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If billiards is—and it definitely is—then so is chess.
So Chicago lost another great sportsman recently with the death of Ron Washington, also known as the "Mayor of the Chess Pavilion" at North Avenue and Lake Shore Drive.
Which, not coincidentally, is where he died.
Washington drowned in Lake Michigan last Friday, and when the story appeared in the Sun-Times earlier this week it pulled me up short.
Washington was described as a chess "hustler," and no doubt he was. That's what the chess pavilion was made for. I found that out myself when doing a column on it toward the end of the run of the Sports section in the Reader five years ago.
Washington, however, was the best part of my day there. After I got throttled by a genuine master (I later found out) who had been lurking there like a snapping turtle ready to gobble up this fish and his two bucks, Washington gave a fellow chess player and an only slightly more skillful reporter the lay of the land. He whipped me good, but was gentlemanly about it, and couldn't have been more welcoming and informative.
To hear that he drowned in the lake there made me stop, put down the paper, and moan aloud on the CTA train I was riding.
I'm not going to speculate on what actually happened. But I know how a chess player thinks when he's out of his depth and knows what's about to happen, what the next inevitable move is, and it pains me to think Washington felt the same at some point—in a very real and irrevocable way.
It pains me too to know I never went back to see him and thank him again, although I remember thanking him vociferously that day I was there.
It doesn't seem sufficient. I didn't know him well, or really at all, but I feel the city is greatly diminished.