quietude; the “normal room” for boards three to fourteen; the “sad room” for boards fifteen to eighteen (and in which I had the ignominy of playing two games); and, last and least, the “super-sad room” for board nineteen and, while it lasted, board twenty. This room was hardly in the tournament. The players did not record the moves, did not have clocks, and were often through after less than ten minutes because of the ineptitude of the playing. Joel had the distinction in the first round of playing a person who played either once or twice (I know not which) in the “super-sad room.”
All our qualms were dispelled early when Blaise won a game in twenty moves over a player with a 1440 rating. How could he fail to beat 1200?? Then, when we saw how bad Joel’s opponent, a 1268 player, was, we knew we would all beat 1200 and probably 1300. My opponent was Judy Rippeth. I made a bishop sacrifice for a rook and a pawn, and it looked as if I had it won. Joel was surprised, because he recalled reading somewhere that she was one of the nation’s top woman players. [Editor's Note: In fact, she was one of the top 50.] … However, I found an ingenious way out – I let her fork my rook and king and I lost. Very ingenious.
I felt bad being the only one of us to lose, but I at least wasn’t in the sad room yet…
Joel and I played a practice game between rounds. I played the Petroff’s Defense. Blaise took over Joel’s position in about ten moves. Behind by two pawns, I brilliantly passed up a pawn for the “liverwurst” attack (so it was named by Blaise) and a draw.
I did not fare so well in the real game, however… My adversary made a clever trap to win my queen but I saw it — at least I did something right — and resigned before he could execute it. Joel and Blaise put up harder fights against harder opponents. Joel played his best game of the tournament against a player rated 1815 whose name was Hartigan. Somehow, he looked like a doctor. He had silver hair and a silver beard and wore glasses. Joel lost a pawn in the beginning and Hartigan’s center was so strong that Joel lost another. However… Joel played nearly flawless chess and actually won back the two pawns! This against one of the top players in the state. However, he released a pin that had kept a pawn from taking his knight, and — bang! — a piece down. After simplification, Joel resigned.
Other than “sad,” Joel’s favorite word is “Aw.” One of the funniest comments I heard all day was Joel’s comment on his second game which he lost to Hartigan: “After the game he was sorry that I had to lose so he said ‘Aw.’” If you could have heard the tone of voice he said “aw” in, you would have laughed, too.
Blaise came even closer to a win. Playing George Kvakovszky, an 1833 player who was seeded third, he reached a stronger position… However, Kvakovszky (Blaise called him George to avoid the effort of pronouncing his name) made a very shrewd bishop move that, at a stroke, nullified a powerful potential attack by Blaise and set up an attack of his own… Blaise had one last hope–the clock. After 28 moves, George had only five minutes left. But he managed to pull it off. After forty-five moves, he still had 15 seconds left…
Murray Newcomb was one of the most memorable personalities of the tournament. He was one of those people who likes the sound of his voice. He talks extremely fast and authoritatively, and he always seems to say the right thing at the right time — if you are in the position to laugh. Nearly everything he says is a cutting remark, and his favorite remark was “I resent that!” When Bernie Parham (who ran the tournament) was announcing the prize winners and said, “Murray Newcomb, second place class B, trophy,” Murray spoke up, “I resent that!”
… So it was characteristic of Newcomb that in a hopelessly drawn game (queen and king for him; queen, king and pawn about to be taken for Chao) he repeatedly refused to trade queens and even turned down a draw before Chao pointed out that it had to be a draw. To see Newcomb rebuffed was worth the price of admission ($7.00).
[Editor's Note: Wow! Those were the days! Nowadays a tournament like this would probably cost $60 or so. I'll skip the description of the third round now. Blaise and I won, Joel lost.]
After a twenty-minute stroll to our motel room, we arrived at our lodging at 10:40. Shortly we went out again to have cheeseburgers at the Burger King; afterwards, we returned for the night.
This was perhaps the funniest part of the entire weekend. We went over our saddest games. Blaise gave a narration of his sixty-move third game. It was contradictory: many times, he would say, when we suggested possible lines for his opponent, “No, he’s too dumb to do that,” but occasionally, when we were trying to guess what he did, Blaise would say, “He’s too smart to do that.”… Blaise originally showed us the game to help him and us to get to sleep (it was that dull), but it was actually interesting to guess what blunder his opponent would make next.
Then there was the vibrator. Joel was fascinated with the vibrator. He put a quarter in and it made a purring noise, but the bed did not vibrate. So he looked under the bed and saw that the vibrator was not plugged in. After he plugged it in the bed began vibrating and the chess pieces began dancing. … Eventually, when he began to get tired of the vibration, he said, “Stop.” And when it stopped, he said, “Go.” Very mixed emotions. He also said that he wanted to get one, and then he said that they should outlaw them. Blaise later put a quarter in, too. Somehow we got on the subject of malaria victims. Blaise said that malaria victims shiver a lot. The obvious suggestion: maybe the vibrator can be used to treat malaria victims! … I could hardly get to sleep for laughing. To the sound of a vibrator “sounding like a buzz-saw” [Editor's note: Joel's words] I finally did.
Next time: The thrilling conclusion!
For anybody who’s a fan of really bad chess, here is my first tournament game. Actually, it’s somewhat instructive. White (Rippeth) makes a terrible mistake in the opening, but she doesn’t give up. She develops her pieces logically, and when I took unnecessary risks in my clueless beginner way, she took advantage very nicely. Aside from her opening miscue, she was clearly the better player.