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~ PLAYING JUDE ACERS ~

I first began playing tournament chess in 1970.  In fact, it was at the Washington Open in January, 1970, on January 4.  But I had been keenly interested in chess before that, and I studied everything about chess I could get my hands on.  At the time I was living in the tiny town of Brewster, Washington, located just a few miles from where the Okanogan River meets the Columbia River.  Brewster is about 30 miles northeast of Chelan, Washington, some 60 miles northwest of Wenatchee. 

The frustrating thing about living in Brewster was there were few, if any, that could challenge me at chess, so I went elsewhere looking for opponents.  At the time I was a junior in high school.  The only other really good players were living in Wenatchee, an hour's drive to the southwest.  The best player in Wenatchee was Dave Collyer, who boasted a rating of about 2175.

Dave Collyer and I hooked up later in 1970, and together with a small band of other players (including Murlin Varner, who is still active in Northwest Chess circles!), we organized events, attended area tournaments, and in general had a good time. 

It was during this exciting time of growing up, and playing chess, that long-time chess organizer Rusty Miller brought a chess phenomenon to Washington State.  (Rusty himself was originally from Chelan, but had long since moved to Yakima. )

THE CHESS PHENOMENON . . . JUDE ACERS

Jude Acers came to Washington State, and traveled around with Rusty.  Jude gave simultaneous exhibitions in various places.  I was personally very excited to have the opportunity to play Mr. Acers, since he was the first really strong player I had the chance to meet and match wits with.  The small but hardy group of players from North Central Washington met in a school library in Wenatchee.  We didn't know what to expect as we sat, arranged in the traditional simul setup in that high school that evening.  Soon Rusty appeared, and with him, Jude Acers.  Jude was this compact bundle of energy.  It seemed his eyes flashed as he quickly swept the room, surveying his new friends.  He quickly launched into a fascinating talk about chess: the two most fantastic games of chess ever played.  The talk was electrifying, unbelievable.  He turned this way and that, addressing everyone in the room--chessplayer and spectator. 

Later, the September, 1970, issue of Northwest Chess talked about one of Jude's simuls, and gave an abbreviated version of Jude's talk about the two amazing games.  I have reproduced that article from the September, 1970 issue of Northwest Chess, and you can read it for yourself here.  The games are in Descriptive Notation, however.

Jude also talked about his youth, and about how it changed his life for the better.  He talked about why chess was THE game to know and get good at, and his voice lowered into almost a sacred whisper as he pointed out, "In chess, many are called, but few are chosen."  I will never forget that.  From that point on, I knew I would have to really work at chess to get better.

After a few more minutes of electric excitement, he began sweeping around the boards, each moving being made with a flourish of energy.  It has occurred to me since that time that Jude was electric energy itself.  At my board (I was playing black), Jude opened with 1. e4 and I responded with the most popular defense of the time, the Sicilian.  Jude answered my 1. ... c5 with 2. d4 with such confidence that I thought I would fall off my chair.  How was it possible that someone could contain as much confidence? 

I quickly fell into one of the well-worn traps of the Smith-Morra Gambit, but I played with all my might, and defended very well for a long time, being a pawn down.  Soon Jude had worn down all the competition in the room and my game was the only one going.  Going over the game score from that event nowadays I realize it was just a matter of time and technique before Jude would win, but at the time I held hope that I could get a draw.  I even offered one!  Of course he politely declined and continued to finish me off by getting the opposition in the endgame and devouring some pawns.  When I resigned, Jude complimented me, and signed my scoresheet. 

PLAYING JUDE IN NEW ORLEANS

Much later in life (in the mid-1980s), I worked for a computer software company. I had the opportunity of traveling around the country, and on several occasions my work took me to New Orleans.  Of course, for years I had been aware that Jude Acers lived in New Orleans, and that he had a chess table set up in the French Quarter of the city, and would play a game against any and all comers.  He kept a small advertisement running in Chess Life's classified section: "French Quarter Chess" the title read, and it was fascinating to me to think that I would be able to visit him, and possibly play him now that I was an even stronger chess player than I was in my high school days.

The first time I went to New Orleans, I had no trouble locating Jude, playing at a cafe on Decatur Street.  It was about six o'clock in the evening, and Jude was sitting there, playing someone else.  Jude was dressed in this cape-like coat (or poncho?), and wore a beret.  Seated next to Jude, on either side were two attractive women.  They sat there patiently, watching Jude play his game.  Jude said little.  Soon the other fellow resigned, got up and left.  Other people were standing around, watching, but Jude looked right at me and said, "Would you like to play?"  He set the clock to 30 minutes for each side, and explained that if I won I wouldn't have to pay him any money.  If I lost, or if I drew, I would pay him $10 for each game.  Was I agreed?  Absolutely.  (See recent photo of Jude playing chess in New Orleans; Jude is playing Drew Irby, 2003 Louisiana High School Champion).  Photo by Lynn Irby.

The game went to the end of both our time controls, but Jude won.  I don't remember if we played a second game or not, but I paid him.   I told him where I was from (he hadn't seen me around there before), and I explained to him how I had played him in Wenatchee when Rusty brought him there.   He exclaimed, "Rusty Miller is a genius!"  Suddenly he was very energetic again, and spent the next five minutes extolling the virtues of Rusty Miller. 

After a while, I left Jude sitting there, his female guards watching over him.

Over the next six or so years I went back to New Orleans two or three more times, and each time I made a point of visiting Jude.  On one occasion it was raining so hard Jude was inside the cafe sipping coffee, minus his attractive angels.  I entered and soon I was playing him again (he didn't remember me, of course).  This time, though, I had Jude on the ropes.  All I now remember about the game was that it was an English Opening and I had white.  One of the spectators took my camera and snapped a photo of us playing.  Here is that photo (that's my ample back you see, and Jude is across from me, looking dapper in his red beret).  The game ended in a draw with Jude holding everything.  When we shook hands, Jude informed me I had a win a different points of the game, but I didn't push it.  (That's probably why I never became a master!)

I think Jude will always be remembered in the history of chess for his unique contribution to chess promotion.  Making himself available to thousands of people over the last quarter of a century is an amazing thing, not to mention sitting and playing in an already historic and exotic place in New Orleans, "The Big Easy" as it is called, just a few blocks from the home of the world's first Chess Champion, Paul Morphy.  Jude holds various records, including the most number of opponents played in a simultaneous exhibition.  Jude has a large chess library.  One of the most memorable articles I have ever read was by Jude, and examined in detail the two most "fantastic" games of chess ever played. 


PLAY JUDE ACERS FOR YOURSELF!

Jude will be embarking this year on a tour of the United States, and will give simultaneous exhibitions and lectures again.  If you can, see if you can arrange to have him come to your city and give a lecture and an exhibition.  I think you will agree that this man is something more than just a chessmaster.  He is energetic, interesting, and he will more than impress the people that attend.  You will be able to touch a little piece of chess history for yourself. 

Jude will be in Seattle on Sunday, June 20, 2004, and in Chelan, Washington on Monday, June 21, 2004.  On Wednesday, June 23, 2004, Jude will be in Portland.  I plan to be there!  To get Jude Acers into your town, contact Russell Miller, Tour Manager, at rmille9601@aol.com.

JUDE ACERS TOUR WEBSITE http://hometown.aol.com/rmille9601/myhomepage/index.html

(Some photos used above were borrowed from the chessville.com website: http://www.chessville.com/misc/JudeAcres.htm)
 

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