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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Carmine Nigro, Chess Teacher, Mentor, Band Leader, Stockbroker, Electronic Genius and Golfer

     Carmine Nigro (January 2, 1910 – August 16, 2001 at age 91) is probably best known as the first chess teacher Bobby Fischer had, but other than that he seems not too well known.
     Nigro, who died in a hospice in Peachtree City, Georgia., first met the 8-year old Fischer at a chess exhibition at the Brooklyn Public Library in New York in 1951 where Max Pavey was giving a simul with Fischer at one of the boards. Nigro was president of the Brooklyn Chess and Checkers Club and noticed Fischer after he quickly lost his game and burst into tears. Years later Fischer denied that he had cried, but soon after the exhibition he became a pupil of Nigro who was a strong Expert or low-Master. 
     Carmine Domenico Nigro was the second of three sons in a poor family and when he was 14, his parents could no longer afford to take care of him so dropped out of school and left home. For a time, he lived with an older brother and they studied music together with Nigro playing the saxophone and clarinet. At that time he began to frequent the Brooklyn Chess and Checkers Club where he played card games.  Sometime his late 20s a master who was visiting the club lost some bets to Nigro while playing bridge and instead of paying him off in cash, the master gave him chess lessons. Nigro became a frequent competitor in local tournaments and his name frequently popped up in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in connection with speed tournaments. 
     In the late 1940s Nigro started a band, calling it Tommy Little and His Orchestra. His son wasn't sure where the name came from but thought the “little” part probably referred to Nigro's 5-foot 3-inch height. The band usually played in the Asbury, New Jersey area and was moderately successful. 
     Fischer quickly became a fixture at the Nigros' home and over the next three years he was there at least once a week for a lesson, spending Saturdays with the Nigros and then going to Manhattan with Nigro on Sundays to play chess in the park. Later, Master John W. Collins began tutoring Fischer who began spending less and less time with Nigro until finally in 1956, Nigro moved his family to Florida and lost contact with Fischer. Nigro left a lasting impression on Fischer who dedicated his book, Bobby Fischer's Games of Chess, to him, writing in the forward, "Mr. Nigro was possibly not the best player in the world, but he was a very good teacher." 
     Nigro's son Bill recalled, "Dad recognized he was a kid who excelled at chess with little pushing. He spent every weekend at our house for several years. He was an eccentric kid - he so much loved to win, he would throw the pieces across the room if he lost. I would play a game or two with Fischer, then I was ready to go play outside. He stayed with Dad the whole day." 
     Eventually Nigro and his wife decided he needed a more stable source of income, so he became a stockbroker. Nigro moved to Miami in 1956 which is when he got seriously involved in golf. His son Bill said, "Dad was a perfectionist and always wanted to be the best he could at whatever it was. There was a park near where we lived. He loved to fool around with his short game so much he had me take our lawnmower and mow a little green so he could improve his shot making. Every morning before work and every afternoon after work, he was out there in the park, hitting shots to this makeshift green." 
     When Nigro wasn't practicing his putting during the day, he was practicing golf at night at a driving range owned by Sam Snead's older brother, Homer. Speaking of Nigro Homer said, "He was an electronic genius." Homer's nephew, Jack, explained, "One summer I went to stay with Uncle Homer and brought a new CB radio kit with me. The whole thing was disassembled, and it was supposed to take 150 hours to put together if you followed all the instructions. I went fishing one morning, came back later that day and he had built it and had it working in one day. He never looked at the instructions." 
     It wasn't long before Snead had Nigro giving golf lessons at night because, according to son Bill, Nigro was a natural-born teacher, noting his father a Florida junior champion among his pupils. "He felt it was his duty to share knowledge to help somebody improve in whatever it was they were doing. He really had the ability to teach beyond what he was capable of doing, because he could visualize and had such a terrific mind. He could play chess blindfolded, sitting in another room calling out the moves in multiple games and play just as well."

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