About this project
- Derek Bridges, Co-Director, Co-Cinematographer, Writer
- Trey DeArk, Co-Director, Lead Editor, Sound
- Kaitlin Hanrahan, Co-Director, Co-Cinematographer, Assistant Editor
- Dedra Johnson, Story Editor
- Send Derek Bridges and Kaitlin Hanrahan to Croatia to document Jude Acers while he competes in the FIDE World Senior Chess Championship in November.
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Jude Acers first set up his World Chess Table at its present location on Decatur Street in the French Quarter in 1981 and his table has been there ever since. He's usually there seven days a week, starting around 1 p.m., and about the only thing that can stop him is a hurricane. Pay him $5 and you can play him a game peppered with questions and lessons and stories. At 69 years old, he’s dedicated the past 60 years to chess. And he’s done it on his own terms.
For the past 7 years, an anonymous benefactor has paid for Jude to compete in the FIDE World Senior Chess Championship held annually in Europe. This year’s tournament in November is in Croatia.
Our primary Kickstarter goal is to raise enough money to send two of us to Croatia for the championship tournament. We also have stretch goals for some equipment upgrades. Regardless of how this Kickstarter campaign goes, we will finish this documentary in 2014. We just think Jude’s annual competition in the FIDE World Senior Chess Championship should be part of his story.
We’ve spent a lot of time at Jude’s table and we’re also developing storylines about several folks in Jude’s orbit. I’ve been documenting Jude’s story since 2011 when I published a 25,000-word interview and profile of him. To do all of this and not pursue funding so we can join him at the World Senior Chess Championship would be malpractice.
But we need your help to get us to Croatia. There’s no way we can afford to do it on our own.
Though our Kickstarter goal is $6,500, we have a stretch goal of $15,000 for additional equipment we need for editing, raw footage storage and archiving, and sound and video recording to continue building toward a full-length documentary. Croatia is the center of the documentary project so far, and without it it will be difficult to create the full-length piece we envision and that Jude deserves. We have to get to Croatia.
Below is a 1,880-word excerpt from my 2011 profile of Jude to provide a fuller sense of who he is as well as the groundwork we've already laid for this project.
-- Derek Bridges
"There'll be no need for me to cry"
If you have visited New Orleans or live here, you’ve probably seen Jude Acers (pronounced a-kers). He invariably wears a red beret and sets up his “World Chess Table” on Decatur Street near the Gazebo Cafe, a short walk from Cafe du Monde. He charges five dollars a game or into the thousands for more intensive lessons.
He returned to New Orleans in 1979 after a decade living in San Francisco and zigzagging the country on Greyhound buses. He gave chess exhibitions in malls, elementary schools, colleges and prisons, and a couple times got himself listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for simultaneous chess games by an individual. He sometimes hustled to keep himself fed.
He cast about the French Quarter for a couple of years looking for the right spot for his chess table. On July 21, 1981, local television journalist Eric Paulson's segment about Jude broadcast nationally on PM Magazine, the same day Jude set up his table at its current location near the Gazebo and realized he’d found what he’d been looking for. If it rained, he could easily slide his operation beneath shelter. He had lighting for nighttime play, heavy foot traffic and streams of cars along Decatur, and two of the most famous sites associated with 19th century chess legend Paul Morphy nearby---the Beauregard-Keyes House on Chartres Street where Morphy was born, and the building where Morphy lived out his life and died in a cold bathtub, upstairs at what is now Brennan’s Restaurant [now closed] on Royal Street. That was also the day when Jude came up with the red beret hook:
A man came by with [a delivery] for the Gazebo, and he said, ‘Excuse me, sir, do you know where I can find someone to sign for this?’ I looked over at 81-year-old Chef Ney, who had cooked for President Kennedy on the Mississippi River, and was chef for a short time at the Gazebo, and I said, ‘Chef Ney over there. See that man in the black beret?’ As the man was going away it suddenly hit me. If mothers of children want to find me to play a five dollar game, or a three dollar game at that time for children, they may not know what I look like, so maybe if I wore a red beret. That’s all it was.
Some of the tour bus and carriage drivers call him “The Hand” for the royal wave he serves up for them. Without competition, he's apt to be lost in the New York Times, occupied by his chess studies, or eating. He typically sets up around one in the afternoon–1 p.m., in fact, is his standard issue start time for pretty much everything. (“It simplifies things enormously.”) But if he’s in town, chances are he’s out there:
The important thing is to do it all the time. You think you need days off. You will find if you get enough sleep, you can go a hundred days in a row without any days off, unless you absolutely have to take them. But I do this every day. I never get tired of it.
Jude’s personage, his table and chess boards and signs, the location---he sees it all as a “theatrical full page ad in the paper every day.” But don’t let the showman fool you---he’s given his life to the game, if on his own terms. Certified as a master at 17, he’s studied chess with a singular focus for 60 years. He majored in Russian History and Language at LSU and can read chess-related words in 10 languages. His manner of play is aggressive:
I am an exponent of the old school Alexander Alekhine. Get every ounce of pressure that you can get out of the opening, play it like a hurricane…
New York Times chess columnist Al Horowitz frequently featured Jude’s games in his columns: “A tournament buff with tactical flair” (April 4, 1968); “Enthusiasm, competitive drive, plus talent for objective analysis advanced Jude Acers of San Francisco into a three-way first-place tie” (October 31, 1968); “A clean 7-0 sweep for the young San Francisco star” (August 7, 1969); “Over-the-board, Acers is an adventurous tactician playing to win all the time. As an analyst, he is breezy, informative, objective and possessed of a pungent wit that can turn on himself” (October 29, 1970); and in describing Jude’s opening win in his match tie with six-time U.S. Champion Walter Browne, Horowitz wrote, “The West Coast star revitalized (the Petroff Defense) with sharp opening play” (March 1, 1971). The game was also voted a “Top Ten” theory game in the world in 1970 by a panel of six grandmasters and published in Chess Informant (Informator/Belgrade).
I met Jude in 1998 when I worked at the Loyola University library shortly after I moved to New Orleans. The library had maybe a dozen or so computer stations back then, and Jude would sometimes use 2-3 computers at a time. He did it in the evening when few students were around, rotating from online chess game to game. He wore his red beret, with a red or white t-shirt, maybe a sweater tied around his neck in the cool months. He could be exuberantly friendly and boastful of his chess prowess.
Matthew Teague’s Oxford American article about Jude came out in 2000 (and was later collected in Best of the Oxford American: Ten Years from the Southern Magazine of Good Writing). Teague nicely captured how Jude speaks in association rich and sometimes dizzying monologues:
His boots thunked against the asphalt as he walked, and his monologue flowed from subject to subject, slipping and sliding along the path of least resistance.
“Comfortable boots,” he said. “I must dress smart head to toe, toe to head. Boots on my feet, beret on my head. The beret is red. Red in traffic means stop, so people walk past my boards and stop to play. And red is just a beautiful color. Nobody used color like Van Gogh. Now there was a genius. He knew nobody was going to buy his paintings. He was going a little crazy, but he knew it. Knew it perfectly well. Knew nobody was going to understand him, and knew he would die poor. But he was the boss of his world….”
Where I think Teague erred was in over-interpreting Jude’s irregularity and getting hung up on the “and knew he would die poor” part, as if he saw Jude’s Bohemian skirting-the-grid ways as accidental or a form of self-delusion:
“I have made a lot of money on this sidewalk. Two hundred thousand, easy.” To the casual observer, Acers appears to have scraped by twenty-three years on fewer than ten grand a year, winning an endless stream of five dollar bills off drunks and tourists. But to him the money is a fortune, compiled and invested in twenty-three years of coffee and beignets. Each time a new opponent pays to play, he sees it as validation, as proof that he is a global treasure, and that pilgrims as far away as Alaska and Italy travel to sit at his little chess table and bask in the light of his genius.
Jude’s grandiosity extends far beyond Jude Acers, however. He delights even more in praising others, such as Viswanathan Anand for his heroic defense of the world chess title in 2010---or even Teague:
(Teague) followed me around for four days and four nights and I just couldn’t believe how good he was. I was totally fooled. He is incredibly good. He didn’t feel he did a good job but I told him, ‘You’re wrong.’ He captured very accurately—his editors phoned me about content, I told them it was absolutely correct. One thing he put in, he didn’t want to but they had to, my mother, to show that she was very sick, simply, her mind was going, she would simply take the dirty dishes after the meals and put them in a closet, and things like that …
I usually know what’s going on but I didn’t know what was going on until Teague bombed me with that wonderful surprise, a gift from God when the article game out, I had no idea he was that good. He made sure I didn’t know he was that good. He was very low key.
Casey Bush thinks Teague didn’t quite get Jude:
Teague summarizes the wealth of association that has made Jude Acer’s life so rich but doesn’t quite get it: "He was a little off, but he knew it. Knew it perfectly well. Knew nobody was going to understand him and knew he would die poor. But he was boss of his world.” I believe Mr. Teague meant King, Jude Acers is the King of his world, Grand Ambassador of Cassia with his embassy located conveniently at the crossroads of the world on Decatur Street in New Orleans’ colorful French Quarter.
And Jude pointed out:
You realize I’ve made hundreds of thousands of dollars playing. And people are staggered. But realize, I have no hotel expenses. I have no travel expenses. The money that comes in goes to rent and everything else is reasonably clear. So I’ve been able to make at least a bare living. It’s staggering money for a chess player. It’s a simple business model, much of it is by accident.
His idea of a wonderful afternoon is simply a cup of coffee, a good walk, a chess problem. A live band would be nice.
In 2000, not long after Teague’s article came out, I caught Jude at a St. Charles Avenue eatery where he held a simultaneous exhibition against a couple dozen people, maybe half of them kids. He bopped around the room with the focus of a cold professional, quickly making a move at each board while his opponents had opportunity to mull theirs. A friend of mine who fancied himself naturally talented at chess came along and lost with efficiency. I took pictures.
The next time I saw Jude I gave him a print of a shot of him playing. Thrilled, Jude grandly insisted I would be paid if I allowed him to use it on a website where “millions” would see it. I strongly doubted the money and the millions, it was enough for me that he liked the picture, but I did get a $100 check in the mail a few weeks later.
I cannot say I “interviewed” Jude when we sat down at a small sticky table at Cafe Du Monde, even as it certainly looked like I interviewed him: I scribbled into a notepad, a digital recorder balanced on the paper napkin dispenser between us, I frequently nodded. Jude ordered a tall cafe au lait and two plates of beignets; I had a small cafe au lait. He made a big deal with the waiter about how I would be picking up the tab. Jude also gave a tip.
Jude had talking points he’d written on the reverse side of a couple French Market Restaurant & Bar paper placemats. He talked nearly non-stop for four hours, clicking down his talking points. I don’t think he so much as sipped his coffee for the first three hours.
For the full version of this excerpt, plus more, click over to ClassActionFilms.com.
Risks and challenges
A t-shirt shop across the street from Jude's table plays the same commercially-available music CD over and over, day and night, and the music bleeds into many of our interviews. Since we are a long ways from a final edit, we're unsure how much of an issue this will be. Nonetheless, we've contacted the (independent) record label to begin negotiation over music rights. We understand we will later face expenses to resolve this matter but we're hopeful given the unique nature of our project that these costs will not be excessive.
The most significant challenge to the viability to our project is being unable to join Jude on one of these annual trips to the FIDE World Senior Chess Championship. If Jude should win the championship and we're not there to catch it, our documentary will have a gaping hole right in the center of it. If Jude gets on an exhilarating win streak and defeats players rated significantly higher than himself and we're not there, our documentary will be lacking. It's very difficult to imagine how to do this documentary the right way without going to Croatia.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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