Chess champ gives back to the game he loves
PRESCOTT - Tom Green learned how to play chess in the fourth grade, but it wasn't until a year later while living in Oregon that he became enamored with the game.
At the time, Green's uncle was serving in the Navy and stationed in the western Pacific American territory of Guam. Green's aunt was there, too, and she mailed him a letter asking him a basic question.
"She said, 'You send me the money and I can get you either a mahjong set (Chinese board game) or a chess set. Which would you like?' " Green recalled Thursday.
Green, who had saved some cash that he earned from picking berries in an orchard as a youngster, didn't hesitate. He sent his aunt $42.50 for a hand-carved ivory chess set, and he's been playing ever since.
Today, Green is a 65-year-old gifted veteran player from Prescott who teaches a Chess Fundamentals class that's part of a special interest group in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Yavapai College.
On Nov. 17 and 18 at the 2012 Arizona Senior Open chess tournament in Tucson, Green won a plaque as the top senior 60-years-of-age-or-older among a group of eight competitors. He recorded a 3-2 record in the five-round event, with his only losses coming to players in their 50s who finished first and second at the tournament that included a total of 16 seniors ages 50 and up.
While Green has his own self-interest at heart in competition, there's a part of him that wants to give back to the community and keep chess thriving.
Nowadays, Green drives down to Phoenix on Mondays through Wednesdays to teach and coach the game to Mesa school students in kindergarten through the sixth grade.
He works for a Phoenix-based company called Chess Emporium, which reaches out to more than 300 schools in the Valley. Green is one of between 40-45 coaches under its employ.
From 3-4:30 p.m. on Thursdays at Yavapai College, Green invites folks interested in chess to meet him at the cafeteria in Building 3 to play. As part of one of the college's special interest groups, he brings chess boards and chess clocks.
For two hours before the session, he teaches a chess class through OLLI.
This week, two women from Prescott Valley, Dale Dillinger and Suzanne Stock, were playing chess next to Green at a table in the cafeteria.
Dillinger and Stock, who took Green's Fundamentals in Chess class, said they appreciate Green's gift for teaching the game. They enrolled so they could learn how to win and keep their minds mentally sharp.
"When I was a child, my brother taught me, but he taught me all wrong, and so now I'm learning the right way," Stock said. "My major problem is seeing the whole board and strategizing across the entire board instead of just sticking with one little area and then having your queen get taken over because you weren't watching."
In childhood, decades ago, Dillinger picked up chess from sailors on a Navy ship.
"I forgot practically everything, except the names of the pieces and how they move," she said. "But my strategy was zero because I had so much help."
To which Green replied, "Well, you knew a little bit. You've got a very logical mind."
Chess received a promotional boost in the U.S. in 1972 when famous American Grandmaster Bobby Fischer, now deceased, defeated the former Soviet Union's Boris Spassky for the World Championship.
At that point Green, who years earlier had helped start a chess club at his high school in Portland, Ore., joined the U.S. Chess Federation.
But since he lived in places that didn't have many chess tournaments, he started playing correspondence chess through the mail, facing other players in games one move at a time before the advent of personal computers.
Green competed in the U.S. Postal Championships, a.k.a. The Golden Knights, on numerous occasions, and he also represented the U.S. in international competition. He's also been a tournament director.
For years, Green has played in tournaments, and he still enjoys them. In 1982 and 1992, he competed in the U.S. Open in which players play one game a day for two weeks for prizes.
Green, who at one time was a highly ranked master in correspondence chess, said he stopped playing that game a few years ago "because you no longer knew if you were playing a computer or a person."
These days, computer software is so sophisticated that it can beat even the best human chess players. Nevertheless, computers have revolutionized the game by speeding it up. Every week, all the top games in the world are downloadable.
"I have a database with a million and a half games in it," said Green, adding that he plays chess on the Internet all the time. "The amount of information that's available has just taken off."
For more information about Green's chess offerings at Yavapai College, call him at 928-778-1111.