| Interview with Richard Fortman, Page Two
Question No. 6: On Personal Style
Richard: Perhaps conservative and bookish in my prime. I held the reputation of knowing more than I actually did because I had the friendship of several grandmasters. Due to this, a number of Illinois state champions, such as Leo Sanders, Tony Gursky, H. B. Mason, and later Bill Leatherwood and Clay Beebe, would try off-color moves to get me crossboard, often to their sorrow!
Question No. 7: Favorite Checker Story
Richard: During the past 65 years, I have collected a lot, some of which may be best left unsaid. I doubt if there are any players living today who played Sam Gonotsky crossboard. Of course, Asa Long met him during the 1927 Second International Match but had never played him. He told me "Sammie" wasn't a very sociable person and usually kept to his own company, except for Mike Lieber. Harland played Sammie twice, once at the 1928 Cedar Point 11-man tourney, and a year later at the Seventh American Tournament (Rump) at the Morrison Hotel in Chicago. Richards said Gonotsky was small in stature, perhaps five feet five or six, and probably didn't weigh over 120 pounds. His head seemed too large for his body, with a prominent or bulging forehead. He said there was a vein running across the side of his head through which one could see pulse when he was thinking. He was always neatly dressed - shirt, tie, and shoes shined. He never seemed to initiate a conversation but would reply to questions very politely without elaboration. He declined to look at any games or positions other players would offer to show him, but would comment on his own games in post-mortem only if his opponent asked. Richards said Gonotsky rarely if ever ate in the hotel cafeteria but was sometimes seen buying sandwiches and coffee from vending machines. He often drank black coffee when playing.
Richards lost twice, both by the same score of 0-2 with three draws (six game heats). In the 11-man tournament, they had an Edinburgh that went into a colors reversed standard line of the Glasgow. It was quite hot in the playing room (before air conditioning), cooled only with floor fans. Gonotsky, as usual, was taking his full five minutes a move. Richards was sort of a brash individual and had little patience. The game dragged on for almost three hours before Sam offered a draw.
Richards, exasperated, spoke up, "Mr. Gonotsky, didn't you recognize that position?"
"Oh yes, Mr. Richards, an old reversed Glasgow."
"Then why in the world were you spending so much time on it?"
Came the soft reply, "Well, you see, I was looking for something new!"
When Richards later told me this, he said, "Can you imagine him spending all that time, when he could have been resting, on a line that was exhausted over 100 years ago?" He said he met Gonotsky the following year in the Chicago tourney and was shocked at his appearance - flushed face and his walk slowed, with frequent coughing spells that interrupted play. As we now know, he was practically a dying man at this tourney, passing away shortly afterward, but he still managed to beat Jesse Hanson and Willie Ryan among others.
Maurice Chamblee and a Marion Tinsley Fish Story
Chamblee didn't tell me the following but Marion did later. While at Columbus, Maurice had proposed marriage to Tinsley's twin sister Mary who evidently turned him down! As Marion said, "Can you imagine us being brother-in-laws!" Maurice went on to say that while they were in college, both were "non-believers", although Marion was later converted by Paul Thompson after the 1950 Paxton National Tournament. He also said that during this visit, Marion had mentioned that he was interested in spiritualism and had read several books on the subject. He had also made the acquaintance of several Columbus mediums.
Shortly after Willie Ryan died in 1954, Marion said he had visited one of the local mediums who, for a $10.00 fee, claimed she could contact a relative or friend who had "passed over" and would allow two questions to be asked. I suppose by this late date that Marion's belief had been wavering since he had prepared two trick questions. After paying the fee in advance, he asked if William F. Ryan of the Bronx, NY, sometimes known as the "Bronx Comet", could be contacted. After a few minutes, Marion was told she was in contact and that Mr. Ryan stated that he was quite happy in his new surroundings.
Marion said, "I have two questions to ask. First, has Mr. Ryan ever succeeded in defeating the Octopus, and secondly, if so, by means of what line?"
Of course, the innocent medium assumed this was a fish story and replied, "Yes, Mr. Ryan states that after a long struggle he was able to catch the monster, using a 10-12 lb. line!"
And I guess that ended Marion's spiritualism period!
Chamblee hadn't changed too much since I had last met him at the 1948 Brownwood National Tournament. He told me that although he still had an interest in checkers, it wasn't that burning desire he once had after winning at Paxton and preparing to play Hellman. He said he had a part interest in a local bowling alley and also a good job selling wholesale light fixtures. He later played and won the 1957 Alabama tournament, his last contest. He was found dead in his car in 1958, apparently passing away while having lunch. Lloyd Taylor told me his family refused to have an autopsy performed, and the cause of death was a probable cerebral hemorrhage.
Asa Long once wrote me of a visit by Chamblee to his home in Toledo prior to Asa's title match versus Hellman in 1948. Asa said Maurice was quite candid, saying that he was pulling for Walter to win, but he still showed Asa several lines he had worked on.
Asa said, "I consider this great stuff," to which Chamblee replied, "You haven't seen anything yet!"
Willie Wiggles to Win
A few notes: During a tense game between Ryan and Stan Morey (a protégé of H.B. Reynolds), Morey had just made his move and glanced over at Ryan. Willie was deep in thought, poker-faced, when suddenly his ears commenced to wiggle! Morey told me he was so shocked he almost started to laugh as he had never seen anyone do this before. He said it broke his train of thought. He got flustered, made a poor reply, and lost the game. I was watching this game and later asked Ryan how he did this. He said it was just a trick that he had used many times, but he was unable to explain how it was done. So I experimented and later found I could do it also, which later amused both my children and grandchildren.
"How do you do that, Paw-paw?"
A Bible Story
"Mr. Hunt, I don't believe your 12-16 is in ANY of my books, including the Bible!"
Reynolds was a religious man, and at the business meeting of the Seventh American Tournament, he gave the invocation and later lead the group in singing Onward Christian Soldiers in his basso profundo voice, which literally lifted the rafters.
A Young Prodigy
I was just 18 and unknown, but I spoke up,"There is also an example of that in Master-Play."
Mr. Hunt looked up with a shocked expression, and said, "You are certainly right! And what is your name?"
I guess he thought I was a young prodigy as he later invited me to his room to look over some of the games he had with Reynolds. His analysis was far too fast for me to keep up, so I wisely remained silent only later to agree!
Question No. 8: On Becoming World Postal Champion
Richard: Not everyone can become a world champion, but I believe every one can improve their play. First, an orderly mind is important, even being a nitpicker helps. You should double check every reply received for accuracy and do the same for your replies. I find it best not to reply on the same day except perhaps in the final stages.
Second, plan your replies, then check again on the second day to see if you still agree. I have always run the games up from the beginning except for the final endings. I always used two boards when analyzing to avoid mistakes in setting up the positions. So called "pencil errors" are just the product of a careless mind. To my knowledge, I have never committed one in over 50 years of postal play.
I have all of my important match and tourney books (also American Checker Federation National Tournaments) cross-indexed. I also have a two-drawer file cabinet with folders on each of the 144 openings - letters, analysis, references, etc. Good friends are important, but remember, you are the one to make the final decision.
Paul Thompson told me, when playing Alf Huggins for the world title, that he was getting advice from Tinsley, Clayton, Case, among others, and in many instances they would disagree in mid-game and early endings! No doubt this match, in part, contributed to his early death, as he wrote me that on many nights he couldn't sleep while thinking about the positions and would get up at two or three a.m. to recheck his replies before sending. It is tragic that he did not live to finish this match, which he would have won.
I never would trust any new play sent me until I had looked it over to my satisfaction. Half-baked 'cooks' can often prove disastrous! When I had an opponent in a certain loss, I would never speed up my replies but let him look at his position longer, which can be depressing and sometimes affect play in the other games. This is also true in crossboard play. Take your full time when you have a win, and make him suffer!
One final observation: Some master crossboard players have failed at top-level mail play. Two examples Harold Freyer and Cap Howe, lacked the patience necessary. Asa Long once wrote me that in his early years he had little use for mail play, thinking it would be easy when using books, etc. That is, until he met both Oldbury and Huggins in an U.S.A.-G.B. International Postal Match. Asa said, "I have completely changed my mind on this! I never realized just how difficult it could be when paired with a master opponent!"
Question No. 9: Leaving a Legacy
Richard: I think I would like to be remembered as having a lifelong romance with the game as I have attempted to show in both my games and my annotations. Also, I would like to be known as a former world postal champion and the author of Basic Checkers.
Question No. 10: Best Crossboard Game
Richard: I have given considerable thought to this question as I have played many games worthy of that title over the past 60 odd years. I finally decided on the following, played in the 1949 Sixth District Tournament at Joliet, held in conjunction with the second half of the Hellman-Ryan World Championship Match. It was played against the new U.S. National Tournament Champion, Marion Tinsley, in the three-cornered semi-finals, double knockout tournament. I was down 1 1/2 lives, losing 0-1 and 3 draws to Tinsley in Round 1 before a drawn round versus Roy Hunt. Roy was down one life, drawing versus Tinsley and myself, with Marion down just 1/2 life.
This was played in round six, with Hunt having a bye. Our first two games on 11-16, 22-17, 16-19 were drawn. Then Marion cut the three-move deck for our next opening, 10-14, 23-18, 14-23, smiled and rubbed his hands together in typical Shylock (of Shakespeare) fashion, a habit he often used when pleased. I had black in game three, and we had a draw as given in Checkers The Tinsley Way. Our last game has been noted in a sketchy fashion, but it was never annotated properly, so I am giving my comments.
M. Tinsley - R. Fortman
10-14, 23-18, 14-23, 27-18, 12-16, 32-27 (in my first major tourney, Cedar Point, 1933, ignorant of published play, I tried 26-23 here versus Stan Morey and almost won with White after he had overplayed it - another story!) 16-20, 26-23, 11-15 (instead of this, my 6-10 in Game 3) 18-11, 8-15, 23-18 (no doubt 30-26 first is easier) 7-11, 30-26, 6-10, 26-23, 4-8, 24-19, 15-24, 28-19, then 10-14! (A), 19-15* (B), 2-7, 15-10*, 8-12, 22-17, 9-13, 18-9, 13-22, 25-18, 7-14, 27-24* (C), 20-27, 31-24, then 11-16 (D), 24-19, 16-20, 29-25*, 20-24, 25-22, 24-27, 22-17, 27-31, 17-10, 5-14, 18-9, 31-27, 23-18, 27-23, 18-14, 23-16, 21-17, 16-11, 9-6 (E), 12-16, 6-2, 11-8, and then, with great pleasure, 10-6, 1-10, 14-7, 3-10 and 2-7 to draw, after which Marion offered his hand in congratulations. Newell Banks had been standing behind me watching this game and when I played 10-6. He tapped me on the shoulder before walking away.
(A) This caught me completely by surprise, as I had expected 9-14, x, as later played by Hellman versus Long in the 1952 American Tournament. Marion later said this was a cook he had prepared for the 1948 National Tournament, but it never came up there, so this was the first time he had occasion to use it.
(B) We were playing under the five minute rule, and Ed Ebert called time. I had discarded 19-16 in view of 2-7 and spent most of my time on 18-15, x, but then 1-6, 25-22, and 9-13 looked bad, so I played the text as a last resort. Tinsley later said he had wins against both 19-16 and 18-15.
(C) Once again I took full time. The natural 29-25 first allows 12-16*, 27-24, x, and a winning ending with Black piece still of 11. Later, Marion demonstrated the win.
(D) Now if 12-16, White has an easy draw with 24-19, 16-20, and 19-16 etc.
(E) It was here that I spotted the pitch coming up! Later, Marion said this was the same as he had analyzed it earlier. This eliminated me, but it also placed Marion on even footing with Roy Hunt. The tourney had gone over time. It was about two a.m., so they agreed on a draw (unplayed, although Elam's Checker Board gives four draws in final round) and split first and second places. Of course, had Tinsley won this game, he would have won the tournament outright as Hunt was ready to concede! So I was the culprit in the woodshed, but it didn't damage our friendship.
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