Archive for February, 2008

Kindred’s Kaleidoscope: A Salute to an American Chess Icon

February 2, 2008

John (Jack) W. Collins was an American icon in the world of chess who was a firebrand for developing kids and popularizing junior chess. He left a legacy of achievement.

Born on September 23, 1912, in Newburgh, NY, the son of an artistic musician with John Philip Sousa’s orchestra, Jack was small in stature but a giant in possessing a wonderful joy for chess. He lived in a wheelchair due to an accident at birth.

My first contact with Mr. Collins was his choosing one of my postal games to run in his column he conducted for Chess Review, a column I enjoyed because little ever appeared about games played by mail.

Jack had only gone through elementary grades and his devotion and interest on chess which he learned from a book in his teens and taught other boys the game, starting the Hawthorne Chess Club which met in his home. Over the years the Collins kids played in school matches and members included composer John Cage, Irving Chernev, Marcel Duchamp, and Hermann Helms.

In 1957 Walter Korn wrote the 9th edition of Modern Chess Openings and Collins contributed much toward its success.

In 1932 he joined CCLA and he eventually won the CCLA 1938 Grand National that finished in 1943! receiving the Henry Hibbard Memorial Trophy that was donated by his son to the Grand National winners. It was considered to be the US Correspondence Championship and so earned the distinction of being a former US Correspondence Champion. He played in the 1947 ICCF World Championship and won his semi-final round but lost in the finals finishing in 12th place in a field of 14 players.

I finally was to meet in person this kindly gentleman and his lovely sister when they decided to come to Corning, NY so Jack could play in the 1969 New York State Championship that was being hosted by the locals at the Corning Glass Corporation. I had won against Tuttle in the lst round so was paired with Mr. Collins in round 2.

       John W. Collins –White        Don Reithel –Black

1.d4  Nf6  2.c4  c5 John smiled when I played this. Actually I must confess that I never prepare openings to play but just play what the momentary inspiration arouses in me. The game now becomes a line in the Benoni Defense.

3.d5  e6  4.Nc3  exd5  5.cxd5  d6  6.Nf3  g6  7.Bg5 He did not play this move as quickly as the previous turns. Of course it struck me as perhaps being cat and mouse knowing full well what he intended but wanted me to squirm a bit in my britches worrying about different ideas.

7…Bg7 I likewise did not answer immediately but had this in mind immediately. I just intended to consider a good follow-up plan for developing my own pieces.

8.e3  0-0  9.Be2  h6  10.Bh4  g5 11.Bg3  Nh5  12.Nd2  Nxg3

Years later I saw in game 439 in THE GAMES OF ROBERT J. FISCHER by Wade and O”Connell, Batsford, the same ideas played by both of us except that John had played e3 instead of e4.

13.hxg3  Bf5 Utilizing my square count theory and aiming to complete my development of my minor pieces and where the bishop can retreat to help guard the Kingside light squares.

14.g4  Bg6  15.e4  Nd7  16.f3  Qe7  17.Qc2  a6  Hoping to launch a Q-wing pawn rollup to gain space and pressure squares in his Q-side territory.

18.Nf1 John sat a long time on this move and I suspect he was gauging whether he needed to stop to play a4 or hurry forth his own attack on the K-side.

18…b5 19.Ng3  Qe5 20.Nf5  Bxf5 So this gallant N tour ends with no wasted tempi on my part.

21.gxf5  Qg3+  22.Kf1  Bd4  23.Nd1  Kg7 Here I noticed John getting nervous as he glanced at his sister and began to concentrate more deeply.

24.Rh3  Qe5  25.Nf2  Rh8  26.Qd2  Nf6  27.Nd3  Qe7  28.Rd1 a5  29.Nc1  b4  30.Bc4  g4  31.Rh1  gxf3  32.gxf3  Rag8 33.Nd3 Kf8 I got the feeling that my opponent was marking time trying to find some way to salvage the position but in so doing has given me a free hand.

34.Qf4  h5  35.Rd2  h4  36.Ke1  Nh5  37.f6  Bxf6 38.Qf5 Ng3 Forking Q and R!

39.Qc8+  Kg7  40.Qg4+  Kh7  41.Qh3  Nxh1 That little Rookie goes in the box!

42.Qxh1  Bd4  43.Nf2  Rg3  44.Bf1  Kg7  John just sat there shaking his head and his supporter put her hand on his arm I think trying to comfort him.

45.Bh3  Qg5  46.Bf1  Qe3+  47.Kd1  Qxf3+ Mr. Collins turned down his monarch and extended his hand with a hearty smile and congratulations on a very fine game. Even in losing, John was a winner.