The Chess Masters of New Orleans

Louisiana
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NEW ORLEANS, La. — The game of chess offers plenty in terms of life’s skills. Kendric Perkins is an education specialist at The Historic New Orleans Collection, and is very proficient at the game of chess.

He helps to create curriculum for the youth of New Orleans through the Paul Morphy Program. The Paul Morphy Program is a partnership between The Historic New Orleans Collection and Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans Charter School. Kendric Perkins also has an organization called Strategic Thoughts, which teaches the game of chess with the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission.

Recently, chess has risen in popularity due to Netflix’s hit drama miniseries, The Queen’s Gambit. Over the holidays many stores sold out of chess boards. However, the history of chess goes back centuries. Kendric Perkins says, “chess was a game that evolved around the 7th century in India. It then migrated via the Silk Road and muslim moors took the game over north Africa to Spain.”

By the 1700’s chess was popular in England and France during the Enlightenment Period. Over the years, the Haitian and French Revolutions would bring thousands to Louisiana. As a result, that meant that chess boards had also found a way to New Orleans.

“As a result of those different populations coming to New Orleans, you can start to see in newspapers that the chess community started to increase in the early 1800’s,” says Kendric.

As time passes, by 1837, a baby was born in New Orleans that would grow up to become the greatest chess master of the era, named Paul Morphy. Morphy’s home was located in the French Quarter, where the Brennan’s Restaurant is located today.

Kendric loves to catch the interest of his young chess-player students with historic tales of the game of life, saying, “Once you learn this game, it’s as if you become part of world class of people. Paul Morphy played numerous people at the same time, with a blindfold on and he won his games. At the age of ten, he went on a three-year streak, where he was dominating the adults in the city.”

In 1858, Morphy travels to Europe for a chess tournament and dominates the competition. He doesn’t get the opportunity to do battle with the resident chess master named Howard Staunton but Morphy will forever go down in history as possibly the greatest chess master in the world.

Over a century and a half past the time of Paul Morphy, chess is ever relevant. There are many interesting characters that populate the streets, sidewalks and avenues of the French Quarter. For 42 years, one could walk down Decatur Street and see a red baret on the head of a man sitting at a table near the French Market. The red béret is as much a landmark as any of the Spanish Architecture and it adorns the head of chess master Jude Acers.

In 1964, Jude played a two game match against world class champion, Bobby Fischer and it forever changed his life. For many, Jude is a reincarnation of the legendary Paul Morphy, however, Jude wasn’t born into Creole society like his predecessor. While Morphy was born into wealth, Jude is originally from North Carolina and had a rough childhood. Jude relocated with his father to New Orleans and made his way through the streets and gutters, where a neighbor would introduce him to the game of chess.

Today Jude is a Guinness World Record holder, of having played 117 opponents in a simultaneous exhibition.

Jude is possibly a good example of one of the many, many metaphors of chess. Chess is a mirror of the battles of life and while one may lose a battle, if you are lucky, the game continues on in the future.

For a few dollars and an open ear, an eager chess player visiting New Orleans has the opportunity to play a chess master and learn a few things along the way. It’s a life that Jude wouldn’t trade in for 64 squares and 16 pieces.

“The actual idea of always being able to have people around you, just because you have chessboard and a chess table, is what I like most about my life in the end,” says Jude Acers.

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