My Chess Games at Golden Gate Park . . . (memoir)

Jul 29, 2010, 6:02 AM |



I took a bus to the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I had seen men gathered around cement tables, playing chess, every day this summer when I rode 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 and win. 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, they looked at me as if they were sizing me up. I  attended LowellHigh school and was sixteen years old. Some of them said hello 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, and tried 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,"  said a very old man.

"Go ahead, take it, I don't care. You old man. "

"I see it, I see it, it's not too late," said a very worried man looking at the board with shaking hands.

"There, take that." As he moved a knight to a new position.

"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 move.

"Hmmm . . .  What the heck was that for? You move a pawn, just to confuse me?" 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 OK." 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 the pieces.

"Thanks," I said.

"How long have you been playing?"

"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."

Tchigorin was the only one speaking now, the other just looked on. Their game was 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 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

1 ... e5 and said, "Show Tchigorin."

I moved my kings knight 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 gooone. I had to shooow what I had.

He attacked. I defended. I defended . . .  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 my friend," he said finally.

"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."

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. My tail was cut off, and more experienced. I left never to play there again. I couldn't wait for my new case to be old and weathered for I knew then I would be better.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

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 and experimenting. I became a rated 'B' player and quit for soccer and bowling.

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 wonder 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 two rolled up chess sets 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 until fund$ 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 have about ninety books in my library, not just how to play books but history, non fiction and fiction books.

                        It's your move!

                     Thanks for reading.