Triple Exclam!!! The Life and Games of Emory Tate, Chess Warrior

Dear chess community,

IM Emory Tate
September 26, 2015
Photo by Richard Shorman.

International Master Emory Tate passed away on October 17, 2015 leaving behind a chess legacy that was unparalleled for a non-Grandmaster. His handsome collection of GM scalps, his animated postmortem sessions and his willingness to share in his knowledge made him a popular and revered figure in the chess world. Since his passing, his presence has been missed by family, friends and the chess community at-large. He was one who thought about his legacy and how he would be remembered by those whom he loved.

I once had a conversation with Tate in which I tried to convince him to write a book of selected games. He scoffed at the idea. At that point, I knew I would be writing this story for him. Since last December, I have been compiling the story of his life with the hopes that his legacy will be one befitting of a man who dedicated his career to chess. In my research, I have found quite a treasure trove of information that has not reached the public eye.

In this biography, I cover his upbringing, his evolution as a player, his triumphs and struggles and the sunset of his life. The book will contain a number of this games, both the obscure and famous. While Tate was known for his slashing victories (Tate-Yudasin, de Firmian-Tate), and original opening ideas (The Tate Variation against the Alekhine after 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.c4 Nb6 4.a4 a5 5.Ra3!? with black 1.b3 f5 2.f4 a5!? 3.a4 Ra6!? 4.e4 Re6!? and 1.c4 d6 2.Nc3 e5 3.Nf3 g5!?!?) there is so much more to him. While he also has positional masterpieces and technical wins, he was perhaps known for the demonstrative and theatrical way he expressed chess ideas.

Apart from chess, Emory Tate was a colorful persona with an interesting background. What is not know to many is that family members called him “Dennis” to eliminate confusion with his older sister who was also named “Emory”. Emory Sr. wanted a legacy, but later had quite a strained relationship with his son, Emory Jr. In the book is the following tract:

Emory Sr., Andrew Tate, Emory Jr.
Photo courtesy of Tate family archives.

“The Tates had to manage their sizable brood of nine children. Things were not easy for Dennis, particularly due to his tumultuous relationship with his father. He became a rebel early on, and his domineering father would not hesitate to exact a seemingly disproportionate punishment on Dennis. Much later would Dennis say about his father, “Only a grandchild, named after him, calmed his nerves …” Despite the strained relationship, Emory Sr. passed on his love of poetry, the outdoors and chess to his son. These are pastimes that Dennis would hold dear for the rest of his life.”

All of these factors shaped Tate’s personality and he became one to eschew the traditional paths to success. Chess would become his legacy. Even enlistment in the U.S. Air Force was a way to express his unique talents of multilingualism and his intense intellect. In the Air Force he established his legend by winning five Armed Forces Championships. It was there that he shined yet his failure to organize a regiment to ascend to Grandmaster ranks of chess would haunt him. During the 1987 NATO Championship in Denmark, his friend and Air Force mate Leroy Hill admonished him in a prophetic way.

Hill: “You’re a coward, Tate.”
Tate: “What do you mean?”
Hill: “You’re afraid. You’re afraid of success. You could become the first Black Grandmaster, but you’ll never become a Grandmaster unless you get serious.”
Tate: “Aw, don’t worry about it.”
Hill: “This tells the story of you. Unless you take it seriously, you’ll be just another talent that could have been. Get professional about it!”

The Air Force at the 1987 U.S. Armed Forces Championship banquet in Washington, D.C. Left to right: Brian Lankey, Bobby Moore, Greg Vitko, Martin Dean, Emory Tate Jr. and Leroy Hill. 
Photo by U.S. Air Force Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR).

The Air Force at the 1987 U.S. Armed Forces Championship banquet in Washington, D.C. Left to right: Brian Lankey, Bobby Moore, Greg Vitko, Martin Dean, Emory Tate Jr. and Leroy Hill. Photo by U.S. Air Force Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR).

Following Tate’s ignoble separation from the Air Force, he set out on a course to find his salvation in chess, but it was not easy going. Despite his increasing collection of brilliant wins, he was unable to find a firm financial footing. He became a “Mad Max” chess warrior shuttling from weekend tournament to weekend tournament with the pace of a Fortune 500 CEO… approximately 1000 tournaments. It was in this fashion that Tate became a global brand. However, he was not keen to monetize his value. Ever giving he gave of his knowledge freely. However, there were times that his self-confidence led to humorous stories. This one involved GM Gregory Serper.

While Tate was high on confidence, sometimes his ambitions did not match his realism. In a telling anecdote, Serper recounts Tate showing him another one of his beautiful wins, whereupon Tate asked Serper, “What do you think, Gregory? Maybe I should go to the ‘First Saturday’ tournament in Hungary and get my GM norm? Then maybe I can even challenge Kasparov for a match.”

The funny part of this story was Tate’s reaction to a young Russian bystander for laughing aloud at his presumption. The Russian boy, who didn’t know Tate, was quickly berated in perfect Russian. Serper recalls Tate’s reaction: “Why are you laughing? Look at him [here Tate pointed at me], he is a Grandmaster, he knows me well, and he is not laughing! And you don’t know me, so why are you laughing?”

However, Tate was more than his chess. Beneath his hard shell was a beautiful soul. In the book, a chapter by this name tells a story of a Tate:

There was an inner beauty about Tate described in so many of the heartwarming stories about him. Reflecting on these accounts told by other people, one realizes that reducing him to his chess identity alone is indeed a disservice. His generosity, tendency to encourage and ability to inspire were rare traits in a world preoccupied with self-fulfillment. Tate thrived more while giving—and reminded one of the rich man who gave all his wealth away and found comfort living as a commoner. Sometimes he slept in odd places and, after his slumber, he arose to set off on new adventures … more souls to enlighten.

Emory Tate shares the joys of chess with his students at the 
Chris Torres Chess Camp in Fremont, California.
Photo by Chris Torres

Emory Tate shares the joys of chess with his students at the
Chris Torres Chess Camp in Fremont, California.
Photo by Chris Torres

In all of this, I have 12 chapters spanning his life from his birth to the fateful day that he collapsed at the Shankland Open. Following are 24 puzzles featuring his combinations and two appendices of his games (annotated by a number of players) including three with his commentary. There is also an interview I conducted in 2006 and a photo gallery of rare photos. It is ironic that those closest to Tate did not realize the magnitude of his influence and the lives he touched. This became apparent as I mourned with the family at the funeral.

I was told that Emory rarely talked about his chess accomplishments around family members. Perhaps they didn’t realize the magnitude of Emory’s stature in the chess community until the days and weeks following his passing. Several family members recalled being moved by the sheer volume of stories and tributes posted on social networks and other media. While there were many different angles, what was common in most of them was Emory’s generosity and his love for family and friends … and sometimes even strangers.

Thus, I have compiled roughly a 300-page treatise on a chess icon… not the best player, but perhaps one of the most passionate about his craft. Tate was a phenom in a number of ways and no one understood him fully. Each of us got a piece of him … a piece he wanted you to have. Only when we put these pieces together did we understand what a marvel of a mosaic he was … the impressive, the impassioned, the impresario … Emory Tate!

FM Emory Tate at 2001 World Open. Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

This was Tate’s favorite chess photo… the look of a predator gazing at his prey.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Daaim Shabazz

Dr. Daaim Shabazz is the creator and webmaster of The Chess Drum. He serves as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds an MBA in Marketing and a doctorate in International Affairs & Development. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

27 Comments

  1. HAHA its good to see this , this mornin!!! REFRESHING it actually reminds me of my ICC days as the ULTRAMODERNIST 1998-2008 when i competed with their traditional gms for 10 years there and argued with the tradtionalist on that site about Tate’s ‘OBVIOUS GENIUS”. I recall when aNAND, KRAMNIk, and some of the top fide practicers was in one of their major practice event how i would mention how Tate would “crush anand’ from certain positions and the traditionalist would argue with me for hours unend until the adminstrator would have to step in and say this is “NOT ABOUT TATE” lol then i would bring up fisher and the argument would go on for another 2 hours!!! hahah so well deserved my brother GENIUS!!!! hahhaha. THE TRIPLE EXCLAIM! lol Adia , maybe ill go to 5!!! HAHA ITS A JOKE.

      1. Daaim I am very pleased that you are doing this book. I compiled games of Emory Tate in a book with nothing but his glorious moves but I was unable to locate two key games in the world open 2006. I hope you have better luck than I did, both his opponents when I contacted them said they had lost the game score, they both were defeated and much time has passed. Anyway all the best with the project.

  2. Glad you are pulling this together, Daaim! Emory bowed to none at the board, attacking with skill and abandon – I’m looking forward to the book. And I’d like to mention that a week before he passed away, we spent half an hour chatting, and he made a nice bold statement to me that might make a great title or subtitle, in reference to his various wins against ex-Soviet GMs who met his 1.e4 with the Sicilian: “I taught many Russian GMs to play the Caro-Kann.”

    1. He certainly got a lot of nice wins over the Soviet-era players. They had a high regard for him and were intrigued that he knew how to speak Russian. Of course, he took his share of losses from them as well, but I would imagine that he caused them quite a few nightmares since a loss would most likely derail their chances of a prize. Not a comfortable opponent by any means.

  3. Very excited for the upcoming release of this book. Loved his style of play and passion for the game. I met Emory at the 2000 World Open in Philly in the skittles room but not playing chess… instead, backgammon! and killing it too.

  4. Yeah me too cant wait! I remember callin him the BLACK TAL he looked at me with that smile! lol and yall know that smile he got with them eyes!!! TATE!!!

    1. Yeah fortunately i wuz able to study many of Emory’s Games especially if it was in a publication, actually Maurice Games was studied as well, so UM with u and i cant wait to get my hands on this one! I lover reading chessbooks and thats what i told Nakamura when i saw him on chess.com , i told him to put that laptop down and pick-up a book u can get them at the Library ya know? ULTRAMODERNIST.

  5. Hi,
    Seems like the book is not available on amazon any more. Is there a link I can buy an author signed copy (with Seirawan’s signature) from?

    Thanks!

  6. I too have great anticipation of the releaseof this book. Daainm do you have an appropriate plan to prompt this book beyond the regular chess community Just asking!!!

    1. I just pick up the first batch of books off the press!

      Half the book is a biography and half is chess-oriented. I hope it will reach chess and non-chess audiences. I will use the usual media outlets.

      Look for more details in the coming week!

      Introducing “Triple Exclam”

  7. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Daaim Shabazz, The Chess Drum
    P.O. Box 7663
    Tallahassee, FL 32314-7663 USA
    webmaster@thechessdrum.net
    (850) 296-9494

    Tallahassee, USA – 11 March 2017 – Emory Tate’s biography Triple Exclam!!! The Life and Games of Emory Tate, Chess Warrior has finally arrived and is available for purchase. The book details the life of one of the most colorful figures on the U.S. chess circuit. Tate’s death on October 17, 2015 brought an end to the adventurism and sense of wonderment he found in chess.

    In just over a year, his biography has been published by The Chess Drum after finishing production in March 2017. Release was delayed for months by a number of technical issues. The book covers his exciting 56-year journey and life as a chess artist. His passion for chess was truly inspiring. Triple Exclam was the culmination of an intense research effort on the life of Tate.

    The following blurb appears on the inside flap of the dust jacket:

    ISBN-10: 0998118001
    ISBN-13: 978-0998118000
    Publisher: The Chess Drum, LLC
    Retail Price: $40.00 (full color, hard back)

    TO ORDER NOW… CLICK HERE!

    In the annals of attacking chess players, International Master Emory Tate built up a collection of stunning gems. Tate also showed his passion in describing these exciting battles as if acting in a stage play. With his clear, accelerated speaking style, melodramatic portrayals, quick wit and creative word play, he intrigued audiences and showed unequivocally that chess is not merely a game to be played, but an art form to be expressed. This book details the life and games of Tate over the course of his 56 years.

    His contribution to chess lies not merely in his level of play, or even his scintillating victories, but in his creation of unique ideas and inspiring dreams. Somewhere on that chess board was beauty to behold, a new story to be told, and perhaps an idea that would touch the soul. Tate told many stories, many of which would reflect an adventurous, purposeful, yet troubled life. This story is of beautiful games, life lessons, mind-boggling conflicts and celebration of a man whose contributions will live on!

    The Book

    Triple Exclam is a hardback, full-color edition that includes 280 pages in 12 chapters and seven appendices surveying the life of Tate. It includes 35 of his games (all annotated) and vintage photos at various stages of his life. The book also includes chapter notes and is fully-indexed. If you are not a chess-player but enjoy biographies, you will appreciate his story.

    The Foreword of the book was done by GM Maurice Ashley with annotations by GM Yasser Seirawan, GM Alejandro Ramirez, GM Pontus Carlsson, GM Amon Simutowe, GM Kenny Solomon, IM Malcolm Pein, FM William Morrison, FM Todd Andrews, FM Jimmy Canty and National Masters Ernest Colding, Glenn Bady and Dr. Okechukwu Iwu. Two games feature transcribed annotations from Tate’s famous post-mortems.

    Triple Exclam: The Life and Games of Emory Tate, Chess Warrior
    (Previews)

    Order Details

    The highly-anticipated book can be purchased by following the Paypal button below. A Paypal account is not needed. Buying in bulk cuts per unit and mailing costs, so for groups of friends, chess clubs, and vendors seeking volume discounts (for the purchase of five or more), click here!

    International rates are currently prohibitive unless ordering quantities in multiples of five (U.S. Postal Service flat rate box). The Chess Drum is looking for international distributors to make the book accessible to a wider audience. An e-book version of Triple Exclam is forthcoming.

    Some customers many be skittish about ordering online. In that case, contact me at webmaster@thechessdrum.net with number of copies needed and I’ll send an invoice. Also available for book signings. Make sure you add this handsome book to your collection!

    FOR PURCHASING 5 OR MORE COPIES, click here!
    FOR PURCHASING 1-4 COPIES


    # # #

    The Chess Drum, LLC is a publisher of chess news content and literature. The organization’s website has continued to demonstrate the universality of chess by covering a variety of topics through news stories, essays, interviews, and photos since 2001. Visit The Chess Drum at thechessdrum.net and follow the beat on Facebook and Twitter!

  8. The Legacy of Emory Tate continues
    Posted 17 October 2017

    International Master Emory Tate
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

    Two years ago today on October 17th 2015, Emory Andrew Tate, Jr. passed away after being felled by a heart attack at a chess tournament. The world immediately went into mourning and the stories started to flow about his chess adventures. On March 11th, 2017, a biography detailing the life of this most loyal acolyte of Caissa was released to the public. It was titled, Triple Exclam: The Life and Games of Emory Tate, Chess Warrior. No expense was spared to produce a work befitting of the heart and soul he gave to chess. The book was well-received and in six months the initial 500 hardback, full-color copies were sold to admirers far and wide.

    After the release of the book, many offered additional stories of his life and we will add a few here in his honor. We will also add some games that he played on the ICC. One of the most poignant messages was left by “Erob” on November 10th 2015 only weeks after Emory’s death.

    Tate, with that circus energy, like a clown on the high wire with no net underneath, laughing fearlessly at the crowd for refusing his invitation to join him, suffered never for a gentle smile, reassuring that we act by gift of our own wonder. And that Rolls Royce of a brain he carried, thundering down the slope of an unjust society, surely will find respite in the place where all like Socrates must go. But should his ghost decide to linger our swords will sharpen and our friendships will grow in unpredictable ways.

    Indeed.

    There were those associates who purchased Triple Exclam in hopes to discover the magic of that “Rolls Royce of a brain.”

    Memories of Tate have been immortalized and one can only give a wry smile when recounting the countless stories that cannot be captured in a single book. There is a saying that everyone has an Emory Tate story. Maybe not, but there are hundreds! A few months ago, Frank Johnson shared with me an anecdote of Emory’s determination.

    On one weekend, Emory took the Greyhound bus to a tournament. While he traveled lightly he would sometimes bring along something to read. On this trip, Emory toted around his Anthology of Chess Combinations, a book of 2001 combinations from practical games. It was a book he found great beauty in and cherished.

    Unfortunately, he left his book on the bus and when he discovered that it was missing, he returned to the depot only to see the bus pulling off. Emory, with his asthma-riddled lungs, chased down the bus in hopes of flagging it down. Generally buses will not stop, but somehow he got the bus to stop! Panting and out of breath, he got onto the bus and retrieved his prized possession. Having pulled off an unlikely task, he merrily went on about his business!

    Emory competing at the 2001 World Open in Philadelphia.
    His games always drew a watchful eye.
    Photo by Daaim Shabazz

    Emory Tate vacationing in Mexico
    Photo by Ed Lewis

    I also got a number of stories highlight Emory’s drinking prowess. For those who read Triple Exclam, this was a sordid chapter in his life. Chris Torres, a close friend of Emory’s, told me that he would drink in order to “shut down his mind.” There was certainly a lot of energy that he was generating, a lot of thoughts percolating and a cooling off period was needed.

    Emory was troubled, but would look for (and find) a place of solace. Of course there many ways to do this. One that he chose was to imbibe in spirits to assuage his troubles. Another is to find a place to unwind. One of his favorite resorts was his mother’s home, a house sitting on secluded acreage tucked into rural Alabama. It brought him the solitude and time to reflect. It was said that he considered returning back to Alabama prior to his passing.

    It was easy to understand why Emory appreciated beauty. Here is a family photo from the 90s of Emory with sisters Emory Denise and Katrinka, his mother Emma and youngest sister, Elizabeth.

    While I was in St. Louis for the 2017 Rapid & Blitz tournament, Maurice Ashley told me a story about Emory’s “Mad Max” persona. In the late 80s, Emory drove three hours from Baltimore to New York. He decided to show up at Maurice’s doorstep in Brooklyn urging him to play in a Chicago tournament. Granted, it is a 12-hour drive from New York to Chicago and Maurice would not be doing any driving. What would follow would be a nightmare of a drive according to Maurice.

    Certainly not as good of a driver as a chess player, Emory worsened his performance by occasionally indulging in a drink… all the while, talking a mile a minute. Maurice, then 22-23 years old, was totally frightened and never caught a wink of sleep. After 11 hours of torturous driving, Emory mentioned he was tired and they stopped in Elkhart, Indiana to spend the night. Maurice met Emory’s gracious mother, but was enthralled by one of Emory’s beautiful sisters! As Maurice was trying to acquaint himself, Emory barked, “It’s time to go!”

    The story doesn’t end there. They get to the tournament in Chicago and Emory doesn’t have a room. By now, Maurice was obviously irritated, but Emory tells him, “Don’t worry.” After some time, Emory comes back and says, “I have a room.” Maurice was dumbstruck and how Emory could pull that off so fast! Of course we now know that Emory had built up tremendous social capital in the chess world and would cash it in at various times. What happened was that Emory had met an admiring player who was glad to have two strong masters to stay with them and perhaps analyze their games. Not only did they have a room to stay in, they got the beds! What an emotional roller coaster for Maurice that trip must’ve been!

    With a clear mind Emory was an artistic magician who reveled at the delicate mysteries of chess. He wanted nothing more than to share his joy in a post-mortem session. His presence has been sorely missed. I have received a number of offers of stories, photos and more of his games. William Aramil sent a number of games Tate played on the ICC and a few are shown below.

    Emory Tate shares the joys of chess with his students at the 
Chris Torres Chess Camp in Fremont, California.
Photo by Chris Torres

    Emory will not be forgotten. A man of his craft, he exhibited passion,
    made his mark and it was indeed a Triple Exclam.
    Photo by Chris Torres

    What is interesting to note is not the tactical flourishes that Emory played, but the passion that brought about these fantastic ideas. In essence, one would be skilled if they solve difficult combination puzzles, but it requires more skill to get such positions. The beauty of Emoryâ??s presence is that he was willing to show you how he did it. He was an artist who wanted to show his work, not for the sake of self-aggrandizement, but to show the beautiful idea contained in chess. Therein lies a beauty to behold, an inspiration to be felt and a lesson to be learned.

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