Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org & Knatz.com / Stories / Hierarchy vs. Conviviality / Jail /
@ K. 2013 06 09
|No Board! No Pieces!||Toilet Paper Pieces||Felipé|
I scribbled this very fast. I’ll edit, improve ASAP.
No Board! No Pieces!
There’s a Vladimir Nabokov novel in which a chess master meditates over an empty board, seeing lines of force, dissolving obstacles. There are masters who can play multiple games “simultaneously,” blindfolded.
Any skill may seem magical to anyone who lacks it. Many of use might be surprised at how well we’d touch type if we learned how, play arpeggios if we’d started piano drills young enough … I’m proud to be multi-talented, but I also know that I help myself by being willing to try things well beyond the optimal age for learning. Starting the piano around age fifty, it was way too late for me to become good at it, but by golly, I have learned to play it: and gradually my hands have learned to find chords, including chord inversions, right up the keyboard, without more than half-glancing. (I remember Mickey Baker’s blind pianist being stood before the keyboard on stage, his right thumb guided toward middle C. That’s all he needed. I still have to look and look again, but am far beyond the helplessness of having to focus on each individual target: there, that’s a C, now, that’s an E …
(Asked if he could play the violin, my uncle answered, “I don’t know: I’ve never tried it.” (I’m sure he was joking.) Could I play chess blindfolded? No, but if I practiced first, then I bet I could surprise both of us; and I bet you could too!)
[2014 11 20 I’m reminded of Richard Feynman’s bloodhound story. At a party he’d arrange for someone to offer a personal article like a handkerchief while he was blindfolded. He’d sniff the article like a bloodhound, go around the room sniffing people till he identified the owner. How’d ya do it? Simple: he smelled the thing, then he smelled the people: humans don’t have as good smell as a bloodhound but we don’t have none. We’re better at it than we think we are but only if we try!]
It was a kick when arrested to watch the FBI and the sheriff tripping over themselves to observe their bureaucracies’ jurisdictional procedures. Once upon a time the sheriff could chase Robin Hood, but if Robin reached the church, the sheriff couldn’t follow. Hollywood loves to pit county cops against state cops against federal cops. Hollywood leaves out the angels though in such movies: they have angel movies galore, but they don’t mix them with county – state – fed nicety movies. The person can’t enter the locked room, but the ghost can. Where the ghost can’t enter, we think that the angel can. Where the angel can’t enter, we think that god can … where god can’t enter maybe the devil can. Anyway, it was the fed who had to arrest me in answer to my university’s complaint that I was telling the world how they were incompetent and had screwed me in particular while screwing everyone in general. When push comes to shove, any thug will beat up anyone, but that’s only after Hitler has killed himself in the bunker. With Hitler still in his castle, the priests stay out of the domain of the SS, the brown shirts pick up the crumbs, the soldiers maul where the brown shirts can’t go. In US gobbledygook NYU couldn’t ask the county sheriff to come and silence me, but it could ask some bureaucrat who asked some other bureaucrat who asked the FBI … but then the FBI had to ask the local cops, the county cops to escort them. So they tag teamed me, played more jurisdictional games till the FBI decided which combination of things I’d said that it would misunderstand and misrepresent into a crime huge enough to justify asking a federal court to both keep me in jail and censor me.
Man, it’s not everybody who can get the fed to violate their most sacred Constitutional laws. (Presidents violate the Constitution every minute of every day, but they do it in Laos, Iraq, Cambodia … Here the fed was doing it right in Sebring FL. Anyway, they couldn’t lock me up in Sebring. The Sebring jail had no deal with the state or with the fed. There are lots of federal jails around, but they have their fancy procedures. You can’t just grab a philosopher and throw him into a federal jail: long lines of lawyers have to be passed through, each segment sucking more public funds: elaborate hierarchies of jurisdiction.
Finally the FBI had a plan: they’d take me to St Lucie’s County: a county jail that Did have an arrangement with both state and fed. That was Friday. On Monday they’d switch me to the Ft Pierce court house: that was fed, strictly fed. At my arraignment a fed judge gave the FBI what NYU had asked it to want: hold this guy for trial. But the Ft Pierce court house, though it had refrigerated holding cells — the kleptocrats refrigerate captives for more reasons than they are aware I don’t doubt. The reason you hear is to retard the spread of disease. Touch anything in overcrowded conditions and it’s likely to be covered with staphylococci. But it also acts as a sedative. When I catch a bass, the sooner I can throw it in the fridge, the sooner it was stop thrashing. Anyhow, the fed hires zillions more lawyers, judges, cops … FEBs … by having these elaborate jurisdictional procedures, making the ability of the fed to sponge up public funds ever more fractal. If they just wanted me silenced NYU could have sparked the fed and the fed could have put a sniper in orbit to shoot me in the head through my front trailer window. No, no, the way they did it employed hundreds, spent thousands … The fed had a deal with the Palm Beach County jail that it did not have with the St. Lucies County jail. The jail on Gun Club Road, West Palm Beach, regularly housed some federal detainees. Marshalls moved inmates from county to fed and back to county, wasting thousands, when enough procedures had been niggled to allow the court to assign the victim to a regular federal prison, where beaucoup thousands could be wasted.
You can’t just shoot pk in the eye until cops and lawyers have been paid at the county level, the state level, at the fed facility in Ft Pierce, at the fed facility in Miami, the fed facilities in Jesup GA … then the fed-church-state-county hybrid monster, the Salvation Army, where they “prepare” a victim for reentry into the kleptocracy.
Whoops, this is a chess story: excuse me. So I’m dumped in St. Lucies for the weekend. I wasn’t there long enough to be sure, but judged by my later experiences, I think I spent my whole weekend there in their SHU. (Jail Glossary) I had a cell to myself. One glance was enough to notice a few things: the bunk was a double-decker, the toilet had no seat, there was a tiny table attached to the wall with only one uncushioned seat that swung out on an elbowed arm. At second glance I noticed a little slip of paper with a confetti of torn paper on it. It was a clumsy pencil drawing of a chess set! Tiny chess symbols were drawn on the confetti: pawns, king, knight …
I’d never been able to play chess solitaire. Bobby Fisher did, all the time. Maybe he had trained himself not to remember what White was thinking when it was his turn to play Black. I’d tried it once, but had lasted only a second or two: as White, I did remember what Black had planned; and visa versa. Gee, maybe I’ll try again. I sure won’t have anything else to do. But I quickly noticed that the board was wrong. Instead of a light square at H1, this drawing had a dark square there: the board was backwards. The paper pieces were numbered, and the king and queen were numbered wrong. This artist also had the king and queen positions reversed. White’s king belongs on the white queen’s right.
I was allowed to step outside the cell for one hour of “exercise” on Saturday. (A similar hour on Sunday saw me re-manacled and waist-chain-cuffed, the guard mumbling that someone had slipped on Saturday.) Back in my cell on Saturday I heard someone, an inmate whispering at me through the front grate. I looked up. Very furtive the guy spits a whisper: Do I play chess? I sure do, I answered: can we play? How? He couldn’t come in, could he? Could we meet outside? I told him I had inherited a little drawing of a chess board in this cell.
Yes, he said, he’d helped the previous inmate to draw it. He told me that he was jailed directly above me. Right after dinner I should listen for his whisper though the air vent. We’d signal our respective moves up and down the vent.
Sure enough: I heard him call after dinner.
The vent was under the sink, by the toilet. I had to lie on the freezing floor and contort myself, receive the arctic blast of air conditioning right into my ear, but I was able to tell him that my board was wrong. He answered that he hadn’t been sure about those details, he was glad to learn. He wanted me to be White. Are you sure? I asked. I do play this game, though seldom against humans. “OK, E-2 to E-4,” I said.
Actually, he didn’t play badly. A game can be played, a game very like chess, with the queen on the right and with an inverse color tessellation. He resigned soon after I took his queen. I didn’t object too strongly: the air blast was trying to flash freeze my eardrum. Another degree colder and my flesh would have stuck to the frozen concrete of the floor. (Can that have been concrete? I think it must have been an alloy of steel and concrete: it was hard!)
Toilet Paper Pieces
I was at St. Lucies 2006 Oct 13 – 16. The guards had me up and stripped soon after 3 AM so I’d been good and frozen when the marshals came for me around 7 AM. Actually I don’t think they arrived till 8 or so. Whatever the hour it was still plenty early when then herded me manacled into the frozen cells of Ft. Pierce Federal Court House. My arraignment was a formality that technically required my presence. I don’t know why. They could have told their lies just as well in my absence. It took from the middle of the night to close to noon to arrive at that one brief moment: when the judge authorized the system to do what it had already done. They arrested me on Friday, by noon Monday my arrest was official: the judge had blessed it: agree that I was dangerous and must be silenced. Then the marshals transported me to Gun Club Road. (Jail Glossary)
Several days later, spent being processed — the county bills the state for every inmate processed, so they processed me, and processed me, and processed me again, every chance they got — I saw a semi-real chess set. From late morning till near midnight we were shuffled among filthy holding cells and bored fingerprinters, bracelet attachers, hostile, bored nurses … Near midnight we were transferred to a temporary dorm. A few days later I was moved to my new home for the next month and a half: South8C, the “old mans dorm.” In the morning I saw a nice cheap plastic and cardboard chess set, in perfect condition: at the elbow of a multi-millionaire accused wife-murderer. I later learned that chess sets were not allowed. But laws exist only so that some things can be exempt. You can’t speak, but the priest can; you can’t look at porn, but the senator can; you have to get drafted, unless you’re rich and pay off …
I took the first occasion I could find to ask the rich guy if he wanted to play. He didn’t. But I soon enough saw another chess set. The cardboard board was so old it had no square edges. It wasn’t printed as “black” and “white”; it was printed as black and red, but the black was smeared gray and the red was a sort of red-black-sooty-pink. The pieces were of the cheapest plastic. The white queen was broken but held together with scotch tape. Several pawns were missing, but had been replaced by toilet paper wetted, twisted into a mass like a Hershey’s Kiss, and allowed to dry. I came later to understand that the black pawns had been dipped in coffee before drying. So the toilet paper pieces were not black and white, but gray and tan.
That board has somehow been held together, avoiding confiscation, by Murray. Murray, thank you, bless you, live forever. I don’t know what Murray was accused or, or whether he had been convicted; I do know how grateful all the many chess players in South8C had to be to him. The rich guy hoarded his board. He seldom played, but he always showed it. Murray let everybody take turns, the entire “clear” time, when the day room was open.
Murray was a professional poker player. He’d spent years in Las Vegas being paid a salary plus a percentage of winnings by a group of investors. He told me that technically he was not responsible for losses; but if losses continued or mounted, he simply would not be rehired: and would have a hard time finding backers. So long as he won, funding was easy: and he could see all the shows, fuck all the girls … Murray had a sweet stroke on the basketball court: all the more impressive if you realize that jail courts baskets are typically hung at least a foot higher than the standard 10′. Even so, nets don’t last an hour: some idiot ape will be hanging from them. Murray had tried out for the NJ Nets.
Murray played fairly well. That is to say he beat me at least 10% of the time. He may have beaten Felipé once or twice, but not often I’m sure. He never beat Bruce, who was the best of us in South8C during my stay there.
I’m fairly sure I played my first game at South8C against Murray. My regular chess stories section tells how seldom I’d found human opponents in my life even though I’d been playing since childhood. In the forties I made up for lack of play somewhat by indulging in a series of chess computers, sometimes playing game after game into the dozens after dinner. I’m strong enough to beat most humans and any computer program not set to be too smart for me, but without setting the bar higher than I ever set it, it’s not possible to become very strong. Most veteran tournament players should be able to mop the floor with me. Give me a good opponent, and I’ll get stronger, fast; but in jail, in my upper sixties, I probably got as strong as I’ll ever get (and I’m probably already much weaker again by now, not having found a single game since my release.)
I think my second opponent at South8C was Isaac. I have a separate module to talk about racial experiences in that highly artificial environment. Isaac wasn’t just “black”; Isaac was ugly black, deliberately ugly black. I don’t just mean the scar on his face that told of some life-threatening encounter that he had paid a price for in flesh: I mean he was confrontational-ugly.
Whoops: here’s a aside that goes far beyond “race” for generalizations. Gregory Bateson taught us that there are two types of human relationship: symmetrical and complementary. (He didn’t say there were only two, or learn one thing and you have the whole story: shut up and pay attention, Bateson, the master, is speaking, albeit through pk.) In a symmetrical relationship one party says to the other, “My big brother can beat up your big brother” — and the other responds, “Oh, yeah? Well my father could break every bone in your father’s little body.” The address is aggressive, confrontational: symmetrical. You push, I push back.
Here in contrast is a complementary encounter:
He: I’m so strong. Look at my muscles. She: Ooo, you’re so strong. Look at your muscles.
Here the female doesn’t oppose the male; she fits in with the male’s boast.
Notice: the word I am using is “complement”: as in “fits together.” I made this point once to a girl friend not the brightest (and not at all “educated”) and she said, “Well I’ve paid you plenty of compliments. How about you pay some to me for a change?” See? She was being symmetrical; not complementary: at least in that detail at that moment: she was plenty complementary at other times in other ways.
All of us need to master both types of relationship. But I’ve noticed, especially among down trodden blacks (and all blacks in jail are downtrodden, as are all non-blacks). They’re the victim and they want so hard to be the victimizer: so they love smash-mouth male symmetrical confrontational bullshit. Push, push, push, push, push. Hear a kind word, say a mean word. Hear a mean word, say a meaner word.
“I’ll beat you up,” said Isaac as we set up the board. “Don’t be so sure,” I answered. “I can play this game.” “Oh, I ain’t worried about you,” Isaac said, and looked away: further demoting me in his demolition game.
I won our first game. In the ensuing weeks I didn’t play Isaac many times. Our score when I left was probably something like 5:1 or 6:2. He won plenty if he stuck to weak players.
Soon I played Felipé. I may have played Felipé thrice before I beat him once. By the end we weren’t that far from 50/50; though I’m sure that it wasn’t quite even and that he had, and kept, the edge. Thanks to Felipé I quickly achieved the greatest strength I’d ever had.
“You make some good moves,” Felipé once said to me: “And you make some not-so-good moves.”
Once after I’d lost another tough encounter to Felipé, I walked away shaking my head, and someone leaned close to my ear. “Always realize,” he said, “when Felipé beats you, you’ve been gang tackled: he’s a schiz, he has multiple personalities!”
(2016 09 15 Just read a funny quote from Zoot Sims about Stan Getz: Zoot said, “Stan is a nice bunch of guys.” Plural, for sure.)
Felipé’s English was very poor, and my Spanish is close to non-existent. It’s a shame. I would have liked to discuss chess theory with him. Though I came to learn, from players I would come to meet far better than Felipé, players who helped make me better yet (till I think I may have gotten close to 1900, maybe), that jail is full of moderately strong players who’ve merely played so much that they recognize myriad patterns. They can play into, and out of, many situations, but have never really learned the basics: such as taught by Capablanca. In Miami, then again at Jesup, I was sure I was meeting geniuses, not just black jail birds. I’d probe, I’d seek other aspects of mind, or original intelligence in them. I never found any (which doesn’t prove there was none there): good basic brain pan, undeveloped mind: except for chess (and maybe drug dealing, or I don’t know what else.) (PS. I recently saw American Gangster. Wonderful film. Bravo Ridley Scott! Denzel Washington! Russell Crowe! Crowe’s detective tries to tell some bureaucrat cop that Denzel’s Frank isn’t just a thug; he’s the kingpin. And the cop won’t believe that any black could be so smart: all that good detective work dismissed without a thought. Clearly Frank’s mind was developed; but not to be a Rhodes scholar.
Once day Felipé came back from court, very upset. He kept staring at some papers he held in his hand. He asked me to tell him something the papers supposedly said. I cannot read government forms, forms from any bureaucracy, but I tried here, for Felipé’s sake. I don’t think I learned what he wanted to know, but I did figure out the code for what he’d been accused of and stood trial for. In Felipé’s case I even believe that the charges were true: Felipé was a gun runner.
I’d been told he was Cuban. I’d been told he was Mexican. I never even understood what sort of “guns” he’d sold to whom.
I’ll never forget one game I had with Felipé. He was creaming me. I was helpless, down a rook, with no mobility. His back rank was strong. His king was castled on the king side.
When first playing with my chess computers I noticed: if I got decidedly ahead, the computer, Black, would suddenly start giving up all its remaining pieces. I presume it was hoping I’d get careless and drift into a stalemate. Hell, it happened.
Here with Felipé I decided, I had no chance, I’d play a joke: I’d give up my pieces in spectacular fashion: a kamikaze resignation.
“Felipé,” I said, “Now pay attention. Watch closely.” Felipé looked up at me.
“Check,” I screamed, taking his king rook with my queen.
Felipé looked at my queen. She sat helpless next to his king. His other rook and his queen were only a few moves from checkmating my king. Felipé looked at the board. “All right,” he said: and turned his king over! He resigned!
Did he see something I had missed? I don’t think so. I think I just intimidated him.
Simon too was a political prisoner. Simon wrote the book “I Know Who Killed Jack Kennedy.” He wanted to publish a book about his involvement in assassination attempts on Ronald Reagan. The fed didn’t want him to, he said. Thus, he was in jail. Others said it was because his wife had made a deal with the FedBoP: their role in the deal was to keep him away from her. I know that Simon was delusional. I also believe that shutting him up was part of why he was imprisoned. The fed sent him to FDC Miami, Charlie West, for “psychological” “evaluation.” Miami would ship him to Butler, psycho penitentiary. Butler would ship him back. They’d been shuttlecocking Simon like a badminton game for years.
Simon loved power. He loved to order me around, or try. “Paul, sit down. We’ll play three games. Here, you take White.”
Simon said I played pawns better than any player he’d ever seen. I don’t know who he’d seen but I agree: I play them damn well, anticipating future developments, eight, twelve moves ahead.
Simon never seemed to mind if I beat him eight games in a row, ten games in a row. Though Simon would occasionally beat me two, even three, games in a row. Not often.
Simon had a zillion tricks. Just as I had my noose tight around Simon’s king, he’d say he had to make a phone call. What? was he hoping I’d forget how to check mate? Finally I’d just say to him, if you take more than thirty seconds, you’ve resigned. He’d come back and find me playing against someone else.
“Paul,” Simon said, “You’re my best friend: and you don’t even like me.” Simon must have liked the ring of it, because thereafter he said it several more times. Actually, I did like Simon; I just had to resist how he tried to enslave anyone who would let him.
2014 02 05 Today Yahoo has an article on Nadal pausing his Australian Open final to treat a bad back, throwing Stan Warwinka totally out of his winning momentum. Just like Simon? Stan closed him anyway but not until he’d first wavered.
I want to tell lots of stories about Yogi, but I start with a rough introduction. By the time I got to FDC Miami I’d been imprisoned in the sherif’s office, in the FBI’s car, in a federal court house, in two county jails, and finally, in a dedicated federal facility, FDC Miami. Miami was a thousand times better than the county jails in terms of food, clothing, bedding, showers … survival considerations such as temperature …
Miami also had an abundance of good to very good chess players. The best couple of players were starkly better than the best players at Gun Club, and as I’ve tried to emphasize, there were a few very good players at Gun Club. Once again, my own play improved.
I think Yogi, with the possible exception of me, was the best player at Miami. I sought Yogi as an opponent, but I avoided him as a regular opponent. He had to track me down, corner me, almost beg. “But Yogi,” I’d whimper, “playing you is like lifting heavy weights for me. It’s Hard work!”
I think my total record against Yogi was 15 wins for me, 5 wins for him. But I always felt like I was in imminent danger of losing.
Yogi said I could beat Anybody. Nice. Flattering, I know what he meant, but I don’t believe it was quite true.
And at Jesup there were several people who could play me into traps. At Miami my strength rose to the competition; at Jesup I probably slid backward a little bit. The best player there, WallStreet never played a single game against me. Those stories will come later.
When I arrived at Miami I found Simon as an opponent easily and soon. I’d beat him ten for ten or nine for ten, but he never tired of getting beat up by me: and He was rapidly gaining strength as he became accustomed to seeing his attacks cut to shreds by yours truly.
Simon said that the best player at Miami, the winner of the last tournament, was Singletary. But he cautioned, Kenny Miller is up and coming. Simon predicted that Kenny would be giving Singletary a run for his money by the next tournament.
I hung around, waiting to catch the eye of Singletary and Miller, line up a game. Singletary ignored me. I never did get to play him a single game. But I played Kenny a number of times: losing every single one, though sometimes I was a pawn or two up on him before he’d turn the tide and slide me into a corner, a noose tightening around my king.
(But wait, I want to make a point about “doing time” before I proceed.)
I loved Kenny. I thought he was good looking. I liked his baleful macho stare. His stare may have helped him in winning. I don’t think even a confident person could avoid feeling a little nervous in that street presence. I say “street”; but actually Kenny may have spent very little time on the streets. He told me he’d been in jail “all his life”: reform school, and on to jail.
Kenny was the first jailhouse black I thought had to be brilliant because of his strong chess. Though probing, I never found anything but the chess.
One day a barber from outside Charlie West came. after cutting hair for a few hours, he announced that he could beat anybody in the house at chess. I immediately started setting up a board. Kenny came and pushed me aside. Kenny’s muscles were hard as hard. Kenny didn’t bulge, he was just like iron. But I didn’t resist his take over because actually I wanted to see Kenny against the barber as much as I wanted myself to play the barber.
The barber won. Then the barber won the rematch. But I saw inefficiencies in the barber’s attack. Afterwards I told him, “You play well. I’m not saying I could beat you even two out of five; but: your game is not perfect. Even though you could beat me, I could teach you something.”
The barber said he knew very well that his game was not perfect. He didn’t ask me for an example, and I never saw him again. I did though many times thereafter set up the board to a position where the barber checked Kenny with the queen. I announced that I saw the queen check to be a wasted move: what is the most efficient move for White? No one ever told me correctly.
There’s a rule in chess weak players needn’t bother to know but that’s important for good players. In a rodeo as on the range it’s important for a cowboy to be able to rope and tie the herd animal slick and quick. A good player can cause a weak player who happens to have the advantage in a freak game to fail to win. It’s humiliating to see your win degenerate into a draw. The rule states that a player can demand that he be checkmated within X number of moves or it’s a draw. Thus: wasted moves count.
I’ll tell what the lesson was that I offered to no takers, at least not that day in Miami: I’ve taught the principle in other places: a different dorm in Miami, up in Jesup … I learned this from Capablanca, then double learned it from Bobby Fischer. Powerful pieces can check mate a king without any help from their own king. A queen and rook and queen and knight, can checkmate even if the winning king never moved from his original position. But not in close games. A king+pawn can beat a solo king but only if the advantaged player knows how to play his king. There’s nothing in chess more important than know how to use the king. King+pawn has to know how to use the king to advance, and not lose, the pawn till the king protects the pawn as it queens on the back rank. Now it’s a king+queen ending: a very different affair. Still, the king must be properly used: the queen traps the enemy king on the bank rank. Now the victor king must move to the sixth rank. There he must pin the king in opposition. Say the white queen is at A7. The black king is anywhere on the back rank not in check from the queen: thus, the black king can be at C8, or D8 … or H8. The White king must move on the sixth rank till on black’s move black’s only possible move is into opposition. In opposition, white to move, white wins with Q@A7 to A8: or B8: or between the two kings, check, checkmate.
The barber had king+queen, Kenny’s king was on the black side of the board but not on the back rank. The barber checked with the queen. No, the barber should have advanced his king a rank, cutting down the distance to a trap on the back rank. And obvious win for white, the barber; but not if the moves are being counted. No room for waste.
By mid-February 2007 I was transferred back north for my sentencing. I didn’t return to Miami till early March. And when I did there was a new chess player in town: Yogi.
The first thing I heard was that Yogi had beat Kenny!
Someone pointed him out to me: big fat guy, tall as well as enormously fat: loud and obnoxious.
One afternoon I sat near Yogi at dinner. I introduced myself, said I heard he was strong, and that I hoped we’d play. Yogi answered me quite civilly.
Soon after that though I saw for myself. Kenny and Yogi were playing chess on the ping pong table sometimes set up on the lower level of the NE side of Charlie West. Kenny studied the board. It was his turn. Yogi walked around, disdaining to look at the board, or at Kenny. Kenny moves. Yogi materializes at the board, slams a piece to a new position. “Check!” he screams.
Kenny studies the board. Yogi circles back. “Here’s where I KILL A N-. CHECK!” Yogi screams.
[Bowdlerizing K., 2016 08 01, I censor an offensive word and substitute something more obscene: euphemism!]
Kenny is sitting there. His baleful stare doesn’t look so intimidating now, it’s the look of the dying. Kenny is getting shredded.
Yogi checkmates him within another couple of moves. The moves are forced, Kenny is helpless. Yogi had pummeled him as though he were a child!
A while later, Kenny is off in the SHU (Jail Glossary), Yogi and I are great friends, Yogi begging me for games, me giving him just a few, Yogi is desperately trying reverse the number of wins against me in his favor, I tell Yogi, “You know, I Never beat Kenny. Not once.”
“You must have let him intimidate you then,” Yogi assured me. “There’s no way Kenny’s game matches yours.”
Now: I’ve told a couple of Yogi chess stories, and a couple of Kenny chess stories: Notice: I’ve also been telling a couple of “black” stories. Kenny was what any racist would call a street n-. Yogi was this intimidating street black (apparently running a successful street business from inside, with a little help from some friends (more stories on that coming)). Yogi was rude, vulgar, disrespectful in the extreme … with Kenny! but was a gentleman with me! How much of that was because I’m (ahem, excuse me) “white”?
I’m glad Yogi treated me with respect. I’m sorry Yogi treated Kenny with disrespect. (Had they known each other previously?) How much of Yogi’s treating me with respect was racist? I’d like to think that he accurately saw some qualities in me that warranted being polite. Now that I think of it, I can’t recall Yogi being polite with any other white guys: I can’t remember him relating to other white guys at all. Most of his opponents were black.
Well, I include that speculation here in this section on Yogi and chess; it could have gone into my module on Jail Reflections: Race. Things are like that. Marilyn Monroe was an actress, she was also a female, she was also an American. If we classify her as American, it doesn’t mean that she is not female, or is not an actress. Things can be lots of things: all at once.
One day at Miami I was playing chess with I don’t remember whom and Yogi and Robbie, another strong player (another black guy), a guy with a very strange beard, a guy hairy all over, like a bear, came and stood watching. The neighboring tables were already filled with the usual kibbizers — guys who just want to watch TV normally sit at tables a bit more toward the center of the day room: we were way at the north end, a chess end on that occasion, and other guys also gathered, standing. “He’s slow,” a newcomer sneered.
Yogi looked at this young (black) man with bemusement. “He plays too slow,” the guy reasserted. “Everybody says so.”
Yogi looked him in the eye. Understand: Yogi is huge. Yogi’s got this deep voice. He rumbles like a big cement mixer. Yogi is one very intimidating dude. I bet that’s a key part to why Yogi destroyed everybody in the place — except me — at chess. Yogi says, so the whole world hears him, “He plays G o o d!
Oh, just one quick Robbie story: I first saw Robbie in the exercise room. I was on the digital bike, doing my 35 or 40 minutes: 12 “miles” or so. Robbie was lifting “weights”: a couple of small medicine balls wrapped in a laundry bag was the closest we had to bar bells. Someone came in and out, said something to Robbie about chess.
I then saw Robbie in the dayroom and pointed to a chessboard. Twenty, thirty … moves into our chess game I couldn’t find a single weakness in his play. I was struggling like a demon not to make any blunders myself. Forty … or more moves in, Robbie picks up a piece, puts it back down, stands up, starts to move away … “I can’t do a thing with you, Old Man.”
Wow. He gave up! Walked away! Didn’t play me again for months. But he played Yogi all the time, and Yogi typically pulverized him. I don’t know, with Yogi, Robbie didn’t seem to mind.
Ah, a fond Yogi memory: I play Yogi scared out of my wits, but somehow I won our first five games, he did all the threatening to win, I did all the winning. I don’t think either of us could believe the score. Then he won, then again, and again. He’d win three straight; but then I’d win the next couple!
So one particular game, I’m playing black. Yogi wastes no time getting into his typical bishop on C4, set up to double, triple attack the F7 square. Yogi knows I lay back. He knows I wait, try to lay traps … but aggressive play with no clear (to me) blunder can get me constricted: I can’t get out of my own way to counter attack. Uh oh. What the hell. Pawn to D5!
I shoved that pawn right in his bishop’s face. An exchange would leave us even in material, but with me unconstricted, actually better developed than white!
Yogi had over-relied on my over-caution. I went on to win. Days later, Yogi smiled at me, shook his head. “When you came out with that pawn,” he said, big, fat, strong, abrasive Yogi, “You scared me!”
I’m ashamed, but half-proud as well, of the following story:
The young Bobby Fischer in the 1950s used to haunt the chess clubs of NYC, there was one on Times Square, for example, wearing a rain coat for “disguise,” and challenging guys to play chess “for a quarter.”
“No way! You think we don’t recognize you, Bobby?” was a typical response. But normally chess is a game of mental blood, not economic blood. Chess players keep score — JoJo is 14 and 18 against JayJay — but don’t typically exchange coin. There are however players who seldom play except for money. And in jail there were groups, typically black groups, who played — chess, or cards, or anything — only for stakes, and typically the stakes were some sort of punishment. A guy would lose a hand and get down on the ground and knock out ten: pushups maybe, or deep knee bends.
I had noticed that pattern of behavior in some card games, but I hadn’t transferred recognition to chess until a situation in which I was embarrassingly slow on the uptake.
The Jesup complex consisted of a few different prisons. I was in the FSL: Federal Satellite Low. There was also a “camp,” with the supposedly lowest security. Jesup may also have had a “medium” security prison. The several prison administration buildings are not far from each other; mess halls and “class” rooms come next; and dorms and exercise yards are on the outer periphery. The mess hall is next to a “pavilion” a roofed free time area. The administration, through the guards, controls inmate movements. There are times when we had to be in our cells. There were times when we had to be standing in our cells. There were times when we didn’t not have to be in our cells but did have to be in our dorms, there were times, three a day, when we were permitted to go to the mess hall to eat (there were inmates who seldom to never ate in the mess hall! preferring to subsist on commissary purchases or snax from a vending machine); there were times when we could be anywhere we wanted within the FSL confines: cell, dorm, porch, pavilion … yard … Even so movement among those areas was timed: five minutes per hour or thereabouts. The gate would be announced “open” and you could walk from the dorm to the pavilion, then the gate would be closed: and you had to wait till the next Controlled Move. For that period you were stuck on the dorm side of things, or on the pavilion side of things.
One morning I’d missed a “move” to the pavilion. Typical. Hard of hearing I heard very little of what the guards announced: which didn’t stop the morons in charge from holding me accountable, for threatening me with the SHU, finally putting me there, for not knowing when we were supposed to be standing in our cells to be “counted.” I wanted to be in the Music Room with a guitar in my hand, but I saw a couple of guys, black guys I didn’t know though I’d seen them, playing chess in front of the A unit. I walked over from my B unit, watched, saw their game end. “Can I have next?” I asked: meaning, May I now play the winner?
Th winner said, No. His opponent, said, Go ahead, I don’t mind. The winner allowed me to take the opposite side of the board. “Jumping Jacks,” he said: “Ten Jumping Jacks.”
Huh? I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then it dawned on me: I’d seen guys doing pushups after losing a hand at cards. The guy was dictating stakes, and the stakes were physical exercise as a punishment. The winner was maybe forty. The guy he’d just beaten was maybe twenty. I was sixty-eight. What was being declared didn’t make sense to me, then it offended me. Looking back now, I think I was over-reacting.
Understand: I don’t gamble. I don’t play for “stakes”: other than ego, other than life, death … As I figured out what was meant — the loser was to perform ten jumping jack exercises. I said I got it, but my spirit curdled, a demon entered me and took control. “You mean you expect me to lose?!?!”
I shuffled two pawns behind me back to chose color, but the guy insisted I play white. OK. Wham! I pushed the king pawn.
Understand: I’m a slow player, a careful player. Even with beginnings I don’t play by any memorized pattern. Guys complain that I’m too slow. Guys who are intrigued by how I beat them time and again come not to mind my slowness. But I wasn’t slow this morning: I slammed my next move, immediately as black moved.
Normally I lay back. I don’t attack until I see that my opponent has made a mistake. With most opponents I never have to wait more than eight moves before they blunder. Otherwise I counter attack. I let them attack. I embrace their attack. I enfold their attacking pieces and cut them from the board.
Not this morning. I attacked. Wham! Wham. Swiftly his king had to leave his castle. Wham! His king was forced out toward the center of the board on the king side. Wham! Wham! And pawn to F4 was checkmate.
Had I seen the checkmate coming? Had I planned it? No, not at all. But my dander was up. I played like a real shit head, but a really great, devastating shit head.
“I’m sorry,” his previous opponent said. “I’ll never let that happen to you again.”
Me, I’m sorry I never spoke to the guy again, never crossed his path. I would have liked to explain, if not apologize.
Oh, wait: where are my chess stories about the Salvation Army half-way house in Palm Beach? I taught a guy to play and the next thing we know he’s beating an experienced good payer, one who had given me a hard time before crumbling!
I also love my memory of some guy slamming a wad of cash on the table and declaring that his money was on the Old Man: me! At the half-way house some guys had jobs, had been half-way free for a long time, long enough to build a wad: of fifties if not hundreds.
2016 12 01 Hey, do you see that this guy Magnus Carlsen won the championship again? Good looking bastard. He became simultaneous champions for standard chess, rapid chess, and blitz chess: the first such triple champion. Wow.
Note, thus far I’d just told chess stories from my experiences with chess in jail. Other chess stories leaked in. I need to restructure, revise, but no emergency.
2017 04 03 I saw a wonderful chess bio pic on Magnus Larsen recently. Worthy subject, Magnus replaces Bobby well, great looking guy. Last week I yielded to temptation by entering a movie featuring girls playing chess, A Little Game. Moving opening, attractive cast, but soon the pic was annoying more than moving me. Finally it’s over: and I’m back to loving the girls, a couple of t hem; but the lead is special.
Did the movie have any chess wisdom? Not that I saw.But: A) it’s chess! B) it’s girls! And it depicts NYC, Washington Square, etc. as chock full of diversity.