Sunday, April 10, 2016

Marshall Memories, a Female perspective
By Ginny D'Amico Hoffmann

I joined the Marshall at 14 years old, after having become enamored of chess during the Fischer Spassky match, like a lot of people. I had played in several McAlpin tournaments (tournaments were at the McAlpin Hotel on 34th Street in those days. Run by Bill Goichberg) but I knew about the Marshall from Shelby Lyman’s coverage of the match on PBS. My Mom took me there. The first person I met was Bill Slater, who seemed wise and ancient to me. I played him and he beat me. I met his wife, Kathryn too. I joined the club that day and that was the beginning of a love affair with the club that would last my entire childhood into adult years.

I began going to the club almost every day. I played speed chess with the other young people, Jerry Graham, Orman Cisneros, Jay Bonin and many others on a daily basis. At 15 my Mom was letting me travel to the “city” from Brooklyn by myself but many times I had the company of Jay on my way home to Brooklyn as he lived near me. I spent many years this way. On the weekends I played in all of the hotel tournaments and played at the Marshall during the week.

I remember how dismayed some of my male opponents were when I beat them. Some of them were even upset to be paired with a girl! In the beginning I didn’t like this reaction but after awhile I enjoyed beating a man or boy with this attitude. I enjoyed beating anybody I could, actually as my play was aggressive, influenced mostly by Tal. I remember that after I beat an older man, a foreign player I recall, he was so furious that he threatened the club that if they didn’t ban women from playing, he would resign his membership. The club happily accepted his resignation!

The rapids was on Thursdays in those days. It was presided over by Joe Pandolfini (Bruce’s stepdad, I believe), who kept up a running dialog of his adventures from yesteryear. I enjoyed talking with the older people too. There was Johnny Marks, who wrote the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” who always banged down his pieces and called everybody “Mister” in a booming voice. I remember Sol Markoff, Betty Deutchman and other older people who always played in the front room by the Marshall statue on most days. We young ones played in the back room, with the door shut, so we wouldn’t disturb the others.

We used to play bughouse and really fast speed. It was a lot of fun. I was accepted as one of the group though a girl, because I wasn’t a bad player, not great but I could hold my own. I remember Peter Sepulveda, Gary Forman, Joe Lux, Ronnie Goldschlager, Jordon Auerbach, and Jerry Graham (who lived across the street) who were also there every day. And many, many others. Sometimes we used to go to the basement and play diplomacy. We played a lot of casual chess pretty much all day long. You could always get a game pretty much anytime you dropped by the club. It was like our livingroom. I became good friends with Rachel Crotto, who went on to win the US Women’s Championship several times. At 16, I worked at the club as an assistant manager. I used to enjoy going through the historical things that belonged to Frank Marshall that they kept in the office. Everything was so old and I loved and respected the history that the club represented. It must always be preserved.

When I got a bit older I hung out with the “cool” crowd of young masters: Bruce Pandolfini, Brian Hulce, George Kane and Larry Evans. I remember a lot of nights out at the restaurants and bars on McDougal Street. There was also a group of us who would go drinking after most nights at the club, usually to the Cedar Tavern on University Place. I was probably underage to drink but that didn’t seem to matter in those days. Usually Soltis, Forman, Cisneros, Sepuveda and anyone else who was there when the club closed would come out with us. We had a great time. I remember overindulging on several occasions, and once being led by the hand by Peter Sepulveda to Gary Forman’s house who kindly put Orman Cisneros and I up in his place for the night. (People at the club took care of each other). We woke in the morning and didn’t even know where we were! Ah, foolish youth!
In 1976, I formed a metropolitan league team of all women. It was Rachel Crotto, Dolly Teasley, Susan Sterngold and myself. We beat most of the competiton from around the city in the B Group. Andy Soltis choose one my games to publish in the Saturday chess column in the NY Post. We also had the same team for the US Team Championship which we dubbed “The Vera Menchik Brigade”, after the first Woman’s World Champ. We even had T-shirts made up. You should have seen the look on the faces of the poor guys we were paired with. They all looked miserable at the prospect of losing to a woman! I still don’t get that. Chess is a mental sport, and as such, women have the potential to be as least as good as men.

Sometimes after hours we would go back to the club to play speed chess. In those days, everyone had the key and even though you weren’t supposed to, we’d go back and play after midnight. We would put on only the light over the table we were using (there were light fixtures over each table then) and play happily for hours. It was during one of those nights that an eerie thing happened. The bust of Frank Marshall had been stolen and the club was all abuzz with talk of who could do such a thing. So one night myself and I think Ronnie Goldschlager, were playing after hours and we heard a noise downstairs. We kept quiet as we didn’t want to get in trouble for being there. Soon, we decided to leave, and when we went downstairs we found the statue! It was between the outer and inner doors. Astonished, we looked outside up and down the street but no one was there. So we dragged it in for safekeeping and left it by the foot of the stairs! (we didn’t want to be associated with the robbery so we got out of there quick! )

I remember a lecture at the club by Edward Lasker who was very, very old and very kind. Mostly I remember how happy he seemed. Sammy Reshevsky was at the club a lot. Bill Lombardy (Father Bill) and other luminaries were there all the time. Also, Jack Collins, who was a famous chess teacher of Fischer and other prodigies, would come to the club in his wheel chair. I believe his sister lived in one of the apartments upstairs. Sometimes there would be lectures and other events. There was a wedding (George Kane and Tandy). Once I was enlisted to go to the soviet news agency Tass to relay the moves of the world championship match between Karpov and Korchnoi (I believe). I would call the club after each move, from the little station they gave me at their office in Rockefeller Center. The members gathered downstairs at the club to watch each move on a demo board. These were the days before internet and cell phones!

One day, when I was 17, a group of us decided to invade “enemy territory” and go play in the Manhattan Rapids. Each week, we would enter the B section and usually win money. It was at the Manhattan that I first met my husband, the young and colorful Asa Hoffmann (who looked like a young Richard Gere then). I wound up joining the Manhattan for a year or so. But I was always a Marshall member so that made me a “double agent” of sorts! We had a great time there too.
I gave up chess when I started college at night, as I worked all day. I just didn’t have the time. I was about 22 then. I went on to have a long career in accounting but I never forgot chess or the players. I spent the years from 14 through 22 playing chess at the Marshall. It had a great influence on me. I was exposed to a great many intelligent and cultured individuals. It formed my personality and views. And now, I’ve rediscovered my love of chess, and I’m going back to the Marshall again after 33 years! Chess is a wonderful thing.

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