John D. Rockefeller V

Dwight Barber

Why John D. Rockefeller III?

Playing Chess with My Grandfather

John D. Rockefeller III playing chess with his grandson, John D. Rockefeller V.

My paternal grandfather, John D. Rockefeller III, was a philanthropist who founded the Population Council in 1952, led the reconstituted Japan Society from 1952-1978, established the Asia Society in 1956, and spearheaded the development of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in the 1950s and 1960s. But because he died a few days after I turned 9, I unfortunately have very few memories of him. When my family visited our grandparents in New York, my grandfather and I frequently played chess in his den. Above is a picture of us deeply absorbed in a game in 1977, when I was 7. After my grandfather’s death in 1978, that picture became a permanent fixture in my bedroom—my single remaining connection to him.

Fast forward 30 years to 2008. I’m married with 3 young children and living in Baltimore, Maryland. One day my daughters and I played what might have been our 500th game of Connect 4. Connect 4 is a superb game for young kids, but older kids (and their parents!) ultimately lose interest in it. Clearly, it was time for us to find a new game. I thought of the picture of my grandfather and me (which was now in my living room) and decided to give chess a try. In the early 1980s Mattel Computer Chess was my constant companion. But by 2008 I hadn’t played chess in 25 years and wasn’t sure I could remember how all the pieces move. I doubt I remembered the king could castle queenside, and I certainly didn’t remember what en passant is. But I soon fell back in love with chess all over again. Within days a friend and I started planning a chess club at our daughters’ all-girls school, and within 2 months I competed in my first tournament—at the ripe age of 39. (In my second game, I pulled off an upset win against a 1500 player: a smother mate in 10 against the Caro-Kann. But ever since, I’ve been unable to climb back to my first US Chess rating…) 3 years later, as my daughters and I walked to school in the mornings and back from chess club on Monday afternoons, we took turns calling out the moves to Cheron vs Jeanloz (1929), Waitzkin vs Waitzkin (1983), Morphy’s Opera Game (1858), and Reti vs Tartakower (1910). Several years later I also coached chess clubs at my son’s school—culminating in 10 years of coaching. All of which goes to show: mediocre players can be decent coaches, as long as they’ve got passion for the game.

Currently I am Chair of US Chess’ Development Committee, a Maryland Delegate to US Chess, and a member of US Chess’s Scholastic Committee. Since 2010 I have been Scholastic Director of Maryland Chess and the Tournament Organizer and Chief Tournament Director of nearly 200 US-Chess-rated scholastic tournaments—and my kids have competed in almost all of them. When I’m TDing at a tournament, I love seeing parents and grandparents walk their children and grandchildren to the board for the start of a game. I wish my grandfather had lived long enough to take me to what would have been my first chess tournament in the late 1970s. I volunteer my time and donate to US Chess and MD Chess, because chess is a wonderful way for families to connect.