chess player Goshen John Cole has the right moves | New
The earliest memory of John Cole’s failures dates back to when he was around 7 years old.
He and his father, Scott, were sitting at the kitchen table.
“He won of course,” Cole, now 30, of Goshen said in an interview in early April.
But it wouldn’t be long before the roles turned.
âAround the age of 12, I had a bad habit of crying after losing,â Cole said. “It’s a little embarrassing when I think about it now, to cry about losing a board game.”
At one point there came a point where Cole said he “just kind of broke”.
âI decided that I would either get good or stop (playing),â he said.
In fifth grade he joined the Waterford Primary School chess team and competed as the fifth player on the board – not yet the strongest player – at state level. The team came third.
But it wasn’t good enough for Cole. He bought a stack of chess books and began to study.
âOne of the biggest sources of my chess education would be reading chess books while relieving myself,â Cole said with a quick smile. “There were a lot of chess books stacked on the backs of the ‘toilets’ many times during my childhood.”
His dedication and focus paid off and in eighth grade he won first place in the Scholastic Chess of Indiana competition, a title he continued to defend for several years.
After graduating from high school, he continued to compete and is now a three-time state champion.
Currently, he is ranked 2,407 in the world, which makes him the highest ranked player in Indiana.
In the United States, he’s ranked somewhere around 210th place, he said, a few hundred points behind the top-rated players who score near 2,700 and 2,800 points.
He also holds the title of FIDE Master, something Cole downplays, but chess enthusiasts including Dan Shenk say he is admirable.
“Only about 0.1% of 1% of all players achieve the chess master’s mark,” Shenk noted in a 2000 Goshen News article.
“Young King Cole”
Shenk, one of Cole’s former chess trainers, endearingly dubbed the chess master âYoung King Coleâ.
He remembers seeing Cole play in college and chatting with his fellow coaches that the young boy’s skills seemed to come out of nowhere.
Shenk’s son Tim is two years older than Cole and the two compete regularly.
âHis chess rating went from around 1,100 to 1,900, which is just unheard of,â said Shenk. “For a seventh grader to jump 800 points in a calendar year, it’s really amazing.”
On a trip home from a 1995 Terre Haute chess match, Shenk recalls glancing back and seeing Cole holding his magnetic chess set and a flashlight. which he used to light up the chessboard.
“I asked him ‘Do you want to play a game’ and he said ‘yes’,” he said.
From the front seat, Shenk imagined the game in his head and started calling out movements.
On the 21st move, he had succeeded in subduing Cole. But it would be one of the last times.
Three years later, at the end of Cole’s school year, the duo performed again.
âOnly this time, he crossed his arms and turned his back and imagined everything, like I had,â Shenk said. âIt was March 6, 1988. On the 56th move, I resigned.
Cole had won.
âI have my John Cole file,â Shenk said, describing a file filled with notes and newspaper clippings documenting Cole’s every move at various meetings over the years. “He calls it his file, like he’s a CIA agent or something.”
Find time to play
There used to be a very strong tournament scene in Indiana, but finding consistent tournaments today is more difficult, Cole said.
âIt has died out now unfortunately, so to get a really solid practice to match my strength, I would have to go to Chicago or out of state,â he said.
The decline in strength of the program is largely due to the retirements of older chess players and at least interest in the 20’s and 30’s, Cole explained.
âThere’s a very lively school scene, especially in this area,â he says. “But there comes a time when you graduate from high school and you’re like ‘okay it’s time to go to college and drink and have girlfriends and all that fun stuff and where is there room in all of this for chess? ‘ “
Today, Cole competes in about five tournaments a year, often going out of state to participate.
Between preparing for a wedding in November with his fiancee, Sarah Becker, and working as a sales manager at Mattress Firm in South Bend, there’s little time to cross the country with his shotgun on the chessboard, he explained.
“… That’s why all of the promising players in America are kids,” Cole said. “People under the age of 18 who still have a make-believe world where they don’t have a job and don’t have to pay anything and they’re just drawn into the tournaments they choose to go to.”
Make the move
In addition to winning championships, Cole also has some entertaining chess skills.
He can play “blindfolded” with his back to the chessboard – although this is not so unusual for chess players of a certain strength, he added.
He can also play multiple games at once – like the time he played blindfolded against four other players – although that’s not the best plan, he commented.
âMy brain was a blender filled with inconsistent porridge afterwards,â Cole said. âI couldn’t find my car keys. Not good.”
Most importantly, he also formed a tight-knit circle of friends with people just as obsessed with the game of chess as he was.
âIt’s just fun,â Cole said. “It’s an excuse to be with people you’ve known for years and I’m sure it’s the same with any competitive sport.”
Mathew Leach from Mishawaka knew Cole long before he met him. Leach said they met in 2005 after Cole graduated from Indiana University and returned to the area.
Leach played on a school team in high school and explained that playing against Cole was intimidating at first. Today, Leach’s chess score is around 1,997.
âAt the time, I knew he was the highest-rated school player in the state and we really didn’t stand a chance,â he said, referring to the competitions he participated in with the high school team.
But over the years, the two became friends and became mainstays of an American amateur chess team they created.
âI hated sometimes having to play it all the time because most of the time I was in whooping cough,â Leach said. “But playing with John is also a learning experience.”
Conquer the myths
Over the years, Cole has also put to bed a few deeply rooted myths about chess players – including the assumption that all chess players are smart.
âI’m smart, but that completely coincides with being good at chess,â Cole said. âYou see these chess players and they are amazing at chessâ¦ but ask them about politics, philosophy, history? They do not know. They just play chess.
The secret to getting good at chess is the same with just about any profession, he said.
âThere’s a combination of putting in hours and just some kind of innate talent,â Cole said. “I certainly think I have an innate talent for chess, but I also put in hours for it. The guy who plays coffee once or twice a week wouldn’t think of reading a chess book for five hours. and that’s really what it takes. “
Follow Julie on Twitter @jcrothers_tgn
For anyone interested in learning more about the game of chess or participating in local competitions, chess master and enthusiast John Cole has offered some suggestions on what to read, where to play, and how to learn.
Helpful chess writers
â¢ Fred Reinfeld: â1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmateâ, â1001 Chess Sacrifices and Winning Combinationsâ, âThe Complete Chess Courseâ and âChess Tactics for Beginnersâ.
â¢ John Watson: âMastering Chess Openingsâ, âThe Secrets of Modern Chess Strategyâ, âChess Strategy in Actionâ and âPlay the Frenchâ.
Local chess clubs
â¢ Elkhart County Chess Club: Meets Tuesdays from 7 pm to 10 pm at the First Congregational Church, Elkhart.
â¢ Elkhart County Chess Club
â¢ South Bend Chess Club: Meets Thursdays 7-10pm at the Meijer Store on Grape Road, Mishawaka.
Online chess education programs