The Ursula Foster Family
GM Arnold Denker: The Legacy
By Dewain Barber
The Denker Tournament of High School Champions turned twenty-five years old this last August. I paused to reflect on how this event has evolved because at the start there wasn’t even a site picked. GM Denker simply said to me when he called one evening many years ago, “I want to do something for the kids.” At first, I thought he was simply going to donate his time to do a simultaneous exhibition or volunteer to pass out trophies at one of the Nationals. But as it turned out, it was a whole lot more than I expected.
First, it was the idea of selecting deserving players who would want to travel to an event. He then provided an idea or two suggesting an event that brought together every state high school champion. But, would it be the highest rated player who qualified? Would it be based on age or something else?
As it turned out the decision we agreed upon was to invite the champions from the high school tournaments of each state to play. But, when? Since I was acquainted with the scholastic schedule, I knew that many of the months that might be considered would be out. The fall was the start of school year, the winter would present problems with travel, and the spring was devoted to competing in state events and the Scholastic Nationals. The end result was a decision by both of us that the summer would work. But, where? There were few scholastic events available during the summer, and most families were on summer vacation. This would mean starting a new event with no support. Arnold suggested the US Open as a possible site. He had been US Champion and had played in the US Open for many years so it seemed a possibility. The US Open was a very prestigious event with many strong players at all levels and ages wanting to compete so the fundamental question was, “Would the US Chess Federation accept a bunch of high school kids playing at their event?” Maybe yes, maybe no.
I mentioned to GM Denker that there were several committees that needed to review this, and any one of them could say no. As it turned out there was moderate interest in the idea, but I sensed it would take more than moderate interest to get it passed by the USCF Delegates and accepted. I had truly forgotten that I was dealing with one of the most charismatic and dynamic persons to ever push a pawn. GM Denker stepped forward and made the case with many of his long time friends that this event would be good for the kids and good for chess. The case was made and the vote was unanimous to approve.
That was all good and fine, but what were the rules and who would decide when it came to the issue of qualifications. I mentioned to GM Denker that I would try to write some rules and he stated he would provide a stipend of $100 to each participant.
The early years saw just over half of the states attending with many states not even bothering to return messages to the USCF Scholastic Director. I wondered if this event was ever going to get at least two-thirds of the states and maybe help support a young man who wanted to become a GM.
Several times I would contact a high school state champion and the word was, “The Denker event does not have any strong players and I have other things to do during the summer.” At this point, it was very much like the film about baseball: “If you build it they will come.” Sure enough they did, and the state count began to rise because GM Denker kept up the positive enthusiasm needed to move this event forward. He always had a smile and a kind word to say to the players with interesting stories and a sense of humor flowing through the conversation. The man was magnetic, had the joy of living, and funny chess stories that kept the gathering alive.
He gained support from the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) who provided a scholarship. Texas Tech has also supported the event and so has the Chess Trust.
One time he said to me, a few years before his death that he was going to change the name of the event. I was surprised at the thought, but he said, “Let’s change it.”
I said, “No, absolutely not. You have created a legacy that will be continued and appreciated by all the chess players who see the event, follow the results, and cheer on their champions.” I knew he was just kidding, but I am happy for what has been accomplished and that Mitchell Denker, his son, came on board a short time ago when GM Denker passed away. Mitchell continued that same enthusiasm.
It is with great pleasure and reverence that I say it has been an honor to meet and greet the young people who can proudly say, “I played in the Denker!” It is a legacy that the entire chess community can be proud of. As we move into the next quarter century, it will continue to shine as an example of the best we can offer from Alaska to Maine, Michigan to Texas, Florida to Hawaii and from California to Virginia. I say from the deepest part of my heart: “Thank you, Arnold, for the legacy you have bestowed upon the chess community.”
Mitchell Denker (1947-2013)
By Dewain Barber
It has taken me a long time to come to terms with the loss of Mitchell. He and I worked together on the GM Arnold Denker Tournament of High School Champions since the passing of his father, Arnold. He was a genuine caring and concerned representative of his father’s legacy. Mitchell’s legacy represents the second generation of the Denker and I am proud to have known him.
During the years we worked together and with the support of the Chess Trust we saw the Denker event emerge as the “place to be” when it came to quality events available to high school players. The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) made the event shine by providing a four year scholarship.
Finally, Mitchell truly made every player feel comfortable and was pleased to see them and was proud of every state representative from Maine to Hawaii and Alaska to Florida. He will be missed, but not forgotten. Below you will find several obituary articles about Mitchell Denker:
Published on Chess Life Online, August 28, 2013.
Mitchell Denker died on Saturday, August 24 2013 in Leland, North Carolina. Mitchell’s father was two-time US Champion and Grandmaster Arnold Denker (1914-2005). Mitchell honored his father’s memory with continual support for the Denker, which was founded in 1985.
His good friend, Barbara DeMaro of the US Chess Trust (where Mitchell served as a trustee) was pictured with Mitchell at the most recent edition of the Denker in Madison, Wisconsin. Barbara said: “Mitchell was full of life, brilliant, kind, witty and generous! Mitchell truly cared about each and every one of the Denker participants. At the opening ceremony every year, as he greeted each participant, took their flag, he would say something funny or interesting to them that made them smile or laugh. I have lost a very, very dear friend and will miss him more than you know.”
When asked about his passion for the Denker tournament of high school champions, Mitchell said, “I shared my father’s enthusiasm for helping young players. When my father asked me to keep the tournament going after him, I agreed. My son, Dylan, has also agreed to keep it going after me.”
Published in the Wilmington Star-News on Aug. 27, 2013.
Mitchell Denker, 66, formerly of Key West, FL, passed away on Saturday, August 24, 2013, in Leland, NC. He was born in New York City and lived on Long Island until his college years. When his parents, Arnold and Nina, moved to Florida, he followed, and lived in Florida most of his life; he completed college, studied law and practiced in Key West. In 1994 he and his wife Jaye, and their sons Dylan and DJ, moved to Belleview, Florida, where they lived for over 13 years. Chess was one of Mitchell’s passions and he has been a Trustee of the U.S. Chess Trust for several years, honoring his father’s memory with sponsorship of the annual Denker Chess Tournament for High School students, which provides a scholarship to the University of Texas to the winner. During his time in Belleview he served as the President of the Haas Fund, a charity for children in need of financial support for the arts and athletics, a member of the Belleview Zoning Commission, Chairman of the Grievance Committee of the Florida Bar Association, and as President of Shepherds Lighthouse, a live-in facility for battered women. He was also a traveler, taking every chance to get to see the world, particularly the parts least traveled by tourists. Two years ago, Mitchell, Jaye and Dylan moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, where he served at the Cape Fear Volunteer Center for the Big Buddy Program. In addition to his parents, he is predeceased by his beloved daughter, Jana Denker. He is survived by his wife, Jaye Holt Denker; son, Dylan Denker; stepson, Douglas R. Jones, III, sister, Randie Denker; brother, Richard; niece, Gaea Denker-Lehrman, and his Little Buddy, Tyrese Diggs.
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