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Friday
Oct242008

The Snakes

Chess Player: Howard Staunton, The Snake (1810-74)

Many would say my epithet for Staunton is unfair, as he accomplished so many great things in his life. In fact, the standard physical design of chess pieces today is known as the Staunton design, which he commissioned and endorsed. He was the chess columnist for the influential Illustrated London News for twenty-nine years. He played the first game of chess by telegraph, ever. He was even the leading Shakespearean scholar of his day, and he wrote an annotated edition of Shakespeare’s plays. He was unquestionably a man of position, importance, and influence.

However, he proclaimed himself the “Chess Champion of the World.” He abused his editorial powers and engaged regularly in what today we would call flat-out trash talking, both in print and verbally. He was rude and hostile toward those who beat him. It is said that he would use any advantage possible outside of the game, such as making his opponents sit facing the sun! Most famous of his underhanded exploits was his controversy with American champion Paul Morphy. When players challenged Staunton’s self-proclaimed title, he made up excuses that he should not be expected to travel the globe because he had no time to take off from work. Paul Morphy took this as an invitation to travel to Europe and beat Staunton on his home turf. Morphy went to Europe and finally met Staunton and challenged him to a game (Morphy almost never directly challenged anyone, by the way). Staunton made more excuses and put the game off day after day after day. Morphy pressed him and he asked for a month to study his openings. Morphy agreed, yet Staunton never ultimately granted the match. Staunton went on to publish in his paper that Morphy hadn’t showed up on this occasion, hadn’t brought the necessary money to wager on the match on that occasion, and other bold-faced lies. For better or for worse, this type of personality seems to show up in every gaming community, and can be counted on to make blood boil and spur others into action!

Street Fighter Player: Jeff Schaefer, The Snake

Schaefer was in a perpetual state of argument with the entire Street Fighter community. He invented issues to debate, usually centering on how good the other Los Angeles players were, but often about how good various game characters were relative to each other. These character rankings changed every week, and Schaefer regularly took completely insane stances on almost every issue. You couldn’t help but hate him. Most of his attacks were designed to “prove” that pretty much all non-Los Angeles players were no good, and he was happy to stoop to personal attacks to make the flames even hotter. He famously denounced the game skills of one Northern California player, saying he “can’t get laid in a MORGE,” which is the probably the strangest insult I’ve ever heard. Also, he spelled “morgue” wrong.

As a player, Schaefer was good, but not exceptionally so. His main contribution was that he made it practically impossible to sit idle. Schaefer got people’s blood boiling, he made people travel and practice and come to tournaments. He has since left the Street Fighter community and strange as it is to say, I think we are worse off for this loss.