Thinking the match between the Kings and Ospreys began at seven I was early in arriving at Emory University, where the Kings play. The first player to arrive was Expert Lawrence White, who was to play his first game as a King. Mr. White is a tall, large man with a huge smile, which was on display when he noticed me. He is an intelligent, educated, likable person whose comportment while at the House of Pain was always that of a gentleman.After purchasing a snack, which would substitute for dinner, as he had come directly from work, Lawrence walked over to say hello.
I have known Lawrence since he first appeared at the Atlanta Chess Center in 1997. He is a friendly gentleman and a talented chess player, who is obviously serious about his game. During our conversation I was taken aback when he said he was refused entry to the recent Georgia Open. “What?” I exclaimed, and asked Lawrence to elaborate. He explained, “The registration was from eight AM until eight-thirty and I arrived just before the closing time. I saw Fun Fong standing on something giving a speech, so I found his assistant and told him I would like to enter. He looked at his watch and said it was eight-thirty two. My watch showed eight-thirty.”
It took me a few moments to wrap my head around what I had just heard. Gathering myself, I asked the name of the person he had encountered. Lawrence did not know his name, but after describing the man I said, “That was not an assistant, but the Chief TD, Ben Johnson.” Rather than making waves, Lawrence decided he would not play in the event.
Realizing something like this would never have occurred when the GCA held their events at the House of Pain, I apologized. “Why are you apologizing?” he asked, “I know you would not have done it.” He was correct because just a few years ago every accommodation was made to allow a player, any player, to participate in a GCA event held at the House of Pain. What I did not tell Lawrence, who happens to be an American of African descent, was that I immediately thought of something my friend Mr. William A. Scott, an Expert player back when there were only a few players rated over 2000, publisher of the Atlanta Daily World, a well-respected Black newspaper, and a member of the first incarnation of the Atlanta Kings, told me many decades ago when he said, “Mike, the difference between us is that to Negroes, everything is considered racial, while to White people nothing is race related.” I have heard this many times during my life and have always tried to keep it in mind in my relations with my fellow humans who happen to have been born with a darker skin pigmentation, for I know that when that skin is removed there is no difference in the human body.
I have no idea what was in the mind of Ben Johnson when he denied entry to Mr. Lawrence White. As far as I know it could have been GM Michael Rohde, who has played in Atlanta previously, asking to enter the tournament and Ben, a member of what has become known as the “Know Nothing” party who has taken control of chess in Georgia, would not have known him from Adam. I have no idea how much race played in the Chief TD’s decision. What I do know is that Ben Johnson saw a rather large Black man standing there and the pairings had already been made, so he refused to go to the trouble of making new pairings, something made quick and simple with the advent of the computer pairing programs.
Appalled at the whole situation, I asked Lawrence if I could quote him on the blog and he said, “Sure.”
There were only a few higher rated adults entered and Mr. White would have added stature to the Georgia Open, something completely lost on Ben Johnson. Who is Ben Johnson? I have come to think of him as the “Weird Hockey Guy” of chess. The Legendary Georgia Ironman shuddered at the mention of this, and this is why. Tim and I were doing sports memorabilia shows in the 90’s before the collapse of the card market. During one show a goofy fellow appeared at our table, asking if we would like to purchase a large box of unopened Hockey cards. I had no interest, but the Ironman engaged the rather strange fellow in conversation. Weird Hockey Guy told Tim he had absolutely no interest in the pieces of cardboard of any type. “I am in it only for the money.” In the best capitalist tradition the Weird Hockey Guy would “buy low and sell high.” With the possibility of the MLB strike looming and the encounter with the WHG in mind, I decided to sell everything and get out of the business because it was obvious the card market bubble had burst.
When first meeting Ben Johnson he said, “I don’t know anything about real chess; I come from the scholastic side.” Not only did he try to argue with me about what constituted stalemate, but he also said, “I’m in chess only for the money.” It was obvious I had met the Weird Chess Guy.
Ben Johnson is the Vice President of the Georgia Chess Association. The Ironman mentioned recently that Ben Johnson had organized a one day camp for children in which he would collect $90 for each child from the parents of 30 children. Ben is rated 647. Please note that as Chief TD of the Ga Open Ben Johnson played a rated game during the final round, which he won. Once this game is rated Ben will reach the stratospheric heights of, for Ben, 697.
In his forward to the wonderful book, “The Stress of Chess…and its Infinite Finesse,” by GM Walter Browne, IM Danny Kopec writes, “There is simply no reasonable living to be made in chess in this country…”
“Instead we encourage mediocrity and top players are often left in the cold. By mediocrity, I mean situations like players who have barely reached expert level (or below) making a reasonable regular salary teaching in schools, while the great players, analysts and writers must struggle to make ends meet.”
Bob Dylan Only a Pawn in Their Game March on Washington 1963