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USCF Mission / Chuck Ventimiglia

Learning from a Loss

Chuck Ventimiglia loves chess, but his greatest opponent wasn’t across the board. By DAVID HOPKINS

MY FRIEND CHUCK VENTIMIGLIA started playing chess in the 1960s. He played at the Chess and Checker Club in New York City, which is now closed. Like many Americans, he closely followed the exploits of Bobby Fischer. Chuck’s interest went from casual play to correspondence. Then, a few years ago, he started playing in over-the-board tournaments more regularly. In 2012, Chuck won the U.S. Class Chess Championship for Class C (1400-1599) players. But something was wrong.

Chuck felt his playing was too erratic. Everything would be going well, and then one boneheaded move would throw every - thing out the window. Of course, doesn’t every amateur player feel this way? He tried to push past it with more study and practice.

Then Chuck started having balance problems. He complained to his family doctor. The family doctor sent him to the ear specialist. The ear specialist sent him to get an MRI.

“The tumor was four centimeters by seven centimeters,” Chuck told me over the phone. “That’s pretty large. I had a bump on my head, and I kept looking at that thing. I was in denial, you know. I said, ‘Is that bump growing or am I seeing things?’ It was growing, and my skull was being pushed up by the tumor.”

The tumor had been there, growing for about 10 years.

“I looked at the MRI, and I was horrified because I knew exactly what I was looking at.”

Chuck had meningioma, a tumor that arises from the membranes surrounding the brain. Chuck was fortunate to have one of the best surgeons in Texas. The surgeon completely removed the tumor, but there were some complications. His brain started swelling, which required the medical team to put a titanium top on his head. He couldn’t speak or move for 30 days. Even

38 October 2014 | Chess Life


now, speech comes slowly, halting. He can’t always find the right word.

The surgery also took something else. A lifetime of chess knowledge, as if entangled in the webbed fingers of the brain tumor, was removed. He couldn’t make the connections necessary to play the game. Like a petulant player in a losing position, the surgery knocked the pieces off the board in a single sweeping motion.

I first met Chuck in 2010, three years before the tumor would be discovered. We played against each other on I had taken a long hiatus from tourna ments, and I was anxious to get back. My record against Chuck with slower turn-based games was a pathetic zero wins, nine losses, and two draws. Chuck had my number, and he was merciless. He could take the smallest advantage and convert it to an eventual win. After each game, he would help me


Above, The alarming 2012 MRI and the post-surgery MRI. Opposite, top: Chuck Ventimiglia at home. Opposite, bottom: His 2012 class C champion’s plaque.

analyze my moves and point out each missed opportunity. I would also post other games, which he would look at.

“I notice you did not develop any of your kingside pieces,” he once commented on “You are preparing to attack, but your kingside is badly in need of protection. You need to get your pieces out. You see that your opponent took the initiative and basically destroyed your kingside. The moral of this game is to develop your pieces and get your king to safety.”

He taught me to not fear losing. Instead, fear not learning. Every game had a lesson. While I never beat him, I felt more confi - dent about my return to tournament play.

We would run into each other at tournaments. After a long day of chess, he would go to the hotel bar and order a bottle of shiraz. I remember joining him one

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