Most people remember the old “lion and the lamb” fable. While these two animals are polar opposites in strength and character, their traits can sometimes be complementary… as the fable (and many like it) has shown. One can have the strength of a lion and the humility of a lamb, but finding someone with these traits is rare. However, such a description may describe Morris Giles, a Chicago-area chess master who impressed others with his brash and daring style, yet his soft, humble demeanor.
Giles life came to a tragic end on Sunday, December 23, 2012 after being struck by a tow truck the previous morning. The truck driver failed to yield before making a left turn and struck Giles as he was in the cross walk. The driver was subsequently cited for “failure to yield to a pedestrian” and “failure to exercise due care”. Giles was rushed to Advocate Christ Medical Center where he died Sunday at 2:30am. Chicago and the chess world lost a humble giant.
Giles was a Chicago-area player who learned to play along with his brother Roscoe C. Giles, III. Their father, Roscoe C. Giles, Jr. was a Court Reporter for the Chicago Federal Courts and mother Virginia Giles was a teacher and administrator in the Chicago Public Schools. Their grandfather Roscoe Conkling Giles, Sr. attended Cornell University as a collegiate and graduated in 1907.
Giles, Sr. continued onto Cornell Medical School where he graduated in 1911 despite fierce racial harassment. He would later move to Chicago to become a successful and influential physician. The Giles clan would grow in Chicago and decades later, young Morris would have a strong lineage to build from and his family history of excellence would later shine through in his chess.
When he was 15 or 16, Morris was struck by a car, but ironically it was this mishap that brought him closer to chess. While in the hospital, his father would play chess with him. This served as a boost to his interest and skill. After his recovery, he continued to played at the University of Chicago Lab School and began to take a deeper interest. Morris soon become an active tournament player during the “Fischer Boom”. One player named Jim Voelker remembered meeting a young Morris Giles in Cleveland.
I met Morris at a tournament in Cleveland in the early 1970s. He was only rated an Expert at the time, but offered to play anybody at blitz with one minute against five for money. I wisely declined, but he cleaned up against all takers.
He then took a break from chess in the 70s only to return with a vengeance in the early 80s. It was in this decade that he proceeded to terrorize the Chicago chess scene populated by strong masters. His games were filled with energy and a personality that belied his soft-spoken persona. Perhaps his most famous win came at the expense of GM Walter Browne at the 1988 U.S. Open in Boston.
In this game Giles played the Sozin Sicilian and finished the game with a scintillating mating attack. Notes by GM Robert Byrne.
He would score 9-3 in that tournament also beating GM Alexander Ivanov, drawing with GMs Lev Alburt, Andrew Soltis and losing only one game to Joel Benjamin. (See Illinois Chess Bulletin, September-October 1988) It is believed that he earned an IM norm in that tournament. There is some uncertainty as to how many norms Giles had earned, but he was certainly an IM-level player.
NM Charles Lawton analyzing with Morris Giles
at the 1982 Midwest Masters Invitational.
As a player, Giles employed the sharpest of lines. Some of the openings in his repertoire were: King’s Gambit(!), Sozin Attack against Sicilian, Najdorf and Scheveningen Sicilian with black, King’s Indian, the Grunfeld and an occasional Dutch with black. His opening choices seemed to mimic that of Bobby Fischer. He played the most theoretical lines and never backed down from a challenge.
Giles last United States Chess Federation (USCF) rating was 2423 and World Chess Federation rating was 2360. Exact records do not show his very last event, but cousin Francis Giles told The Chess Drum that Giles had simply lost interest in chess never to return. He had stated that he was an “International Master” but had no interest in pursuing the Grandmaster title. If Giles had three IM norms, an application was never submitted by the U.S. Chess Federation and thus his World Chess Federation or Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) profile has him listed as “FIDE Master”.
In his latter years, Giles resided on Chicago’s southside living a quiet life in his modest home on Chicago’s southside. He was a Chicago native and attended the University of Chicago Laboratory School through the 12th grade. He had worked professionally in the computer field including a stint with Sears & Roebuck in the information technology (IT) department.
Morris Giles playing FM Albert Chow in the 5th round
of the 1988 Prairie State Open.
It was while at Sears he played top board for the company in the Chicago Industrial Chess League in the late 80s. He was at the height of his powers at this time. Unfortunately, when Sears moved from Chicago to the suburb of Hoffman Estates, he decided to remain in Chicago to be close to his family.
~Roscoe C. Giles, III
Giles is survived by a number of relatives in Chicago and Boston. Dr. Roscoe C. Giles, III, his one older sibling, is a professor at Boston University. The elder Giles tried to persuade Morris to spend time in Boston and resume playing, but to no avail. He did however dabble in a few online chess encounters, but did not spark his interest to play competitively.
His brother stated that Morris had configured a video studio in his home. The intense focus he used for chess was transferred to these media projects. Besides this, he followed sports, was a movie enthusiast and enjoyed being an uncle to his nephew Raymond Giles and niece Stephanie Giles. He also leaves behind cousins Francis Giles, Robert Brown, and Cheryl Gaines.
L-R: Morris Giles with his mother Virginia Giles (deceased) and his brother Dr. Roscoe Giles, III. Photo courtesy of Francis Giles.
There will be two memorials for Morris Giles held in Chicago and Boston. Giles may have retired from the game years ago, but the ferocity of his play will live on… the heart of a lion!
Morris Giles – NM David Rubin
White to Move (after 27…Bf7-g8)
In Giles-Rubin at the 1983 Chess Mates Invitational, FM Giles takes a French Defense to task by building up a strong, steady attack. Giles pried open the kingside with an 16.Kh1 and 17.g4. Former scholastic standout David Rubin underestimated white’s attack and was jolted with 28.Rxh6+! After 28…gxh6 29.Qf6+ Bg7 (29…Rg7 30.Qxh6+ Rh7 (30…Bh7 31.Rxg7! and mate follows) 31.Rxg8+! Kg8 32.Qxh7#) 30.Qxe7 Bxe5 31.Rxg8+! Kxg8 32.Nxe6, and black is finished. (See game)
* * *
FM Morris Giles: A Chicago Chess Legend
Puzzle Tribute (2002)
Morris Giles: The Heart of a Lion
Selected Games of Morris Giles (PGN)