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  Interview with Richard Fortman, Page Four

  Question No. 16: Strangest Checker Player
Brian: Who is the strangest character you have met in the checker world?

Richard: I may be the only player living that knew Morris Krantz and played a practice game with him. I first became aware of our subject when reading Ryan's article in his American Checkerist magazine, September 1946. Ryan had lost to Tinsley in round four of this double knockout Newark tourney and was paired with Krantz in round six. Krantz scored first, then Ryan scored, after which Krantz missed a win that would have knocked out Ryan! But Willie then came back to win 2-1 with 11 draws. He wrote,

"'Iron Pants' Morris Krantz, the terror of Delancey Street, is no doubt the only one of his kind and mind in the world, a nervous jumping jack with an endless display of unusual mannerisms! His conduct at the board is as eccentric and bizarre as the game he plays. His approach to the game (if any) is a mystery, for this human enigma has never studied a checker book in his life, and many even questioned whether he could read one! There simply is no logical explanation, and no one has bothered to offer one. ["idiot savant" -rlf]

But let there be no mistake. Krantz is a genius at the game of checkers, and, on his best days, is capable of beating anyone with his screw-ball moves. No one seems to know how he does it, but Morris seems to actually put his opponents in some sort of a trance, causing them to make stupid moves. In the Newark tourney, Weslow went into a 3x2 shot, and Cameron actually gave him three pieces for nothing."

I first met Krantz at the 1947 Cedar Point tourney. I had intended to play, but after arriving, I was approached by Newell Banks. He said their intended referee for the Tinsley-Chamblee match was forced to cancel out at the last moment and asked me if I could take over. He offered a complimentary room for the week plus a free meal ticket, so I accepted.

The morning before the tourney started, Jimmy Ricca came over and asked me if I would like to meet Krantz. Of course, I agreed, so we went down the hall to their room that he was sharing. He rapped on the door with no response, so he opened the door with his key and looked in. I saw a man stretched out on a bed on his back, staring up at the ceiling.

Jimmy said, "I guess we should not disturb him, as he is taking a nap."

I said, "Taking a nap? Why his eyes are open!"

Jim replied, "Yes, he often sleeps that way when away from home."

Morris entered the playing room early on the first day of play, accompanied by his two bodyguards, Ricca and Bernstein. They approached the referee's desk where I was sitting to check out the entry. Ricca then introduced me to Krantz, a short, pudgy person, Jewish, with a shock of black hair and dark piercing eyes. He was eating a large Hershey candy bar, which was getting soft with the temperature in the high 80's F - typical August weather at Cedar Point. No air conditioning was available in those pioneer days, just some floor fans.

I mentioned that it was a pleasure to meet him and congratulated him on his fine play at Newark a year earlier. He was making motions with his arms and mumbled something in reply that I didn't catch. I then proposed a practice game since the first round was not set to start for several hours. He motioned toward a table that had a board on it, seated himself, took Red(!), and put a quarter on the table, saying, "Quarter on table." What followed was the only game I ever played him.

Krantz went to the semi-finals of this double knockout tournament along with Tom O'Grady, Earl Brown (of Kentucky), and someone else whose name escapes me just now. Anyway, before play commenced, O'Grady approached the referee and said if he had to play Krantz, he was asking for separate boards in adjoining rooms with the moves relayed, as he said he wasn't about to be subjected to Krantz's weird actions at the board. Earl Brown said it didn't matter to him, so he was paired with Morris and beat him 1-0 and 3 draws, then lost to O'Grady in the finals.

During this tourney, either Ricca or Bernstein tried to keep an eye on Krantz, but somehow he managed to escape and catch the ferry over to Sandusky. Some time later, Ricca had a phone call from the Sandusky police to get over and pick him up, saying that "they" didn't want to see him over here again! It seems he was turned in for bothering ladies on the street with arm motions while talking to himself. No doubt they thought he was an escaped mental patient.

I last saw Krantz at the 1958 Bethlehem National Tournament, where he was brought by Ricca and Freyer. The playing room was about one block from the hotel, and one morning in which he was scheduled to play Lloyd Taylor, he showed up about an hour late. It seems he got out of the hotel by himself but then turned the wrong way, no doubt walking a mile or so before he realized he was lost. He had to forfeit one game.

I told Lloyd the night before that Krantz would try to upset him by constantly staring at him, so Taylor found a green eye shade that he used to good effect. Morris didn't fare too well here - out in four rounds. That was the last tourney that I ever heard he played in. Harold Freyer told me about ten years ago that Krantz was in a Brooklyn nursing home but didn't recognize him when he visited him. His death was never reported as far as I know.

M. Krantz - R. Fortman
Social Game, $0.25 stake, August 4, 1947, Breakers Hotel, Cedar Point, Ohio
Time: 8:30 am to 9:40 a.m.
Temp.: 85 F and rising!

11-15 (A), 21-17 (B), 8-11! (C), 17-14 (D), 9-18, 23-14, 10-17, 22-13, 4-8, 24-20 (E), 15-19 (F), 25-22, 11-15, 27-24, 5-9, 22-17 (G), 7-10, 29-25 (H), 2-7 (I), 25-21, 8-11? (J), 31-27*, 9-14, 27-23, 12-16, 30-25* (K), 3-8, 32-27, 8-12 (L), 25-22, 1-5, 22-18. White Wins.

(A) He feinted with his right and moved with his left. The candy bar was getting a bit soft.

(B) I had looked at some of Heffner's 24-19 defense before this tourney and decided to see what Morris would play against it.

(C) Declining with a shrug and a comment unintelligible.

(D) On the spur of the moment seeking crossboard play!

(E) I gave only the pp 24-19 in BC. I had intended to try the text later but never got around to it. Perhaps new, and maybe unpublished?

(F) The candy bar had started to melt in his right hand, so he switched to his left while licking his fingers.

(G) I had been taking lots of time, but Morris was moving at a quick pace while staring at me mostly instead of the board.

(H) By this time, we had attracted a dozen or so spectators, including both Tinsley and Chamblee, to watch Krantz go through his paces.

(I) The candy was now running down his chin and onto his shirt, which he seemed unaware of, still licking his fingers. His pieces were also getting sticky!

(J) This loses. But, as I recall, he spent little or no time in making it. Marion mentioned to me later, that 7-11 was proper, then: 32-27, 9-14, 27-23, and 12-16 is OK after 30-25, 8-12, 25-22, 3-8 and 22-18 etc. to draw.

(K) After I made this, tears came into his eyes, running down his cheeks, into the candy. It sounded like he said: "Morris lose, Morris lose." Of course, he wanted the blunder with 26-22? 19-26, 30-23, then 16-19, 23-16, and 14-18 wins for Red.

(L) It was past 9:30 and time for the pairing for the first round. The first game of the match at 10:00 a.m., so I pushed his quarter back, saying: "It looks like a draw to me," which brought a smile through the tears!

  Question No. 17: Witnessing Blindfold Matches
Brian: Have you ever witnessed a blindfold exhibition by Willie Ryan or Newell Banks?

Fortman: I first met Willie Ryan here in 1931, my first year in the game. He had been publishing his first magazine, The Checkergram, in the small town of Ashland about 18 miles west of Springfield. This was due to two well-to-do farmers and one banker who loved the game and offered to pay all of the printing and mailing costs plus free room and board. He was there between his many exhibition tours, "barn storming" as he put it, and often hitch-hiking or obtaining rides from his many checker friends.

He also spent a lot of time in Springfield as a guest of Harland Richards (my coach). Harland's family had a large two-story home, which his mother ran as a "boarding house," taking in guests for sleeping rooms and meals. Willie found a home there for a long time! He was 24 at this time, of slim build, with a brash NY accent, nice looking, with a Valentino "slicked back" pompadour and an eye for the ladies! He was nattily dressed, often with a bow tie and two-toned shoes, sport jacket and slacks.

Ryan gave the first exhibition I ever saw at the local YMCA in 1931, playing perhaps two dozen boards arranged in a rectangle in which Ryan was inside. I was amazed at the speed in which he traveled down the boards, pausing for just a few seconds. Richards acted as the MC and did not play, but I did, losing the Black side of a Single Corner (with the continuation long forgotten). He later played four blindfold games, also the first I had ever seen, which made a great impression on me.

Ryan was in and out of Springfield for a year or so before returning to NYC, having departed by request from Ashland after about six months. It was reported that one of the "farmer's daughters" was making "moon eyes" at the handsome "city slicker"! His magazine had commenced at $3.00 per issue, monthly, was later reduced to $2.00 and finally to just $1.00 (!) before he gave it up. He had little formal education and, like Bobby Fischer, was a high school dropout. Still, he was a most entertaining writer with a good vocabulary.

Ryan, in my considered opinion, was one of the most entertaining writers on checkers in history and in direct contrast to Banks, Long and many other grandmasters. His exhibitions were always entertaining and colorful, keeping up a line of chatter (in contrast to Banks). Just as entertaining were his blindfold displays where his favorite comment, "I'm looking!" always produced a laugh from the crowd.

I acted as the MC in several of his blindfold exhibitions. He would sometimes make an error, which I would respond with, "Please check," after which he would rectify the mistake. But this was rare and in contrast to Banks who made more mistakes. At that time, he asked $1.00 per board to play, then would "pass the hat" at the end for any additional money.

Ryan never actually worked at any job (except for a few years in a war plant during World War II, and also for a short time at Flint, Michigan) but somehow managed to survive on the pittance from his exhibitions and the kindness of his many checker friends. He loved competition, playing many stake matches and also playing in a number of National Tournaments from the Sixth NT (in 1924 at age 17) until Paxton in 1950, winning at Newark and also Tacoma.

Ryan's final tourney was the Canadian Open in 1952, in which he and Tinsley tied for first. Aside from that, the highlight of his career was his 1949 title match versus Hellman, in which he came back from three games down to tie the match at four wins each in a ten game overtime session. I was fortunate to see a number of the second half (Joliet) games, played in conjunction with the Sixth District Open tourney.

Ryan had health problems, mainly high blood pressure (which also killed Capablanca), that he was aware of but neglected. At a Decatur exhibition in the late 1940s, he surprised me by quoting Robert Frost, "But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep." He had lost the sight of one eye in 1953 on a southern tour, but declined to stay in a hospital. He died of a stroke in 1954 in St. Petersburgh, Florida while giving an exhibition almost on the eve of his proposed return match versus Hellman in Peoria. He was broke, but the players there purchased a grave site and marker. Beebe phoned his wife and offered to pay her expenses to Florida from New York, but she declined.

Ryan lived only for the game of checkers, and it prospered because of him and the other touring players. As is often said, "We shall never see his like again."

As with Ryan, I also met Banks for the first time in 1931 when he gave an exhibition here. Some contrasts: Ryan was 24, Banks 44. Ryan had a slim build, Banks was heavier, with a slight paunch. Ryan dressed casually during his exhibitions. Banks preferred three-piece suits, often gray, white shirts, four-in-hand ties with a stick-pin, pocket handkerchiefs, and a watch band across his vest. Ryan had a pale complexion. Banks' was more ruddy, and he had blue eyes. Banks smoked only cigars. Ryan was a heavy cigarette (two packs a day) smoker. Banks would rarely discuss checkers in conversation, instead choosing politics or the sad state of the union and his ideas to improve it, tending toward socialism. Ryan talked very little except on checkers and also his ideas to improve on what he called the ''stodgy" A.C.A.

Ryan often hitch-hiked in his early career, or depended on the kindness of his many checker friends to drive him, but he later traveled by bus. Banks always drove his own car. In later years, he was associated with the Plymouth dealers of Detroit and boosted their products for which he was furnished him with a courtesy car. The dealers also sponsored the 1952 Banks-Tinsley two-move restriction match in Detroit.

Banks (and later Grover and Wiswell) also played chess. Banks had a master rating and had played in several master chess tourneys in the 1920's. This handicapped Ryan, who tried to learn chess from Richards but gave it up after several months. He said, "Those backward moves make no sense to me!"

Ryan had no income except what he could garner from his exhibition tours and later book sales. Banks' wife was the daughter of a prominent Detroit banker and had money in her own name according to Tinsley. Both issued magazines, with Ryan a much more prolific writer with his Checkergram, New Checkergram, Crossboard News (just two issues!), and his final American Checkerist, sponsored by a wealthy George Wales of Buffalo, which turned into one of the finest magazines ever on the game. Chamblee nosed in after the Paxton tourney in 1950, eased Ryan out, and later was fired by Mr. Wales, leaving the magazine to die.

Both Ryan and Banks were authors. Ryan again was the winner here with his It's Your Move and later Scientific Checkers Made Easy, Tricks, Traps and Shots, Championship Checkers Simplified, The Modern Encyclopedia of Checkers and his post-mortem Big League Checkers, which Beebe financed. Banks produced Scientific Checkers in 1923 and Blindfold Checkers in 1947, which gave many games played against an unnamed "Club" player, some played as young as age 8! However, Frank Wendemuth once told me these should be taken with a grain of salt! Banks billed himself as "The Match Champion of America" and "11-Man World Champion" in view of his victories over Henderson in 1910 and over Jordan in 1917 in the match for the two-move title. Ryan modestly called himself "The World's Champion Checker Player."

Ryan had a rather mild disposition. I don't ever recall seeing him very angry. But Banks had a hair trigger temper and sometimes exploded as in the 1915 Third American Tournament and almost against me at Bethlehem in 1958. It commenced when we were paired in the second round after Banks had just lost to Professor Fraser.

He said, "You are a slow player, so we will use time clocks."

I replied, "I have never played with clocks, and I do not want to start now."

He became angry and said, "Well, you will have to find you a time-keeper," and walked away.

Of course, I could have approached the referee to furnish one, but it so happened that a close checker friend of mine was visiting the tourney - Keith Todd of Oneida, New York - along with his wife, who had overheard this conversation and so volunteered to keep time. Banks was still upset, more so after I won game two with a Tinsley cook (30-26) on the Octopus. He started to talk to Keith about his early matches, mainly to disturb me, I suppose. Anyway, he evened the score and went on to win.

In exhibition play, Ryan was much the faster in simultaneous play, often chatting up the players as he moved down the line. Banks was slower and very seldom talked until the games were over. If available, Banks would shoot a game of pool or billiards and sometimes take a hand in a game of cards - rum or whist. Ryan never did this in blindfold play.

I was the MC for both Ryan and Banks in several blindfold displays, the first for Banks being at the 1933 Cedar Point tournament. Banks visited there every year for the annual tourney and had six large wall-boards that were placed outside (in good weather) facing the boardwalk and the beach, these with black & white checkers hung on hooks. Banks would recline in a beach chair with his back to the boards, wearing a large white handkerchief over his eyes for the benefit of the tourists walking by. I would announce the players' moves to him by board number and would move the pieces on the wall-boards. If he made a mistake, I would say, "Please check," after which he would rectify the error. He seldom, if ever, lost a game but would allow a draw or two, which gained the player a free hotel dinner.

Ryan also used to make a few mistakes but not as many as Banks. Both would play with Red on Board #1, with White on Board #2, and so on, which helped. As I mentioned, Banks really didn't discuss checkers, but he did tell me of his 1922 title match versus Robert Stewart. Banks had beaten Jordan 3-2 and 35 draws in 1917 and then offered to play ex-champion Ferrie for the world title. Ferrie declined, so, in fact, Banks had the right to call himself the champion.

When Stewart challenged Banks in 1920, Banks could have insisted that the match be played in the United States, but Stewart flatly refused. Banks said that rather than to have the match canceled, he agreed to play in Scotland. It was supposed to have been played in November 1921, but Banks' father (who was also a fine player and Michigan state champ) died unexpectedly, and the match was postponed until January 1922.

Banks said, "I was used to cold winters, living in Michigan, but I certainly wasn't prepared for January in Glasgow with the temp near zero and no central heating, playing in a town hall with just two coal stoves. I played most of the match wearing an overcoat, but Stewart seemed used to it."

Stewart won 2-1 with 37 draws and refused to give Banks a return match. In fact, he never again defended his title until forced out in 1937 by Saul Levy's challenge.

Ryan died in 1954 at age 47 of a stroke from high blood pressure. Banks lived to old age, dying in 1977 at age 89 of pneumonia following a fall at his home which broke his hip. Although Wiswell and Grover later attempted to carry on the tradition, exhibition checkers died with Banks and Ryan.

  Question No. 18: The Age of Computers
Brian: What do you think has been the overall impact of computers upon the game of checkers?

Richard: On the subject of computers, I think I may be prejudiced since I do not have one. Back in early 1978, I was contacted by one of the Fidelity people in regard to their new Checker Challenger. Burke Grandjean had given them my name, and they asked me if I could review their product for the checker press in return for sending me a complimentary set. Since I had nothing to lose, I accepted. Frankly, I was amazed that this small box could play "legal" checkers and even spot shots, although its overall play; especially end-game play, was markedly inferior. Still, it was capable of beating the uninformed player.

I took Checker Challenger up to Peoria to show Clayton Beebe, who was also very impressed. In fact, he later became a salesman for Fidelity and sold a number of sets. Fidelity evidently had great plans since it donated $5,000 to the 1978 National Tournament at Murfeesboro. The company proxy plus several others attended the tournament to demonstrate both their checker and chess computers.

Checker Challenger was officially entered in the minors and operated by Jules Leopold, who told me later that he had a difficult time in getting some "agreed" draws! Fidelity also interviewed Tinsley, who had several kind comments as to the future of computer checkers, although he later told me he wasn't very optimistic.

Little did we know what would happen over the next ten years with Chinook entering the field. With both Tinsley and Lafferty gone, Chinook has proven in competition that it is superior to the strongest grandmaster and, with that, has retired. (Chinook's overall record versus current world champion Ron King is 8-0 and 12 draws. Only two human players had the "score" on Chinook, and both are dead.)

Whether computer checkers has helped the game to grow is subject to debate. Many feel the opposite way in view of the declining A.C.F. membership.

  Question No. 19: Chinook versus Tinsley
Brian: What do you think would have been the outcome of the Chinook versus Tinsley match held in Boston if Tinsley had been healthy and if Chinook had had no computer problems?

Richard: With a healthy Tinsley and a "bug free" Chinook, the Boston match may have well ended in a scoreless deadlock. However, had several openings been cut on which Marion had "killer cooks," he just might have won by a slim margin. Of course, we will never know.

  Question No. 20: Chinook and the 100-Year Problem
Brian: What do you think of Chinook's correction of Boland's 100 year old checker problem?

Richard: This goes to prove that the Chinook analysis is deeper that the human mind. With the eight-piece database, errors are nonexistent.


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