Were you involved in any organizations in high school?
Yes, I was a member and later an officer in the chess club.
My neighbor introduced me to chess while I was in elementary school. Mrs. Barber enjoyed the game, but she couldn’t find anyone willing to play in our rural area. I don’t remember how the subject came up, but I agreed to be her opponent. She taught me the moves, and I struggled to win a game. I hated losing, and it became an obsession to win a game from her.
The paper had a chess column I read religiously. It provided the moves for a game between grandmasters with analysis. The more I studied the game, the clearer it became, and soon I won my first game from my teacher.
I joined the Spaulding Institute, my high school, Chess Club my freshman year. The high school was in Peoria, and I lived some nine miles away but over a thirty-minute drive. The club met after school, which meant I had to take the Greyhound bus home. Greyhound was the only option as my mother worked and my father was away in the Navy.
One afternoon, after the club finished, I passed a bookstore on my way to the bus station. I entered the store and perused the store’s selection of chess books. Finally, I found one that interested me. I don’t remember if it was on chess openings or tactics, but I ponied up the money for it. This was the first of many chess books I bought from that store and other places over the years.
My devotion to the game proved stronger than others in the club. It wasn’t long before I had the top board in the matches played against local high schools. I want to say I usually won, but you don’t expect me to remember that level of detail from nearly sixty years ago!
I was a sophomore when I met another chess enthusiast, one with a car. I wish I remembered his name, but can’t. Anyway, he told me about a chess club that met every week at the YMCA. He also introduced me to the United States Chess Federation (USCF).
One day I competed in a USCF tournament held at the Y. The USCF ranked players based on who they played and their opponent’s ranking. I played five games and received a national chess ranking that placed me in the C Class. I moved into Class B after several more ranked games and tournaments.
I progressed to the Class A group by the time I graduated high school. I earned that status with my best performance up to that time, a 2.5 out of 5 points in a tournament in Indianapolis, Indiana. I lost the first game against a Master Class player. Then, I won the second game. I drew the next three games against higher-ranked players, including the last one against a Senior Master.
After High School
I competed in rated tournaments for several years after joining the Navy, including playing chess by mail. Though I remained a Class A player over the board, I reached Master status in correspondence chess. I enjoyed competing against players from around the world until 1979 when some began using chess-playing computers in preparing their moves.
Such is the story of my participation in an organization for “nerds” in high school and how it led to an enjoyable pastime for many years after leaving school.