Most serious chess players eventually join their city’s chess club, where strong competition can be found and lasting friendships formed. Some players become fixtures at these establishments, waging their silent battles and passing on our chess heritage to youngsters or beginners. Stories and anecdotes build up around such characters, the solid pillars of any chess club – and then they’re gone. That old guy who used to sit at the corner table, reading chess magazines and taking on all comers. What was his name again?
His name was John Hurt. He started winning chess tournaments in 1933, and when he moved to Memphis in 1961 Mr. Hurt became a dominant force there for the next 25 years. Many times city and club chess champion, this gentleman gave countless exhibitions for schools and youth groups. He published a pamphlet on gambits, and loved to attack your King. John Hurt handed the game of chess to a new generation of Memphis players; he was the guy at the corner table reading chess magazines, taking on all comers.
We know these things because the Memphis City Chess Club has done an excellent job of preserving their history. The club historian, Dwight Weaver, maintains a web page to this end with lists of champions, past tournaments and notable events. We find that the Memphis Chess Club was founded in 1877 and that a 1901 simul by Pillsbury energized the members, growing their numbers and stimulating regular chess tournaments. We learn that a World Chess Championship game was played in Memphis, between Lasker and Marshall in 1907, and of other visits by famous Grandmasters.
Even the US Open trophy used between 1900 and 1914 is housed here, and has been in the Memphis Chess Club’s possession for nearly 100 years.
Many such American chess clubs have a long and proud history, and not just the top names in big cities. This second and third tier history, this “secret” chess history, is where our royal game really lives – in that corner seat where the old guy reads chess magazines and takes on all comers. He’s there because another fellow sat there before him, and another before that. So sit down and have a game; it’s your club’s future history being made.