Harwood Mulliken was a kind old professor with a bow tie. When the Mullikens came to visit us (in the late 1970s), he would set up a chessboard in the living room and play my older brother Keith a game.
My brother enjoyed this so, when he earned some cash working the scoreboard at the St Jude’s Memphis Classic PGA golf tournament, he used the money to buy a Fidelity Chess Challenger 7. A truly state-of-the-art machine, i.e. slow and crappy at chess.
Then in 1981, when I was in middle school in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, a new student named David Ruffalo insisted that we hold a knock-out chess tournament. He talked 16 people into playing, one round each Thursday after school in Mr. Leising’s room.
Side note: David Ruffalo was awarded his PhD before I finished my undergraduate degree. Smart dude.
My first opponent psyched me out by talking trash all week leading up to the game, and then played awfully and I won. Then I went home and started practicing against Keith’s Chess Challenger machine. I beat my buddy Pat Gardella the next week. In the third round I had to play Brian Moore. His older brother Brett was the captain of the high school team, so I expected to lose, but somehow I won that game also. Then I beat Ruffalo in the championship.
I had discovered that I really like winning.
Brett Moore tracked me down – “You beat my brother, you have to play for the high school team next year.” So I did. I played board 3 or 4 on a four-man team, with a 10-week season playing against other local schools in the Greater Cincinnati High School Chess League (GCHSCL).
I lost my first game. I lost my second game. I lost my third game. I had discovered I really hate losing. I became embarrassed and determined. So I lost my fourth game. Then I won the last six games of the season. My parents gave me two books: Chess Openings in Theory and Praxis by IA Horowitz (which I just threw away within the past year) and The Chess Companion by Irving Chernev. I could not understand chess notation so I had to figure it out myself to read the books.
“We have to win the Kentucky team championship,” said Brett, and so in the spring of 1982 I played in my first rated tourney, a four-round Saturday Cincinnati scholastic “tornado”, as a warmup for the Kentucky tournament. The top seed was David Glueck, a 2400 in high school who later quit chess and became a college professor in New Hampshire. The second seed was Albert Moore (I think), an 1800 who presumably got destroyed regularly by Glueck.
In my first rated game, I played one John Stinchomb, rated 1200, who gave me a free pawn via the strange sequence 1.P-Q4 P-Q4 2.P-QB4. Obviously I took it. He won. I won one game, against a 1000-rated player whose name escapes me, and lost two others including a long last-round game against Ken Potter, a 900-rated member of the Price Hill Death Squad chess team.
My first rating was 943.
In the Kentucky championship the following month, I beat a 1400 named Tony Sammons in the first round – a Budapest defense, believe it or not – but then lost all my other games.
We did not win the championship.
I later became the commissioner of the Greater Cincinnati High School Chess League. I never won the Kentucky scholastic championship, although I won the overall (open) state title in 1987.
Brett Moore later got a medical degree and quit chess in favor of bridge.
Tonight I played 3 hours and then blundered and lost to a 15-year-old.