20 October 2016

Front Page News

How does chess manage to become front page news? With a little bit of luck and a lot of perseverance.

On several occasions I've repeated stories from Alan Lasser’s Game of the Week newsletter (GOTW; a little over 100 subscribers; last seen here in A $20.000 Endgame, October 2014), but this one is the best so far. The GOTW issue of 1 October announced,

I became the 2016 Rhode Island State Champion last weekend. It was somewhat flukey of course. The tournament was under-promoted, they didn’t bother putting the ad in Chess Life and I didn’t see it on the web until ten days before the event. Maybe that was the reason that the eleven player Open section contained only two players who were actually from Rhode Island.

After congratulating Alan, I received some more info.

The Norwich Club [Connecticut] was the first to use me for publicity, it only took them a week to include in their emails, "the 2016 Rhode Island Champion plays here". When I pointed this out to Dan Smith at Westerly, he got it together to call the local newspaper. The interview didn't go all that well. It seemed at the time like the reporter cared neither for the message nor the messenger, that she was laughing inside at the crazy chess players, as if she had just seen the Fischer movie.

We expected that if the news was printed at all, it would be a small article in the back section of the paper, just in front of the classifieds. We were all shocked to see a reasonable portrayal of the club on the front page. The world seemed upside down. When was the last time chess players were on the front page? Not since Robert J, I reckon.

So much for 'a small article in the back section of the paper'.

The online version of the article is available at Westerly Man Is State's Chess King. It starts, 'Age checkmated youth in the 2016 Rhode Island State Chess Championship this year. The new state champion, Al Lasser, 65, of Westerly said he was the "underdog" against opponents less than one quarter his age. "The average age of my opponents was 15 -- they were either masters or nationally ranked in the top 100 list for their age," he said. "One of my opponents in the tournament was eight years old and there was an 11-year old who beat me."'

In his message to me, Alan continued,

As you can tell from the grin in my face; I thought me winning the title was the funniest joke in the world, and I was in on it!

He thinks that there is a crucial part to the back story.

The reporter asked "why is chess fun?" I was dumbfounded. I didn't know the answer to this very simple question and knew the reporter wasn't going to publicize the chess club if we couldn't say it was fun or why it was fun. I thought I must know the answer but I just couldn't remember it.

As I lay awake in bed that night, haunted by the spectre of failure, finally I recalled that the appeal was biological and dashed off an email to explain the fight-or-flight adrenaline rush. I think that saved the day for us.

A couple of years ago I posted about GM Kasparov's #WhyILoveChess, and followed it with my own answer, Endless Discovery (both September 2014). It's a question that every keen chess player should be able to answer.

Small state + small city + small tournament + small newspaper = big result, plus the newspaper article is packed with human interest. Every state chess champion deserves to have his or her story told.

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