Jude Acers was busy making sure the recently arrived participants who will compete in the Paul Morphy Memorial Chess Tournament were paired off to play countless, practice games. Two days of intense chess competitions awaited everyone. Jude admonished: you need the practice now! Not later but now!
Chess set – check. Chess clock – check. Mr. B Bar & Restaurant, where chess players are welcomed and a nice venue – check. The Man in the Red Beret – check.
The game – it is always the game! No time to waste! Adult beverages, French Quarter sights and sounds, the babes, culinary delights, Cafe du Monde – are not relevant for the moment. It is the game – always!
Mr. B’s regulars and tourists witnessed an unusual sight this particular evening as chess players sprawled out onto booths and on bar tables. The steady, rhythmic punching of the chess clock was a pulsating sound reverberating throughout Mr. B’s.
While the practice games were competitive and ferocious there was always absolute courtesy, fun banter and good sportsmanship. Jude would have it no other way.
Jude himself joined in to test the Prince Urusov Gambit – a most dangerous weapon if the White pawn is accepted – versus the esteemed “Sir Laurie of London.” Sir Laurie was contemplative and not to be rushed. He steadfastly sidestepped Jude’s “secret weapon” (although the Man in the Red Beret had played this gambit his whole life) and deciding whether to head for side-line variations or the main opening line of this robust gambit.
Sir Laurie paused for a moment. Once more he looked at that “free” White e-pawn. Maybe this time he will capture it and let Jude demonstrate compensation for the pawn deficit. Didn’t Dr. Tarrasch teach us that the elements of chess are time, force and space? Those immutable, iron laws apply even in a smoky, New Orleans sports bar. Sir Laurie hesitated again – he was skeptical about taking White’s e-pawn. No main line Prince Urusov Gambit tonight.
While the vibrant tempo of swirling, constant chess activity and chess talk continued unabated little did everyone realize that THE GAME was being played right there – right now. The GAME is literally being played almost under Jude’s nose. More precisely, THE GAME was being played in the same booth sitting next to the titanic, epic Acers v Sir Laurie struggle.
THE GAME at first seemed like one of the many informal ones being played that evening. You know the type – casual games, replete with tactics and semi-sound combinations, completed in a furious fashion. The winner has momentary bragging rights, savors the victory, and just as quickly its all relegated to chess obscurity or chess Valhalla – take your pick. Let’s set the pieces up. Punch the chess clock and the next game begins.
Don Westfall, aka “Don The Mon,” was giving it his all. His nemesis for the evening was Jerrel Wolfe. Can you guess the nickname Jude bestowed upon Jerrel Wolfe? If you guessed “The Wolfeman” you are right on the money and probably have a clever knack for giving people nicknames already.
These two gladiators swung pieces at each other like ancient weapons. They traded wins back and forth. No quarter given and none asked for!
They were going to play one more game before calling it a night. Little did “Don The Mon” and “Wolfeman” realize that they would create a masterpiece checkmate that would be sewn permanently into the fabric of Jude Acers’ Paul Morphy Memorial Tournament lore. In fact, Paul Morphy in 1859 left to posterity a very similar checkmate. Was the spirit of Morphy being channeled through Don the Mon. It’s New Orleans – anything is possible!?
Don The Mon had carefully laid a cunning trap. He hoped against hope that Wolfeman would fall into it. “I had seen the checkmate several moves earlier,” Don the Mon said. “All that remained was for my opponent to fall into it – to get greedy.” Actions do have consequences – chess is no exception!
Don waited for a few seconds which seemed like an eternity. In Don’s mind time stood still. The Mr. B’s music, the crowds, the noise, the Prince Urusov Gambit, all weren’t there for a fraction of a second. It was a deafening silence. “Take the pawn with check – take my knight,” Don internalized over and over. “Please take these free gifts,” Don thought as he held his breath.
After due thought, Wolfeman banged the Black queen down with check. Don The Mon stoically slid his king to h1. Now was the moment of truth! Wolfeman saw no reason not to take the proffered, errant knight on d2. “Take the knight first and philosophize about it later,” thought the Wolfeman.
With exuberance and triumphant precision Don The Mon delivered the moves of a classic smothered mate. It was like an artist putting the final touches on the masterpiece canvas. It was done with pure joy!
Don The Mon was beyond ecstatic. It was one for the ages. “That’s it hand down – the best chess moves I have ever played. Smothered mate is so rare,” he said. He was almost dizzy with an adrenaline high. “Never did I think I would ever play something like this. So beautiful….”
As Don The Mon drifted off into the Olympic garden of satisfaction – the chess players came scrambling over to see the miracle that just took place. They set the position up and feverishly played out the mate. It was real. Even the Mr. B regulars and the slightly inebriated tourists elbowed their way over to see what all the commotion and strange code talk “smothered mate,” “knight f7 check,” “discovered, double check…if this, then that…” was about.
As THE GAME sunk into our collective consciousness we all experience that singular moment when chess players can, in their own way, feel a sense of creative satisfaction and aesthetic joy. Jude was deeply impressed – he didn’t even say anything for a total of five seconds.
“When he played 3. Kh1!! rather than protecting the knight, Don The Mon showed he saw it all – the unpluckable morsel!,” Jude said.
Jude thought it was a fitting conclusion to the game played at Mr. B which has a long history with chess. “I could not help but remember the earth-quaking chess bar “The Seven Seas” (which is today Mr. B) some 60 years ago. The names of A.L McAuley, Frank Repass III, Steve Buining, Richard Baldock, Andy Lockett, Albert Wills, Bernard Parun, GreenLeaf, Vines, and luscious, atomic Big Suzee baby with Cameron “the chess danger girl” also causing real tremors and hard times. (“Women are part of the game, Jude!” Grandmaster Isaac Kashdan, Los Angeles, 1969.) And that totally weird Louisiana kid on the run with Cafe Du Monde beignets white powder all over him, plus coffee, punching the battered sole surviving Seven Seas chess clock one more time…desperately trying to survive long before more than 1,000 exhibitions coast to coast. Getting wonderfully lost in this Seven Seas bar chess world,” he said.
“The Mon, a thunderous wonderful person, chess angel, real chess fan, just walks past their graves, uncorks this…it came as the event of a lifetime just at the right time for Don The Mon Westfall right off the plane! Boom!,” Jude said.
Don The Mon proudly takes a picture of the final checkmate position and sends it home on his iPhone. He is as a proud of this grand finale as he would be of a newborn grandchild.
And what of Wolfeman? It takes two to create a chess masterpiece. Ask Lionel Kieseritsky and Stepan Levitsky who were two very strong chess players in their day who are now mostly remembered for being the victims of celebrated victories. The Wolfeman was a great sport about it. He enjoyed replaying THE GAME as well.
“It was a thrilling checkmate,” Wolfeman said. Oh yes, for the record had Wolfeman not captured the knight he would have had a considerably better game and perhaps winning chances. However, the chess goddess Caissa willed a different destiny that fateful evening.
The critical position of THE GAME would be shown at least a hundred times over the weekend to all who would stand still. Your writer being one of the perpetrators. “Hey, do you got a sec…let me show you this position…”
“Every chess player should have something wonderful happen like this once in their lives…chess glow,” Jude said. A truly remarkable moment in the Paul Morphy Memorial Tournament legacy. It’s about the game – always the game.
The historical precedent Morphy v Amateur, 1859:
Do you know your checkmate patterns? White to play and win.
1. Nc5+ Kb8 (1…Kd8 2. Qd7 mate) 2. Nd7+ Kc8 3. Nb6+ Kb8 (3…Kd8 4. Qd7 mate) 4. Qc8+!! Rxc8 5. Nd7 mate. The king is blocked in by five of its own pieces!
THE PAUL MORPHY TOURNAMENT IMMORTAL – Don the Mon’s Smothered Checkmate
Black to play.
1…Bxf5 2. Qxf5 Qxe3+ 3. Khl!! (The poker faced Don The Mon slides his king to h1 and is ready to ambush Black.) 3…Qxd2?? (The trap is sprung! 3…Re8 was the steady move that defends the key e6 square from the annoying White queen.) 4.Qe6+ Kh8 5. Nf7+ Kg8 6. Nh6+ Kh8 7.Qg8+!! Nxg8 8. Nf7 mate. How sweet it is!