Reprise of the Atlanta Kings

There was a chess league last century in the late 1970’s, the National Chess League. The games were play in different cities, with the moves being delivered via something named a WATS line, which stood for Wide Area Telephone Service, which “was a flat-rate long distance service offering for customer dial-type telecommunications between a given customer phone (also known as a “station”) and stations within specified geographic rate areas employing a single telephone line between the customer location and the serving central office. Each access line could be arranged for outward (OUT-WATS) or inward (IN-WATS) service, or both.
WATS was introduced by the Bell System in 1961 as a primitive long-distance flat-rate plan by which a business could obtain a special line with an included number of hours (‘measured time’ or ‘full-time’) of long-distance calling to a specified area. These lines were most often connected to private branch exchanges in large businesses. WATS lines were the basis for the first direct-dial toll free +1-800 numbers (intrastate in 1966, interstate in 1967); by 1976, WATS brought AT&T a billion dollars in annual revenue.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wide_Area_Telephone_Service)
Not only is that history for you but for me as well, for until today, I never knew so much about the service we utilized. Atlanta had an entry and the name of our team was the Atlanta Kings. The games were played at a company named Scientific America. Lew Martin worked there and the price for use of their WATS line was the inclusion of Lew on the team. Since he was rated far lower, by hundreds of points, of all of the other players this caused much dissension. I was opposed to Lew being on the team, as were many others, but it was decided better to have Lew on the team than to have no team. Former Georgia Champion Mike Decker verified this several years ago when reading an erroneous article about Lew in Georgia Chess, with this being brought to the attention of the editor, Mark Taylor. Mike also said Steve Schneider was a driving force behind the team. I felt strongly that the four highest rated players should be allowed to play. I did not play in the first ever match of what came to be called the “telephone league.” Instead, I worked the phone, sending and receiving the moves, with others passing the moves to the players. Members of the press were there for that match and an article appeared in the Atlanta Journal & Constitution Sunday Magazine, which included a picture of this writer with a phone in one hand and a pen in the other. Alas, that was so long ago it is possible one cannot find a copy on microfilm. Mike “Maddog” Gordon, who has retired from the newspaper, and chess, tried to find a copy decades ago without success.

Last night I learned from Thad Rogers that he has been awarded the newest team to join the United States Chess League. Thad is to be the General Manager. I asked him if I could put it in print and he said yes. “Good,” I said, “a scoop!” It was then Thad informed me he had made the announcement at the Georgia State Championship, which was a month ago. No one has mentioned it to me. When I asked the Legendary Ga Ironman why he had not mentioned it he said, “I do not remember it.” Thad blurted, “But you were standing right beside me when I made the announcement!” Tim responded, “I had other things on my mind.” At this point Thad added, “No one paid any attention.” When asked why nothing has appeared on either of the two GCA website’s Thad said it was because the GCA was not involved. I thought that strange, because it is about chess in Georgia. The original Atlanta Kings were really big news in our small community, but then the chess community was composed of adults, unlike today when there are so few adults participating in the game other than parents. The change that has taken place was apparent at the Atlanta Chess Center. When it opened there was little need for space for parents, but near the end there was not enough room for family members of the many children playing.
The conversation with Thad lasted some time as it transpired during the last round and it was late and we were too tired to do anything other than sit and talk. I learned a great deal from Thad, including the fact that Kazim Gulamali asked for $200 per game to play. I was taken aback by that, not knowing that each and every player received at least $100 from the league. How can that be? We played for the love of the game. I realize a C-note is not much these days, but still, it is the principle of the thing. Receiving money makes these players professionals, even the lower rated ones who play last board so as to meet some ridiculous average rating requirement. There was no such requirement with the telephone league. Each team could have the four best players possible filling out the squad. Thad mentioned the possibility of New York being able to “Have four 2600 players.” I answered with, “So what? Chicago, LA & San Francisco could match them.” Back in the day New York may have had more strong players from whom to choose, but a team from DC, appropriately named the “Plumbers,” took first the initial season. (The Fabulous 70s: The National Chess League
http://nezhmet.wordpress.com/2007/09/16/the-fabulous-70s-the-national-chess-league/ & The Fabulous 70s: Washington Plumbers win the 1976 National Chess League!
http://nezhmet.wordpress.com/2007/11/28/the-fabulous-70s-washington-plumbers-win-the-1976-national-chess-league/)
I neglected to mention the nouveau riche in chess city of St. Louis, thanks to Daddy Sinquebucks, which may now be the city with the most titled players. Build it and they did come. Thad mentioned something about building a team that could “…count on wins from the bottom two boards and one draw on the top two boards.” There is something wrong with the format if the best the few adult fans of chess left in Atlanta can hope for the Kings is to find two players whose chess strength has yet to be matched by rating. I will admit to being nonplussed about the USCL, and have much the same feeling about the new Atlanta Kings.

The Award Winning Georgia Chess Magazine

The Major League baseball pitcher Jim Kaat won the Gold Glove award for fielding excellence sixteen consecutive times from 1962-1977, which was a record at the time. Former Atlanta Brave pitcher Greg Maddux now holds the record, having won the award 18 times, though not consecutively. The gold glove was awarded to fellow Brave pitcher Mike Hampton in 2003 for some reason. Jim Kaat is man enough to have said he could not understand why they kept giving him the award because, “There were years I threw the ball away too many times.” Such was the case in 1969 when “Kitty” Kaat committed eight errors, the most of his career. “I figure the voters just got used to giving me the award,” he admitted. A baseball sabermetrician, or “stat-head,” wrote an article one year contrasting the fielding of Tom Glavine, another Maddux teammate on the Braves, concluding Tommy was more deserving of the award. Greg Maddux laughed upon hearing about it, saying, “It was not one of my better years.” He made seven errors that year, the most of any season he played.
Denzel Washington is a fine actor, with many superlative performances to his credit. He won the Academy award for best actor in 2001 for the film “Training Day.” It was not a good movie and this was not his best performance, yet he was given the coveted award. Few actors have won the best actor award two consecutive years. Russell Crowe won the award the previous year for his outstanding performance in the film “Gladiator.” He was also nominated the next year for his performance in the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” which won the award for the best movie. He did not win his second best actor award, though he should have, because it was given to Mr. Washington.
Something similar has occurred in chess. The Chess Journalists of America released the names of the winners last week and the Georgia Chess magazine once again won the award for best state magazine. This is a travesty of epic proportions. The magazine, edited by Mark Taylor, has won numerous awards recently, continuing a tradition begun by Daniel Lucas, now the editor of Chess Life magazine. Unfortunately, the award winning Georgia Chess magazine has fallen upon hard times in the past year or so, deteriorating to the point of irrelevance. For example, the most recent issue, May/June 2013, arrived last week via USPS, has been called a “pamphlet.” It, like other recent issues contains, as I have heard it said by many members, “No games!” In actuality there are a few games, but nothing like past issues, which were replete with many games. The magazine used to be timely, but the past year saw it fall behind to the point that along with the most recent issue, May/June, 2013, the November/December 2012 arrived in the mail the same day. Earlier this year one issue appeared with another just a few days later. It was the size of a pamphlet.
The magazine hit what is considered by many to be a new low with the publication of the March/April 2013 issue. The picture on the cover is of IM Ronald Burnett. To be kind, it is not a very appealing picture of the IM. My first thought upon seeing the cover was shock. Later someone called it “hideous.” Many were embarrassed by the picture, which covers the front with a blown up picture that has been called “frightening” by children. My friend in chess deserves much better than this travesty. Many words have been used in trying to describe the picture. The comment I best recall came from Richard Staples, who asked about the person responsible, the editor, Mark Taylor, “What could he possibly have been thinking?” Richard sent a game to the editor, which was published in the September/October issue. Richard was extremely displeased because the game could not be replayed since the notation was unreadable. When asked about it, Richard said many things I cannot publish, along with, “I do not understand why Mark did not proofread it, or get someone to do it. Why did he not send it to me before publishing it?” He also said he would never, ever, submit another game to the magazine. Another reader mentioned one of the games included in WIM Carolina Blanco’s article, “14th Dubai Chess Open, part 2.” The game ends on move 25 in an even position, yet it is a win for Black.
It took me quite some time to get around to reading the magazine after reading the article I submitted, “Ten Days of Summer Heat.” Mark was pressing me due to the fact the magazine was behind schedule, so I rushed to get it to him. After reading it the next day, I found mistakes needing correction, so I sent Mark an email with emendations. He replied, assuring me he would make the necessary changes. My article was the first thing I read upon receiving the magazine. I do not have words with which to convey my disappointment. The corrections had not been made and I could not understand why, since the magazine was way late in being published. Why had I been rushed if the magazine was published so late? I could have had many more weeks to proofread it myself.
Then I read this paragraph: “The tournament was marred when the Chief TD, watching the game between Sanjay Ghatti and Richard Lin, saw Sanjay’s time expire and yelled, “You’re down!” This was an egregious mistake by the greenhorn TD, violating, as it does, what must be the TD’s “Prime Directive.” LM Brian McCarthy pointed this out to a member of the CC (Championship Chess) staff, who asked why the chief TD done such a thing. “I knew it was wrong when I did it, and I cannot tell you why I did it,” he explained.”
Reading, “…who asked why the chief TD done such a thing,” made me nauseous. Stunned beyond belief, I had to read it again, and again, and again…I showed it to the Legendary Georgia Ironman, immediately going to my computer in order to retrieve the original copy. The line reads, “…who asked why the chief TD had done such a thing.” I do not talk that way, and I try not to write like that, if at all possible. After reading the article, former Georgia champion and Georgia Senior champion LM David Vest said, “He did it because you made them look bad in your article and this was their way of getting back at you.” I told Mr. Vest I had not, “made them look bad,” since they had done a good job of looking bad without my help. All I had done was write about it. He agreed.
I have not discussed this with Mark, a person I have admired and enjoyed sharing emails and thoughts over the years. I have seen him only one time since publication, but was unable to talk with him because he wandered off with the married mother of one of the players, something he was fond of doing during chess tournaments at the House of Pain. As David Spinks put it, “He follows her around like a puppy.”
By the time the issue was published I had several other articles ready for the magazine, including an article about the time I traveled to San Antonio for the Church’s Fried Chicken tournaments in 1972, which would have been published around the 40th anniversary of one of the biggest events in American chess history. It was not sent to the editor, and will never be published in the Georgia Chess magazine. This was not the first time I have had trouble with an editor of the magazine, but it will be the last.
To be fair, the September/October issue does contain one of the best, if not the best, essays I have read in my 40+ years involved with chess. That would be, “A Retrospective: A Few Things I’ve Learned From My Kids During a Decade in Chess,” by Jennifer Christianson. I told her personally during the recent Emory Castle chess tournament. She told me she, too, had been asked by Mark Taylor to write something, anything, to fill the magazine. And what does she do but sit down and write something beautiful. Fortunately, Mark did not mar her article. I wish I could direct you to her amazingly heartfelt essay, but the “award winning Georgia Chess magazine” is published in print form only, unlike other forward thinking organizations, continuing to drain the budget of the GCA. That is only one reason one well known chess personality from Georgia has been heard to call our state organization, “Backward.”
Many years ago during a discussion with a NM in another state, he mentioned one Southern state, calling it, “The armpit of Southern chess.” The state was having, shall we say, “problems.” That state has turned things around completely in the last few years. Winning the award for best state publication may have been the worst possible thing that could have happened to chess in my native state because those holding the reins of power now have something upon which to hang their hat, so to speak. The fact is that Atlanta is known as the capital of the South. It is the largest metropolitan area with one of the busiest airports in the world, yet the chess tournaments are pitiful, with the exception of the Emory Castle, and even that venerable tournament is not held in a hotel, as one will find in most other large metro areas. The only tournaments held in a hotel are scholastic tournaments for the children. The Georgia State Championship was held in an old, rundown mall. For instance, this is one of the most recent reviews found on the internet: “This place is a dump. Half of the stores are empty, and the others seem to be struggling along. Even the theater is getting dilapidated.” This was written by Walt S. and can be found here: http://www.yelp.com/biz/north-dekalb-mall-decatur
There are teams from both North Carolina and Tennessee in the UNITED States Chess League, but not from the “Capital of the South.” After reading an article, Savannah’s Scholastic Chess Fest, online I sent an email to Katie Hartley, the Administrator, suggesting she post a link on the moribund GCA website, which she did. In her reply to me in May of this year, she agreed the website was “moribund.” I would like to report that has been changed, but the fact is otherwise.
On the CJA website (http://chessjournalism.org/2013entries/entries2.htm) I learned there were two other magazines nominated for the award of best state magazine, Louisiana and Northwest Chess. I have not seen the Louisiana magazine, but the Northwest Chess magazine is published on the website (http://www.nwchess.com/) and can be downloaded in PDF format. I urge you to check out the 48-page special memorial January 2013 issue with “Elena Donaldson Akhmylovskaia (1957-2012) by Frank Niro.” The issue is fantastic and indicative of the great work they have been doing for some time now. This one issue alone is better than all issues of Georgia Chess published in the past year combined. I sincerely regret the good people of Northwest Chess did not win the award they so deserved. The fact that they did not win is shameful.
I do not know who, or how many, votes for these awards, but recall reading a few years ago the number is small. I do not know how anyone in their right mind could possible consider the Georgia Chess magazine of the past year superior to the one published by the people of Northwest Chess. In all honesty, the Georgia Chess magazine should not have even been nominated, as it, like chess in my native state, has become an embarrassment.