In the beginning....part II

Background and context will be important in understanding my motivation and goals, so excuse me while I go back in time a bit to provide a bit more of the overall picture.

Prehistoric Times

I grew up in Zion, IL. Back then it had a population of 17,000+. When I was one-year old my parents purchased some farmland on the outskirts of town - our land reached to the then city (town?) limits. My dad spent a lot of time working on our home. He was a union carpenter and would work at that job for over 30 years. My dad worked a lot to build a better home and to provide for his family. I had two older brothers and in 1967 gained a younger brother.

Like most in the 1960’s when I was growing up, my mom stayed at home. My father had helped my uncle with a home, rehabbing a house on our land and selling it to him, so that my uncle, aunt and two cousins lived next door. My grandparents lived next door to them! My grandfather had had a stroke around 1960 and my father built a small house for them on our land so that they would be nearby.

So family was always important and close.

I learned to play chess in 1968 at age eleven, when I received a chess set for my birthday. I liked that Spock played on Star Trek and so asked for a set myself. At first I played my two older brothers. One was in college, the other was in high school. I can remember playing each of them over the summer whenever I wasn’t playing baseball with my friends.

That fall I had a 6th grade teacher who spent a great deal of extra time with me - teaching me to put together mechanical calculating devices/computers, reading books, being taught extra math. He was a special teacher and mentor to me. I specifically remember reading Frankenstein with him, and when we reached the part of the story where the monster killed Viktor’s wife my teacher asked me “Have you ever wondered what it would be like to let out all your anger in one violent act?” His name was Eugene Newbury. His fiancée, Anna Mondragon, had met him in college in New Mexico, and they both came back to his home town of Zion to teach. I met her a few times, and although she taught in a different elementary school, she taught in the same school as my aunt’s mother. Their wedding was scheduled during the Christmas break, and I had been invited to the wedding. A little less than a week before Christmas, and two weeks prior to the wedding, my teacher brutally murdered his fiancée. A few days later, I with much of the rest of the country would watch Apollo 8’s trip to the moon with the crew reading from Genesis on Christmas Eve.

The events of that December would impact me for many years - and oddly, in my thirties, I entered a section of correspondence chess only to find that one of the competitors was my former (and still incarcerated) teacher.

A few months later, in March of 1969, my eldest brother perished in an single car automobile accident. And a few months after that I testified in my former teacher’s trial. The period of 1968 and 1969 were amazing years. We journeyed to the moon (several times!) There was Woodstock, and the Chicago riots. Politics, music, art were all changing. And I had personal challenges in an era where my middle class parents didn’t really know that I needed assistance in dealing with those challenges.

So why is this important? Besides these events impacting me in terms of who I was and was to become, they helped chess become important in my life. I began to read old classic chess books at the library. As I went into Junior High we developed a chess club, and I met other players. (Oddly - one, the son of the principal at my elementary school, would years later become my step brother after my mother passed away and my father remarried.)

Chess became a steadying force, a way to make friends. I began to run tournaments. I learned about US Chess and joined and shortly thereafter found out that Bobby Fischer was on quest to the world championship. While I enjoyed the Fischer boom, I was not drawn to chess because of him - my timing was coincidental.

In high school, I played chess frequently and progressed from a first rating of 1368 to a rating in the 1600’s. During junior high I had also found that a neighbor high school kid played - and lost 100 games to him - at odds - before winning one. When he got his first rating it was nearly 1900.

Chess became an important part of my life, socially, for fun, and also developmentally. I started directing tournaments so that I could organize and play in more events. Eventually I found that organizing two chess clubs - one in Zion and one in Waukegan - made it too difficult to focus on improving - so I enlisted the help of one of our club members to become a TD — Tim Just. Of course, Tim went on to become a National Tournament Director and author of the last two editions of the US Chess Rulebook.

Becoming a Master

With Tim taking over a lot of work of the chess club, I was able to focus more on my development as a player.

Going back to high school - these early years of “scholastic” chess - somewhat different than it is today - were very important to my development. I scored 3-2 as a Freshman, and 4-1 as both a Sophomore and a Junior. The tournaments were quite different from year-to-year though. As a Freshman the tournament had 110 players and was played in the old Chicago Chess Club on S. Wabash in the Chicago Loop. As a Sophomore there were 450 players - thanks to Fischer, and I believe it was in the old LaSalle Hotel (now gone.) As a junior there were 350 players. By the time I was a Senior the tournament had reverted to around 100 players - and the Fischer boom was gone. But as a Senior I had managed to score 4.5 out of 5 in the April 1975 tournament, and tied for first with Tim Kras and David Sprenkle - both of whom also went on to become masters.

I continued to play heavily in College, winning one ACU-I Regional tournament and making it to the national finals (where I was crushed) and the next year winning the regional tournament but losing out on tie-break. I also practiced regularly at our local chess club, which had moved to Grayslake and now served all of Lake County, IL.

Finally, in 1980, I had a bit of a breakthrough and crept up to the Expert level, attaining a rating of 2022. I thought I would level off a little bit, But I was in for a surprise.

In November 1980 I played in the Janesville Chess Association Anniversary Open. Janesville, WI may seem like an odd place for a large tournament, but it’s location made it drivable from several midwestern cities - Peoria, Bloomington and Champaign from the South, Des Moine and Davenport, Rockford, Chicago, Madison, Milwaukee, LaCrosse, Rochester and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

So over 300 players would come to Janesville. In in this year I started off with wins against a 1600 and an 1800 - and then played IM Morris (2400) in round 3, and won in 21 moves on the White side of a Fischer/Sozin Najdorf. In round 4 I won as black against SM Curt Brasket of MN, and in the final round drew NM Henry Meifert — thereby taking first on tie-break over GM Bisguier, SM Martinovsky and Expert Mario Spinosa. My rating shot up to around 2160.

And for the next year - I struggled in tournaments. I’d get five good positions in a tournament and score 3-2 over and over again. NM David Sprenkle once wrote that I had a “proclivity for accidents”. Indeed, in one tournament, after drawing GM Soltis in round 1, I proceeded to miss a mate in one against NM Tomas and went on to lose the game.

To this day I still use this game in instructing students.

Finally, in 1982 I started becoming more consistent. I eventually had a streak of 11 games against masters without a loss, and in the first Midwest Masters in December of 1982, I started out ranked 29th, but finished tied 3-5, cracking 2200 for the first time.

With this background and ancient history out of the way, the next post completes the background, brings us up to date, and defines the current goal.