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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

My Chess ‘Business Venture’

      The other day I was looking through some old papers and discovered a State Incorporation certificate from the mid-1970’s that reminded me of the time I was (sort of) in the chess business.  A friend approached me about starting a corporation with some rather ill-defined objectives of making money from our mutual interest in chess.  At the time I was working 10-12 hours a day six days a week so had absolutely no interest.  He was adamant though stating that he needed another person to list on the State required paperwork, so I told him OK, put me down as one of the officers, but he would have to pay the incorporation fee. Agreed.
       Then one day at the chess club he was talking about instituting a rating system and going into competition with the USCF but I managed to convince him that wasn’t such a good idea.  The next idea he came up with was holding a tournament and that sounded doable.  The only problem was we needed a tournament director and that meant somebody had to take the USCF test.  We both studied for it and when I took it, it was at work after a cursory, halfhearted effort at preparing.  I failed, but he passed so we had our director.  He set up the whole tournament by himself because I was working so many hours. 
       He wanted to offer a prize fund of $1000 which back in the mid-1970’s was equal to about $4000 today.   I warned him not to guarantee the prize fund though because he (we, the corporation) could lose non-existent money, but he guaranteed it anyway.  Finally on the weekend of the tournament I stopped in at the site on Saturday after work to see how it was going.  Actually I was surprised because there were several masters playing, including one IM.  But there was a problem.  There weren’t enough entries to cover the prize fund.  He was $300 short which he said he would cover out of his personal funds.  He told me there was some other guy whom I didn’t know who had also signed the incorporation papers who would probably come up with $100 and I should do the same.  Now, in 1975, $300 was about the equivalent of $1200 today and I felt sorry for the guy because he was acting so pathetic at having to cough up $300 of his own money, so I said OK I’d give him the $100.  The other guy never did.
       Then one day after the last round of the State championship he approached me and asked for a ride home because his car was broken down and would have to remain at the out of town dealer for several days.  Of course I gave him a ride home and, at his insistence, he gave me a brand new top of the line chess clock as payment for the ride home.  That’s when I discovered he had purchased a bunch of them to sell.  He told me not to worry though, it wouldn’t cost me anything, the ‘corporation’ was paying for it.  He never sold any.
       His next brainstorm was a magazine.  I thought he was going to do something weekly for the local chess club so wrote a couple of articles for it.  Then one day I got an international money order in the mail from some master in Mexico to pay for a subscription to the magazine.  I called my ‘partner’ and asked him about it.  It seems he had printed up $200 worth of the magazines, $800 in today’s value, and mailed them out to chessplayers all over the US, Canada and Mexico.  Subscriptions were to be sent to me! I have no idea where he got the mailing lists, but he then informed me, “I hope the guy doesn’t get too mad that he ain’t getting no more magazines.”  It seems his wife had flipped out about the money he spent getting the magazine printed and the postage, not to mention the tournament fiasco and the chess clock venture.  What was the name of the magazine and what was in it?  I have no idea; I never saw one!
       I finally managed to convince him that maybe there was no money to be made in chess and it might be best to abandon the whole idea and he agreed.  The corporation was eventually terminated by the State.
       He wasn’t done though.  One day I was looking through the local newspaper classified ads and saw his new business venture…computerized horoscopes for $3.00 apiece.

1 comment:

  1. That was wonderful story, and it has the ring of pure truth! Are you sure your friend didn't grow up to be the Executive Director of the USCF? Those business methods sound familiar.