Friday, January 29, 2016

Chess House

Chess House
My first actual tournament was at Charles Hidalgo's Chess House on West 72nd Street.  Following my lifelong habit, I got there early, about 4 hours early.

It was obviously a place where people came to play for money.  They would play chess, backgammon, and probably poker too.  So arriving early in the morning I saw mostly gamblers who had been up all night.

For several years I would go there regularly.  It was a place where I could be independent of my parents, and at the same time, safe from bullies and other people I didn't want to associate with.
Rafael Ovalle, PhD

It was there that I met my longest time friend, Rafael Ovalle.  Rachel Crotto would also go there occasionally.  I would go there with Howard or Rafael.  In those days, chess was mainly an old man's game, and I played many old men.  I remember seeing IM Horowitz there, and strong young players like Asa Hoffmann and Steve Brandwein.   I once saw two adults have a real fight there.  They were rolling on the floor.

Jack Beers was Fischer's best friend.  One time he beat Fischer.  Fischer said he would kill him if he ever showed the game to anyone.  Despite that, he came to Chess House and showed the game.  I was there at the time, even though I didn't understand the significance of it.
FM Asa Hoffmann

Steve Brandwein
I barely remember the tournament.  It was run by Henry Brockman and his son Louis, who later ran many tournaments in Flushing.   I think I played Jon Jacobs, someone called Meyer and someone
called Schrieber or something like that.  After the tournament Meyer told me, "How can you expect to win a game when several of the players in the tournament are masters?"   Well obviously I would have preferred to play players my own strength.

It was the last rated tournament ever held at Chess House.  Apparently Charlie had gotten into some kind of dispute with the USCF.

Eventually I helped my friend Howard run a non-rated tournament at Chess House.  I think Joe Lux played in it, and years later he told me it was awful.  Of course it was.  In those days, me and Howard were interested in making money.  We were teenagers who knew nothing about how money is made in the real world.  We had no tournament directing experience and very little chess playing experience.  But that was the first tournament I was ever involved in running.

I eventually board a cardboard fake marble board, an MCO (they used descriptive notation back then) and a chess clock.  I still have most of the MCO.  The clock was a timer for speed chess, and was useless for tournament chess.  It would ring, and a flag in back would go up when someone's time ran out.  It could only time 10 minutes per players.

I would get into this business at home of practicing going over lines in MCO with the chess timer, as fast as possible.  My mother thought it was making me hyper.  I don't think it was making me hyper, but it wasn't teaching me chess either.  It was teaching me to move the pieces fast.  My friend Peter Sepulveda said, "If he knew what he was doing, he would be dangerous!"

IA Bill Goichberg
Years later, Bill Goichberg would do a study that involved timing players doing the knights tour.  He couldn't believe that I hadn't practiced the particular problem beforehand.  Actually I was really good at moving fast in those days.

I remember watching Charlie teach chess one time.  He had the student play both sides to see what they knew.   Then taught him the idea of a very simple opening where both Bishop-3, as it was called at the time, and one Bishop got to Bishop-4 and the other was confined to a lesser square, such as K2 or Q2.  He taught us not to say "good player" when we meant "strong player".

I'll get back to Chess House to talk about my first out of town tournament.  Also when I was a wall boy for the Fischer-Spaasky match.

The coffee house chess place seems to be a traditional type of venue for chess.  Now the only such place in Manhattan is Chess Forum.

It seems that chess places for adults don't fit in with the reasons why chess is getting popular.   They are rarities, and in Manhattan there is only one of them.  Its hard to get anything started in Manhattan, but I wonder if we couldn't do a better job of articulating what chess is.  For me, chess is an adventure.



  1. Well!! there are very few places for chess in Manhattan, as i am not fond of playing chess, so i do not have any idea about that Chess Forum place, but after reading this article i would to love to visit this place atleast for once property seller in Manhattan

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