The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"On the Square" Article

Thanks to Timothy Blevins of Waverly, Virginia (USA) for his first contribution to The Campbell Report. I found the following story both interesting and well written. For the reader's convenience (if you aren't following the moves on your own set) I've added a couple chess diagrams so you will be able to appreciate the critical moment in the story. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did. I'm anticipating additional contributions in the future from Mr. Blevins. If you enjoy reading stories with a chess connection I highly recommend that you visit Harold Bearce's great web site at http://www.homestead.com/seventhrank/stories.html. Timothy Blevins is not available on-line, so if you have any comments for him please send them to me. -- J. Franklin Campbell

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
A Short Story by Timothy Blevins


I saw it happen with my own eyes! If not, I'd have accused Old Ralph of just inventing another timely excuse.

We, the remaining charter members of the Popular Springs Chess Club (8 rag-tag over-the-hill pawn stormers) were assembled in a steamy church basement playing the 12th Annual Henry Morgan Memorial Chess Tournament. Named in honor of our group's founder, the event began in 1961 after Henry (in 1959) erred his way into an “Amour Gambit” with a woman 35 years his junior and ran off with her to a cozy little love nest on the banks of the Gila River in sunny Arizona. Sixteen months later word filtered back that his sweetheart had deserted him for a much younger traveling salesman, leaving poor Henry's heart in such tatters that he never made it back to these hills. Thus, we paid homage to his legacy.


When I first arrived on the balmy September evening in question, Ralph was standing over by a large stain-glass window listening to a group of guys discuss the torrid heat wave that enveloped our once lush valley. Bits of conversation floated my way, telling a sorry story of stunted tobacco crops, low water tables, frayed nerves and serious injuries from heat-exhaustion and stroke.

Seeing me, Ralph broke from the crowd and started my way.

“Ain't it the craziest thing?" he launched at me, "All the money these people spend printing those religious tracts telling folks how to live their lives -- and they can't even spring for a couple of those oscillating fans.”

I remained silent, not wanting to add fuel to his fire.

“It's hotter than a loaded pair of dice on pay-day in here. I've half a mind to sit this one out and head on down to the Rainbow Grill,” Ralph threatened. “I hear they've got one of those air conditioning units over there.”

“No need for that, Ralph. The sun will be setting in an hour or so,” I said matter of factly.

“Everybody gather 'round now,” I shouted, and slowly a couple of guys tore themselves away from the antiquated pool table in the back, three more came toward us after refilling their coffee cups at the refreshment station and Dan Jackson - bless his soul - quit banging on the out of tune spinet in the next room and joined us.

“You all know the rules; but to be sure we don't have a repeat of last year, I'll go over a couple of things. We will be using the en passant rule. Is everyone familiar with it by now?” With no questions I continued, “Also, if a pawn reaches the 8th rank, it may become any piece other than a King, except it may not remain a pawn. Which, in effect, means that a player can have two Queens or more on the board at the same time.”

“I still don't agree with that one,” Ralph piped in.

“Because of the heat there will be a 15 minute break between each round. Remember, we are here to honor Henry, not argue and bicker. So conduct yourselves as true sportsmen.”

Concluding my oration I took Steve Roberts' dingy Atlanta Braves baseball cap off his skinny head and placed 8 tiny pieces of paper inside it. Passing the hat around, we all ritually plucked a slip like children drawing names for Christmas presents and, with the 1st round pairings determined, we began our best of 3 match-ups.


I could and probably should describe the action of the 1st and 2nd rounds that night, but honestly, the openings, middle games, passed pawns, forks, skewers, back-line mates and Rook and Queen endings of those contests are not vital to this story. What does matter is as follows:

It came down to Old Ralph and Dan Jackson playing a bubble game in their best of 5 title round, surprising us onlookers not a lot since the two had been in the same position three years running, with Dan grabbing the prize each time. Call it choke syndrome, or fate, or whatever, but Ralph always found a way to lose.

So we're all standing there at 9:45pm mopping sweat from our glistening foreheads when Dan opened the game 1.e4 Ralph, in turn, deviated from his usual custom of 1… g6 and played 1. … e5, causing Dan Jackson's jaw to drop so fast his upper plate slipped a bit before the poli-grip, acting as a rubber band, did its job and sucked his false teeth back into place.

“Ralph, you didn't move the wrong pawn by mistake, did ya?” Dan tentatively asked.

“Why? You going to let me take it back if I did? Just move, I didn't sit down here to play 20 questions,” Ralph barked.

Dan shakily grasped his King Knight and the game continued 2.Nf3, Nc6; 3.Bc4, Bc5; 4.c3, Nf6; 5.d4, exd4; 6.cxd4, Bb4+; 7.Bd2, Bxd2+; 8.Nbxd2.

By this stage of the contest I was thoroughly impressed. Dan, receiving enough shock from Ralph's opening move to short circuit his pacemaker, had recovered quickly, maneuvering his way into a workable line of the Giuoco Piano; while Ralph, who didn't know the difference between a passed pawn and a Ruy Lopez, calmly cranked out eight “book” moves.

And then it hit me like a short 2 by 4 across the bridge of the nose!!


My mind's eye suddenly filtered back ten months to a blustery, snow-filled morning in early December. I was sitting in my study shuffling and re-shuffling chess pieces (trying to work out a combination in one of the 30 or so postal games I had ongoing at the time) when I was disturbed by the sharp buzz of my front doorbell. Making my way through the stacks of magazines, piles of clean and unclean laundry and God knows what else that cluttered my bachelor's pad, I found Old Ralph standing on my porch. Clean shaven, he looked all out of sorts, dressed in a white Applejack, brown business suit and matching wingtips.

“Where are you preaching at today, Ralph?” I asked.

“I need to talk to you," he said, ignoring the rib.

“Come on in. Do you want a cup of coffee?”

“No, I'll not be long.”

“Well then sir, state your purpose,” I said, steering him to the living room, where he plopped carelessly into my threadbare recliner without removing his hat or coat.

“I've got this 13 year old grandson over in Jasper,” he said. "He belongs to a chess club and wants me to get him a couple of books for Christmas. I was wondering if I could borrow your catalog from that chess by mail club you belong to in Illinois.”

“I'll do you one better than that and help you order them,” I said, knowing full well that's what he had in mind all along. "Got any idea what he wants?”

“He keeps talking about this Bobby Fischer and … let's see … open and semi-open games.”

“I believe we can find him something, but let me warn you -- chess books are expensive!” I said.

“Expensive! Boy, when have you ever known me to haggle over money?” Ralph asked.

Plenty of times, I started to say, but I realized that when it came to the wants and needs of a man's grandchildren, even the stingiest of tightwads would spend money like it grew on trees.

Excusing myself, I hustled off to the den and after searching through a mound of Newsweeks, Wall Street Journals and Chess Lifes, I found my tattered APCT Book Catalog. Scurrying to the kitchen, I poured Ralph and I each a cup of coffee from the silver percolator that simmered perpetually on my new Amana Range, before returning to the living room.

“Boy, I told you I didn't want any coffee!” Ralph scolded, all the while raising the steaming brew to his lips.

“I've got 3 books in mind, you can choose two of them.”

“Just order 'em all three,” Ralph replied, giving a wave of his huge hand to close the subject.

“Don't you want to know what they are?”


“O.K., what's your grandson's address?” I asked, as I tore an order form from the catalog.

“Have them sent to me," Ralph said, digging for his wallet. "I'll take them over there on Christmas Eve.”


So, as I returned my awareness to that sticky Autumn night I surmised one of two things had happened: Old Ralph had conned me into ordering those books for his own use, or he'd gotten interested in the tomes before he delivered them to his grandchild.

Looking down at Dan and Ralph hunched over the board I realized they were both sweating profusely and getting quite rosy in the cheeks.

“All right fellows, let's take a 15-minute break and get some air,” I said.

“Yea, let's do that,” Ralph said, “and when we get back maybe we could set up one of those small tables by the window and play over there. We might get lucky and catch a breeze.”

In the interim I walked up the street to Gilley's service station, where I wolfed down a banana moon pie, guzzled a 6-ounce bottle of coke, bought Ralph a Dr. Pepper and myself a pack of Pall Malls.

Smoking my way back across the warm asphalt of the church parking lot I couldn't help but feel a little giddy at the prospect of Ralph finally beating Dan and winning both the tournament and ensuing bragging rights that I knew he'd take maximum advantage of until next September.

As a matter of fact, I found Old Ralph amid the rest of the fellows gearing up to do some crowing as he regaled them with a story involving the capture of a trainload of enemy munitions almost single handedly during W.W.II.

“Ralph,” I said, “I hate to interrupt your tale, but you'd better drink this Dr. Pepper and get cooled down some.” Taking my Swiss Army knife from my left front pocket I popped the lid, and as I handed the bottle to Ralph I glimpsed a dim flash in the Northwest sky.

“Storm's coming,” I offered.

“You're always dreaming, boy,” Ralph said.

“I saw a flash up toward Manville,” I said, pointing in the direction of the tall steeple that towered over the 16th Street Baptist Church.

“I won't believe it till I feel the rain splattering my back,” Ralph replied just before finishing off the soda in two gulps.

“You ready, Dan?” I asked.

Seeing his nod, I walked back into the basement and helped Jimmy Martin, our official scorekeeper, coffee maker and custodian, set up a small table by the open stained-glass window I first saw Ralph standing by earlier that evening. Then, with all the care two physicists might infer upon an A-Bomb, we transferred the black and red squared board (plastic pieces in place) from the larger banquet table to the smaller utility version.

Like I did in my earlier recount of the 1st and 2nd rounds, I won't trouble you with the details of the next several moves: [8… d5; 9.exd5, Nxd5; 10.O-O, Nce7; 11.Qb3, O-O; 12.Rfe1, c6; 13.a4, b6; 14.Ne5 Bb7; 15.a5, Rc8; 16.a6, Ba8; 17.Ne4, Qc7; 18.Qh3, Nf4; 19.Qg4, Ned5; 20.Ra3, Ne6; 21.Bxd5, cxd5; 22.Nf6+, Kh8] and I don't comment on them because I'm no chess analyst, and, if truth be known, I'm not a very good chess player either. But I do know enough to say at the time I thought Black was winning because Dan's pieces were spread out in an unorganized fashion, and I felt Ralph would use his control of the c-file to pick off White's pawns on d5 and b2.

So, after Ralph's 22nd … Kh8 Dan sat staring at the position for a good 5 minutes before a distant rumble broke the silence, and, to our surprise, a gentle breeze sifted through the window. Albeit a warm one, we accepted the zephyr gratefully as everyone hoped the heat wave was about to break.

Focusing his attention back to the board, Dan surveyed the pieces another 120 seconds before the night sky filled with a brilliant flash of blue light, and an instant later the thunder roared anew, pounding its way through the atmosphere.

Diagram a
After 22. … Kh8

Undistracted, Dan reached his hand toward the Knight on f6 before retracting it to his side. Another thirty ticks of the clock and he was again poised to pluck the f6 Knight when a blast of wind pushed its way through the window. Following the contour of his hunched shoulders (he sat with his back to the window) the gust rolled down Dan's arm, funneled across his wrinkled hand, shot toward his outstretched bony finders and exploded off them with the intensity of a ball of fire before somehow getting up under the hollow White Queen on g4. And you should have seen the fit that lady threw!

She vaulted 18 inches into that humid Autumn air and executed a slow horizontal roll, fully rotating as a race car does after losing traction and becoming airborne. Then, at the height of her ascent, the Queen flipped 2-1/2 times, cracking crown-first into the h4-square. Springing back into action, the regina corrected herself and, performing a triple axle that would have made Tara Lipinski proud, hovered over her subjects below a few seconds before softly descending on h5. Next, and with a semi-spin/semi-wobble, she tottered down the short h5-e8 diagonal, stopping on the light covering of the g6-square, where her Royal majesty decided to hold court!

“Ain't that the darnedest thing you've ever seen?” Billy Owens whispered reverently.

“Sure is," I heard someone agree, and we all stood there, mouths agape, for a good 45 seconds, as if in a hypnotic trance of some kind, before I came to myself and replaced the White Queen on the g4 square. But, to our great surprise, two minutes later Dan grasped the Queen with his withered hand and moved it back to g6.

“No, Dan," I said. "The Queen was on g4 to start with. I believe you were getting ready to move your Knight on f6.”

Diagram b
After 23. Qg6

“But I didn't touch the Knight. That's my move right there,” he said, pointing to his Queen on g6.

Ralph quickly snatched up his pawn on f7 intending to capture the Queen on g6. After rolling the sentry around on his knuckles for a moment or so, he suddenly replaced it, and in no uncertain terms told Dan that his last move was illegal.

"How's that?” Dan asked.

"Because you had outside help in making the move and that's against the rules,” Ralph informed him.

Then I saw what Dan, and now Ralph, had observed. After 23.Qg6 Black is dead in the water. 23…fxg6 fails, i.e. 24.Nxg6+, hxg6; 25.Rh3#; 23…hxg6 24.Rh3#; 23…gxf6 leads to the loss of Black's Queen by way of 24.Qxf6+, Ng7; 25.Rg3, Rg8; 26.Nxf7+!; and 23…Ng5 is conquered by 24.Rh3. Thereafter, the embattled King on h8 can get no help. For instance, 24…gxf6; 25.Qxf6+, 26.Qxg5+, 27.Qf6+ and 28.Rg3#.

“What outside help, Ralph?” I asked in an attempt to resolve the situation before it got out of hand.

“The wind helped him!” Ralph exclaimed defiantly.

“The wind. The wind can't provide help, Ralph. Besides, that would be considered an act of God,” I reasoned.

“Well, if help from God ain't outside help, I don't know what is!” Ralph said.

“Now hold on mister, I don't cheat! I had to do some pretty fancy thinking after the wind blew that Queen to g6,” Dan said, finally finding his voice.

“Fruit of the Poisonous Tree!” Ralph sharply replied.

“Fruit of the what?” I asked.

“That's a legal term that means any evidence obtained after an illegal action by the police is considered tainted and can't be used in court." Joe Weathers, a retired lawyer, enlightened us, “I think Ralph's trying to say that once the wind blew the Queen to g6, any thinking done by Dan would have resulted from an illegal action and is, in effect, tainted.”

Man!! I thought. This is getting too deep for me!!

“Dag-gone-it! He starts a ruckus each and every year. And you! … ”, Dan said, pointing a crooked finger at me, “You let him get by with it.”

“What do you want me to do? Tell him not to think or speak?” I asked.

“You can tell him to be a graceful loser and to act his age. That's what you can do!"

“Well,” Ralph jumped in, "you can insult me or accuse me of being a sore loser all you want; but you can't in a million years convince me that you'd made that move if the wind hadn't blew that Queen.”

“I give up. We'll play the whole game over,” Dan said.

“Now hold on," I said before being interrupted by Joe Weathers.

“The greatest blessing to be bestowed on a moderator is that the parties settle their disputes themselves,” he said, giving me a quick lesson in diplomacy.

Nine moves and 8 minutes later, Dan and Ralph's new game had progressed into a dull variation of the Four Knights Defense and I for one would have gladly crowned the two co-champions and closed the book. But on a night full of strange twists and turns we witnessed another as Ralph stood up on Dan's 10th move and announced he was resigning.

“Sit down, Ralph, the game's just beginning,” Dan said.

“On come on! You know I've hung my Knight on d5,” Ralph said as he hurriedly swept the pieces from the board. “Besides, you won that other game fair and square.”

And with that Old Ralph turned to our circle of onlookers and, going from person to person, said a kind word concerning us and wished our families well, before departing.

I don't think I ever saw him walking with his head so high as he did going out into that stormy night.


Ralph never did win the tournament. In fact, he never got the chance. Like the storm that rolled across our valley that September evening in 1973, Ralph passed quickly on 7 months later.

So now every Memorial and Veteran's Day, I go down to the rustic graveyard on the edge of town with 3 miniature American flags in my hand. First, I pay tribute to my greatest hero, my Dad, then Henry, before I mosey over to Old Ralph's place of interment and visit with him a few moments.

What, you might ask, was my attraction or attachment to that gruff old coot? And I'd have to tell you that he taught me more about living in 13 years than I'd learned on my own the previous thirty-five.

You see, Ralph grew up parentless in the lonely, brutal world of a state-run orphanage during the depression; got nominated for the Medal of Honor at Omaha Beach on D-Day after dragging a wounded comrade 30 yards across the sand, dodging mortar blasts and machine-gun fire; fought and won a costly battle with the bottle during the 1950's, losing a wife, a home and a business along the way, and became my friend during the 60's, hanging around my garage, running errands, answering the phone, and complaining every step of the way. I guess his was an existence that misery had visited one too many times and the accompanying bitterness spilled over into every aspect of his life.

Oh yes, he did indeed teach me many lessons on and off the chessboard and, if the coffee wasn't wearing off and it wasn't so late, I'd tell you all about them. But … if I had to pinpoint one it would be this: you don't have to be a nice man to be a good man!

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