I miss the chess club meetings where all of us congregated on Saturday afternoons. Vintage players and newcomers alike to share the joy of a good afternoon of chess competition was the standard format while club tournaments were round robins and ran over the fall and winter months, culminating in honoring the winner with the club crown. In those days that was pretty much pre-USCF, our ratings were published on a ladder and updated weekly according to results of prearranged rated games. Chess Review was our principal magazine and Wide World News located some blocks away from the club saw numerous walks to that site to secure a copy of the latest monthly issue. Occasionally one of our master players would give a lecture and discuss an opening or one of the games published.
Dues were reasonable and entry fees to our club and later expanding Swiss system regional events that were USCF rated were $5.00 and only much later raised to $10.00. Players came from all around the region to visit, sometimes for team match play, other times to enter our tournaments. The prize funds might pay for the trip, cost of the entry fee and a meal or two. Money was not the drawing attraction.
In those days players came to test their skill and meet with old friends, lunch together with the usual gossip of what was going on at others’ clubs and sharing ideas. It was the attraction of competition and enjoyment of a good chess battle that attracted the interest to journey sometimes hundreds of miles, often with visiting Canadian players and those from neighboring states. What they expected most were well run tournaments and the average number usually ran anywhere from the 20s through 50-60 participants if lucky.
With the popularity of the Swiss events and members to support and grow the USCF membership, the way of the round robin diminished. The last one I held was called The Winter Knights Invitational held over the winter months in the club rooms, one game a week. This schedule suited my correspondence interest and I was able to take first place in a class A-B-C-Expert entry list. At the time I think I was 1800 or 1900, certainly not the highest rated. The fact that the prize fund was meager did not lessen the interest. The times I directed tournaments I charged no fee and often spent my own funds to mail out invitations.
In those days scholastic chess was a rarity. Once I saw a photo of a group of kids who had a chess club at their school with a small paragraph in Chess Review accompanying it. Both the president and myself had tried to get chess interest through our junior members into the schools but to almost no avail. The kids came to me and wanted me to organize a junior scholastic tournament. I said I would supervise it but suggested they might like to organize, promote it and run the event themselves which would prove a fun project. It went over very well and one of the fathers, a professional photographer, came and took lots of pictures, interview with a lady reporter from the newspaper and all that was printed was an inch column naming the winning school entry. About 50 kids participated.
Today we attract some top State and National GMs or IMs to compete in the Marchand Memorial Open. What often transpires is that two will win all their games and when they meet in the final round, agree to a 5 move draw, collect the money and run so they can spend it at the gambling casino near Buffalo. That is sad because many youngsters play to get experience and get a chance to see in person these so-called famous players. In the old days, it was battle to the end. I remember the game between Theodorovitch and Marchand where the game ran on and on with neither player willing to call it a draw while chances existed in the position. Poor Ivan missed a bus and I stayed over to have food and drink with him that seemed to please him very much. He caught to next bus but it was very late at night and not the best part of town.
Yes, those were days of old that I miss most. Of course now I am an old man and member of the over-the-hill gang where I have only fond memories of days when I, too, was a teen, a young man, and a mature and active player.
Adios for now!