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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

John W. Collins

      John William Collins (September 23, 1912 - December 2, 2001) was a well known author, teacher and master and in 1991 was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame. His most famous ‘pupil’ was Bobby Fischer though Fischer never acknowledged Collins as such. Mostly what Collins seems to have done with Fischer was give him access to his vast chess library and to have analyzed some openings and played thousands of speed games with him. In fact, in his book, My Seven Chess Prodigies, Collins said he had merely "imparted knowledge" to Fischer's because his special ability could not be taught. Collins and his sister held open house two or three nights a week at his apartment in Flatbush, and Fischer had dinner there almost as often as in his own home.      Other famous pupils were Robert and Donald Byrne, William Lombardy and Raymond Weinstein, Sal Matera and Lewis Cohen although it cannot be said with certainty that Collins actually ‘taught’ them anything. Sal Matera became an IM and later gave up chess for a business career and who knows what happened to Lewis Cohen? With the possible exception of Fischer, I would hesitate to call any of them “prodigies.” I once read My Seven Chess Prodigies hoping to find the secret of his success, but there were no secrets. Mostly Collins and his sister, Ethel, provided their apartment, aka Hawthorne Chess Club, as a venue for people to play chess, analyze and generally fellowship. He and his sister also appear to have fed the kids a lot of pop, cookies and other goodies.
      Collins was born and raised in Newburgh, New York, but lived most of his life in New York City. He was injured in an accident at birth and confined to a wheelchair the rest of his life, but that did not stop him from being an active participant in many chess activities. He was assisted by his sister, a registered nurse who devoted her life to caring for her brother and accompanied him to chess events. Collins was a master in the 1930s and there were not many players in that era that could boast the title.
     He was a major figure in the early days of organized chess and served for many years as correspondence chess editor of Al Horowitz’ Chess Review magazine. In addition to being an OTB Master Collins was also a Correspondence Master. He was active in OTB chess up until the 1960’s and once won the U.S. Correspondence Championship. Collins also participated in the first World Correspondence Championship (won by C.J.S. Purdy) but did not do particularly well, finishing +3 -7 =3 and tying for 11-12 place out of 14. He also won the Marshall Chess Club Championship and the New York State Championship.
      Collins was co-editor of the ninth edition of Modern Chess Openings, a major organizer and leader for chess activities, especially through the Collins Kids organization. The Collins Kids were a group of young players who Collins helped to play against teams from other countries.

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