Brian McCarthy R.I.P.

The first time I saw Brian McCarthy

Brian Anthony McCarthy

he had traveled with Jerry Wheeler from Nashville, Tennessee, to play in an American Chess Promotions tournament in Atlanta. Brian was wearing a Metallica tee-shirt while sporting wild, frizzy hair, as was the custom ‘back in the day’. He was full of nervous energy and full of “in your face” confidence and bluster.

Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony: S&M 2

I defeated Brian the first two times we faced off over the board but lost the third game. We never played another rated game. For years I was under the impression Brian had won the game by projecting an overwhelming, massive amount of energy. I played the B16 Caro-Kann, Bronstein-Larsen variation, and had a decent position until being overwhelmed on the queen-side. Decades later we looked at the game and it was obvious I had at least an even position until making a rather weak move. “Hey man,” I said, “I’m in good shape if’n I play this!” Brian just grinned…

While on the road playing Chess, Brian invited me to spend a week in between tournaments at his parents house. After a few days I heard his folks talking. His father asked his wife, “How long is this guy gonna be here?” I immediately went into the kitchen saying, “Brian asked me to spend a week saying he had discussed it with you, and you said it would be OK.” They were very nice and understanding. I’ve no idea what was said to Brian, though I would have liked to have been a “fly on the wall.”

That was the most intense week I have ever spent, Chess wise. It was like Brian sucked out all the Chess knowledge my brain contained. The only time we left the house was to play in a nightly Backgammon tournament. I had stopped playing professionally some time earlier when the boom went bust. At least the tournament got us away from Chess for a few hours…Decades later this came up in conversation and Brian shot out, “Yeah Bacon, you got knocked out in the first round. I played two matches!” What could I do but smile? Another player said, “Come on Brian, Bacon won the Atlanta and Georgia Backgammon titles. How many Backgammon titles do you hold?” That shut Brain up, at least for a little while, which was not something that happened often.

Brian moved to New York, working a day job at Merrill Lynch, playing Chess at night. If you can make it there…

Brian made it in New York. He had some great stories about that time and about the people, like Jay Bonin,

someone Brian held in high regard. He regaled us with the inside story of famous players, like the one famous guy who earned his IM title fraudulently.

During this time Brian visited a tournament in which I participated in up north near New York. I cannot recall if Brian played in the event or only visited. What I do vividly recall is that Brian missed his ride into the city and needed a place to spend the night. I had met a fellow at a tournament on the road before the event who had advertised for a roommate. We agreed to share the room. It must have been a weekend night, so Brian did not have to be at work the following day. I offered to share my bed with Brian. We returned to the room late, as is to be expected. My roommate, a US Army soldier, a supply sergeant, was asleep. We were awakened at o’dark thirty by a clapping sound. Army was up and at’em early, doing push-ups while clapping his hands.

“What the Fork you doing, G.I. Joe?!” I inquired.

“I gotta lose some weight or they’ll boot me outta the service,” he said.

“How about doing it OUTSIDE, man; anywhere but HERE!”

We laughed about it later after a few more hours of sleep. When Brian laughed his face scrunched up and lit up like a Christmas tree.

Later I was eating when two players sat behind me and started talking about the roommates who did not know one another until meeting at a tournament before this one. “One of the guys is in the Army and the other one was an old hippie,” I heard one say. “It must be tough not having enough money to have your own room,” said the other. Then the first one said, “Seems the hippie invited a stranded friend to spend the night and let him sleep in his bed!”

“No way!” said the other.

“Yeah,” said the first one. “It gets better. The Army guy got up real early and began doing the kinda push-ups where you clap your hands, which awakened the old hippie, who was none to pleased to be rudely awakened!”

“I’ll bet,” said the other. “Then what happened?”

The old hippie guy ordered the Army soldier out of the room!”

“No way?”


After eating I paid the tab before walking by and stopping at their table. “Hello gentlemen, in which section are you playing?” I asked. One was in a lower section, the other in an even lower section.

“I could not help but overhear your conversation. I’m the old hippie.” As the saying goes, you shoulda seen the looks on their mugs! “I was the Atlanta, Georgia, Chess Champion from 1974-1976 and topped out as an expert. The fellow I invited to share my bed is a fellow Road Warrior, Brian McCarthy, who topped out as a Senior Master, rated over 2400. He works for Merrill Lynch and was stranded, so I took him in because he is a friend. I split the room with G.I. Joe because I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Splitting the room means having more cash to get to the round on time at another tournament. Have a good day.” They watched incredulously as I walked away.

Brian developed brain cancer over a decade ago and received treatment via the Gamma Knife. It seemed to work, fortunately. Then the cancer returned, this time it was his spine.

Brian intended on defeating cancer just as he had defeated Chess opponents. His father was a high school basketball coach and one of Brian’s favorite expressions was, “Don’t leave the gym on a missed hoop.”

Brian met the Emory doctors in downtown Atlanta while making many trips from Butler, Georgia, where he was a science teacher and basketball coach.

When Brian told the “rad-heads,” those who were receiving treatment, some for many years, about the experimental treatment he was about to undergo, they became quiet, looking in amazement and wide wonder that any human being could receive that much radiation…and live. Brian immediately became the “King of the rad-heads.”

There was an article in the New York Times Science section concerning the end of life and when it was best to give in and simply enjoy the remaining time one had left. Brian would sleep on the couch and there was a table nearby, which was where I left the article for Brian to read. When we were alone, before he started to dress to leave, he informed me he had read the article, saying, “I understand why you left the article, Mike.”

“Good, Brian; that’s a relief.” He sorta smiled before saying, “I know you meant well, Bacon, but I’ve gotta fight this shit with all I’ve got. I’m gonna beat it just like before.”

“Good luck with that, MacAroon!,” I said. He laughed like the old Brian…

The last tournament in which Brian participated was the 2019 Castle Chess Grand Prix at Emory University, a fine tournament hosted by many good people. Brain lost three games, but did manage to draw with Christopher Shen, rated 2373, in the third round, played Saturday night. How Brian had the strength to draw a game against such a strong opponent boggles the mind. I accompanied him on the ride back to the apartment and frankly, he was wasted. Yet, like all losing players, Brian had an excuse. “If only I’d had more time…” he lamented.

Brian Anthony McCarthy

June 22, 1961 – March 10, 2021 Share this obituary
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Born in Chicago, Illinois on June 22, 1961, Departed on March 10, 2021 and resident of Butler, GA.

Funeral and Burial Services:  Friday, March 19th 2021 10:00 am Visitation followed by 11:00 Funeral Mass at Holy Rosary Catholic Church.  Internment to follow at Calvary Cemetery.

Dr. Brian Anthony McCarthy, PhD, a devout Catholic and devoted Husband, Father, Son, Brother, Cousin, Uncle, Teacher and accomplished Chess Master has played his last game.  He fought the good fight against multiple challenging opponents, but in the endgame was checkmated by an aggressive debilitating illness on March 10th.

He was born the second of four boys born to Larry and Irene McCarthy.  Life during his first few years was on the south side of Chicago Illinois where he enjoyed life as part of a large extended family in the local area.  In 1967 the family relocated to Nashville Tennessee where Brian and his brothers were educated thru Holy Rosary Academy and Father Ryan High School.  While at Fr. Ryan, he will be remembered for challenging the school’s sense of humor as co-editor of an independent newspaper parody.  He started his college career at Middle Tennessee State University and later relocated to New York to pursue his true passion, Chess. 

Those that knew him, understood that from very early in his life, Brian was passionate and relentless in his efforts to excel at chess.  He would often go to extreme measures to prepare, play and compete, including: playing blindfolded, playing over the phone for hours on end (remember dial-up web access!), driving hundreds and thousands of miles, foregoing sleep and often times using his vehicle as a hotel.  His efforts were rewarded as he achieved Senior Chess Master, the highest national title (2400 rating) in 1992 after 10 years as a Master.  He achieved victories over numerous higher-rated Grand Masters and later in his chess career became a prolific online teacher.  He taught players of all ages and took pride in their accomplishments, especially the five national titles that have been earned along with the three national titles earned by the Junior High School team he coached.

While still in the New York area, and faced with the practical limits of focusing on chess, Brian turned his attention back to academics.  Typical of Brian, he went all-in graduating from New Jersey City University with his Bachelor of Science (Biology) and Master of Science (Biology) degrees.  He completed his education at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey where he earned his Doctorate in Molecular Pathology and Immunology and authored his Dissertation “The Effects of Interleukin 10 in the NZB Mouse Model”.  Brian spent his post-doctorate years in cancer research at his Alma Mater, Ohio State and Augusta Universities.  Through these efforts, he contributed to publishing numerous papers and was part of the team that first discovered the oncogene BCL-2 on the surface of leukemia cells.    It was after his research at Augusta University that he transitioned his professional career to teaching and became a Chemistry and Biology teacher at Taylor County High School.   

Along the road of his life’s adventures and pursuits, Brian met and in 2009 married Pawanrat (Kai) and in 2010 added their son Patrick to the family.  Brian was a good husband and father for his son.  He encouraged his son to play chess and they often traveled to the tournaments in Atlanta and Nashville.  Even as his illness brought on disabilities, he continued his work to teach and inspire his students until the point he was admitted to the hospital.  As a teacher he was known to challenge his students and support them in their pursuits.  His success can be noted in their standardized test scores which were at tops in the state.  Brian also followed his father’s foot steps and coached the Taylor County Middle School basketball team which won the league championship one of the four years he coached. 

Brian will be remembered for living his life on his own terms.  Regardless of age, social or family status, anyone proposing “alternative terms” were rarely if ever successful!  He loved his family and will also be remembered for his personal sacrifices made to support his family wherever they were whenever needed.  His multi-state road trips for family events where he could only spend a few hours before heading back are legendary.

A few short words only touch the surface of Brian’s story.  The legacy he leaves to his family, students, players and opponents will be the memories of his love, courage and determination he showed in victories, defeats and when faced with the most challenging of circumstances.  He will be missed, but undoubtedly will travel the Heavens to watch over us.

Brian was preceded in death by his father, Lawrence Elmer McCarthy.  He is survived by his Wife Kai and son Patrick; his mother Rose Irene; Brothers Larry (Kim), Barry (Kathy), Paul; nieces and nephews Michael (Caroline) of Jacksonville FL, Michele (Brendan) of Girard, Ohio, Meghan (Sean) of Cedartown, GA, Kristin of Louisville, KY, Lauren of Nashville, TN, Bradley of Nashville TN and a growing number in the next generation!

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to a GoFund me account that serves as a memorial fund to honor Brian and support his family and son’s educational pursuits:

Please sign the Guestbook for the family.

Crawford Mortuary & Crematory, 615-254-8200


One thought on “Brian McCarthy R.I.P.

  1. […] of the words that come to mind are those spoken many decades ago by SM Brian McCarthy, ( who said, “It is nothing but a frivolous frivolity.” All was quiet for a few moments […]

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