ChessMaine Interviews: Lee Doucette

12.29.15 Lee Doucette is one of the Maine chess community's pillars. He has been active and involved with the Maine Chess Association since the mid 1980's serving as tournament director, MECA board member and, of course, player. After many years of service, Lee is leaving his post as MECA Secretary. He hopes to get more over-the-board time in 2016. We caught up with Lee to get his perspectives on chess, characters, and "showing up" for life.

Lee Doucette over the board at the Championship.

ChessMaine: Lee, you have been a long time player, organizer, and MECA officer can you explain how and why you got so involved with chess in Maine?

Lee Doucette: When I moved to Maine in the mid 80s, I began playing regularly at the Portland Chess Club and joined the USCF. Once I started playing rated tournaments games, I was hooked on chess as a serious hobby. I became a club-level tournament director in the early 90s because quite a few of the local TDs had moved out of the Portland area or stopped organizing events, and I wanted to help out so local tournaments would continue. I also started attending annual meetings of the Maine Chess Association to help Stuart Laughlin arrange matches for what was the Maine Chess League. After that, it became like any other organization; once people know you're willing to help out, you're always going to be asked to contribute.

CM: I understand that you received an honorary life membership in the Maine Chess Association for your many years of dedicated service to the Maine chess community. Can you talk about what this honor means to you?

LD: It's always a pleasure and a pleasant surprise to receive recognition in any community of friends for doing something you enjoy. When I look back at 25-plus years of my chess activity here in Maine, it's passed quickly. And it doesn't really seem like I've done anything more than the many other organizers who volunteer their time and effort to keep chess moving forward in Maine. I'm proud to have been awarded a life membership in MECA, and want to again thank the MECA Policy Board for this honor.

CM: When was it that you first learned the moves and do you remember who introduced you to the game?

LD: My father showed me the basic moves when I was in elementary school, but my wife's brother really showed me all the levels of complexity in the game during several visits with us in Colorado. I immediately gave up backgammon, bought one of the early chessboard computers, and started pushing pawns.

CM: In 2006 when you won the Maine Chess Player of the Year event you quipped, "Ninety percent of life is just showing up every day." Can you explain how the competition works, your success, and the philosophy behind your quote?

LD: I think the actual quote is from the Woody Allen movie 'Annie Hall', and his estimate was eighty percent rather than ninety, so I think I overestimated. Anyway, the annual Chess Player of the Year recognizes the player who achieves the best combined score of total games played (showing up) plus total tournament points (ability). The year I won, Ruben Babayan was leading with 29.3 points going into the final event, the Eastern Maine Open in Bangor. I was in fourth place with 24 points. None of the three players ahead of me 'showed up' for the event, allowing me to get four points for games played (showing up) plus a tournament score of two. I finished with 30 points, just seven tenths of a point ahead of Ruben. Since my total resulted from 21 games played plus only 9 wins, the Woody Allen quote just popped into my head and it all made sense. So my claim to fame on the Chess Player of the Year trophy is based mostly on 'just showing up' to play chess.

CM: Why do you feel it is so important to make chess available for children and adults in Maine and promote the game with such energy?

LD: Chess builds and sharpens intellectual skills essential for critical thinking, how to understand and plan for everyday life. It's really about solving simultaneous, continuously changing puzzles; the one you're creating for your opponent, and the one he's creating for you. Checkers is severely limited in scope, backgammon relies mostly on random chance, and video games are simply noise and hyperactivity for eyes, ears, and thumbs. To say that chess is life may be over-simplified, but critical thinking skills are becoming more important as society and civilization face increasing complexity at every level, every day.

CM: Having been on the chess scene in Maine for many years, I am sure you have met many interesting personalities. Would you speak about some of the colorful chess characters you have known over the years?

LD: The most 'colorful' chess character I've met is Mitko Barkardgiev, aka Mike Baker. Mitko was from Bulgaria and loved playing 5-minute games, sometimes all night long. He was very adept at 'trash-talking' during the games, and was always happy to share his particular views of American culture as seen by someone who had lived through the days of the Soviet Union. Mitko has since moved back to Bulgaria, but I know there are many players in Maine with fond memories him.

CM: What is your advice to aspiring players? Are there any techniques, methods, or materials (books, DVD's, etc.) that you have found particularly helpful?

LD: For new players, I always recommend the book my brother-in-law gave me when I started studying chess: Modern Chess Strategy by Edward Lasker. Once you understand strategic principles and tactical play, each player should explore a couple of opening/defense techniques that feel comfortable. Once you decide on a path, learn it in depth, but always have a back-up plan; the next move always means you have to re-evaluate the current position. Now that's just clich├ęd advice from a class C patzer. If you want to push past that boundary, consider taking lessons from an advanced player, and be prepared to spend considerable extra time studying and playing.

CM: Where did you grow up and go to school? Was chess a part of your childhood?

LD: I grew up in a small town in northern Wisconsin, a lot like Maine. I played an occasional game or two with my friends, and also a little bit in college, but not at the competitive level of USCF-rated tournaments.

CM: When you are not playing or studying what do you do in your professional life and what are some of your personal interests?

LD: I work as a Data Services Analyst for a software company in Portland. Clients send me requests to export their data, which I then map and build into output files from the client's application database. The client then uploads the data files into their accounting software. As for other interests, I enjoy doing home projects (I was a carpenter for a long time), and reading about history, biology, and politics.

CM: Do you have a partner and children?

LD: I've been happily married to my wife Kate for 37 years, no children. She's always graciously accommodated my occasional weekend absences for chess tournaments.

CM: What is it about chess that continues to fascinate people over the centuries even in the midst of the many distractions available in the twenty first century?

LD: Well, I can't speak for everyone, but for me, the analogy that 'chess is life' seems appropriate. We all start with a defined set of resources that can be arranged and modified according to specific rules within a limited space, and a finite period of time to determine an objective, develop a plan, and continuously adapt it. Chess is really just push-ups for the brain. It develops self-discipline and sharpens the intellect, two critical characteristics that make humans so successful as a species. Besides, it's something a fat old Frenchman like me can enjoy long after I've had to give up rugby and skiing.

CM: Is there anything you would like to add that we haven't covered?

LD: Always remember the golden rule of chess: win the game, lose the analysis.

CM: Lee, it was a pleasure speaking with you. Thanks for the interview!

LD: Thanks for allowing me to share a little with all my friends in the Maine chess community. It's a good group of people, and I'm looking forward to more playing time now.


great interview
I am trying to get hold of Lee for the current tournament taking place within our club.

Congratulations and great job Lee. Looking forward to many more matches with ya in the future!!

Lee has been a faithful member and supporter of MECA for so many years! I will miss his help on the MECA board. I have a feeling that despite his retirement from the board Maine chess will continue to feel his support for many years to come.

Thanks Lee!

Andy Bryan
MECA President

A great interview of one of
the finest people I have ever
met in chess circles.

well deserved recognition for all your dedication and hard work in helping to promote Maine chess.

Great interview! Many thanks to Lee for his contributions to Maine chess!

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