Rest in Power: Emory Tate, 1958-2015

10/31/2015 – International Master Emory Tate was a chess legend, feared and renowned for his creative play and his tactical imagination. He was also known for his self-confidence and his love of the game - a love he liked to share with joy. On 17. October Emory Tate died after a sudden collapse. His student and friend Todd Andrews pays tribute to a truely fascinating man.

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Rest In Power:  International Master and
American Chess Tactician Emory Tate (1958 – 2015)

By Todd Andrews

“ …the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!" – Jack Kerouac

Emory Tate Jr. was born on December 27, 1958 in Chicago, Illinois and taught chess by his father. I wonder if the father or the child could imagine the impact and lasting effects that those simple chess lessons would bring the world and, particularly, to the world of chess.  Emory was a genius, a true genius. He started his chess career by winning the US Armed Forces Championship five times, more than any other soldier. His mastery of languages was far more impressive during his military career. He spoke Russian better than most Russians, Spanish, German and pretty much any language he tried to pick up. There is even a legend that after a few days in one foreign nation, he could already fluently communicate.  Emory was a family man.  He was very proud of his children and his parenting philosophies produced two championship kick boxers in Tristan and Emory Andrew III and an intelligent law graduate in his daughter Janine. Emory was a mentor.

Emory Tate with his family

A young Emory with his daughter Janine

Emory Tate with his sons

I was fortunate enough to be a student of his before he even considered himself a chess teacher. Then, he was simply a chess pro and a “chess demonstrator.”  He was friends with my local coach in Nashville, Tennessee – (FM) Jerry Wheeler – and he would regularly stop through middle-Tennessee as he had family a few hours south in the state of Alabama. I then became a chess tournament travel companion of his through my teenage and early adult years. Later in his life, he organized his teaching much more and influenced children in the bay area of California. However, above all else Emory was a competitor and a warrior. The most confident one when he walked into any tournament hall.

“Let it be known!” – Emory Tate

(FM) Robin Cunningham recalls questioning Emory’s tactics once and getting the immediate response “Robin, trust me I am Emory Tate.” It’s the type of slanted comment that would make crowds, many often standing on tables and chairs to get a glance of the famous Emory Tate post-mortem analysis sessions, laugh out loud. But Emory would not laugh back at them. He meant every positive word he said about himself. I found the best retort to his seemingly arrogant comments was to just nod and smile in silence. He was as strong as he let you know. I recall traveling with Emory at the 1997 US Masters in Oakbrook, Illinois. As he, Jerry and I prepared for our next round, little did we know that Emory was about to drop one of the most spectacular open Sicilians ever to be played on Grandmaster Leonid Yudasin.

Nf5 and Nd5 - The Tateshinkai Attack

 

Later that day, Emory and Yudasin sat down in the lobby of the hotel, with a painting of a cornfield leading up to Chicago – the city of his birth- with a cylinder shaped ceiling that led all the way from the bottom floor to the top floors of the hotel. So many people gathered around to see the analysis session that chess fans were running up to the second floor of the hotel so that they could try to glance down onto the large group below and see the star in the middle. He was a show man when it came to displaying his games, but there was something also very special about Emory.

Emory analyses

While many of the world’s top chess players are social introverts and simply lack any sort of empathy for chess fans, Emory loved and shared his chess experience with all those who showed interest. He would never snub his chin at the weakest of beginners, but rather would sit down with them and happily show one of his latest tactical achievements. But if one of those beginners got frisky and challenged Emory’s expertise, he would quickly shut them down with comments such as “I am the greatest tactician of all time. Let it be known.”

Emory Tate (right) followed by media and public.

It comes as no surprise to your author that it was in that event in that suburb of Chicago that I earned my master title as I traveled in the observant shadows of my friend.

Emory was very fond of the Nf5 and Nd5 theme.

 

 

Oh, the hours I’ve spent inside the Coliseum
Dodging lions and wastin’ time
Oh, those mighty kings of the jungle, I could hardly stand to see ’em
Yes, it sure has been a long, hard climb
Train wheels runnin’ through the back of my memory
When I ran on the hilltop following a pack of wild geese
Someday, everything is gonna be smooth like a rhapsody
When I paint my masterpiece

Bob Dylan

While I personally enjoy the tactics of Emory’s magnum opus against Yudasin, Emory would never call any single game his best. He did not believe in the word “best.” Everything he did was the best. Here are a few encounters, some unpublished, from our travels together. I reluctantly show my only victory against my mentor – not to pat myself on the back, but to pay homage to his teachings and show my appreciation. Without the years of observing Emory, I would never have stood a chance against him over-the-board.

Student and teacher: Todd Andrews and Emory Tate

 
 
 

The last game we played against each other was won by Emory. He surprised me with a tactical shot.

 

You were likely to know Emory no matter where you lived in the world. Emory did not seem to have nor even need a head quarters or as some more commonly refer to it, a home. He was happy wherever he went and he always found a way to get to the next event no matter what his circumstances were at the time. He had friends in every town he visited. He played over 600 tournaments in the US alone between 1991 and 2015. He played many years before the pre-internet tracking of our results as well. Emory had played events all over Europe and the American Continents as well and he seemed to reach one of his peak strengths in 2006 when he achieved the title of International Master officially.

Emory after winning a tournament in the Netherlands

 It has been said he beat between 80 and 100 Grandmasters in his chess career. You can see one of the more entertaining finishes in this victory against one of the few American Grandmasters that were as fierce as Emory.

 

Emory also seemed to find a way to attack no matter which opening he was able to drag you into.

 

Emory was fond of openings with early rook moves. He enjoyed getting his opponents “out in the streets” or in other words, into unchartered openings. This early Ra3 move has been duly dubbed “The Tate Variation.” While I could not find any games, I watched him scalp a couple of Grandmasters in this variation as well.

 

One time when I asked Emory to show me what to do against the Smith-Morra Gambit, of course, he pulled out this early rook move variation put on display in the following game by famous GM Dzindzi. He called it “The Chicago Variation.”

 

You know that cliché about being immortalized through your art, right? Of course, as long as people play chess, they will know who Emory Tate was and who he lives on as through his games. However, I think there is a more important type of immortality in Emory’s teachings. I learned from him a certain type of confidence that not just anyone can instill in you. That confidence that he shared with all of those who graced his presence will live forever.

I will teach it to my daughter and she will teach it to her children. The hard work and aggressive style he preached to his children and to his students will march on long after all of us who knew Emory are gone. The landscape of American chess will never be the same. As one follower put it “you are not a chess player, unless you have an Emory Tate story.” I feel fortunate to have so many. We have lost a genius and the most charismatic and entertaining player in American chess. He made going to a chess tournament more than just a competition. He brought the electricity of a rock n. roll concert; he made it a side show and a spectacle that you had to see. He made it worth going, no matter your result. Rest in Power, Emory.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Ghandi

As they laid Emory to rest in Banks, Alabama I competed in Memphis, Tennessee. This position occurred about the same time as Emory’s friends and family said good bye. It was my way to say goodbye and pay homage to my good friend and mentor.

 

 

About the author

Todd Andrews lives as a chess instructor in Nashville, Tennessee, is father of one child, and Executive Director of the Nashville Chess Center, a non-for-profit chess teaching organization that works in 30-40 middle-Tennessee schools. He is 8-time Tennessee State Champion and was formerly a top ranked US Junior player.