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Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Colorful James R. Schroeder

Typical Schroeder chess books
     James R. Schroeder, now retired from chess, was a colorful and sometimes controversial character. His name is pronounced Sch-A-der with a long a, NOT Sch-roader! On his website (now defunct) he described himself as "a renown chess author, editor, critic, master, historian and constant student of the game. He was the Ohio Chess Champion of 1950 and 1985 and the winner of fifty consecutive USCF rated games." Schroeder founded and operated The Prison Chess Fund. He was also a seller of books and chess equipment.
     Schroeder was born on November 30, 1927 and as far as I know is still alive and living in Washington state. I knew him quite well when he lived in Cleveland, Ohio and was active as a tournament director and was known for visiting the John G. White chess book collection at the Cleveland Public Library where he would meticulously hand copy games from famous tournaments, type them up, mimeograph them and then sell them for fifty cents apiece at tournaments. I even helped him on one book by proofreading the games and I think he gave me a book (a real one) of Karpov's games for my efforts. 
     One day he approached me at a tournament and asked if I had a car and could I give him a ride to his apartment to pick up some chess books to bring back and sell. His apartment was in an older building and was sparsely furnished with a small portable black and white TV with a coat hanger antenna. Chess books were piled all over the place. On the way back we stopped for lunch at an out of the way Chinese restaurant where we were the only non-Chinese in the place, but Schroeder seemed to be pretty well known. 
     According to his "Confidential Chess Lessons," a typewritten and mimeographed booklet of miscellaneous "instructions", Schroeder learned to play chess around 1945. Originally from Michigan, he moved to Ohio where he became active in promoting chess everywhere he could. While serving in the Army during the Korean War his pocket chess set was always with him and he played a lot of postal chess during that time. After the war he returned to Columbus, Ohio and later moved to Dayton, Ohio. While living in Dayton he never once visited the home of the poet, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, or went near the internationally famous Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, or visited the Wright Brothers Memorial. At some point he ended up in Springfield, Ohio, where in 1957 he got married and the Schroeders had one daughter. 
     In the 1950’s he studied the game and players extensively and became editor of the Columbus YMCA Chess Bulletin and became an active tournament player. He founded the Tru-Test Company, which sold chess books and supplies. In Cleveland he was founder of the “Cleveland Chess Foundation" and published the “Mini-Might Chess Bulletin." He also founded the Prison Chess Fund which supplied chess books to prisoners and encouraged people to play postal chess with inmates. 
     One lesser known incident in Schroeder's career was when he was selected by the controversial Nestor Farris to be the editor of The Chess Correspondent. According to Bryce Avery in Correspondence Chess in America, it was the "most catastrophic blunder in Farris' entire CCLA career." 
     Avery wrote that when he got the job, Schroeder had been given enough material for a couple of issues, but he wouldn't use it, choosing to write his own material instead and got the CCLA board's dander up by complaining in the magazine that they had not given him enough material. He also changed the design that had been used by the previous editors, Isaac Kashdan and William Wilcock. Schroeder's cover was too dark and the font hard to read. He also used filler that included drawings of maggots, photos of Elizabeth Taylor dressed as Cleopatra and a cartoon of a woman wearing only a towel. Sounds like the January, 1975 issue of the magazine, Schroeders' only issue before getting fired, was a forerunner of Kevin Spraggett's blog! An excerpt from that January, 1975 issue by Schroeder can be seen HERE.
     At the 2012 US Open, held in Vancouver, Washington where Schroeder was then living (and probably still does), the USCF Executive Board (Ruth Haring, Greg Walters, Allen Priest, Mike Nieman, Mitchell Atkins, Jim Berry, Bill Goichberg) voted not honor him with an award. Schroeder's reaction: "Look in your Funk and Wagnalls for words to express my opinion of them. Invectives, derogatory, vituperative, caustic. Being a gentleman of refined habits, I never employ such language and decline to lower myself into their midden-heap." 
     Schroeder declared the following game, published by Al Horowitz in Chess Review where he was referred to as Shredder Schroeder, was his first brilliancy prize game, adding that he was not a good attacking player, but nobody could miss his sacrifice.
 

7 comments:

  1. The opponent of James Schroeder in the game given above is Julius Goodman, of Cleveland. The name was misspelled on Schroeder’s web site, but given correctly in the Chess Review article (April 1950, page 111).

    Julius Goodman joined the Ohio Chess Association in 1946 and finished at 34 of 40 in the championship section of the Ohio Congress that year, which was won by John O. Hoy. In 1947 Goodman finished 3rd with a score of 5.5/7; in 1948 he finished 15th with a score of 3.0/6; and in 1949 he finished 9th with a score of 4.0/6 while Schroeder finished 4th with a score of 4.0/6.

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  2. Thanks for the info. I corrected the spelling. For some odd reason Schroeder always reminded me of Groucho Marx!

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  3. James Schroeder died July 8, 2017 in Vancouver WA.

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  4. I was unable to locate his obituary in Vancouver papers...do you have a link?

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    1. An obituary by IM John Donaldson was published on the USCF website today.

      https://new.uschess.org/news/remembering-james-schroeder-1927-2017/

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  5. Point of correction: The description of Schroeder, "a renown chess author, ...", was written by one of the editors of isolanis.com.

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  6. He founded the Prison Chess fund but he also later founded the National Chess Foundation which was also promoting prison chess. He predicted that Magnus Carlsen would someday become World Champion back when Magnus was only 13 and said it was because Magnus had studied classical chess. He 'did like the name "Shredder Schroeder" (pronounced SchrAeder)but did not like being called "J.R." (James Russell). He was a fan of the Ohio State Buckeyes but was often honest about specific years when Michigan was better. He followed both college football and MLB in the end of his life. (and of course, NFL) He still loved the classics (AVRO 38, 1927 championship Alekhine/Capablanca). He often talked of Mikhail Tal and Botvinnik as well as Paul Keres positional/endgame play). He lived in a small apartment in Vancouver, WA and sold books when he could. His knowledge of early 20th Century chess from the Cleveland Public Library and the John G. White collection was unparalleled. He taught me most of what I know.

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