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Written by Derek Bridges and edited by Dedra Johnson

Jude’s Rule: “I’m going my way”

As best as I can determine, in 1972 then United States Chess Federation Executive Director Ed Edmondson froze Jude’s rating at 2399 until he played in an open tournament. The distinction that apparently matters, at least to the USCF, is that Jude crossed the 2400 threshold by playing “matches.” These matches were against low-rated or unrated players. Here’s Jude’s curious Wikipedia page:

Questions have arisen concerning his actual strength at chess. He got his U.S. Chess Federation (USCF) rating up to 2399, just one point below Senior Master, by playing matches against players who had never played rated chess before. This led the USCF Executive Director Ed Edmondson to freeze his rating at 2399 until he played in an open tournament.[citation needed]

In 1995, a new rating statistician, apparently unfamiliar with the “Jude Acers Rule”, added one point to his rating, giving him a rating of exactly 2400.[citation needed]

The first time I talked to Jude about his frozen rating, he explained:

Because I travel, I don’t get my rating up. I mean I never play where I don’t get paid. I don’t care, I’m famous, I don’t really care what people think. And to this day I was never allowed to play in national tournaments, except for sponsors sending me the last three years. The U.S. Federation lowered my rating. I’d rather not go into it because I don’t want to get any bad vibes.

He identified William Goichberg as the primary force behind his rating staying frozen for so long. Goichberg has served the USCF in a variety of capacities; currently he’s “Member-at-Large” of the USCF executive board, and he is also founder of the Continental Chess Association.

I contacted the USCF and asked for clarification about Jude’s rating. Joan DuBois, Director of Communications, Affiliate Relations, TLA’s, Advertising Inquiries & Correspondence Chess, responded via email:

Our records do show a over-the-board (OTB) rating of 2400 for Jude Acers. Over the years he has had some very strong performances, especially in the Senior Championships.

Regarding Wikipedia…we find them to be accurate…..

The next time I sat down with Jude, I brought up the Jude Acers Rule again:

I asked [the USCF] about the whole “Jude Acers Rule” thing, you know—

Oh, thank you, thank you! They’re horrified, because now they realize, ‘Look, we’ve got Jude Acers where we want him, he’s a crazy nut down in New Orleans.’ But all of a sudden people are realizing, ‘He seems to have credibility. He never complained, really. He never complained about the way we tampered with his rating. He took it for twenty years. He didn’t sue us.’ And now they’re realizing, they hear the sound of drum beats, but the worst thing of all—

Here’s their answer. (I handed him a printout of the email.)

Would you send her back a letter: “Joan, Jude Acers wishes to thank you for your very nice letter. And he is fully aware that you in no way discriminated against Jude Acers, that it all was by direct order of William Goichberg, thank you very much.”

chess piecesI handed him a pen and Jude wrote: Joan—You are a princess! Yes, direct orders/hands on rating cards was by William Goichberg. He is a tragically flawed but very great chess personage. Jude.

[Goichberg] ordered them never to raise my rating. It was done originally by the late Edmundson, but Goichberg is the main man. I mean, [Goichberg has] done many wonderful things for chess. This was a huge mistake as he now knows. Listen, I also know—I can’t give you names—two people who actually worked in the office came right here and they just told me, ‘Jude, Goichberg froze your rating at 2399 for twenty years.’

How long ago was it frozen?

Decades ago. But the point is I don’t care. Understand, if it had not been for Goichberg, I wouldn’t have the wonderful world I have. I would never have done five years with Miller. I would’ve played in all the tournaments during the seventies, but I kept thinking, ‘Fischer isn’t going to play again. If Fischer doesn’t play me, and allow the top twenty people to play in the U.S. Championship, this isn’t going to go anywhere.’ And here’s another thing. Fischer asked, after winning the U.S. Championship 11-0—he said, ‘One year I almost didn’t win, the tournament’s too short’ … and Fischer asked for a double tournament.That is twenty-two rounds, where they would let in twenty-two people in, not the same old tired faces but twenty-two people, or you’d play everyone twice. Naturally, during the seventies, they would have done anything to have Fischer play after he won the world title. I kept thinking, ‘If they’re crazy enough, after Fischer won the U.S. Championship 11-0, not to hold a twenty-two round tournament a year or two from now to get him to play, the only time he’s going to play at all, then I seriously question whether they can promote anything. I seriously question if I can get any basic money as a chess professional, I’m going to have to go it alone.’ Again, another thing, I just had it right. Some people just have a real genius for promotion and survival and I’m one of them. And, of course, you realize, I really don’t care what people think about me. I’m going my way.

goich cap2

William “Bill” Goichberg. Photo courtesy United States Chess Federation

I contacted Goichberg via email and here is his response (in italics are excerpts from Jude’s Wikipedia page and later from my email to Goichberg):

Questions have arisen concerning his actual strength at chess. He got his U.S. Chess Federation (USCF) rating up to 2399, just one point below Senior Master, by playing matches against players who had never played rated chess before.

Not true. In 1965 when his rating was roughly 2230-2240, Acers submitted a large number of individual match results (about 70 games total) at one time against players who either were unrated (had never played rated chess before) or very low rated (about 1200-1300).  Unlike a tournament, an individual match involves only two players.

Under the rating system in effect at the time, a win over any player, no matter how weak, produced a minimum gain of 2 points.  However, according to statistical theory, a 2 point gain was proper for beating someone about 440 points below, but a win over someone 900-1000 points below (or an unrated of that strength) warranted only a gain of just a small fraction of a point.  The 2 point gain was permitted for simplicity because such pairings occurred too rarely in tournaments to allow the higher player to amass a significant number of points, so no problems had ever resulted.

When the USCF office received the 70 games or so from Acers with him winning every game, if this was rated using the 2 point minimum, he would have gained 140 points and it would probably have qualified him for an invitation to the US Championship, and whoever would have lost an invitation as a result would have been very upset, to say the least.  To invite Acers based on a lot of wins over such weak players would have caused a tremendous scandal.

I was USCF Rating Statistician in 1965, and when I received these matches from Acers, I took the rating report to my boss, USCF Business Manager Joe Reinhardt, and said, “You don’t want me to rate THIS, do you?” Reinhardt immediately agreed that we could not possibly rate the matches, and after some discussion, he decided that a new rule was needed: Individual matches cannot be rated if the players’ ratings are more than 400 points apart, or if one or both players are unrated.

I wrote to Acers to inform him of the new rule and say that his matches would not be USCF rated.  He was very upset and said we were keeping him out of the US Championship, which was true, but we had nothing against him and would have done the same had any other player submitted such matches.

I am surprised that apparently because I wrote that letter, Acers thought that I was also responsible for the much later action freezing his rating at a maximum of 2399.  I left as Rating Statistician in 1967, Executive Director Ed Edmondson froze Acers’ rating at 2399 maximum in 1972, I held no USCF position in 1972, and I was in no way connected with what Edmondson did, nor was I aware of it before it happened.

This led the USCF Executive Director Ed Edmondson to freeze his rating at 2399 until he played in an open tournament.[citation needed]

True, Edmondson froze his rating as 2399 maximum; that happened in 1972.  I’m sure he didn’t do so until Acers “played in an open tournament,” as open tournaments exist, for instance in small chess clubs, in which all the players are rated well below Acers and he could have easily defeated them. Rather, Edmondson must have attached an opponent’s rating requirement as a condition for lifting the freeze- for example, to go over 2399, playing (or scoring against) a Master (or maybe two) would be required.  I don’t know if Acers ever asked Edmondson what he needed to do to get the freeze lifted.

I don’t know why Edmondson imposed the 2399 maximum, but am sure it was not because of matches against unrated players, as such matches have not been ratable since the Reinhardt decision of 1965.  My guess is that the reason for Edmondson’s action was that Acers was gaining many points by playing very low rated or unrated players in tournaments, possibly events that he arranged.  USCF tournament records prior to 1977 are no longer available, but if we look online for the most recent Acers results prior to his recent play in World Senior Opens, we find that in 1995-1997 he directed and submitted for rating a total of 11 games, scoring 11 wins against very low rated or unrated players.

In 1995, a new rating statistician, apparently unfamiliar with the “Jude Acers Rule”, added one point to his rating, giving him a rating of exactly 2400.[citation needed]
I do not believe there was ever anything called a “Jude Acers Rule.” I have never heard that term before, and In 1996, a different Executive Director assigned a maximum rating to Claude Bloodgood, and no one referred to a “Jude Acers Rule.”
After Edmondson assigned Acers a 2399 maximum rating in 1972, Acers remained active through 1976.  His rating on annual lists was 2399 in 1973-1975, and 2374 in 1976.  He was inactive in 1977-1978, 2364 on the 1979 annual list, inactive in 1980, and back to 2399 in 1981.  Then inactive until 1982-1984, 2399 in 1985-1986, and inactive in 1987.  Meanwhile, Edmondson left USCF in 1978, and I don’t know whether Acers ever asked any of his many successors to lift the freeze.

On the 1988 annual list, Acers’ rating went up a point to 2400.  Ratings were done by computer and had been since 1976, so a maximum 2399 must have been programmed in, and then removed in 1988, by who and why, I don’t know.  With the freeze lifted, on the 1989 list he was up to 2462, but I don’t know what sort of players he was beating.

I can’t find my 1990 or 1994 annual lists, and Acers was inactive in 1991-1993.  On the June 1995 list he was back to 2399 again, and in August 1995, 2400.  I don’t understand where his 2462 went, possibly it was considered an error and the 2399 maximum was returned, but this was apparently then changed to a 2400 maximum in 1995.

In my conversations with Mr. Acers he has claimed that Mr. Goichberg was the primary person behind his rating being frozen for so long. Mr. Acers says that although  Mr. Goichberg has “done many wonderful things for chess … this was a huge mistake.”

Please if possible, ask Mr. Acers why he thinks that other than the rules change Reinhardt and I did back in 1965, I have ever done anything that had any influence on his rating.

Acers’ strong results in the World Senior indicate that at his peak, he was probably over 2400 strength.  Whether he ever demonstrated this in rated play against Master opposition, I don’t know.

Jude reads Goichberg
I printed out Goichberg’s email and brought it to Jude. Here’s what he said:

I like this letter. But he’s responsible for the fraud. He simply told the rating department, after Edmundson died—Edmundson was killed by Bobby Fischer, he had done everything for Fischer and Fischer did not play for the World Championship, forfeited the world title in 1975. The USCF had, you could say, illegally spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to help get Fischer to defend his World Championship in 1975. Fischer had disowned Edmundson and said, “Don’t send any money whatsoever,” and poor Edmundson died of a heart attack on a beach two years later, but he’d been disowned by the U.S. Chess Federation which realized—in other words…if Fischer had played, nobody would’ve cared. Because Fischer forfeited the World Championship, all of the money that Edmundson spent on Fischer came due. Edmundson was disowned and dumped by the U.S. Chess Federation. He died on a Hawaii beach two years later. Absolute dictator of the Federation, with all of the Fischer money leftover, anything leftover, was and has been until recently was Goichberg. Goichberg fixed the rating, personally told everyone, “It’s fixed at 2399,” and kept it there for 20 years. And, of course, you realize, I was never going to play, period. Here’s the whole point. To him, nothing was wrong. He was preserving the integrity of the U.S. Chess Federation, whatever. In other words, it never occurred to him that he was committing fraud. And that if you do this all across the country, nobody’s going to play chess. And fortunately he didn’t have to worry about it because most people were giving up chess at age eighteen. And remember, too, that actually for me, Goichberg was a fabulous break. Because once I saw that he was doing this, much less had actual testimony from people within the [USCF] office, that naturally I had my own world and I just went away from the U.S. Chess Federation and made my own world and had enormous success. In other words, there would be no Jude Acers today without Goichberg. He was incredibly valuable. He was an absolute dictator, absolute power corrupts absolutely and there is no question whatsoever that from 1977 on, he is lying through his teeth, totally dishonest in his manner, because he has to be, he could not afford to involve the U.S. Chess Federation in another multi-million dollar suit, and he lost all the records, he never mentions the more than 1,000 games that I played in San Francisco in 1969-70-71, he never mentions my games in the New York Times where I drew or won against people like Walter Browne, a grandmaster, or dozens of other games that appeared in the New York Times, all that has to be not mentioned. He hopes you will be an amateur and not skilled at research. But, fortunately for you, you can just go to the New York Times and type in my name and all my names will come up…So he’s in a position in 1977 where he’s freezing the rating of a player who’s drawn a match with international grandmaster Walter Browne, had a game voted one of the Top Ten Theory in the world and had made hundreds of thousands of dollars playing chess already, he’s in the position of doing that and thinks he can get away with it. He can, because in 1990 they lost all of the records, and there’s no way in the world to check all the tournament records, whatever. In San Francisco there are people who are bewildered today when they read about me in Wikipedia and other places, they saw me play hundreds of games in a year, Frank Thornally, a U.S. master said, “This man plays more chess matches than any other player in history.” I was playing five experts and masters at one time. I was getting such good results many masters would not sign the results to turn them in for rating, they just did not play the final game and I couldn’t get them rated, but I didn’t care. The point is, Goichberg politely is lying. Because what’s he going to do, involve the U.S. Chess Federation in another lawsuit? He can say he fixed the rating in 1967-68 but later on someone else did it. It’s not true, he did it all the way for thirty years, he’s totally responsible. He’s also totally responsible for the Susan Polgar lawsuit. No Bill Goichberg, no $700,000 loss. He’s totally responsible for it. But on the other hand, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The collapse of the U.S. Chess Federation is now imminent. I’m sorry to tell you that the USCF membership in this month’s magazine, one of the people running for the executive board, already on the board [but] running for another chair, has announced that [the USCF] is now being sued again by someone who, believe it or not, could not get the board to allow him to run for election in the U.S. Chess Federation election. I think the person would probably be Sam Sloan (chess book publisher who published the 2009 edition of Jude’s Lone Pines book). And if he can prove that they tried to [hinder] his right to run, that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs, if he can get standing in the court. I think he can prove it, that the delegates are a small, mob-like force that do not want change, because 90% of the members do not vote. At any rate I’m not going to worry about it because I am gone. I’ve already announced I’ll never play in the United States again [in USCF events], but I do wish them well. Now, there is something very pleasant, the guy…in Chicago, Sevan (Muradian), he has a policy statement that is simply magnificent. He may be elected [to the USCF Executive Board]. His criticism of the U.S. Chess Federation is tremendously strong. You can read it on the website right now.

Would you play, if, say, the folks up in St. Louis had a senior tournament or something like that, would you play there?

I would play if Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield personally asked me and personally handled the plane, met me at the plane, and arranged for me to stay, I would play, but otherwise no. They are the only people I would trust.

What if they personally sent you a letter saying these people we give the responsibility to pick you up and take care of your—

Oh, sure, as long as I could pick up the phone and talk with [Rex] about any matter, but naturally, they have so many players who will play for them.

By the way, I’m very glad you [contacted] Goichberg because I don’t have any hatred for him at all, but he is now having to realize the consequences of his actions, he’s trying to make a magnificent effort to hold tournaments all across the country, his tournaments are the only ones held, he has a monopoly, but no one is going. People have just left the U.S. Chess Federation. Local people are staying there but mentally everyone has left.

The truth is, I have to be honest with you, the U.S. Championship was so far from New Orleans and Baton Rouge I don’t even think I was thinking of it. I was thinking of having a high rating, having people know who I was. As far as the U.S. Championship, I don’t think I ever terribly wanted to play.

I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My whole world had crashed. Fischer hadn’t played. Miller had abandoned me; he would take no more phone calls. But I had my one last contract exhibition (in New York City). I now have whatever money I have to get to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I am for several weeks—where I met this unbelievable girl, too…She became a very famous news broadcaster but I don’t want to mention her name… Anyway, I called [Goichberg] from Ann Arbor. I did not have a plane ticket to get to my contracted exhibition. I talked to him on the phone and he was baffled, as if to say, “Why me?” Well, he had millions of dollars. Fischer was not going to play again, all of that money had already come in. And the Fischer boom had not ended yet, the money was still coming in. And this is the background: he had been talking long distance, every day, to a member of the policy board. And I was sitting in the living room when he did it. There was a tournament that he was hosting in Ann Arbor, [Goichberg] offered to give me free entry fee to the tournament. I said, “No, but thank you.” I’d already quit playing in all tournaments after 1970 unless I could see some benefit. I was already famous. It was out of my world, I was doing my exhibition and that was it. So, anyway, I did not have a plane ticket, and I knew he was spending thousands of dollars on long distance phone calls, thousands every month, there was no oversight, the policy board members would call each other, they were having membership meetings once a month and everything, they wasted millions, and then you could argue that Goichberg, in a vacuum period after Fischer played, was worth every cent of the millions they wasted. There is a strong case to be made that William Goichberg fully justifies the horrendous cost of William Goichberg. That the ends justifies the means in true Machiavellian terms. You could make that argument and there’s a strong case to make it. “I had to kill Jude Acers [and] all rivals because they just weren’t cutting it,” that kind of thing he could say. So, anyway…The conversation was short. “I need a plane ticket. They’ll pay me in New York and I’ll send you the money immediately.” Doris Thackrey says, “Everyone advises me to not lend you the money, Jude, but here it is.” So she bought me the plane ticket, and I said, “Lady, you’re in for a surprise.” And the first thing I did when I arrived was say, “The first forty chess sets you bought I want them,” because I’m mailing them to her. She got forty chess sets. And she was totally unprepared. They arrived in a box. She didn’t understand what was happening. She sent them on to a prison. That was one of my thank you’s. And, of course, I had the money sent to her in twelve hours. I had them pay me in advance, so I mailed it to her immediately. And the exhibition was huge. Against all odds. I did advanced promo four days in a row. It was not immediately big. But with 24 hours to go I got red hot on TV and radio and people were calling in, free exhibition, their child could play in the Guinness Book of World Records exhibition. Miller had set it up, because of 1973 in Portland they [Guinness] knew how to set it up so it’d be certified in the Guinness Book of World Records. Shelby Lyman, the very famous chess writer was the moderator, he came and was the master of ceremonies, and he called it a ‘World record insanity’ later, but at any rate, it was huge, and it was well documented…But the final story is this. [Goichberg] called me, after the [Guinness] exhibition was all over, it was in the afternoon. Everybody had heard about it, he knew it was monstrously big. I told him it was going to be big. And he said, politely, “We’re holding a World Open downtown. You’re going to be by this afternoon?” That’s when I couldn’t believe it. He lives in another world. I’m not a perfect person. I have my faults, like everyone else. But you make a mistake with me, you won’t be getting Jude Acers to visit your hotel. And when I look back at it, I didn’t mean to hurt him, but the loss of Jude Acers was a huge loss to Goichberg, although I didn’t realize it at the time. Now, looking back, I realize I could have really helped Goichberg a lot. All he had to do was put me on the plane. And he had millions in the bank. But understand, I’m a wild child, Jude Acers is insane, he doesn’t have any parents, he came from a mental hospital or something, he’s a nice person but he’s crazy, don’t loan him any money, that kind of thing. [Goichberg] knows he can pull it off, but in the end, over the phone, he’s very nice, very polite, but he’s blown it.…If I were offered $500,000 to play in a Goichberg tournament I would refuse, that’s how strongly I feel. If I were black, I would never have made it because of Goichberg. Fortunately, because I have snap, crackle and pop, because I listen to the Boy Scouts of America, I do not smoke cigarettes, don’t do dope, don’t drink if you can help it, try to avoid beer, alcohol, if you’re going to drink I guess drink really fine liquor once or twice a year, but in general, avoid substance abuse, stick to coffee, coffee’s all you’ll ever need. Or fine tea. Because my mind works very well—and remember, it was not vengeance, I remember feeling empty as I hung up the phone. I didn’t say, “I won’t be there,” I didn’t say that I wouldn’t come. Naturally, I will never come. He’s held several tournaments in New Orleans in the past thirty years. I’m not rude. In no way would I ever be rude to him.…Let me give you a token example. You and your wife are in a restaurant and someone you know comes up and insults your wife. That’s it, Jack. You’re not going to shoot the guy in the restaurant, but that’s it, Jack. He’s packed. He’s gone. It doesn’t matter what he does. Goichberg made the fatal mistake you can’t make. And, of course, how was he to know that one of the greatest chessmasters of all time, an electrifying media personality, a person with a tremendous ego required to go long periods of time when nothing is happening in his career and can make things happen. Big time. Oh, he did say one very nice thing to me over the phone. Just as I recognize his absolute honesty on-site as a tournament director, he would die before he would make an imperfect decision. In other words, if he kills you, he’s going to kill you honestly, he’s going to tell you, “I’m doing this, I’m killing you, and I honestly believe it’s okay.” That’s what I’m trying to tell you. This is what absolute power does. To this day, Goichberg does not believe he has become a monstrously evil person in segment. But that is what’s happened to him. The Polgar lawsuit is totally blameable on William Goichberg. No one who has my knowledge of how chess works could dare say that Goichberg isn’t the Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles of chess bureaucracy in the U.S. Chess Federation office. He is the person who fixed a player’s rating after he had drawn a match with a grandmaster. He is the person who has lost more than 1,000 games that I played in San Francisco. I am sure at least 500 games against internationally rated players, people like John Grefe, U.S. Champion Walter Browne, James Tarjan, tremendous player, William Addison, all of these people, matches with Robert Burger, a 2300 player, I played George Kane, experts, it just goes on and on.…I was just playing night and day and many of my games were published in the New York Times, the London Times published my win over Browne, Infomater helped keep me alive, and so on. The point is this: Those are all bygone days. The price that Goichberg is paying is horrendous. As he realizes, he will be in chess biographies forever stained by his few bad days. He had 95 good days, 5 bad days. But those 5 days will destroy him.

If I were running a tournament and I wanted a referee, he would be my first choice, providing he would referee it from his house, he wouldn’t be allowed to operate in the tournament room. But he would make all pairings, all standings, whatever.

All through the years, as people began to realize that Goichberg and the U.S. Chess Federation were not going to make it, gradually people began to come up to me, and say, ‘Jude, you know, you are really eccentric but the real truth is the U.S. Chess Federation seems to be poisonous. Essentially there’s no true criticism allowed. Let me make clear that the criticism in this month’s issue (Chess Life magazine, published by the USCF), the rule is the four candidates ([running for] the executive board. They are allowed to have mild criticism of the U.S. Chess Federation in their policy board statement. It’s the only page Goichberg cannot censor. The only one. Even then, it comes in like a nuclear bomb, just a few criticisms, three of [the candidates] just give the routine, “Guys, you want to keep your money coming in and your small gang-like tournaments, vote for me, I won’t sink the ship until it’s absolutely sunk.” But already, in the policy board, you get the fantastic freedom, what freedom does, it frees you, it lets you learn a little light. Just the few things these people mention that are wrong with the U.S. Chess Federation: “Our website is in shambles, we’ve spent thousands of dollars on nothing,” not “Jude Acers is right.” The U.S. Chess Federation must be totally changed. All critics of the Federation must be allowed to publish letters in Chess Life and Review. Just because Jude Acers doesn’t like William Goichberg doesn’t mean he can’t write a letter to the U.S. Chess Federation, or that Larry Evans has to be gotten rid of so 400 Acers letters cannot appear in the magazine. (Evans, who died last year, was a frequent critic of the USCF and for many years published Jude’s letters in his chess column that appeared in Chess Life; late in his column’s run, Chess Life cut the commentary portion.) Freedom excels where freedom dwells. Freedom is worth dying for. We’ve got to have a free expression of opinion on our website. We’ve got to be honorable in treating people. And here is what is going to save the Federation: There’re more good guys than bad guys. And a father of a child is suddenly looking at the magazine, flipping onto the website, and next time more people will vote. Just as black people in America learned our country absolutely can change, but God, it’s slow

Jude playingIf this all seems messy, all I can say is there’s more where that came from. Check out this smattering of links: Goichberg’s takedown of Muradian in the current USCF executive board race, USCF settles, Welcome to the USCF racist, sexist, homophobic, and deplorable standard, NYTimes reports, and Goichberg uses “the office for a hangout in his free time is both a conflict of interest and a disruption to the staff.” Interestingly, this blog post by grandmaster Susan Polgar is still up, despite its relationship to her recently settled lawsuit with the USCF. Or read Larry Evans’ This Crazy World of Chess. You don’t have to look hard to find more institutional weirdness in the world of chess—just this last week, the President of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) Kirsan Ilyumzhinov sat down for a game of chess in Tripoli with Moamer Kadhafi (in 2004 Kadhafi banned the Israeli team from competing in a championship tournament held in Libya; the FIDE motto is “We are all one people”). And even Goichberg has had his chess rating questioned. And for kicks, here’s the obligatory message board drip who feels compelled to declare Jude a “low life.” But the Jude haters in these forums are consistently well outnumbered by his fans and supporters. Some of these online back alleyways can provide a lovely range of anecdotes about Jude, such as this thread at
Jul-15-04   sawbone: In about 1971, Jude played a simul at the Leesville, LA Chess Club and beat all 10 of us blindfolded. Everyone should read his new book, The Italian Game. I think that Jude can regulate his game to make it interesting and barely beat players of various levels. He is indeed a charming fellow and wears a red cap so you can see if he is there from 3 blocks away. He was once rated over 2500, according to his book. Has the best presentation of The Two Knights Game I have seen.
Jun-01-05 deschner:…At a chess tourney in Wyoming, he declined a 2nd place trophy, handing it back to the TD. “1st Place or Nothing!” was Jude Acers motto.
Sep-12-05   deshad: Glad to hear he made it. (For several days after the levees failed in New Orleans in 2005, Jude’s whereabouts were unknown.) I had the pleasure of playing him on Decatur Street about a year ago. We spent about 10 minutes playing (mostly me thinking). Despite being quite charmed and distracted by my wife, whom he was busy entertaining, he easily beat me in about 20 moves. He then took us on a whirlwind, theatrical tour of the French Quarter that included a tale of Paul Morphy in front of Morphy’s house. It was the single most interesting and enjoyable part of our trip there.
Dec-10-10   chuckr: I was recently in New Orleans and played Jude in a few games. Even though I knew what he was going to play (Veresov) he crushed me quickly. I tried the Veresov against him, but he wore me down there. He’s good. Funny too. As it became apparent I was about to mated, he high fived all the spectators (including my wife). He’s a good guy.
Dec-10-10   kingfu: Is Jude at the old, same place? I need to know where exactly.
Most people want to climb Mount Everest.
I want to play Master Acers and visit The Moscow Central Chess Club.

jude playing 2

Jude’s beefs with the USCF far exceed his personal battles. He holds it in contempt for what he sees as awful outreach to women, minorities, those who live outside North America and the less privileged:

You need to understand when you look at the website of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, there’s no USCF logo, they won’t let the USCF operate [there], they’ve moved into the Jude Acers ballpark, the Jude Acers world. I don’t hate the U.S. Chess Federation now. I don’t involve them in my world. They don’t exist. I wish them well, but they’re not going to make it because they simply cannot link worldwide and anything that doesn’t have women and all players, [from] India, South America—look, I don’t want to mention names, there was an executive director [who I told, “We should play radio matches—or, now, internet matches—with our friends in South America.” “Jude, we’re so strong it wouldn’t be worth doing.” What? What is he thinking of? Even if it wouldn’t be worth doing, you do it. For example, Yugoslavia, the strongest chess team in the world, twenty-three years in a row they played the strongest Soviet teams, they lost all twenty-three matches. It didn’t seem to hurt them. Every game gets internationally rated, so their players’ ratings go up. Remember, when you’re an average player, and you have five players rated hundreds of points above you, you get just a draw or two, your rating goes up, you can’t lose—at all. You love to have the world’s highest-rated players come in there.

jude and boy

And the absolute worst strike against the USCF, as far as Jude is concerned, is the loss of its tournament records in 1990 when it moved to its new headquarters in Crossville, TN. Jude sees this offense in the gravest of terms. Say, for example, a child is doing research about the family history and discovers his grandfather was the highest rated chessmaster in the state of Kansas in 1956. Because the USCF lost its paper records, there may, in fact, be no surviving record of the 1956 Kansas grandmaster’s chess games.

They have lost all records before 1990. The U.S. Chess Federation has lost all Jude Acers records, all records of William Addison, all tournaments held in California before 1990. I played four hundred games, at least, in a three year period. Many rated. All records of who beat who, everything, lost, a whole generation of players lost, and tournament organizers in small towns by the hundreds forgotten forever because of this ridiculous U.S. Chess Federation loss in 1990, which I think was intentional because they know they couldn’t, potential lawsuits could be filed against them for things they had done earlier, but I won’t go into that. But anyway, they lost all records. Hideous, unforgivable oversight. People are now looking back to see where their father played and there’s no record of their father.

Sharks and Cold Fish

Over the years Jude took note of certain details which informed the choices he would come to make:

  • When he met Fischer in 1964, right after Fischer’s incredible run at the U.S. Championship when he won an unprecedented 11-0, Fischer told him he’d won only $2,500 and he had not been given any grants by the U.S. Chess Federation. That’s what the best player in the country gets, Jude thought.
  • The cold ruthlessness of Walter Browne:
walter browne

Walter Browne, 1971. Photo credit: Dutch National Archives

[It] was just before round two of the San Antonio, TX World Hemisphere Tournament in 1967, [Browne’s] playing, before the round starts, a player of average rating, around 1900 or whatever, and (Browne’s) a grandmaster, a strength player, but he gives the guy two minutes, he only takes one minute, or [the other guy] has five minutes—I forget how it was, but had big odds. And it’s for five, ten, fifteen bucks, whatever. Browne runs out of time, so he loses the ten bucks…Anyway, Browne is losing—Browne, a grandmaster, a world famous player—and he’s losing to the amateur in the five-minute games, and coldly, unemotionally, the bell rings to start the tournament and Browne says, “Well, okay,” and this grandmaster pays this absolute beginner twenty dollars or something like a cold fish, you know, not with anger, and I realized, “Do I really want to be around cold-blooded killers like this?” Not because I’m afraid of Browne, or any of these other guys, but I realized, “These are good players. Do you really want to spend your lifetime playing these guys on weekends?” And…here’s the other thing that I knew—and I told Browne this later. If he needed money and I’d won a tournament, I’d have to loan him the money, or a couple hundred dollars. He said, “You can’t think that way,” and I said, “Grandmaster Browne, I can think that way, and I do.”

  • In 1970 Jude visited with grandmaster and chess journalist Larry Evans in Reno. Evans was also into real estate, poker, and quite literally, mind games:
    chess review larry evans

    Larry Evans won the first of his five U.S. Championships in 1951 when he was 19 years old.

Evans played all the markets, he was a really great, great universal business man, he was involved with Reno real estate, benefits for women, civil rights, exhibitions, a gambler beyond belief, would bet hands of poker, drop in right out of the car and bet twenty dollar hands of poker, jump back in the car and he’d be banned from a lot of casinos because he won an enormous amount of money, they banned up just politely when they banned him, because he was able to memorize the cards, but he lost a lot of money before he won it back and was about even when it was over. But, anyway, Evans was taking me to a hotel and I was standing in line waiting to get in and he paid for the hotel on a credit card. He had parked the car and he walked up to me and he said, “Jude, I’ve invented a refutation to the Evans Gambit.” The Evans Gambit is named after Captain Evans of England, a hundred and fifty years ago, and he flashed out the moves and I said, “No, I’ve got you. Establish a pawn center.” And so we played it blindfolded. And he lost a piece! I played a key move, bishop to d5. He said, “What kind of move is that?” “I’ll play pawn takes d4.” I took a knight and (inaudible) twenty-five in a blindfold game, and winning a piece. Okay, now, we’re continuing the blindfold game. All right, we’re playing in our minds. I’m checking into a hotel room and we go to a casino restaurant. We finish the game and he moves a knight to a6 and to c5 and beats me in the blindfold game. But we’re playing blindfold, I don’t understand what’s going on. We’re sitting there and I took out a pocket set and I suddenly realized, there was no knight at b8 that he could move to a6. He’d invented a piece. And he said, “I simply wanted to see if you were paying attention.” And suddenly I realized, I don’t mind that he cheated in a sort of funny game, but I realized, Do you really want to play people like this all your life? These people are very, very clever. And these were little things. Not out of fear. Cold common sense. I can make hundreds of thousands of dollars playing, publish books, I’m very famous, touring, I’m not going into this world.
  • In 1972, Fischer was a week late for the World Championship match against Boris Spassky in Iceland. He’d technically forfeited, but exceptions were made and Fischer finally made it to Iceland and won the world title, which he would never defend, taking the air out of the chess scene in the U.S.
I kept thinking, Special exceptions are being made for Fischer but unless Fischer plays me or other people for the U.S. Championship, this isn’t going to work. I’ve got to get out now. Do my small town exhibitions, study chess as normal, that’s it, I’ve got to get out. Unless something extraordinary expenses-paid comes up.
  • In 1975, millionaire Louis Statham, at great expense, built a town hall and other facilities on the top of a mountain in Lone Pine, California, sponsored an international chess tournament—technically, he invited all grandmasters, but because of Soviet/U.S. chess politics, the Russians stayed away. But the few thousand dollars in prize money, especially given the great expense of the facilities, left Jude unimpressed and he elected to not play.

Very early on, and continually reinforced through the years, he could see that survival playing tournament chess required not only playing at a very high level, day in and out, but it would be next to impossible to make a living at it.

In the end, on paper, things look real tough. If I had it all to do over again, I’d do the same. I have no regrets…If it ended tomorrow, okay. I did it my way and I chose to act with tremendous speed on simple information that I got, and I got the right information. I talked to Fischer about the U.S. Championship, the money he got paid, I talked to Larry Evans, I just had the right people at the right time, I was clued in, I made all the right moves. I, alone, survived…And no one’s ever had a career like me.

The accumulation of these observations finally led Jude to set up shop on Decatur Street in New Orleans:

It never occurred to me that I would be the Energizer bunny of chess, that every other grandmaster would fade into the woodwork, they would have health issues and so on, I just keep a truckin’. And I was doing all the right things, making all the right choices, just be intuition. The most important of the confrontations with the grandmasters was the wonderful James Tarjan, international grandmaster who never got to play Fischer. He said to me, “All the players want the glory to rub off on them and let them play Fischer in the U.S. championship and Fischer won’t do it.” And I said, “Yes, that’s true, James.” I was very close to Tarjan in terms of liking him the few times we talked. And then, he was climbing onto a subway to see this dynamite woman, and as he climbed on the trolley car, he said, “Jude, you can say anything you want about the U.S. Chess Federation and the American chess scene, something is happening,” and as he’s pulling away on the trolley, I said, “Grandmaster James Tarjan, my good friend, nothing is happening.” And I was right. The whole scene of the U.S. Chess Federation, Fischer, meant nothing.

It all closed and the whole American chess scene has to be rebuilt from the ground up with fifty or sixty players in America allowed to play in the U.S. Championship, as a chess university, with all of our wonderful foreign grandmasters also allowed to play, but you’ve [got to] have fifty masters from all around the country, just master rating, play in ten or fifteen round internationally-rated tournaments, at their own expense, for the right to play in the U.S. Championship as a qualifier, everybody has got to be world rated, nothing can be provincial or neighborhood, everybody’s got to feel part of the program. So every hometown hero is in it. And I’m right and the U.S. Chess Federation is wrong. I was right about everything…I would just say that I see things faster. I wouldn’t say that I am in possession of an ability to process information faster than anyone else. I would just say I choose to process the information faster than anyone else. When I find out that Fischer isn’t playing, is forfeiting the World Championship, I’m playing in shopping centers, department stores, I’m not playing anywhere else, because it’s not going to get better. And I also act on information. Fischer has not played for two years. There’s no proof he’s ever going to play. I basically was able to act on this information. There would always be next year—no, there wouldn’t necessarily be next year. Take what you can get, do what works for you, maintain good health, manage your money as well as you can, get back to New Orleans, and try to figure out a way to exist.

Even now, the primary reason he has done the Senior tournaments abroad the past few years is because he’s been financed by generous patrons.

They get out of a limousine, they drop the money off, they drop the ticket off, they put it in my hand and they’re gone in five minutes.

It’s never been a question of confidence:

The guy can be sitting there and be reasonably good, but I’m better. Because I’ve worked more and I’ve studied more and physically I’m stronger than he is. I’m in tremendous shape. I mean, I don’t drink, I don’t do dope. You know, if he wants to play twelve, fifteen, twenty straight hours for money, I can do it, even now (at 67). I mean, I have won a thousand games in a row against varied opposition. Some weak, some reasonably strong, out there at the table, without even a draw. It has happened. I’ve done it over a three or four month period … Oh, I belong in jail. I’m a real thief. I’m sure I’ve stolen more games than anyone but Walter Browne and Frank J. Marshall and Larry Evans.



Part 2 has more of Jude’s unfiltered thoughts, as well as a partial bibliography. 

About the Author

Derek Bridges

Derek Bridges lives in New Orleans, trading in words and pictures. A carpetbagger of long standing, he grew up in the top right corner of IL and later went to college in the middle cornfield part. He has also lived in MS and FL, for educational purposes only, and was diasporized for a time in TX.

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