RO Mitchell, 1990 U.S. Junior Champ, 1971-2007

The Chess Drum has received news of the death of R.O. Mitchell from Memphis resident Carlos Sims. The only available information comes from a police statement saying that Mitchell had been found on May 29th in his apartment in an unresponsive state. They added that he had been that way for about two weeks. Cardiac arrest has been cited as the cause of death.

R.O. Mitchell, 35, was a native of Nashville, Tennessee and won his claim to fame by winning the
1990 US Junior Open Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was the first Black player to accomplish that feat and it wouldn't be until 1997 when Shearwood McClelland III would repeat the task. However, little mention was made of Mitchell's accomplishment in Chess Life and the title is one of the most prestigious. Nevertheless, his name will be forever etched on the slate of national champions.

Mitchell gradually faded away from the chess scene and took a long hiatus from active tournament play until resurfacing in 2003. He played mostly in locals and then played in the
2005 National Open.

R.O. Mitchell at the 2006 World Open. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

R.O. Mitchell at the 2006 World Open
(Photo by Daaim Shabazz)

As an unheralded two-time Tennessee Junior Champion (1987 & 1989), he was contemporaries of such well-known stars such as Ilya Gurevich, Jesse Kraai, Alex Sherzer, Vivek Rao and Bobby Seltzer. Tennessee standout FM Todd Andrews was also a peer and gave his reflections:

"I met R.O. a couple of times when playing events in Memphis - we had some nice conversations which were easy to come by since we both were strong players that loved the game and attended the same high school - Hume-Fogg. R.O came off as one of the most jovial players of the game that I had ever had the pleasure to meet. He seemed happy and he loved his chess."

Going into the 1990 U.S. Junior Open he was not one of the top high school finishers in the National High School Championships, but was a strong Expert in the top 50 list for players under 21. Mitchell played in the
1989 Denker Tournament of High School Champions during the 1989 U.S. Open in Chicago where he met Dr. Kimani Stancil. Contacted in Berkeley, California, Dr. Stancil described Mitchell as "deeply intelligent" and labeled the death as "a major loss." R.O. also competed in the 1991 U.S. Junior Closed in Bloomington, Illinois and scored a memorable win over Seltzer in a Sicilian Dragon. (see games below)

WORDS FROM LAURA MITCHELL (MOTHER)

R O Mitchell was the son of Rev. Richard O. and Rev. Laura Mitchell. He was born 1971 in Nashville, TN. R O graduated from Hume Fogg Magnet School and received a bachelor and 2 master degrees from the University of Memphis.

He was introduced to both chess and Spanish at an early age and his dedication and ability to absorb and apply knowledge led to excellence in both areas. R O won the 1989 Tennessee Junior Open Chess Tournament and the U.S. Junior Open Chess Tournament in 1990. He also played in the U.S. Junior Closed Tournament.

He taught Spanish in the Memphis Schools for one year and tutored athletic students at the University of Memphis and many private students; both in math and Spanish.

At his death, he was an instructor in the Continuing Education program at the University of Memphis.

R O was skilled in writing so much so that one of his English teachers at Hume Fogg could not believe that he had written a story he turned in for an assignment--it was so well written.

R O was a focused thinker, who also had a great love for God and others. His light glowed brightly and will not be dimmed by death because of how he influenced others while he lived.


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WORDS FROM DAAIM SHABAZZ (The Chess Drum)

I met R.O. back at the 1989 U.S. Open. He was a very humble person. We analyzed each other's games and had a wonderful time talking about chess. I remember him asking me how to get better attacking positions. We also analyzed games with Maurice Ashley. What a classic encounter! Both R.O. and I were blown away by Ashley's analysis of a past game against James West. At the tournament's end, we exchanged addresses. About a year later, R.O. sent me a post card (postmarked August 28, 1990) and it read:

"Sorry about the long time its taken  for me to respond. Please, send me a couple of your best games and me tell how things are going. OH YEAH! I JUST WON THE U.S. JUNIOR OPEN, I'm also a Master - I'll send you some games."

To the best of my knowledge, he never represented the U.S. in any international tournaments after winning the title. He reached the 2200-mark a few more times and earned the high mark of 2208. I reunited with him at the 2006 World Open and informed him about The Chess Drum.
Gary Pylant of Memphis Chess Club stated that R.O. had a Master's degree in Spanish and was working toward a Ph.D. He was certainly a fine young man and I was glad to have met and befriended him.

See Selected Games of R.O. Mitchell
Maurice Ashley analyzing R.O. Mitchell's game (with his seated opponent) at the 1989 U.S. Open in Chicago. Kimani Stancil looks on. R.O. Mitchell came from nowhere to win the U.S. Junior Open in 1990. After winning his Master's title, he disappeared from active play. Stancil, also a young star in this picture, earned his Ph.D. in Physics from MIT in 2002. Copyright  1989, Daaim Shabazz.

Maurice Ashley (now GM) analyzing R.O. Mitchell's game (with his seated opponent) at the 1989 U.S. Open in Chicago. Kimani Stancil looks on. R.O. Mitchell came from nowhere to win the U.S. Junior Open in 1990. Stancil, also a young star in this picture, earned his Ph.D. in Physics from MIT in 2002. Copyright © 1989, Daaim Shabazz.


Memorial Services for  R.O. Mitchell

23 June 2007 @ 1:00pm

The University of Memphis
Panhellenic Building, Rooms 104, 105
384 Patterson Street
Memphis, TN 38152

Visitation with family: 1:00-2:00pm
Comments and Eulogies: 2:00pm

Posted by The Chess Drum: 4 June 2007