Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mike Anders is Gone Too Soon but His Joyful Spirit Will Never be Forgotten

I will never forget Mike Anders' smile.

























This picture represents how I will always remember Mike--a big, welcoming smile on his face and an M&Ms tie hinting at his whimsical, non-conformist nature. It is shocking and saddening to speak of Mike in the past tense but I recently found out that Mike and both of his passengers died on Mike's 58th birthday when the plane that Mike was piloting crashed into a house in Florida; the house was totaled but the homeowner jumped out of a window and survived. Susan Crockett is understandably grateful to be alive but when she credits God for keeping her safe that raises the uncomfortable and unanswerable question, "Why did God not keep Mike and his friends safe?" I have spent a lot of time thinking about/agonizing over that issue (not just relating to Mike but as it pertains to all of human history) but this article is meant as a tribute to Mike, not as a forum to debate theology or theodicy.

I first met Mike on October 15, 1994 when I played in a chess tournament called Road to Isengard, held at the Cincinnati Country Day School located just outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. Mike was a teacher at the school and he organized the tournament in two sections, one for scholastic players only and one open to players of all ages. I scored 4/6 in the Open section, tying for 6th-10th place out of 32 participants. The tournament was well run, it featured strong competition and Anders' joyful personality was infectious--he related well to everyone, regardless of playing strength or age. I was hooked and for the next seven years I was a regular participant in Mike's tournaments, driving over an hour from Dayton more than three dozen times to cross swords with Masters, Experts and rising young players from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and other locales. During that period I improved my rating from the low 1900s to as high as 2114, in no small part because of the fertile chess landscape that Anders lovingly cultivated. After Mike left Cincinnati Country Day, he became a beloved teacher, golf coach and chess organizer in Kentucky, as described in this wonderful portrait of Mike's selfless devotion to Clinton County High School.

Even after Mike's relocation he was still a presence on the Ohio chess scene, flying to various tournaments to sell books/merchandise or work as an assistant director, all the while visiting with old friends and making new ones. I looked forward to seeing Mike at the Columbus Open--where he set up shop outside the main tournament hall and spent the whole day shooting the breeze--and at the Kings Island Open, where he worked as one of the directors in the main playing area. The Kings Island tournament often coincides with Veterans Day and every year during one of his pre-round announcements Mike would ask all of the veterans in the tournament hall to stand and receive a well deserved round of applause. Prior to the last round, Mike would say that if each player returned the next year and brought just one friend then we could double the attendance and make the biggest tournament in Ohio even bigger and better. Those statements provide a glimpse at Mike's personality, his thoughtfulness and the fun way that he tried to promote chess.

I only played one rated game versus Mike--and he beat me, even though I outrated him by more than 350 points at the time. A search of the U.S. Chess Federation's Member Services Area, which contains data from 1991 until the present, reveals that I am one of the highest rated players Mike ever defeated; Mike had a peak post-1991 rating of 1774, he was usually rated between 1600-1700 and his final rating of 1654 placed him above the 84th percentile among USCF members. All chess players are proud of their upset wins, so as a tribute to Mike here is his 4/17/99 win against me in the Melee at Amon Hew tournament, one of Mike's Cincinnati Country Day events (each of which was named after some incident or personality from the Lord of the Rings saga). The game was played with a G/55 time control (plus a five second delay):
 
Friedman,David (1962) - Anders,Mike (1610) [A04]
Melee at  Amon Hew G/55, 17.04.1999
1.Nf3 b6 An uncommon reply, though GM Veselin Topalov used it in December 1999 in a short draw versus GM Boris Gelfand. 2.g3 Bb7 3.Bg2 e5 4.d3 d6 5.0–0 Be7 6.Nbd2 Nf6 7.e4 0–0 8.Nc4 Nc6 9.c3 White has not achieved anything special in the opening--a defect in my playing style at that time--and Black has easily equalized. 9...Ba6 10.Qa4 Nb8 11.Ne3!? [11.Qc2=] 11...Qd7!? Black could have won a pawn: 11...Bxd3 12.Rd1 Bxe4 13.Nxe5 Bxg2 14.Kxg2 Qe8 15.Qxe8 Rxe8 16.Nf3 Nc6³ 12.Qc2 Nc6 13.Nf5 g6!? 14.Nh6+² Kg7 15.Nh4!? [15.a4 Nd8 16.b4²] 15...Ng8 16.Nxg8 Rxg8 17.Qd2 Bxh4!? [17...Rge8] 18.Qh6+ Kh8 19.Qxh4 h5 20.Bh3 Qe8 21.Qg5 Qf8 22.Qe3 g5!? Mike liked to attack, even at the cost of weakening his position. 23.Bd7 Nd8 24.Rd1!? I maneuvered to set up a central pawn break but 24.Qe2 g4 25.f3± emphasizes the weaknesses in Black's K-side pawn structure. 24...Bc8 25.Bxc8 Rxc8 26.d4 Nc6 27.b3 Qg7 28.Bb2 Kh7 29.Rd2 Rce8 30.d5 Ne7 31.c4 g4 32.Rf1 Instead of opening the game to my advantage eight moves ago, I wasted time and gave Black the opportunity to consolidate. The position is now equal again. 32...Ref8 33.f3 f5? This mistake brings White's B back to life. [33...gxf3 34.Qxf3 Qg6=] 34.f4± Qh6 35.Rdf2 exf4 36.Rxf4 Ng6 37.exf5 Nxf4?? This should have been the losing move but White is also better after 37...Rxf5 38.Qe4 Rxf4 39.gxf4± 38.Rxf4? [38.Qe7+ Rg7 39.Qxf8 Nd3 40.Qxg7+ Qxg7 41.Bxg7+-] 38...Re8= White missed a win but still has full compensation for the sacrificed Exchange and the game should be drawn with correct play. 39.Qd3!? 39.Qc3 is much more active. 39...Re1+ 40.Kf2 Rge8 41.f6+?? The losing move. White is still in the battle after 41.Bc3 R1e2+ 42.Qxe2 Rxe2+ 43.Kxe2 41...Qg6–+ 42.Qxg6+ Kxg6 43.Kg2 R8e2+ 44.Rf2 The R trade is forced and Black's remaining R will dominate White's B. 44...Rxf2+ 45.Kxf2 Rh1 46.Kg2 Rd1 47.Bc3 Rc1 48.Bd4 Rc2+ 49.Kg1 Rxa2 50.b4 Ra4 51.Bc3 Ra3 0–1

Even though he won his first three games, Mike did not play in the last round of that event so that no one would be forced to have a bye; Mike was a fierce competitor but his first priority as a director/organizer was to ensure that everyone who came to his tournaments had a good time, so he gave up a chance at clear first place. I won my last two games and tied Mike for first place along with Brandon Kreines, who was then a promising junior player.

Mike loved to fly and he often raved about the great freedom he obtained by buying his own small airplane; he could easily start the day in one part of the country and end the day hundreds of miles away enjoying a meal at a fine restaurant and good conversation with friends. When I heard that Mike's plane nosedived into a house I knew that something must have gone terribly wrong very quickly, because Mike would have never endangered someone on the ground if there had been any way for him to crash/emergency land in an open area; during his final conversation with the air traffic controller, Mike mentioned that there were "three souls"--not just three people, but "three souls"--aboard the plane and I believe he did everything he could both to protect those souls and the souls on the ground. It is unbearably sad to think about Mike's final moments but I smile when I think of all the good times I had playing in his tournaments in the late 1990s/early 2000s and when I think of the many pleasant conversations we had in recent years at the Columbus Open and at Kings Island. The 2012 Kings Island tournament--where I tied for first place in the U2100 section--is the last time that I saw Mike. I don't remember all of the specifics of our last conversation--how was I to know that it would be our last conversation?--but I remember him smiling, as always, and I remember that he congratulated me for how well I was playing. I also know that I regularly made a point of telling him how much I loved his Country Day tournaments and he always reciprocated by telling me how much he appreciated that I attended them more regularly even than many players who actually lived in the Cincinnati area. It is so important to tell the special people in your life why they are special and I am glad that I made sure Mike knew how much I enjoyed the way that he organized those events. I had a special moment recently at the Dayton Chess Club when Riley Driver publicly acknowledged my devoted participation in club events, a gesture that truly touched me, and just like I appreciated what Riley did for me I hope that Mike really understood the sincerity of my praise.

We all have to cherish every day because life can end in an instant. If someone has made a positive impact on your life, thank that person as soon as possible because you may not get another chance to do so.

Rest in peace, Mike; you will always be remembered for your joyful nature and for the many lives that you touched.

11 comments:

Jerome Healy said...

Mike was like that in every aspect of his life. A true prince among men.

David Friedman said...

Jerome:

Yes he was; Mike will be greatly missed and never forgotten.

Phillip Seitzer said...

I knew mike primarily through CCDS tournaments in the late 90s and early 2000s. David, I remember the very game you included in the post, I was at that tournament.

Mike used to buy large quantities of fried chicken, hot dogs, or other fast food to sell to the players during the tournaments he ran. As the tournament went on, he would remind us that if we bought more of the food, the prize fund would increase. I never realized it as a kid, but Mike never really made any money from the tournaments - he gave all of the money, time as well as his eternal optimism, kindness, and open heart back to the players, and to the people around him.

Mike was one of the finest men I ever knew. He genuinely cared about everyone he met, and he was always optimistic, excited and courteous. If it wasn't for mike's many efforts towards the chess community in Cincinnati - the CCDS tournaments he put on, once a month, year after year; coaching of the CCDS chess team; endlessly promoting and popularizing chess in all its forms - I wouldn't still play chess today, and I wouldn't have developed as a person the way that I did, for that matter.

If there were more people out there like Mike Anders, the world would be a better place.
May he rest in peace.
~Phillip Seitzer

David Friedman said...

Phillip:

Your story about the food/prize fund brings back some great memories! You are right that Mike ran those tournaments with an "open heart" and that his giving personality shined through in all of his interactions with people.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Unknown said...

Hey Dave,

Very nice tribute to Mike. It was an utter shock; Mike and I had been incredibly close fiends for 20 years; it seems difficult to believe such a vibrant person could be gone.

But he did love chess, and he loved running those tournaments. Those CCDS tourneys were some of his favorite times.

His family had a memorial service for him last week; it was amazing to see the number of pople who cared about him, and who he touched.

Dozens of people, from chess, from school, from golf, from flying, from church....he loved so many things.

One thing I take comfort in was that these last few years were some of the happiest in his life. He loved living down in the woods in Kentucky, and he truly loved flying. I never saw him happier than when he was in an airplane.

He had had a wonderful vacation in St. Croix the last few weeks before he died. And the last few hours of his life were spent flying, which (I think) would have been how he would have preferred it.

Mike was a wonderful person, and will be missed by many. But he enjoyed life as much as anyone else I ever met, and I know that my life (and those of many, many others) are better for having known him.

Take care,

Chris Dorr

David Friedman said...

Chris:

"Utter shock" is a perfect description of how I felt when I found out about Mike's sudden and untimely passing.

I always looked forward to and enjoyed those CCD tourneys and I fondly recall the head to head battles you and I had there (and at other events during that era); the strong competition that I encountered from you and other Experts/Masters at the CCD events helped me to finally make Expert and eventually learn how to maintain Expert status, much like Tien Chou's Miamisburg Tornados played a crucial role in helping me to reach "A" player status in the late 1980s.

I enjoyed interacting with Mike at CCD and it was always nice to see him in recent years at Kings Island and other Ohio events. I know that he very much enjoyed flying and some of our conversations dealt more with that subject than with chess.

I agree with you that he enriched many people's lives and I hope that my tribute to him can both provide some measure of comfort to those who knew him and also be a source of information to those who did not get a chance to meet Mike.

ptolemy slocum said...

someone randomly asked me to name an influential person in my life last night - and i just started talking about Mike... so i decided to look him up today...
real hard news...

but what a wonderful capture of his character you wrote - not a simple thing to achieve - thank you for your writing

i met Mr. Anders my final year at CCCD - i was a senior and he was the "strange" new teacher i didnt even have as a teacher - i just had to check in attendance in his classroom each morning...
but... that was enough - i was instantly drawn to him - and basically did everything he brought to the world that year...
i had never played chess or read Tolkien before - but by the end of just that one year i was playing his self-made LOTR board/trivia game - and individually won the Ohio State Chess Championship (in the lowest bracket of course... - i think we also won a team trophy as well(?))
and there wasn't even a chess club at the school before that...

one small detail about those CCCD tournaments that i remember... for the very first one he held - he took his own personal trophies, won from prior chess wins (small and large) had the engravings changed, and gave them out as prizes - because there literally was no money (and no club at the school yet)

he built our chess club out of proceeds from that first tournament...
he had a way of making something out of nothing...
he gave up parts of his past for other peoples future...
and he did it efortlessly - with a happy selflessness... he was almost selfishly selfless...

on top of that, he was a profound teacher/mentor - he got information across well - but more-so he got passion across - he got gave people drive and personal investment - and it had great results...

i remember one day we had an informal team invitational at our library after school with another well established club from a rival school - it was our months-old rag-tag group of new players vs the highest rated high school club in town...
it was seven of us vs seven of them - we lost 6.5-0.5 (i believe the lowest rated matchup tied due to some rules issue) - i was in the second highest matchup and the dude i played was so slick and so much better... it was certainly an embarrassment... even with the knowledge that we were certainly going to lose going in...

(cont...)

ptolemy slocum said...

(cont...)

in the final match of the first day at the Ohio State Championship i sat down across from that same exact kid...
i think he found it pretty intimidating - we both had yet to lose
i ran Bird’s Opening then, a personal favorite of Mr. Anders - and a wonderful equalizer for intermediate play - because it forces black to react to a new board and play the ‘game’ of chess vs play with a previous knowledge of chess...
(for those that know Mr. Anders and know chess - i find Bird’s Opening a wonderful symbol of his life - as he said “98% of all openings start with one of these two middle pawns... i like to start with this one...” - its just one pawn off... but it makes all the difference - to him and to everyone else)
in any case - after just 17 moves this kid from a better club, who cleaned me out just 4 months earlier, offered me a draw... and i took it instantly...
of course Mr. Anders would later say i had a better position - that i probably could have won - and he was right - but he and i both knew the incredible progress we had made to at least scare one of those kids enough into offering a draw...
and turns out that because of his higher raking he started the next day higher and i started lower without having a loss...
in any case - i never lost a match in that tournament - in fact i won all the others - but most importantly - i didnt lose that one...
i had become a chess player - and he got me there...

i remember he said one thing to me after “i just want you to remember one thing, no one can ever take this away from you... for the rest of your life you will have this win, and no one can ever take it away”

it reminds me, in some ways, of how he lived his life - the feelings he treasured - the experiences he loved - and the material things he cared less for...
he gave up his past winnings for new beginnings
but, in reality, he never gave them up - because he had what he needed out of it - the experience...

its hard to not get to look him up - to surprise him with a blast from the past - to say hi - and maybe say some thank yous...
its hard for me that that part is gone...

and also no one can ever take it away...

-ptolemy

David Friedman said...

Ptolemy:

I am glad that you feel like I captured some sense of the qualities that made Mike so special and I appreciate you sharing your memories of Mike.

Your statement that he was he was "almost selfishly selfless" is a very good way to describe his giving, joyful spirit. I hope that Mike is remembered that way both by people who had the good fortune to know him and also by people who learn about him by reading this article.

Tyler Guffey said...

Mr. Anders, Don Miguel, was one amazing man. I believe that he impacted lots of people's lives across Ohio and Kentucky. My name is Tyler, but Mr. Anders thought of the name to call me "Rico" in Spanish class, and it has stuck with me. People still call me that name to this day. Me and my friends had so much fun in his Spanish classes. We were honored to be one of the last classes that he ever got to teach during his last couple years teaching at Clinton County High School in Albany, Kentucky. I became best friends with Mike through the chess club that he formed when he arrived here. Our friends loved going to chess, especially when we cooked with him and did pizza runs to go get some pizza. lol Even after graduating, I still attended the chess meetings whenever I could. Had many great travels and times with Mike between 2010-2012. He had an important role in making the last two years of my high school career the best ones ever. I miss the group that we had in high school revolving around him. Great tributes to him at graduation this year, with the last group who really knew him graduating. Still shocked he's gone. I'll never forget him. Love to him and his family

David Friedman said...

Tyler:

Thank you for sharing your memories of Mike. He was a beautiful person who positively touched many lives.