“Grandmaster” Beau

by admin on August 18, 2015

This weekend a circle in my life closed, in a very strange way. One of my Facebook friends posted a link to an obituary of his former next-door neighbor in Atlanta, a man he lived next to for six years but never really knew. The one thing that jumped out at me was that he was a chess teacher, and allegedly he was a “grandmaster.” His name was Beau Hardeman.

Something about the name was familiar, and I started burrowing through my old chess notebooks. Sure enough, I found a game that I  played against Beau Hardeman in New Orleans, back in 1994.

A couple comments here before we go on with the story. First of all, isn’t this a weird chain of connections? In 1994 I know these two students in Ohio, David and Teena. Completely on a lark, I decide to go to Louisiana and play in a chess tournament. Presumably equally whimsically, Beau does the same thing. (He lived in Atlanta and according to the USCF database, this was his only tournament in Louisiana.) Then, maybe four or five years later, David and Teena move in next door to him in Atlanta, not realizing that they already had a mutual acquaintance. Before Facebook and the Internet, there was no way I would ever have found out about the coincidence.

Second comment: Of course, Beau was not a grandmaster. The obituary says he was, but it also says that he “never told anyone his rating,” and there’s a good reason he didn’t. At the time of our game he was rated 1801. His rating never went over 1900.

But he taught chess to kids, and in my opinion that excuses a lot. In fact, kids have no idea how to tell whether someone is a master and they don’t care. My students at the Aptos library started calling me “the chess master” even though they had no idea whether I had that title or not. However, if they had ever called me “grandmaster,” I would have stopped them. (In fact, I do think that I have been asked once or twice whether I was a grandmaster, and I use the opportunity to tell them about the rating system and the US Chess Federation.)

What’s interesting about our game is that it’s somewhat historic, both for him and for me. The tournament where we met, the 1994 Gulf State Open, was my first tournament after reaching my all-time peak rating of 2257. And in fact, Hardeman was the first player I faced after hitting 2257. If you want to look at it in the most depressing way, it was the first game in a long decline that I haven’t completely recovered from yet.

It was also possibly the biggest upset, in terms of rating points, in my chess career up to that point. A 2257 losing to an 1801 — that’s a 456-point gap. Coming into the tournament I was all puffed up with pride about my new high rating, but this game burst my bubble in a hurry. I was embarrassed, but on the other hand I realized that Hardeman really deserved to win.

Here’s the key moment of the game.

hardemanPosition after 29. … Kg7. White to move.

FEN: 6r1/ppp1rqk1/5pn1/2b2PpQ/3pP3/P5RP/1PPB2P1/4R2K w – – 0 30

As Black I had taken too many risks with my kingside, but I still thought I was doing okay. If White plays 30. fg Qxg6 31. Qxg6+ Kxg6, I shouldn’t lose.

But here “grandmaster” Beau hit me with an authentic grandmaster move. Do you see what it is?

The answer is that he blew the position open with a piece sacrifice: 30. Bxg5! fg 31. Rxg5. Suddenly my king is looking down the face of a double-barreled assault by his rook and queen. Naturally my first instinct was to run, and so I played what was actually the losing move: 31. … Kf8? 32. fg and everything in my position is hanging. If the queen stays on the f-file White plays 33. Rf5+ and wins the queen, otherwise he can simply take the bishop on c5. I resigned a few moves later.

Black actually could have put up a much better fight with 30. … Bd6!, saving the one piece that can be saved. One point is that 31. fg? Qf2! 32. Qh7+ Kf8 33. Rf5+?? now loses for White, because of 33. … Qxf5. White could of course play 31. Rxg6+ but after 31. … Kf8 32. Qh6+ Ke8 my king slips away from his grasp. In fact the position is quite unclear. Although he has three pawns for a bishop and he has four connected passed pawns (!), I think I might actually prefer to play Black here because White has big-time dark-square weaknesses that my queen and bishop can exploit.

Nevertheless, I think that Hardeman’s move 30. Bxg5! was absolutely the right thing to do because it put so much pressure on me and caused me to panic. The computer may say that the position is equal, but in a game between humans (especially below grandmaster level) this would be a win for White 4 times out of 5, or maybe 9 times out of 10.

In a funny way, I’m pleased and proud to present this game to you because it was almost certainly one of the highlights of Hardeman’s chess-playing career. According to the USCF website, this was the only game he ever won against a player rated above 2200. It’s the Beau Hardeman Immortal! (Of course, there’s a caveat here; he might have beaten other masters before 1991, but the USCF’s computer database doesn’t go back any farther.)

The rest of my trip to New Orleans was very enjoyable. I was impressed by the music of New Orleans and enjoyed being outdoors in March when there was still snow on the ground back in Ohio. I went to the Café du Monde and ate beignets (a French doughnut), which was the one and only thing I remembered about New Orleans from my childhood. (My family had gone there to visit relatives when I was about nine years old.) Here’s what I wrote about the Café du Monde in my diary:

As I sat there, 26 years after my last visit, I marveled at how much and how little had changed. After all that time, still nothing but beignets on the menu, the tabletops still sticky with powdered sugar. But my perception of things was totally different. When I was a child, I never had to keep track of where things were, how to get where we were going or how to get back. Nor did I have much control of where I went. Childhood seems like a show, full of vivid sights and sounds but with the connections and context mysteriously hidden. That could be a concise description of childhood: life without a context.

If that comment seems too abstract, here’s an example. When I was a child, the beignets simply appeared at the table. I had no idea how much they cost. I didn’t see the kitchen they came from; the line of servers picking up orders like an assembly line; the young Asian server prompt and earnest, hoping for a good tip; the gray-haired manager keeping an eye on the organized chaos around him, trying to keep the order slightly ahead of the chaos. And even if I had seen those things, I wouldn’t have understood them the way I do now. For now, even though I have not been a waiter or a manager of a restaurant, I have been in positions somewhat like them, and I can imagine them.

It’s an interesting thought: childhood as life out of context. But I’m not sure that there is a bright line between childhood and adulthood in that respect. We’re constantly learning the context, throughout our lives.

For example, when I played against Hardeman, I didn’t know the context of his life or who he was. I didn’t know that he taught (or would teach in the future) hundreds of kids, that he would have a tournament named after him, that he was a math major at Morehouse College and worked as a computer programmer. Now, thanks to Facebook and my former students from Ohio, I do!

 cafe smallCafe du Monde, 1994.

nola smallDana in New Orleans, 1994.

Yes, I’m afraid I had a beard back on those days, part of the whole professor-at-a-liberal-arts-college shtick. Fortunately, as you can see, I kept in the shadows so that nobody could see it. 😎

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul B. August 18, 2015 at 1:39 pm

Dana mentioned something important about Beau Hardeman: that he taught chess to kids who might have believed that Beau was a grandmaster.

The billionaire investor Carl Icahn plays chess. He bragged on “60 Minutes” that he had hired a grandmaster to tutor him. My reaction was that being a grandmaster player has no bearing on teaching abilities. I’d rather be taught by a master teacher (like Dana) than a master player.


joseph bixk August 18, 2015 at 3:06 pm

Nice story, Dana.


bigWOWO August 20, 2015 at 7:52 am

Awesome story.

It’s amazing how much Beau achieved in his short lifetime. And I really liked your story about how chess brought you together in that one game.


Rob Radford August 22, 2015 at 8:26 am

Did you play Jude Acers?


admin August 23, 2015 at 12:15 pm

No, I don’t think I even looked for him on this trip. I’ve been to New Orleans a couple times since then and one time I walked by his table but I never played him. I guess there’s something I don’t like about paying somebody to play him. Kind of puts you on an unequal footing right away. I don’t mind paying to play in tournaments, because then both you and your opponent are paying… except, of course, GM’s and IM’s often get free entry… Oh no! Another rationalization shot down! What will I do?


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: