Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Kansas City Bob and the Seafood Chess Reunion

What do you do when you are faced with an opportunity to make some cash, but in order to collect it, you have to revisit shame?

Tomorrow I have a bread promo at Oceanaire Seafood Room where the Chef wants to see some 14 ounce sourdough rounds. This high-high end concept is located in the downtown (Mpls) Hyatt Regency, which is home to many visitors from the Convention Center which rests in the adjacent position.

My incident of trauma took place a few years back. Klecko was writing a column for a local food rag called Buon Gusto at the time, and decided to do a piece on a group of line cooks and such that had a real informal group that they called the Food Service Chess Club.
The host sites would rotate, and often times you sat in back rooms or next to freezers and took your chances against some salt dog opponent.

The nice thing about chess is it's a level playing field, you can't bull**** your way into victory. So over the course of the story I witnessed many a bus boy toppling his hierarchy superior.

Of course nobody plays to lose, but there's something a little unerving about being dressed down by the cat who comes from a lower caste system.

Blitz or Bullet was the the game most of these people wanted to play. If you don't play chess, this basically means that the player each have a clock with 1 to 3 minutes preset, and if you don't win the game by the time the clock runs out....the game is lost.

This version can be particularly interesting once the Budweiser's or P.B.R.'s got flowing into their blood system.

Like all walks of life, this circle had etiquette, but it sure didn't resemble anything that would fit into the comfort zone of some blue blood.

Check - Mother "F"er,Check again you dopey b****, Check and Mate you little prick....now be a good loser and fetch me a beer."

Usually these events (but not always) took place during closed hours, therefore ranting and name calling could be maximized. On some of the occasions where there were bigger turnouts, the energy was frantic. who would have ever guessed that chess could create the same tension as Christopher Walken playing Russian Roulette in that Deer Hunter movie?

One of the ringleaders in this crowd was a guy who went by the name Kansas City Bob.

K.C.B. was a life long food service worker who had drove bread trucks in Chicago, ran breakfast lines in Montreal, and apparently held iconic status in the K.C.'s grocery store scene.

In the Twin Cities however, he worked as a prep guy in the kitchen at the University of Minnesota's Kaufman Union where he assembled items for the chefs, filled parfait cups and basic stuff like that.

I don't know if Kansas City Bob was looking for ink, or just plain out liked me, but he'd stand over my shoulder and give me input on my weak opening moves. After each of my games he'd pull me aside to do a post mortem because it was just another platform to show his level of brilliance.

Sometimes I found it hard to focus though because I'd catch some of his tattoo's out of the corner of my eye and I'd simply break out laughing. Dude has a Buffy the Vampire Tat, and better yet....on his right bicep he had a Hilary 08. When I saw it... it was 2006, 2 years before the election LOL.

The guy was awesome.

So after awhile we ended up hanging out on the West Bank playing chess in coffee houses where if you were born in America, you were an outsider.

Thats really what makes this game so cool. it transcends every boundary possible.

So one night we are working on D4 openings and Kansas City Bob mentions he is playing in a tourney over at the Hyatt the coming weekend. he also mentioned that there would be an open division for fish like me that didn't have a recognized rating.

I agreed to go, and to be honest....I was a little nervous. On event day. We walked through the long hallway, or would it be a corridor? When we stood at the entrance to the tournament room, the doors were menacing. I'll bet they were 20 feet high, like you were going to enter a castle.

So as I reach out to pull the door open, Kansas City Bob grabbed my outstretched arm to issue what I'm guessing was an obligatory warning that was issued to all newbies.

"When you open that door, I'm telling you...you're gonna see things that will baffle logic. There's going to be guy still wearing Members Only jackets from 1979. You'll see men were plaid pants, not because they think it's cool, but because they just have always worn them. if the guy you draw hasn't washed his hair in a week, don't worry about, that's totally normal, but if any of those 52 year old pricks try to intimidate you...just lean over and whisper that you don't live in your mothers basement, and that you've actually had sex. That should shut up about 90% of these guys."

So Bob took off and disappeared into an ocean of chess boards and I sat at what was the equivalent of the card table in the den, where the children eat their Thanksgiving meal. The first guy I played wore headphone and rocked. I crushed him to the drone of "Prince" standards that leaked out of his head phones.

My second game was against some dude from Brazil, or Chili. If Klecko is stupid...I really don't have an adjective for him, cuz I thwarted him.

So during the break...Klecko starts to strut a bit, thinking maybe he's gonna bring home a 3rd place medal from this weirdo division. But just at the climax of the fantasy, the tour director announces that I drew Billy X. all the peeps are whispering, giggling, clamoring. I wanted in on the buzz, so after a little investigation. I found out I would be playing the Minnesota Kindergarten State Champ.

I told the brass monkeys that I didn't want to play the kid. it was to David & Goliath. I was 10 times as old, 10 times his size, and I didn't want to deal with cry baby antics. Politely it was explained to me that I should just shut up and be prepared to take the a** whooping of my life.

As me and the kid lined up from one another across the chess board. I swear to polish Jesus that hundreds of sets of eyes turned to observe this freak show. Each of them with a weird grin on their face.

The outcome? I conceded in 42 or 43 moves. The kid rocked. When the game was over, he stood up to shake my hand. Although i was still seated, I towered of his little frame. The kid walked around the table....and I kid you not, he draped his arm across my shoulder and started pointing to the remnant of the game.

"Mr. if you want to improve I am going to suggest that you really consider your pawn structure. See how mine remains balanced, like a picket fence. Yous is blown apart, it doesn't know what it's trying to do."

So even though it is years later, guess what is the first topic everybody wants to relive when Klecko is setting up his chess pieces.


OK kiddo, keep your fingers crossed, if Karma is just....I will land the Oceanaire Room.


  1. At least you lasted 40 plus moves . I was wiped out after less than ten.
    Mind you that was a long time ago, I am much older and still no wiser when it comes to chess. What is the minimum number of moves to check mate?

    From Brother Bill

  2. Another great story... I admit to being the most inept bullet chess player of all time. I go into a trance like the closing scenes from Clockwork Orange when that tick-tick ticking decides the outcome, usually. Loved the condescending but genuine suggestions by the Kid at the end. My pawn structure is like my baking; too creative for my own good!

  3. Brother Bill, I think 4 moves is the minimum, and Bakerdude...OMG-LOL...."I go into a trance likethe closing scene from Clockwork Orange."