Friday, July 13, 2007

Clinton, Gloria and the American presidents

By Frank “Boy” Pestaño

BILL Clinton was a member of the Georgetown University chess team while studying there in 1966-68. He totally supported the Chess-in-School program during his administration and his favorite player is Garry Kasparov, who is his friend.

Clinton even has a recipe called the Lemon Chess Pie. Chelsea, his daughter, also plays chess in the internet.

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One of his classmates at Georgetown was a bright lady named Gloria Macapagal, whom I understand, also plays chess. This fact is based when she made the ceremonial moves during the 1st Gloria Macapagal Arroyo Cup with GM Alexander Onischuk in November of last year. Also, she grew up in Iligan, where chess is the number one sport. She also plans to introduce the Chess-in-School program in our country.

I featured a column not too long ago about chess-playing heads of states, which received favorable feedbacks and was extensively quoted in various chess blogs. I mentioned in that column that I was going to write about chess-playing American presidents.

Does Ronald Reagan play chess? The only clue I have to answer this is the very impressive and one of a kind chess set that was obviously made to order. It is displayed at the Ronald Reagan Library.

Another one of a kind chess set was given to John F. Kennedy on his birthday in 1962 by a long-time friend. It was magnificent. Nobody gives this kind of gift unless the recipient plays the game. It is entirely made of rare wood, alligator, ivory and ebony. The set is hand carved with an African motif. The details on both the board and the pieces are exquisite. There is a gold presidential three-inch seal and an engraved signature of the late president.

It is probably one of the rarest memorabilia of Kennedy. It was returned to the donor when he died. Kennedy’s son, the late John Jr., also played chess.

It seems that chess sets were the favorite gifts given to American presidents. These sets are now on display at the Smithsonian Institute. Dwight Eisenhower, Woodrow Wilson and Thomas Jefferson received magnificent sets that truly befit Presidents.

The only clue that Gerald Ford may have played the game was when he declared Oct. 9 as national chess day.

Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, wanted to become a chess master when he left the White House. He bought chess books and a computer program to improve his game. He stopped playing serious chess in 1997 and admitted that he does not have the talent to further improve his game. Amy, his daughter, also plays chess.

Presidents who had the talent for the game and considered first rate players were Rutherford Hayes, who learned to play chess from his mother; James Garfield, whom an 1880 newspaper described as a superb player; and Thomas Jefferson, who played Benjamin Franklin, an equally strong player.

When Franklin was in Paris, he joined the Salon des echecs Chess Club and paid 96 francs in 1786.

Abraham Lincoln’s chess sets are on display at the Smithsonian. He also taught and gave a chess set to his son, Tad. Another collector of chess sets was John Quincy Adams, who once bought an ivory set that his political opponents accused him of using public funds for. This was not true, but it probably cost him the seat in the 1882 elections.

Theodore Roosevelt played chess during his hunting trips and could possibly have played with Ajeeb the automaton. He kept an astrological chart mounted on a chessboard while in office and often invited chess masters to the White House.

An indication that Ulysses Grant may have played chess is the collectible metallic Civil War chess set that portrays him opposite General Robert Lee, a renowned chess player.

Warren Harding, who died during his presidency in 1923, was an avid chess player and according to some, may have been poisoned by a chess championship contender.

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