John Blackstone, R.I.P.

My very longtime buddy John Blackstone passed away yesterday. It meant an end to his suffering and an end to our mutual phone calls.

John was a National chess master and a friend since somewhere around 1969. He was an active cuss. When John wanted a book or to talk about something, he didn’t wait around for a couple days. I would get the phone call from Las Vegas or California when he lived there. And we would chat. He always had something interesting to say and you could tell it was something he thought about. There is a picture of John and me in my book The Chess Assassin’s Business Manual. He liked my my sister Rita, my friend June, who handled my daily business secretarial load back in the 90s when I had to deal with various nut jobs such as Karpov (!)

Seldom did I not get a TIP for taking care of business but that was not John’s way. The secret can now be told. John would send $10-20 additional for his book or magazine and tell me to have a meal out somewhere. But I never did, I just poured it back into the business to pay some bill, or to get gas to go to the post office. I think once I did go to McDonald’s for breakfast!

John, like many of us, had Diabetes 2 and was just exhausted from life. He had already quit smoking and if you knew Johnny the way I did, that had to be tough.

He had a lot of buddies, all of whom had passed away by now. He was a Grade A programmer. You would think nothing was too tough for him but he told me several times of guys he knew who were better than he was. They had problems with eating too much, drinking too much, and everything in  excess “too much.” They beat John to the great beyond.

One thing I enjoyed about John was his humility when it came to chess. Recently he was playing a 12 yr. old girl chess and he loved it. She would come over to his place. He, like myself, didn’t believe in letting her win even though he was a shadow of his former self. He found that letting people win didn’t teach them anything, contrary to these big trophy cases in high schools where showing up would qualify you for a trophy. EARN IT he said, then it will mean something to you.

He knew Bobby Fischer and found that graciousness toward’s Bobby would net him an autograph (knowing John it was probably for a friend). And Fischer not only gave him an autograph but told John he remembered their simul game which was published in the notes of My 60 Memorable Games.

John knew the big guys from California, the guys who wanted to establish a separate chess federation in Las Vegas (!) and anything else requiring time and effort. I remember when my fiancee Sarah was driven around Las Vegas by John during a painting and decorating show she was selling at (trying to make some extra cash flow like I am with the Simon Williams event in August). She thought John was a cool guy. He was.

But if I can put my finger on something that was super fun with John it was when he and I were having Breakfast at one of the casinos at 3-4 in the morning! Now THAT was relaxation and for $3-4! We cured all the ills of the world that early morning and traded war stories like never before. John, like me, was never out of stories and it was doubtful he ever had to repeat himself.

He and I were still married in the early 80s and our wives, Julie and Mercedes, both died within a year of each other. We had become steadfast friends. His son Brandon was finishing his PhD in electrical engineering or some related field (Brandon, also an accomplished programmer was astounded at how good (and quick) his Dad was even in his 70s!). Brie, his daughter, has kept in touch with me about her Dad (when he couldn’t do it himself) and the photo above was taken by her. I asked her this morning to see if she could put together a c.v. about her Dad, who was a couple years older than I was.

John had invited me to come to work with him at Hughes Aircraft in California. I was deeply flattered.

I remember being at the National Open one time when John wasn’t playing but he would stop by to play one of the chess computers. He won his game, pocketed $50 and probably spent it at a table before he had walked very far. He was a fun human being to be around. I had invited him to come to the Simon Williams event if he felt up to it. We’ll miss you Johnny!


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