“Hello, Don. This is Arnold!” I heard those words so often that they still ring in my ears. His passing was not just a loss for chess but a loss for his many friends inside and outside the world of chess.
Arnold was always happy. He saw the good in everyone. He truly was the pied piper of chess constantly followed by friends and fans throughout his life—the number in the line behind him getting longer and longer.
But Arnold was not Arnold, he was Andrew. Let me explain. At birth he was given the name Andrew. This appears on all official documents, his birth certificate, driver’s license, passport, etc. When still a young boy, for reasons unknown, an uncle always called him Arnold. He was too nice to contradict his uncle and the substitute name stuck. It spread to the point that few people outside his immediate family ever knew his real name was Andrew.
One time, Arnold and I were at a Chess Olympiad in Greece. A little Romanian boy approached us. He said, “Hello! I am a chess player. Would you like to see some on my games?” We said sure and were amazed at the quality of the games and the boy’s ability to remember the moves and relevant variations. We invited his father and him to come to Florida and play a match with Arnold. The details were worked out and the match was played. The spectators at the match fell in love with the charm of the young boy. As much as we loved Arnold, we rooted for the youngster—clearly a star of the future. Amazingly, Arnold also rooted for the young boy. But Arnold true to his chess ethics could never deliberately lose a chess game—so Arnold won the match. We later helped the young boy and his family move from Romania to Florida. The boy, Gabriel Schwartzman, went to the University of Florida in Gainesville, graduated first in his class with all A’s, finished the 4 year curriculum in 2 and ½ years and during that time won the US Open and became the youngest GM of the period. After college, he left chess and is now CEO of a medium size company developing computer products.
Arnold was not without faults. He was the most impatient man I ever knew. It cost him. As a result he became the first grandmaster to ever lose a game to a computer. The game was even and truly a dead draw. Move after move, Arnold offered the computer a draw which was again and again declined. The computer simply did not recognize that the position was dead even. Finally out of frustration, Arnold changed the course of the game and entered a highly complicated position. Shortly after that, Arnold was forced to resign and received the questionable distinction of being the first grandmaster to lose to a computer.
Arnold’s second love, after chess, was horse racing. We would go to the racetrack every Saturday that there was no chess. He was not a big bettor. He would come back to our seats after making a bet and say in a loud voice: “I just bet two big ones on the long shot, number five.” Heads would turn and those sitting nearby thought it was $200 or $2000. Two big ones to Arnold was actually $2.00! Often he would say to me things like: “Don, I was up all night studying the racing form. Number 6 is a sure winner. Believe me none of the other horses have a chance against him. Bet big time on him”. I did and when I returned I said to him, “How much did you bet on number six”? Arnold replied: “Nothing. I bet on number two. At the last moment, I noticed how good number 2 was”. When we returned from the track, Teresa would always ask Arnold, “Well, how did it go today?” The answer was generally, “I almost won; just missed again and again. Arnold “almost” won several small fortunes betting on the horses.
During the Olympiads, the players got together and studied different positions. Often an almost 90 year old Arnold would make a suggestion. I took notice of the respect the great Grandmasters Seirawan, Chistiansen, deFirmian and Benjamin gave to his suggestions which they had not previously considered.
While planning a birthday party for Arnold, our mutual friend Data Tan Chin Nam (Malaysia) asked me what Arnold would like for his birthday party in Florida. I asked Arnold and he said that he wished a couple of his good FIDE friends could attend. I asked him to name three and he said: “Timman, Averbach and Campomanes.” Dato liked Arnold and sent me a check for $6,000 to pay their expenses.
My article would not be complete without including one anecdote including Arnold’s wife, Nina. Arnold and Nina were driving to a chess tournament when he was stopped by the police for speeding. After several admonishments, the police officer announced he was writing out an official warning ticket and the next time he would not be let off so easily. Nina immediately demanded that the officer give her his name and badge number, and she stated that she would make an official complaint. “About what?” asked the officer. Nina replied, “This man was going too fast and you are simply giving him a warning!” The officer was stunned and Arnold inquired as to whether he was going to get a ticket. The officer replied, “No, you have enough problems already.”
Arnold’s greatest love was the Denker Tournament of High School Champions. It was the one chess item for which he included in his will. Unfortunately due to complications that money got misdirected at the last moment. Realizing how important that bequest had meant to his father, Mitchell Denker made up for the loss.
I want to thank Dewain Barber for giving me this opportunity to relate a few stories regarding my good friend, GM Arnold Denker.