A Chronicle of James Schroeder at His Semi-Centennial

By John W. P. O’Brien; May 31, 1978

Fewer and fewer are the survivors who remember when the fun-loving Calvin dwelt in the White House and serenely prevailed over the era of Coolidge prosperity. It was during this era that Detroit’s leading citizen, Henry Ford, having just abandoned his famous Model “T”, brought out a new model of his Ford car. Not to be outdone, the prominent Prarie Avenue Schroeders brought out a new model of their own. They called this new model, James. No one then believed that this puny little babe would have the stamina to survive or the strength to tear up so many calendars since then. In fact, he survived so long that this year — now that we have the Bicentennial out of the way — we can begin the yearlong celebration of the Schroederian Semi-Centennial. The celebration is for the one who early showed that he possessed a strong personality, one not swayed by majority opinion or social pressures. This was clearly revealed at his christening party when he alone of all those present drank only water, but I’ve heard rumors that he later altered his attitude on this matter. The next year Coolidge moved out of the White House and prosperity moved soon after. I vividly remember this because while the O’Briens were paying $37.00 per month for five rooms, the thrifty Coolidges moved into 7 rooms in a 2-family house, with use of a front porch and a back yard, for only $32.00 per month. Yet the sage of Northampton, Massachusetts, was not regarded as exceptionally parsimonious by his frugal neighbors on Massasoit Street. But such matters hardly concerted James Schroeder. His individuality and originality and the vigor with which he expressed his opinions early involved him in disputes. It must be conceded that Schroeder was no wonderkind. Some even called him a backward child, who wasted his entire childhood, neglecting to learn chess until his late ‘teens. He more than made up for his later start, however, because of his natural intelligence. So, just as the great career of Alexander Alekhin came to a close, the chess career of James Schroeder began. This sort of thing, with one gain and one loss keeps the chessic population constant. A short time later most Americans found the close election of 1948, which returned Harry S. Truman to the White House, very exciting. Schroeder, however, took little interest in this event ‘though it would have an effect on his life. Instead, he was so absorbed in the World Championship Tournament that saw the emergence of Mikhail Botvinnik as the new Champion that he had little time for little else. Little else except the USA Championship won by Herman Steiner, Arthur Bisguier’s triumph in the USA Junior Championship and Weaver Adams victory in the U.S. Open tournament. This was the most important chess year since Schroeder learned the game. The great AVRO 1938 Tournament in the Netherlands occurred before he took an interest in chess. He even followed the Ohio State Championship where Elliott Stearns won First Prize. He was particularly interested in the Ohio event because after the glory departed from Detroit and Coolidge left Washington, Schroeder left Michigan and became a wanderer. Moving southward he criss-crossed Ohio in the footsteps of Johnny Appleseed. Unlike his predecessor, he didn’t plant trees, but he did try to implant in everyone he met a knowledge of chess. While he was engaged in discovering and then preaching the gospel of chess, the successors of Coolidge, Hoover and Roosevelt must have been preoccupied with other matters, because neither of them took any notice of Schroeder. It wasn’t until Truman came to Washington that the situation changed. “Give ’em Hell Harry” wrote to “Give ’em Hell Jimmie”. Harry, it seems, was having some problems and needed Jim’s help. Yet nobody had to drag Jimmie kicking and screaming to his new task. No, with uncommon docility he happily hastened to help Harry. So, for many months, Schroeder stalked grimly through the Korean war, with his pocket chess set at the ever ready. Already a chess Master and Ohio Champion, he devoted his spare time to studying chess, returning home with his play much improved. [That’s because I played many games of Postal Chess while in the Army in Korea. – JARS] His obsession with chess seems somewhat extreme, though, because he neglects too many other aspects of life. This was evident after his return to Columbus, the capital city of Ohio. He could direct you to the nearest chess club, but if you relied on his guidance to get to the Capital Building, you’d both get lost. And when he was living in Dayton he knew how to reach Troy Street to play at the Dayton Chess Club, but not once did he see the home of the poet, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, or go near the internationally famous Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, or visit the Wright Brothers Memorial to the two Dayton citizens who launched us into the Air Age, and these attractions lure tourists from all over the world. Then some tell of an incident that occurred during Schroeder’s sojourn on the banks of the Mad River, which flows by the City of Springfield, Ohio. This may be the main cause of the Schroeder phenomenon but we can’t confirm that the story is true, and thus won’t repeat it. It cannot be said, though, that Schroeder had no other interests but chess. In 1957 he took time out from the Royal Game to marry and father a daughter. But Jim couldn’t forget chess, which he learned in 1945. In the 1950’s he studied the game and players extensively and began his career in journalism as Editor of the Columbus “Y” Chess Bulletin and for more than 20 years his articles have featured laudatory tributes to the giants of the past and present and laments over, or furious assaults on, the Epigoni who currently clutter the chessic landscape. While writing about the chess scene he didn’t neglect his play, winning many tournaments and matches. Along the way, he founded the Tru-Test Company, which sells chess books and supplies. Many of the books, of course, are written, or redacted, or annotated by James Schroeder. Schroeder was founder of the “Cleveland Chess Foundation of whose organ, “Mini-Might”, he is the editor. His earlier connection with the “Ohio Chess Bulletin” ended in 1964. The Foundation sponsors the Prison Chess Fund, which buys chess books and supplies for prisoners, and encourages people in the free world to play postal chess with inmates. In addition to editing the “Mini-Might”, he edits “Elite”, published occasionally. Along with the enthusiasm and antipathies previously mentioned, Jim always gave sympathetic treatment to those who, like Philidor and Alekhin, were persecuted and pushed into exile. Among the victims during Schroeder’s time were Pal Benko, who escaped the clutches of the Russian imperialists who had conquered his native Hungary. Later Ludek Pachman fled his home in Czechoslovakia, escaping the same enemy. Still later Viktor Korchnoi, Polish-Ukrainian, went into exile from Russia. Among the idiosyncratic attitudes of Editor Schroeder are his views of Paul Morphy and Robert Fischer, as each was the outstanding player of his time, each had his quota of eccentricities, each retired early from chess competition. Yet Schroeder, a stout defender of Morphy, is extremely hostile to Fischer. [Wrong! Must be poor writing by me because I felt sorry for Fischer, who suffered from severe mental illness. – JARS] Schroeder enthusiastically recommends gambit openings, even though his idol, Emanuel Lasker, adopted an attitude that fell somewhat short of passionate devotion. Much else could be written of Schroeder’s career, but my scurvy memory can recapture no more. A more comprehensive account can be given by whoever is the chronicler of the Schroeder Centennial, 50 years hence, but it can’t be me, because I’m not staying around for that celebration. My plans include moving far away from my present address before then, so someone else must put the words together. The most startling thing I have to record is that on Page 1 of the January-February issue of “Mini-Might”, under the heading, “Fifty years ago in Chess”, Jim writes: “nothing important happened in 1928.” Such extreme modesty almost amounts to a fault, for surely his birth that year was the most tremendously important event in the history of chess. Overwhelmed by such profound humility, comparable to that of St. Francis, I could write no further. # # #

[Thank you but I was born November 30, 1927 – JARS]

From Confidential Chess Lessons © July 2012

1 comment for “A Chronicle of James Schroeder at His Semi-Centennial

  1. Jim Massie
    August 4, 2012 at 11:52 am

    As a master who was so prominent in Ohio chess for so many years you should to do an updated bio…perhaps a bit more serious though.

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