ChessMaine Interviews: Roger Morin

03.23.07 Former Maine Chess Champion and artist Roger Morin, recently played in an over-the-board tournament in Pembroke, Maine after being away from competitive chess for many years. took note of this and caught up with Roger to ask him what it's like to be back at it. In this interview, Roger recalls Maine chess in the '60s, '70s and '80s, speaks about some of his great chess contemporaries and comments on his chess-inspired art.

Self-portrait, Oil on canvas; 12 x 24 in.

To view more of Roger's works and learn about the artist visit the Roger Morin Art Gallery.

ChessMaine: Roger Morin, thanks so much for speaking with us. You recently played in an over-the-board tournament after many years away from tournament chess. How does it feel to be back in the saddle? Are you planning on playing in more tournaments this year?

Roger Morin: It feels just great although rusty indeed. I've of course played on the internet all this time, but tournaments are so very different. My last tournament I played in 1990 in Orono. I won, beating the then Maine Champion, Anthony Gross. I will play more, but maybe 3 or 4 tournament a year will quench my thirst.

CM: How did you get your start in chess? Did you play scholastic chess growing up?

RM: I learned chess at 16 from a friend named Naomi. I remember he beat me 32 times in a row. I gave up and it wasn't till I was 19, that I took it up again.

CM: Did you have a coach or mentor that helped you along?

RM: I become interested again as my new teacher, Richard Esman showed me some real chess stuff and the game became more of a puzzle for me. The history of the world champions etc., fascinated me. There was more than getting mated on f7. He taught me notations, gave me books, etc. He was a 2100 player and finally after two years, I won my first game. We played a match a while later and we came out 5 to 5.

Acrylic on masonite; 4 x 3 ft. I painted this as an homage to Vincent Van Gogh. You can see a small sunflower and one of his last paintings, Wheat Field with Crows. The geometry is something rather foreign for that time period and it may be something he would have done if he were here today. The archway is a connection to him. He cut his ear on December 23rd, which is my birthday!

CM: Are you a native Mainer?

RM: Yes, born on Hazel Street in Auburn in 1944.

CM: Can you describe your early days in chess and some of the personalities you played with at the Portland Chess Club in the 60's?

RM: What fun it was, meeting the greats. Elowitch, Daly, Quirk, Laughlin, Morrill, Shortill, etc. Before I went to Portland, I played at the Auburn Chess Club. Jim Palange was a 1900 player and a tough attacker. After a difficult struggle, I finally beat him and then I took on Portland. My very fist game was the Auburn vs Portland City Match and I won a game from Daly, that was in 1967. Daly's preference in those days was d4 followed by Bf4. I had prepared a King's Indian line and I was ready, but I didn't realize his tenacity. He showed me what strong stuff he was made of.

CM: You were Maine State Champion in 1980 along with Mike Kaplan, Scott Carter, Stanley J. Elowitch and Joel Malis. Can you recall the circumstances of this tournament?

RM: Oh yes, I had played in 13 Maine championships and came in 2nd 7 times, my worst showing being 6th. It was the last round and I was a pawn up on Stan Elowitch. Even though I felt I would win, I decided co-champion was better than loosing it if I erred so I offered a draw which tied all of us at 4-1.

Oil on canvas; 2 x 4 ft. These are two paintings. The painting on the left is a horizontally elongated version of the right side. The inscription reads, "We see the universe as outside ourselves even though it's a reflection of what's in each of us."

CM: Who were some of your most difficult opponents? Did you prepare for opponents individually?

RM: I have plus scores against some strong masters like Allan Savage, John Stopa, S. Gerzadowicz, to name a few, but the man I could not touch was [John] Curdo. I had mate in 2 once and still lost--and I saw it! But I played the moves in the wrong order.

CM: How was tournament chess different then than it is now?

RM: It was more honest, person vs person. Sandbagging had become a big problem in the late '60s. I stopped going to the big money tournaments in 1978. I played in two World Opens and two U.S. Opens. I like Maine players.

CM: Which was more of a highlight in your chess career making master or winning the Maine State Championship?

RM: Being Maine Champion by far.

Acrylic on masonite; 4 x 2 ft. The small piece of paper on the lower right reads: "For the child in all of us." I enjoy doing surealist paintings, the smaller painting on the easel is an opposite geometric reflection. The dual-colored woman in the light bulb is about to be pulled to safety by a dragonfly. Notice the blue ceiling is supposed to be a ceiling but do you see a roof?

CM: I understand you play chess on the internet quite frequently. Which sites do you use and do you play blitz or slower time controls?

RM: Internet Chess Club is a good site. I play maybe 20 fast, three minute games for each slow one.

CM: You have recently started coaching a scholastic club. Can you describe your experiences teaching students? Is this your first foray into coaching or have you coached students in the past?

RM: I hold chess classses at the Hodgen Elementary School which is great fun to see new students learn the game. I have always taken time to teach anyone who took an interest. I've had classes in different schools. I started in 1969 teaching in Auburn schools.

CM: Looking at your artwork, one sees chess motifs infused in many of your paintings. What
influence has chess played in your art and your life?

RM: I often use some sort of chess reference in my surealist works, some self-portraits also have some chess stuff in them. Chess has been a very important part of my life. When I moved near Boston in the late '60s I played every day in tournaments on Newberry Street in Boston and in weekend tournaments. I simply wanted to be the best player from Maine. I seemed to have little talent for the game but I do have perseverence, and after playing for 13 years in tournaments, I became a master.

Game Room, Acrylic on canvas; 3 x 4 ft. A surealist view of a strange game room with bizarre objects in it. Notice on the left another replica of the room and again and again; of course, I have chess pieces in it. Notice the shadow of the knight is the Statue of Liberty.

CM: Can you speak a bit about the Roger Morin Art Gallery in Houlton, Maine?

RM: My wife and I moved here from Wells where I had my art gallery for seven years. I have been here a little over two years. We put an addition on our new home and I have room to paint and have classes in my studio as well as enough room to hang over a hundred paintings in my gallery. I do a lot of portrait paintings which is my bread and butter.

CM: What advice can you offer aspiring players on how to improve?

RM: Find a good teacher who can communicate good plans and is able to guide you in what to study, and can talk with you about personal shortcomings, like moving too quickly, impatience, lazy analysis, etc.

CM: You are currently the 11th highest rated player in Maine. What can the Maine Chess Association and do to entice more top players out of "retirement" and back into the tournament hall?

RM: In my case having tournaments on Saturday and closer to my home, which is unlikely. If I were in Lewiston, Augusta or Portland I would play. Maybe many older players are simply unwilling to devote study time anymore and don't want the job of keeping up with the latest wrinkles of the openings, etc. It's just hard work. If they want to play, they will, and in the meantime concentrate on the young ones who do want to particapate.

Cassia, Goddess of Chess, Acrylic on masonite; 4 x 2 ft. Since there is only one, I gave her a unicorn-like horn and made her skin chessboard-like. The background is universe-like with planets etc.

CM: Any other comments you would like to add?

RM: Your website truely gives me great pleasure to read. I just love all the new young talents out there competing. It's their turn for glory and I enjoy watching it all and seeing their happy faces.

CM: I'm glad to hear you are enjoying! Thanks for the interview.

RM: Thanks again.


Hello to all my chess friends Beers, Morgan, Wlodkowski, and to any one else who may have seen this article. It's good to know we may meet again someday.The old lines I use to play 20 years ago, King's Indians, Nardjorf Sicillians work just as well as the past, as the young players are baffeled by my archaic openings. roger


First, its good to hear that ol' Roger is still with us. Brings back memories of my own early days in Maine chess.

Second, could the ChessMaine web-site possibly find a way to use some of his art on the site?

Third, how ironic that while on my way out the door (I am
moving to Arizona next month) I find that RM has wound up in Houlton. Houlton, or more accurately Hodgdon(BTW, I have spelled it correctly), is actually one of my ancestral homelands (my mother and sister having been born there). Too bad, I can't get back up to "the County" one more time--perhaps for a match
against Roger for the all-time chess championship of Hodgdon.

This article on Roger Morin was very well done. I remember Roger from the university chess club in the early to middle '70's. He was an up and coming player then and gave Cooper (current state champ) a hard time. I was surprised he did not mention the UME chess club. He, Cooper, and a couple other players went down to a collegiate tournament in Boston and beat both Harvard and MIT. Then they went to the Pan-American tournament a couple years. They were great players. I played him once and learned a lesson from him about how to handle an end game. We both promoted our last pawn to Queen and I suggested it should be a draw but he said to play on a few moves (to see if that was true) and so I lost my queen to a skewer and learned that on an open board you can't put your king on any diagonal or column or row that your queen is on or you will get skewered. Roger felt bad about it, but did it anyway and took the win!! He was always very kind to beginners. Fred Irons

Good to hear Roger is back in the game. We had some epic and not so epic battles back in the day.

Dear ChessMaine and Roger Morin:

That was a great interview, which chronicled both Mr. Morin's exceptional chess career and fine art!

Roger, thanks for all the tournaments that you regularly attended at Cony High School during the 1980s as our team trained and prepared for the state and national championships. Your style was always inspiring!

I hope to meet you over the board again sometime soon.

Best regards,

P.A. Wlodkowski

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