JOHN HALL stood kind of tall, looked kind of shy and if he talked at all he just said hi. Big John looked more than a little like Buddy Holly … just as tragic … was on the road summer 1968/60 day/25 state urban legend with SUBU THE INDIAN, FRITZ THE POET, ACERS, BILLS and a two week stay at Max Burkett’s legendary “CHESS HOUSE” … 300 block of Haight Street/San Francisco. ACERS RECALLS EYEWITNESS WORD FOR WORD MEMORIES OF KR SMITH/JOHN HALL/LYNNE BABCOCK ON THE TEXAS GAME OF THE CENTURY … THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUE NEW YORK TIMES FEATURE STORY OF JOHN HALL. DEFEATING OLYMPIAD WORLD CHESS MEDAL WINNER KENT COMMONS IN HOUSTON/LOS ANGELES NATIONAL TELEPHONE LEAGUE … FLAT ON HIS BACK ON THE HOUSTON CHESS CLUB FLOOR IN GREAT PAIN/FUELED BY MASSIVE MARIJUANA LIGHT UP RIGHT OFF A PLANE IN HOUSTON, TEXAS, USING ONLY A DEMONSTRATION WALL CHESS BOARD FOR RELAYED TELEPHONE MOVES …with more than one hundred thunderstruck onlookers watching every move … IN THEIR OWN EYEWITNESS WORDS THE PEOPLE WHO WERE THERE RELIVE IT AS IT HAPPENED … THE STORY OF THE TEXAS CHESS GAME OF THE CENTURY as they lived it …
It all happened in 24 unbelievable hours and of all places in a Long Island, New York small public library off Jerico turnpike. The first/worth at least $200,000 LIFETIME income and a media hook beyond compare for me alone forever … AND AT LEAST A BARE LIVIING … saved made my entire chess career … JULY 1, 1976 … a small blurb in the Christian Science Monitor weekly chess column out weeks in advance noted I would play a world record 200 opponents on the 200th birthday of the nation. Guinness Book of World Records monster 4TH OF JULY 1976 WEEKEND chess exhibition at Mid Isle Plaza in Long Island and the stunned DELIGHTED new mall owners/TOTALLY UNFAMILIAR organizers went ahead at the last second FOR THIS REASON ONLY: rather than cancel and pay me three thousand dollars forfeit contract … (SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL PUBLIC LIBRARY!! Especially if it has a chess club AT 57 POST STREET 4TH FLOOR IN SAN FRANCISICO!!!!) … AN OUT OF THIS WORLD freakish addenda was a brown envelope in an old brown unused corner desk from (already retired and long gone) Yakima, Washington mega watt promo chess genius RUSSELL MILLER … contained a 1974 RUSSELL MILLER hand drawn chess newspaper advertisement ready to plop in right now …( AND RAKE IN THAT NICE media in print automatic MEDIA SET UP FEE … FOR DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! …. FOR LUCKY MALL MANAGERS ACROSS THE NATION!) … ROCKET TO FIVE NEWSPAPERS RIGHT NOW. Staggering unbelievable luck … A lovely secretary, the wife of a New York policeman, found the Miller masterwork at the last moment: ‘Hey, guys, look at this. We can use this as it ready to go. We do not need to design anything.’ As I was shocked at my good luck I looked down at the small public library loaned overnight New York Times JULY 1, 1976 EDITION AND ABSOLUTELY COULD NOT BELIEVE MY EYES … John Hall of Dallas Texas/all time great road creature and urban legend had played his immortal game while almost dying of illness … and Robert Byrne and Edmar Mednis of the New York Times chess column made absolutely certain it would be know all over the world … this epic wonderful day in my life, this absolute treasure did not capture the minute for minute eyewitness accounts of this marvelous story … Lynn Babcock epic Houstpon chess organizer/the incredible SMITH MORRA GAMBIT MAN KR SMITH/DALLAS TEXAS CHESS GENIUS WHO PLAYED 5 PEOPLE BLINDFOLDED/simultaneously 5 MINUTE CHESS ON FLORIDA TELEVISION … THE CHESS DIGEST MAGAZINE BOOKS PUBLISHER … the OFFICIAL IN WRITING SECOND TO FISCHER WORLD CHAMPION ICELAND 1972 and internationally known chess master/poker player … and finally John Hall himself take you there as it REALLY HAPPENED …
LYNNE BABCOCK, Houston chess organizer extraordinaire, remembers:
You must understand it was nothing short of a miracle … I did not even know who John Hall was, a name from another time. I was crushed and fearful as our chess team had lost every single game. Houston television was coming to help us and we were just trying not to lose in front of many children new players … give them a story or at least a bright note … I phoned international tourney player Ken Smith at Chess Digest AND BEGGED HIM REPEATEDLY TO GET ON A PLANE AND PLAY BOARD ONE … Kim Commons, the incredible winner of 5 straight European international tourneys, was the Los Angeles board number one over the telephone with terrific media coverage on both team locations … even worse, Commons had just destroyed a world team Olympiad and won an Olympiad medal on his board … Smith explained he could not get on the plane as his under ground construction Dallas firm had a multi million dollar contract signing session that very afternoon … I was deeply affected/emotional … then he said Lynn I owe you big for all your help to chess, the Chess Digest magazine and book sales. I am going to put a player on the plane for first board but Lynn it will be one time only … I am sending John Hall who I have working for me as a proofreader and chessbook author. He is sick but will play if I ask him … he lives in an apartment I got him a block away … I asked Smith, ‘Who? Who is he? Is he really good?’ Smith replied instantly: ‘Lynn, he is the best you have ever seen … Commons is in deep trouble as he will feel the need to overpress. Hall fears no one in the whole world …’ When HALL arrived, rushed off a plane from Dallas, he smiled politely/whispering softly to me, asked to lie down immediately in front of a giant demonstration chess wall board and play all the moves on it … ‘I am sorry but I am a little sick but don’t worry it will work out all right.’ He broke out in a nice reassuring huge gracious smile … ‘We are so afraid we are going to lose on board one,’ I told him. Mr. Hall whispered, ‘Ma’am, that is just not going to happen.’ None of the people in the whole building knew who he was and gazed in wonder as he rocketed out his favorite Kings Indian Attack. We did not know he was a world authority on the variation and had played hundreds of games with it … it was one amazing ride. Halls moves were really coming in like bombs at the end … we were thrilled and encouraged from that day on … and the children had seen a great player indeed, even if for one time only in their lives …
EYEWITNESSES TO “THE TEXAS GAME OF THE CENTURY,” KENNETH R. SMITH AND JOHN HALL,, AS TOLD TO JUDE ACERS/DALLAS, 1981 …
John Hall started it off:
I know no one will ever hear the true story of that game and certainly never believe it happened…it was all so startling.. And everyone lost their minds in Texas when the game hit the New York Times.
Kenneth R. Smith, millionaire poker player/chess master and construction company CEO, made no little bones about his role:
Look, Jude, I was ruthless … I was going to spend big bucks and Texas was not going to be crushed on board one … no way … After getting LYNN BABCOCKS DESPERATE ten hours to go PHONE CALL … I knew Hall was such a great player even sick that he was going on the plane to Houston in 4 hours flat … Jude, you know I do gambling poker and the like and I know about limousines/airports/moving fast when a big poker game comes up … I played for a 200 thousand dollar OVERNIGHT poker pot in a Lafayette, Louisiana hotel and was even helicoptered in once! Now, this was personal as Lynn was a close friend … so I got the big bucks 500 big dollars plus thousand dollar win bonus guaranteed and all expenses and limousine drivers I personally knew in both Dallas and Houston … I catered in food and juices for Hall as he arrived in the limo … and of course I booked every single seat first class section paid in advance just for Hall so he could stretch out flat and be comfortable and believe me I had all of Commons black pieces 1975-1976 chess games in a binder READY FOR A LOOKIE HERE BY HALL ON THE PLANE … A fantastic player like Hall just needs a general idea of what is coming up … his enormous talent and knowledge takes over on automatic pilot after that … Best money I spent in my whole life, PERIOD.
AND, FINALLY, JOHN HALL REMEMBERS HOW IT ALL CAME DOWN FROM A ROOM IN THE DARKNESS:
There was huge unremitting bang on the door and I was in pitch blackness for sleep and was on the floor as when I am sick that is where I find the least pain. ‘John, sorry baby, but this is an emergency… You are on a plane to Houston and here is 500 dollars … a limo was waiting …’ I could barely move and just barely got to the door before waking up … Smith made his case and I saw it was so important to him … he was paying big buckolas … not garbage … I would play a world class player with no preparation in Houston right off a plane in hours but Smith had all the latest Kim Commons games on the plane … I knew a player of my experience would know what to do. Jude, I will be honest. At first I thought Kim Commons is a tremendous player and I know I will lose of course but as I am heading to the airport in the limousine I know my painkiller marijuana is solid. I will smoke it discreetly like a gentleman … everyone will understand … my mind begins to focus in high gear. I do a little tactical puzzle warm up reading on the plane and of course when I hit Houston I realize if it flies it dies … Commons will have to play great to even draw … Lynn is very nice and afraid because I am ill … but I told her not to worry and asked for the demo wall board to placed in front of me … AS I LAY FLAT OUT ON THE FLOOR … as I lit up my best golden stuff painkiller … like you, Jude, I did not ask permission about anything … I just did what had to be done. I could not believe my eyes when Commons entered a main line against my Kings Indian attack as I knew he would die if he did not simplify immediately … my king appeared in danger but I had enormous bishop pair and positional edge … I could calculate effortlessly 5-10 moves deep instantly all danger and was amused as I could hear worried comments in the background … the game was all over and I knew it instantly when he did not exchange pieces immediately … it all happened so fast. When the New York Times and Informator published the game … I sat for a long time in a downtown elegant Dallas hotel with the publications one time only in hand. I never looked at them again. But, Jude, I thought … if only this … after all I have endured with my crazy body does to me … it was the event of a lifetime for me and worth it all.
Then John Hall stopped and whispered,
I guess I still have it … a little.
Jude Acers in Dallas, TX nodded in surprise and murmured to Hall,
You sure do.
— Jude Acers
Update: JOHN HALL’S IMMORTAL GAME … GO HERE TO SEE “THE TEXAS GAME OF THE CENTURY”
Hey, Jude, thanks for posting this. I had the pleasure of knowing John later in life in Los Angeles. We had become friends because we both lived near UCLA.
I stopped seeing him and feared the worst. Fortunately he shared with me his chess past, so I was able to find this. Please let me know if you have more info about his passing.
Did John Hall pass away?
John was a roommate of mine back in Houston around the year 1986. I was at a simo he held with around 25 players. I think it was a $25 entrance fee, if you want you got your 25 back plus another 25, if you pulled a draw you would just get your 25 back. He said at a desk with a microphone and would say number 18 what was your move, you would reply, and he would say something like mate in five. The man dealt with a lot of back pain.