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I took a Muni bus to the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I had seen men gathered around cement tables, playing chess, every day during the summer when I rode by on my bike.
Maybe they would let me play. Maybe I could win. Maybe I would show them something. Maybe they were too good. Maybe I was better. Maybe I would get lucky. Maybe this adventure would be my undoing. Maybe I . . . heck.
No doubt about it, I was scared and nervous as heck.
As I approached the men gathered around the chess tables, some looked at me as if they were sizing me up.
I attended Lowell High school that was five blocks away. I was sixteen years old.
One of them said, "Hi Kid." Others just made eye contact and nodded. There were men of various ages and attire.
Six games were going on at once. Each had several kibitzers around them. I stopped at one, then another. I looked at the positions trying to analyze the game, trying to see who had the best position and tried to find their next best move. These weren't quiet games; they spoke to each other as they made their moves. This is the chatter I heard from different games.
"Ah, finally he attacks. Ar yu through fooling aroun?" said a very old man with some accent.
"Go ahead, take it, I don't care. You old man. "
"I see it, I see it, it's not too late," said a worried looking old man looking at the board with shaking hands.
"There, take that." As he moved a knight to a new position. Slamming the piece down and hitting the clock.
"Great move, but not good enough," said a confident player about forty years old. He showed a lot of composure and style. He was standing as he played and the kibitzers gave him room as he reached and made his moves.
"Hmmm . . . What the heck was that for? You move a pawn, just to confuse me? You think I am too old or something?" asked his opponent.
Some comments made didn't require a reply.
Finally a guy said to me. "Wha‑cha got in the case? Your pieces? Looking for a game?"
I said, "Yes, if it's O.K," knodding my head.
"Set your men up on that table. In a short time, Tchigorin will play you." He must have seen many like me show up before. A kibitzer moved over and started to help me set up my board.
"Thanks," I said.
"How long have you been playing?"
"About three years or so."
"Well, the guy you're going to play is nice enough. Tchigorin is his idol. Just play your game. Pay no mind to his remarks. He likes to play all the new meat that wanders in. That's him over there playing," he said pointing at a player standing and moving about in front of a chess board.
I could hear the comment he made.
"Check! Now what do you say to that?"
The opponent made his move without a comment. I moved closer to see.
"Good try. Here it comes, Tchigorin style. Again, with a sacrifice, check," he said, taking and slamming the new piece in its place.
Black made his move, got out of check and said, "O.K. Come on. Do it."
"You didn't expect that? Let's see if I can finish you."
Tchigorin was the only one speaking now, the others just looked on. Their game were almost over.
"Easy, easy now. It's checkmate," he said as he made the last move very slowly with a smile and loudly he boasted, "Great flurries on your part, but to beat Tchigorin, you gotta play better."
He had been playing standing, with one foot on the bench. I moved back to my table. He came over and sat sideways, straddling his legs on the bench.
He said, "What's your name? Mine's, Tchigorin. Go ahead, play white. Let's see Wha‑cha got." He extended his hand and we shook hands.
I said, "Mine's Denver."
With my hand shaking a little, I moved my Kings pawn, 1. e4. Six men had moved over to watch the game.
"Ah, he opens easily enough. Let's see where Denver is going to go." He pushed his king's pawn 1 ... e5 and said, "Show Tchigorin."
I moved my kings knight to 2 Nf3 without stopping to think.
He responded with the Queen's knight to
2 ... Nc6. "Here we go, slow and easy."
I slid my king's bishop to 3 Bb5.
"Textbook! Textbook! Let's see what he knows about the Ruy Lopez, now," he said.
After seven moves I lost the opening pattern. Now I played on my own. Memory was blaaank. The book was gooooone. I had to shoooow . . . what I had.
He attacked. I defended. I defended . . . He pushed me aroung, I defended . . . He always found a way to make me defend. He chattered and I was silent. He moved and made comments with each one of his moves. Just chatter. Laughter surrounded us all the time, because of his comments.
"Darnit. Shut up, let me think," I thought.
"It's checkmate in three my friend," he said finally.
I guess I should have resigned, but how could I learn without seeing the mate that was coming. I hadn't ever resigned. I was always used to playing to the bitter end.
"When someone asks you who beat you at the Golden Gate Park, say it was, Tchigorin."
We set up the pieces, and this time I played black. Some of the men drifted away and others came to watch the new game. He toyed with me, making comments about everything and about nothing. I was out of his league. He played with flair. I waited for the inevitable mate to come. He started another game on the next table, and he played two games at once.
"You gotta learn, you gotta learn, Tchigorin will wait for you. Remember my name Tchigorin, kid."
The second game he mated me in twenty moves. That didn't take long. Thirty minutes, two losses but I wasn't nervous anymore. He helped me get my Stauton wood pieces ready for a new game.
"You'll get better, you'll get better. Keep playing and come again. Play Bobby Fisher here. He'll give you a good game." We shook hands.
I said, "Thanks for the lessons, Tchigorin."
He turned to face the game of the next victim he was playing. I knew he would kill him first with his chatter. I played Bob, and the game went back and forth until finally I got mated after about forty moves and half an hour later.
"Thanks for the game Bob." We shook hand and he helped me put my pieces in my new fake leather case.
I left and walked toward the bus stop. I wasn't feeling as tall as I first came. I was happy I came for the experience. My tail was cut off, and more experienced. I never came to play there again.
I couldn't wait for my new case to be old and weathered for I knew then I would be a better player.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
= = = = = = = = = = = = =
Blindfold Master George Koltonowski had a Chess club which I joined. I went to many tournaments with Kolty as director. I wore out the leather briefcase I had at the Golden Gate Park.
To become a good player you must play, win and lose many games. It takes many hours of reading, playing, winning, losing, experimenting with new things. I became a rated "B" player and quit after I got married and started to raise a family of four boys.
I looked up the famous, Tchigorin. He was a famous Russian International Master who lived 1850 ‑ 1908. He started the Russian Chess School. The Russians were a power house in the chess world. Their government sponsors all the chess in their country and is taught in the schools.
I wondered if the guy, TchigorinI played in the park, is alive and still plays. He must be 99 by now. Naw. He probably received his final check mate. Everyone gets mated. Nobody gets out alive.
At the present time I always carry a rolled up chess set just in case someone wants to play a game. I start to play a game and end up teaching the game.
Ten years ago I became a Tournament Director for the city of Santa Rosa until funds were depleted and it was cancelled.
I teach chess now and love to show beginners the game. I am mostly a chess reader continually reading and re-reading chess books. I had about ninety chess books in my library, I gave them away. I have 8 chess books now and history, non fiction and fiction books.
It's your move!
Thanks for reading.
Another well written memoir.
Wonderful to read - I felt right there.
If I would ever meet an opponent like that, I would never play him (poor sportsmanship). But you never know...
Great story nevertheless! I should go there sometime...
This behavior is quite common in the public venues - especially with blitz/bullet players. I used to get a kick out of watching "the regulars" at the tables on Waikiki beach in Honolulu when I lived a couple blocks away.
I have to say though, even though it is in good fun, it is quite distracting and I could never play in that situation where not only were you being 'beat-up' OTB, but being belittled in front of a crowd of strangers (tourists even) with no comebacks.
You'd have to study Trash-talk alongside your Openings before you entered that arena!
I think everybody (including myself, unfortunately) knows how to "trash-talk" (in your sense). Chess is friendly competition. Never presumptuous or a game where arrogance is accepted.
Thanks for the read and comments.
I thought that guy pretending to be "Tchigorin" was known by all the players there and were used to his chatter.
I know at one time in my head I said to him, "Shut up for a while, Idiot.
Some of the players had a response to him. But not in a angry tone.
I had enough trouble just staying in the game.
Bye for now
This was a really great read! Thanks
Fun read again, a little bit of story telling is a nice change from the usual threads.
Very enjoyable. I wish there were more of this somewhere.
Fiction or non-fiction.
Nice story. I enjoyed it.
I will be in San Fran later this week. I wonder if there are still chess players in that park? Would like to see them play (and trash-talk each other!).
Thanks for reading.
The Golden Gate park is so large and I haven't been there in years. The cement tables were located near Kezar Stadium about two blocks from Haight Street.
That's were the love generation and Hippies started in the 60's. I was there trying to get the love.
You are better off finding the street players on Market Street, but they play for instant cash. That is at the foot of Powel Street where the cable cars turn around and head back to Fishermans Wharf.
There is the Mechanics Club on Post Street. The welcome guest and you can get a game from 9 am to 9 pm. It is the oldest club in the U.S.A. . . . . . Google it.
This behavior is quite common in the public venues - especially with blitz/bullet players.
When World Champion Vishy Anand was a young boy, he played speed chess everywhere he could, and I'm pretty sure that he encountered trash-talking players as well. Anand did not mentioned how many wins and losses he had, but he admitted that he developed and sharpened his tactics by playing in those "arenas."
However, placing bets against chess hustlers is a different story.
Sweet reading this! Thanks for the great life story!
Thank for the coment and the read.
You got me to read that memoir again. I wrote it back in 2000.
I still think the purple ant is running the show.
Great story. Thanks for posting it.
I also enjoyed the story, thanks for posting. I'm still curious what it's like, but you gave a good inside preview.
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