Friday, January 29, 2016

Playing Chess as a Kid

Chess became somewhat popular when I was in junior high school.  But as a kid, I remember playing chess with day camp counselors while the other kids were just playing.   I was a shy and reclusive kid.  I haven't changed much, but I have made many friends over the years, almost all through chess.

My father was business partners with GM Ruben Fine.  He gave me an autographed copy of one of Fine's books.  I worked on it a little bit.  I had trouble with one of the examples, and unfortunately that was what stuck in my mind.   My father took me to meet Fine.  I actually told him that I had found an error in his book.  I couldn't remember which example I was referring too.  Of course people did find errors in Fine's books, but they were strong players, like GM Larry Evans, who knew what they were talking about.

In those days, "chess teacher" wasn't really a profession, but there was a chess class in a day camp program at the YMCA, taught by a Mr. Montgomery.  I told Mr. Montgomery that I had met GM Ruben Fine.  That was how I thought in those days.  I still didn't know anything about the game.  The kids took turns making moves on a demonstration board.  Mr. Montgomery was amazed that I couldn't see a simple tactic.  One of the kids said just that he was making "the standard move", and Mr. Montgomery knew what move he meant.  I still get the feeling that teaching that one move is standard is not the right way to teach chess.

I would continue to play Uncle Benny every time I saw him.  I was never really able to beat him.  Even though he never played in tournaments, he was about expert strength, and I reached expert long after he had passed on.   He played at a chess club in Brooklyn.  Even though I scored one win against him, but it was only because we were using a tiny pocket set.  I remember we agreed that the double fianchetto opening was bad. 

When I was a long haired-teenager, I remember him taking me aside and telling me that he had seen a movie where a soldier had long hair, but he was still a good soldier.  In other words, what is important for a man is whether or not he can defend himself.  I never learned how to fight physically, and fortunately I haven't had to as an adult.  I learned how to defend myself to some extent on other levels.  Uncle Benny beat up a mugger when he was in his seventies.  When he died, my mother said that his death would be marked more significantly by his chess club friends than by us.  He was theirs, not ours.

I also would play my father's other business partners, Dr. Vitanza.  Dr. Vitanza would play in the park and became a member of the Marshall Chess Club.  Even though he was a formidable man in the real world, he loved to talk trash while he played.  He taught me what a fork was.

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