Sportsman Play Chess

Feb 26, 2011, 9:01 AM |

I have always been amazed when reading about the many people in the public eye who play chess but choose to not belong to the main chess organization, USCF. It seems that not a week goes by when I do not read about another sportsman who plays the game. For example, I read that the Hall of Fame bowler, Walter Ray Williams plays chess. He was described in an article in the NYTimes:

“Walter is a cerebral kind of guy, so he does stay to himself more,” said the Hall of Famer John Petraglia, 63. “He’s not particularly funny or things like that, but he loves to play chess and he loves to analyze, and I think because of that he gets misunderstood sometimes as being aloof or standoffish. You just got to get to know him. He’s not really that way.”

When asked to describe himself, Williams mentioned his love for comedy. (“I think I have a pretty good sense of humor,” he said, “if you ask me about the right things, I guess.”) His favorite show is “The Big Bang Theory.” He tinkers with computers. He is partial to Pink Floyd. He is a 2-handicap golfer. His start in bowling really came from horseshoes, where he won six men’s world championships (from 1978 to 1994) and three junior world championships.

He sounds like the kind of guy who would like to play Senior chess after he retires from bowling. I have often wondered why, after the Bobby Fischer 'boom' the USCF was not able to build upon that increase and keep it going. There were over 70,000 adult members back in the 1970's. It would seem that, after 30 plus years, at least a zero would have been placed on that number. If that had been the case, the US Senior might have 490 players in lieu of the 49 it draws with regularity. If, that is, the USCF held a tournament in which players actually wanted to participate. One would think the USCF would be trying hard to recruit Seniors because they are retiring in large numbers (and, I might add, being laid off!), and therefore have the time to devote to chess. Seniors would also be great teachers for the youngsters, therefore bringing not only Seniors, but many more youngsters into the fold!

Just this morning I noticed an article on 'Kinsler reigns supreme on the chessboard' by T.R. Sullivan

Cliff Lee is gone. Ian Kinsler is now No. 1.

Or as Tommy Hunter calls him, "top chef."

This has nothing to do with the starting rotation. This is something far more important: chess.

Frank Francisco, the original Bobby Fischer of the Rangers, has been traded to the Blue Jays, but chess remains one of the more popular pastimes in the Surprise clubhouse.

"I can see that," catcher Yorvit Torrealba said. "They play every day. Every morning I come in here there are a couple of guys playing."

That includes Torrealba. The early scouting report says he could be a threat to Kinsler's throne.

"I can play a little bit," Torrealba said. "I'm not that great. My cousin and uncle were really good and they taught me. I can play a little bit."

Not that Kinsler is worried about Torrealba, or anybody else for that matter. He has already laid claim to the king of the Rangers chessboard, relegating all others to mere pawns.

"Yeah, by far," Kinsler said. "Cliff and Frankie are now obsolete. I have taken over."

Yeah, but by default?

"A little bit, which is fine by me," Kinsler said. "I have bragging rights."

He also has an X on his back from those out to topple the king.

"Some days I feel like it," Kinsler said. "But I don't think anybody can catch me, so the X is pretty small."

Torrealba is one threat. Matt Harrison and Craig Gentry are among the others who aspire to be Rangers grandmaster.

"Craig beat me the first game we played down here, but I've downed him four times since then," Kinsler said.

But who's keeping score? Harrison, by the way, has the age-old excuse used by chess players since the days of Paul Morphy, Emanuel Lasker and Jose Capablanca.

"I haven't played in awhile," Harrison said before sitting down to face Hunter on Friday morning.

"I need to get some games in and take Ian down," Harrison said.

Hunter, by his own admission, is no threat to anybody.

"I'm terrible, awful," said Hunter. "I just like to play. It's good mental exercise."

Hunter is a two-time judo champion, but apparently has never mastered those intricate chess openings like the Ruy Lopez or the Sicilian Defense. He has just one basic strategy.

"Get it out there," Hunter said. "Attack, attack, attack."

Harrison is the same way.

"My favorite move is the pawn in front of the king, and get the bishop and the queen out there in three moves," Harrison said.

Sounds like he's trying to snag somebody in the old "fool's mate" trap.