ChessMaine Interviews: Duane Mercier

06.17.07 Former state champion Duane Mercier is currently the second-highest rated player in Maine despite the fact that he has been away from tournament chess for over two decades. Interestingly enough, the current highest-rated player in the state, Jarod Bryan, was one of Duane's students at Cony High School in Augusta. paid Duane a visit at his beautiful home in Fayette to get this in-depth interview.

Duane Mercier at his home in Fayette, Maine.

ChessMaine: Duane Mercier, thanks for speaking with us today. With a USCF rating of 2145 you are the second-highest rated player in the state (behind Jarod Bryan) but you have not played a rated game since before January 1990. Why have you gotten away from rated chess?

Duane Mercier: It was really two things: when I started having my children (I had my first child in ’Äô84, then in ’Äô86, I had my second child and then the third one in ’Äô89.) my priorities shifted completely and I also did a career change at the same time. I shifted from teaching to actuarial. So I was involved for years studying for the actuarial exams. So there wasn’Äôt any time left for chess between those two things.

CM: You were a teacher at Cony High School in Augusta.

DM: Yes, and that’Äôs where I met Paul Wlodkowski and Jarod Bryan. I started teaching at Cony in 1974 and taught until 1987, thirteen years. So those two events were kind of simultaneous, getting all these young children and the career change’Äîand the career change involved a huge amount of studying for actuarial exams. The 2145 rating is actually my highest rating ever.

CM: That’Äôs a good way to end!

DM: I don’Äôt think I could play 1800 now even if my life depended on it! That was my highest. I got a good boost right at the very end, I won the last or next to last rated event I played in. I won the Maine Open. It would have been somewhere in the mid ’Äò80s, mid to early ’Äò80s. In that tournament I played Louie Mercuri in the last round and beat him. I think I shared that [first] with Hal Terrie. Hal Terrie played Stanley Elowitch. The last round pairings had me against Louie Mercuri and Hal Terrie against Stanley Elowitch. I beat Louie Mercuri and I don’Äôt remember if Hal Terrie drew or beat Stanley Elowitch, but it gave us both 4 ¬‡ . I took a first round bye then won four straight for 4 ¬‡ and Hal Terrie had 4 ¬‡ but I don’Äôt remember if it was that last round game that gave him the half or if he picked it up earlier.

CM: Can you describe your beginnings in chess? How did you become interested in the game?

DM: I came late to the game. I didn’Äôt even learn the moves until I was a senior in high school. Strangely enough, a girl I was dating showed me the rules and how to play. I was a little interested in it and I told my brother-in-law about it. He bought me a couple of books by Fred Reinfeld: Chess Mastery by Question and Answer and Great Short Games of the Chess Masters, two little ninety-five cent paperback books and that really piqued my interest. I can remember opening them up and seeing Queen’Äôs Gambit Declined, trying to learn the notation and trying to figure out what the heck that meant. The Queen didn’Äôt move and I didn’Äôt know what it was! But that’Äôs really what got me started were those two little books that he gave me. Then my mother noticed an advertisement in the paper about a chess club in Wilton. So I went up there and that’Äôs where I met Phil Rafter and Clint Cushman. The first night I went up there (I went up on a Friday night) I played chess with each of them. They were the top players at the Wilton Chess Club. It got to be around midnight or so and they told me they were going to Rutland, Vermont that weekend to play chess and they were going to leave at around 4:00 a.m. that morning. I just met these two men that night and they asked me if I wanted to go with them. So I got home a little after midnight, woke my parents up and said,’ÄúThey’Äôre going to a chess tournament tomorrow. Can I go?’Äù They asked me, ’ÄúWhen are you leaving?’Äù I said, ’ÄúWell, in a few hours.’Äù So they let me go and I drove out to Rutland, Vermont that next morning with Phil Rafter and Clint Cushman. I played my first USCF-rated game’Äîit’Äôs strange how these things happen’Äîagainst George Cunningham. I don’Äôt know if you know George Cunningham.

CM: Yes, I know of him’Äîa storied chess organizer and coach.

DM: Yes, he probably has done as much for Maine Chess as anyone and also had a lot to do with saving the USCF from its problems during the post-Fischer boom. George Cunningham stepped in there and became executive director or some term, I not sure what his title was. He essentially went in there as a volunteer and took over as someone who was instrumental in saving the USCF. When he passed away they wrote an excellent tribute article to him, well deserved. Little did I know then the influence he was going to have on me in my life. The next year I went up to Orono [the University of Maine] and ran into him up there because he was a professor there. We became the best of friends; I have the greatest admiration for him. I used to go to tournaments with him and I was a frequent visitor to his house. During the U.S. ’Äì Canada matches around the time of the Bicentennial, I went up and stayed with him and his wife. I had no way of knowing on that Saturday morning when I bumped into him, the effect he was going to have on me. You asked about influences, he was a huge influence on me and on chess. He taught a chess course at the University of Maine while I was there which I took’Äîjust a wonderful man and a huge influence on me.

CM: The University of Maine Chess Club is now named after him’Äîthe George Cunningham Chess Club.

DM: Oh, is it?

CM: It meets Wednesdays during the academic year.

DM: It met Wednesdays when I was up there. He was very much an advocate for chess.

CM: So you grew up in Maine?

DM: Yes, right in Livermore Falls.

CM: Was there any kind of organized scholastic chess where you grew up and went to school?

DM: None, well I didn’Äôt learn the rules until my senior year. From the time I learned the rules until the time I went to that tournament in Rutland was very short, it all happened very quickly, in a span of a month or two. So I went from not even knowing the rules of the game to playing in my first USCF tournament in a matter of weeks.

CM: Trial by fire!

DM: Yup.

CM: Did you play much chess in college?

DM: Yes, very much, with George Cunningham. Once I got up there, he was the advisor to the club and of course the Maine Chess League was very active at that time. Wilton was in the Maine Chess League. It was really when I got into college that I started studying and playing seriously.

CM: In 1977 you shared the Maine State Championship with Gary L. White. Can you recount the highlights of this tournament?

DM: I think it was in Springvale. It was the Sandford Chess Club’Äôs year to host. It was a five-round Swiss with typical time control, either 45 or 50 in 2 and then 25 in 1. I remember four of the players I played. I played Terry Caulkin who was the high school player I came down with, I played Joel Malis, I played Stanley [Elowitch] and drew him and I played Gary White and beat him. I don’Äôt remember who else I played.

CM: That was quite a while a go.

DM: Yes, twenty years ago.

CM: Or was it thirty?

DM: Thirty! That’Äôs right! I shouldn’Äôt make those mistakes! I’Äôm first a math teacher then an actuary! Thirty years ago, wow. Graham Cooper didn’Äôt play that year but Stanley Elowitch did and what happened was Gary White beat Stanley Elowitch and I beat Gary White, then Stanley Elowitch and I drew. I would have had clear first but I got nicked for a draw by Joel Malis. Joel Malis was champion in a five-way split of the title one year a few years later.

CM: Yes, in 1980 with Roger Morin and others.

DM: Yes. So I had four and Gary beat Stanley so he had four, Stanley had three and a half with the loss to Gary and a draw with me. It was five rounds. That was the only time I won it. I came in second the time Kerry beat me. He might have gone 5-0 that time and I was second with 4-1, and I came in third one year. I didn’Äôt play in it that many times.

CM: Share with us, if you would, some of the experiences you had with your chess contemporaries, people such as: Gary White, Graham Cooper, John Morrill, Stanley Elowitch, Stuart Laughlin’Ķ

DM: I don’Äôt remember playing John Morrill. I played the others that you mentioned lots of times. I had a very memorable game against Stuart in the Maine Chess League when I was playing for the Orono/Bangor team. He was playing for Portland. Back in those days each team would play the other team twice but because of the distance between Bangor and Portland they used to play a double-header and alternate the double-header between cities each year. That particular year Bangor was going down to Portland. I traveled down from my home in Livermore Falls. I got a flat tire along the way and arrived late but I got there and they had just started the match. I found out I was going to play Stuart. We got started a little late to begin with, then, I got into one of my marathon endgames. The whole match was done except for Stuart and I and the match was tied. So if I won, Bangor won, if Stuart won Portland won and if we drew the match was drawn. It was this bishop and pawn endgame where I had a slight advantage but there were very few pawns left and I had to be very careful. There were a lot of opportunities to...he kept trying to get me to trade down to a bishop and a rook pawn but the bishop didn’Äôt control the queening square. So even though I was ahead, it was torturous. There were so many opportunities; I had to keep avoiding that draw. We played and we played and we played. It went on and on and on and we started getting results from the second match because they didn’Äôt wait for us. The second match was almost over and we’Äôre still playing the deciding game of the first match. Finally, as was often the case back then, I finally ground out the win. Stuart stumbled a little bit and I won the game and we won the match. We barely started our second game when the second match was decided, so we agreed to a draw and went home! That first round match! Stuart was just as gracious at the end of that game as ever. The always gracious Stuart congratulated me on sticking with it. It was a very memorable game. Graham Cooper was a couple years younger than me. We were friendly rivals for quite a while and had some interesting battles but I haven’Äôt heard from him for years. Another name was Kerry Coffin, he was a student of mine and he eventually became a master. He was in and out of Maine for a while; I don’Äôt know where he is now. One of the state championships he beat me to win it and I came in second. So I have mixed feelings about that, on the one hand I was glad he won’Äîa former student and all’Äîbut on the other hand I wished he had done it a different way rather than beating me for it. The year I won it I played and beat him. I took him to the tournament with me, he was still in Cony High School. So we went to the tournament together and we eventually got paired together and I beat him. He got out of high school and he actually studied with John Curdo for a while and it was while he was studying with John Curdo that he got his master rating. I remember Stuart Laughlin, he did a lot for chess’Äîa really wonderful guy. I have great admiration for him. Did you know Gary White?

CM: No, I didn’Äôt know that name until I looked on a list of state champions.

DM: He was a character. He was really a character, a very interesting individual, very unique. Two words to describe Gary White: out there.

CM: A strong player though.

DM: Oh, a tremendous talent, very adept, a tremendous natural talent, very dangerous but very inconsistent. He won a couple state championships. He would beat a 2300 player one round then loose to a 1300 player the next round’Äîmaybe not in the same tournament but from weekend to weekend or from month to month. There may have been, I’Äôm not saying there was, but there may have been some drug issues there. He was up in Orono when I was up there, that’Äôs where I first ran into him, him and Randy Borgensen, and Ralph Townsend. When I got up to Orono, the real heavy hitters at the club were Gary White, Randy Borgensen and Ralph Townsend. I ran into Ralph not too many years ago at one of the scholastic tournaments, I brought one of my kids up there. I hadn’Äôt seen Ralph in a long, long time.

CM: He was teaching economics at the University of Maine, Orono and just this last year took a job out in Indiana. He’Äôs chairing the Department of Economics at Indiana University. His son is studying out there and I think his plan is to come back to Maine at some point.

DM: When I was at Orono, he left to do some post graduate studies somewhere for a couple years then he came back. He was one of the strongest players up there when I first got there. These were the guys that I kink of idolized. Eventually I scored some points against some of them but not recently!

CM: Stuart was president of the Portland Chess Club for many, many years.

DM: He was cut from the same cloth as George Cunningham in terms of his chess advocacy; a very different personality, so mild mannered and polite, such a gentleman. George Cunningham, who I have the greatest admiration for, had a much rougher edge to him. Everyone didn’Äôt take to George but I didn’Äôt know anyone who didn’Äôt like Stuart, he was such a wonderful guy.

CM: Was George Cunningham the tournament director when you were playing in the Maine Championships?

DM: The directorship would change depending on the site. He did direct some of the Maine Championships. Jim Quirk was very active as a director back then. He used to direct many of the tournaments including many of the state championships. I directed one of them; I used to do some directing as well. The state championships moved around. The Maine Chess League was quite active then and quite well organized and the state championship would move from one town to the next. As a matter of fact, during my senior year in high school, it was in Wilton. The first state championship I played in was in Wilton and I played both Stanley Elowitch and Stuart Laughlin.

CM: Do you remember what year that was?

DM: That was my senior year in high school, 1970. I remember how pleased I was to get a draw with Stuart Laughlin. I was just a beginner and Stuart was an established player with a class B rating. It was the first time I had scored a point, well not a point, half a point, scored anything against somebody rated as high as class B and I was quite proud of the accomplishment at the time. Then I played Stanley Elowitch and he slaughtered me. He was a well-experienced player. I think he was an expert then, I don’Äôt know if he had his master’Äôs rating at that time. He was either a high 2100 or low 2200 and was a heavy favorite to win the tournament which I think he did, although he did have a tough game with Charlie Sharp. He and Charlie had a heck of a battle and they were in this rook and pawn ending and Charlie Sharp forgot to punch his clock, his flag fell so Stanley won on time. Charlie being the gentleman that he was just kind of shrugged his shoulders and put out his hand and congratulated Stanley. Two old-timers at that time were Charlie Sharp and you must have heard of Harlow Daly.

CM: Yes, I did a story on Harlow B. Daly for [Editor's note: You can read Harlow B. Daly's story and profile here: ChessMaine Profiles: Remembering Harlow B. Daly]

DM: An amazing man; I met him the summer after my senior year at a tournament in’Ķ I forget where I was, it might have been in Fitchburg. Here I was just this young high school kid and this old guy’Ķ oh, I know where it was, it was the Queen City Open in New Hampshire when I met Harlow. We played and he beat me. Afterwards we played some skittles and talked. There was another tournament coming up in Fitchburg, Massachusetts in another weekend or two and again it’Äôs kind of strange how I would meet these people, total strangers, and we made arrangements to go to the tournament together. So two weeks later Harlow Daly and I went to the tournament together out in Fitchburg, me this high school kid he just met and Harlow who was in his 80s then.

CM: That says a lot about the chess community.

DM: It was wonderful playing then. Looking back on it, I didn’Äôt realize it at the time, the people and personalities that I met and befriended had an awful lot to do with my interest in it. I appreciate it looking back on it more than I did at the time because at the time I was just interested in chess and didn’Äôt realize just how much some of these relationships, these connections with Harlow Daly, George Cunningham and Stuart Laughlin meant. I’Äôm fifty-five years old now and I can look back and say, you know, those relationships meant as much if not more than the result of any game, going to tournaments and sharing experiences with those people.

CM: Folks are often interested in how high rated players got to that level. Can you reflect on how you made it to expert and near master?

DM: Well, I just kept playing. I would highlight one change: I eventually found out what my relative strength was. I found that I could play endgames better. If I had any natural talent at all it was in the endgame and when I stopped agreeing to draws and started playing everything out, that’Äôs when my rating started going up. When I first started playing I used to draw a lot of games, I’Äôd get a decent position and it would kind of fizzle out and I’Äôd offer a draw or the other player would offer a draw and I’Äôd agree to it. At some point in time, I don’Äôt know how exactly it happened but I actually figured out that that wasn’Äôt helping me any and I was probably quitting the game right at the point that if I had any natural talent or natural ability, I was stopping. I started playing a lot of games out and started finding that I could win a lot of games that appeared fairly even or drawn and when I started doing that I salvaged some games that were lost. That had a cumulative effect on the rating. I actually started changing my openings around then because I was never very good tactically, never a good attacking player, really not that good a defending player either. So I started playing a little simpler in the opening, playing a little more conservatively, playing a little more dull. Graham Cooper always accused me of being a dull player and I was but that’Äôs how I was successful. I was able to grind out a lot of wins and my rating started to go up and up and up. I started playing more with a focus to the endgame; when I directed my games in that way I started having more and more success. It frustrated some players sometimes, they would offer me a draw and I would rather play it out. Another drawback was that these five-round Swisses were murder! Sometimes I would end up playing twenty-five or thirty hours on a weekend. I’Äôd get a lot of adjourned games. There were several tournaments where I would play three rounds on Saturday and I’Äôd have two adjourned games that I was supposed to go in and finish on Sunday morning.

CM: Before the first round.

DM: Before the first round. It was just brutal. In terms of the Maine Chess League and things like that I did very well, even at tournaments like the World Open where you have nine rounds stretched out over five days. But the five-round Swisses were just murder. So then I started taking, like when I won the Maine Open, a first round bye. I started taking the bye just to avoid having to play the five games because it was just brutal.

CM: There hasn’Äôt been an adjournment in Maine chess in a while. Now it’Äôs mostly G120 or G75. The last adjourned tournament I played in was at the Portland Chess Club under Stuart. We would play 45 in 2 and 25 in 1 repeating.

DM: I can remember more than once I would have the first or second round game adjourned after four hours, play the third round game, play six hours, get done at midnight or whatever and adjourn that, then you’Äôve got two adjournments the next morning, it was just awful. But it was also playing to my strengths. Of course I wouldn’Äôt sleep during the night because I’Äôd analyze the adjourned game. When I was young I could do that but you are playing twenty-five or thirty hours and you’Äôre not even sleeping the night in between, you’Äôre analyzing the adjourned game!

CM: Do you think that increased the quality of the games compared with today’Äôs sudden death time controls?

DM: Probably the quality of the play was better but more important to me was that it played into my strength. That was where I could pick up the points. I don’Äôt play well fast, never have. The old rules played into my strengths. You had time to play the endgame and really think it through and get into the subtleties, I mean a rook and pawn ending, even at 25 and 1; you just miss everything. There is so much going on there, it’Äôs very, very complicated. By playing in those slow time controls and in those adjournments and having a little bit of ability there, I was able to score a lot of points and get point that under the current structure I would never get. With the combination of age and rules, there’Äôs no way I could play anywhere near 2145 now. Everything is geared now to playing a swashbuckling attack and mate the guy on move thirty. That’Äôs what you need to do now to be successful. There’Äôs no more, I’Äôll beat you in the third time control on move ninety or in a rook and pawn endgame after maneuvering around for fifty moves.

CM: Yes, it’Äôs pretty much sudden death now.

DM: You may still play ninety moves but you aren’Äôt taking eight hours to do it. So if I can’Äôt take the time to think about it and analyze it I’Äôm just going to play fast and blunder like everybody else.

CM: In addition to your successes in tournament chess you have an equally illustrious record in coaching. I understand that you coached a number of State Scholastic Champion Teams including Cony High School in Augusta. Can you speak about your coaching career?

DM: We had lot of team championships and had a lot of individual champions over the years. We went to the nationals four times and did fairly well there. Three times we competed in the novice [section] and we had a first a second and a tenth. We actually won the novice championship one year and finished second one year. For people who understand the difference between the novice and the top class, our top accomplishment was finishing third in the nation one year behind two very powerful teams. There was an extremely powerful team from Arizona; they had Robbie Adamson at that time who was a master in high school on their first board. They also had one of the top female players on their team at the same time they won it. I forget the name of the school from Pennsylvania; they were a perennial contender for the championship and won the national championship several times. They finished second that year to Arizona and we finished third in the nation behind those powerhouse teams, which was quite an accomplishment. Jarod Bryan was part of that team; you had mentioned that he is the top-rated player in the state right now. That was definitely my strongest team. They used to have a three-man New England scholastic tournament that we went to quite a few times and that year we finished first and second’Äîstrange how that came about. They had an A division and a B division. We went down there and we brought our A team and B team. They had an odd number of teams in both the A and B class. I can’Äôt remember if the tournament director approached me or I approached him but we said if we play both of our teams in the top section then we would have an even number of teams in each section and it’Äôs going to make for a much better tournament. I was all for it, my second team was much higher rated than any other team in that section anyway so I said fine with me. The only condition I said was that I don’Äôt want my two teams to play each other and they said that’Äôs fine. So we went through undefeated and come the last round we would have played each other. Some of the other coaches protested and the director had to say that we agreed up front. We won the last round as well so both teams went undefeated and oddly enough, when they calculated the tie-breaks on tie-breaks the B team actually beat the A team! So technically my B team finished ahead of the A team. We had a lot of depth, we had a very strong team. That was the team that went to the nationals.

CM: Do you remember some of the players on that team?

DM: Yes, Andy Belageron, David Sinclair, John Dickens (who I ran into when I had my heart attack.) In 2004 I had a heart attack and this fine-looking young doctor came in and I didn’Äôt recognize him right of and he said, ’ÄúYou don’Äôt remember who I am?’Äù It was John Dickens. He was working down at Maine Med in Portland. He was part of that team and Jody Mahon was down there with us.

CM: Are you currently involved with any chess activities such as playing, studying or coaching?

DM: I haven’Äôt played a serious game of chess in over 20 years. Like a sit-down, 45 in 2 or whatever. I’Äôm a life member of USCF, I still get the magazine. I still read the magazine. Years ago I bought one of those chess computers, it’Äôs nowhere as good as the ones they are making now, Novag was the name of it. I actually bought two, one was the super Constellation and then I bought a Diamond. I still play that once in a while. In order to be successful I have to set it so it plays very fast and I allow myself to play slow and that way I can be competitive. I give it like three minutes or five minutes and I’Äôll take as long as I want! Of course, they have much stronger ones now.

CM: And there are a number internet sites where you can play computers or other players.

DM: I haven’Äôt done any of that. I tried to get my children involved and there was a time when my children were playing online. I never did it but my kids did. I have quite a collection of books. I still follow it a little bit but I don’Äôt have much time for it. My youngest is a senior in high school now and he’Äôs going to be off to college so I think I’Äôm done with the raising of the family.

CM: So you might have time for some tournament chess!

DM: Yeah, I think I’Äôll stay away from the five-round Swiss. The thing that would tempt me back is the Maine Chess League. If there was a club around where I could go and play one game a week or something like that. That would be where I could get back into it. I think I’Äôm too old to go through the grind of the five-round weekend Swiss.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your life at the present? How do you spend your days?

DM: I work from home. When I got done teaching I switched careers to actuary and that’Äôs what I’Äôm still doing now.

CM: What type of work do you do?

DM: Actuaries work for insurance companies primarily although not exclusively. Basically the difference between an actuary and an accountant is that an actuary deals with the evaluation of risk as opposed to financial accounting. So they are involved with many things, some of the more common things are the development, evaluation and pricing of insurance products. I’Äôm what’Äôs known as an evaluation actuary so I’Äôm focused on calculating the risk the companies are retaining and making sure they retain sufficient assets to meet those future risks. Specifically, I do it for group long-term disability. I’Äôm involved in calculating or trying to estimate the future liabilities of insurance companies that have written group LTD policies. There is a big time lag, you collect a premium, but you could make payments associated with that premium for many, many decades. If someone becomes disabled at twenty-five and receives payments until they are sixty-five or sixty-seven, there’Äôs a forty-two year run out on that. The premium was all collected here but now there’Äôs forty years of payments that have to be made. So what I do is attempt to quantify what those liabilities are for insurance companies.

CM: Do you have a degree in mathematics?

DM: I don’Äôt. In order to do this work you need to go through the actuarial exams and you become first an associate of one of the actuarial societies, in my case it was the Society of Actuaries, and if you continue your studies beyond that you can eventually get a fellowship; so I am a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries. After you get sufficient experience, you can join the academy of actuaries; I’Äôm also a member of the American Academy of Actuaries. Those are the official titles associated with the work that I do.

CM: Can you offer some pearls of wisdom for improving players?

DM: Probably not!

CM: With your many years of playing and coaching I’Äôm sure you have a lot of tricks.

DM: Well as far coaching, I encouraged the students to play and then to’ĶI found from a coaching perspective that what interested the kids the most were their own games. What worked was to watch the games that the kids play and then immediately discuss that game with them because they were interested in that. They were more interested in that than any book or any game between Petrosian against Spassky or whatever. I also encouraged and created as many opportunities for them as possible to play under the same conditions that they would have to play under in the scholastic championships. We always played under the same time control, we always had them record their games. I became a tournament director so I would be able to rate those games, because they were interested in having their games rated. I think playing rated games and studying your own games or better yet, having someone better than you study your game with you. Some of the players went on to become much better than me but at the time I was better than the players I was coaching so I could improve on their games. It wasn’Äôt perfect but I could play better than them so I could improve on their games. So if you have the opportunity, play someone better than you and if you can find someone better than you to go over the game and suggest improvements, that’Äôs a good thing. If you have the patience, study. There’Äôs an awful lot of great material out there to study. Now you can play against computers and like you said you can play online, the opportunities to play now are much greater than they were then. So it has changed a lot from when I did it. When I did it I always felt the key was to get the kids to play and go over their games with them afterwards. They worked, the kids had a lot of interest in their own games.

CM: Are there books that you have found particularly helpful?

DM: Oh, a lot. I have a large chess library and I enjoy books. I think my favorite books are books on openings but they have complete games in them. I get frustrated by these opening books that go to move thirteen and say slight advantage to white. Now what? If you have a book on an opening that has a lot of complete games you see how those games evolve, how the endgames evolve. So even though I have stopped playing the only chess books I buy now are books on openings that I am interested in that have complete games in them.

CM: Chernev wrote a book called Logical Chess Move by Move.

DM: Yes, that is one of the books I used to push on them if they had patience. That was a very good book and Reinfeld had one that was similar called Chess Explained. In my lifetime I must have bought twenty to twenty-five copies of Logical Chess Move by Move and I would get a kid interested and loan it to the kid. Sometimes I’Äôd get it back, sometimes I wouldn’Äôt, but it didn’Äôt matter. Fred Reinfeld wrote a lot of books that were good for beginning chess players, very lucid information and a lot of examples. There were a lot of examples of tactical themes. I’Äôm not up on the more recent publications. It’Äôs funny that you mentioned Logical Chess Move by Move, that was one of my favorites.

CM: Who are some of your favorite players?

DM: I always admired Akiba Rubenstein. I liked to play through his games and Capablanca. Those were a couple of the old-timers. I was always interested in Aaron Nimzovitch. I never played chess like him but his books, Chess Praxis, My System and Blockade, I had all of them. I was quite interested in him, I thought he was quite a personality. In terms of his playing style, it didn’Äôt suit me as well as Rubenstein or Capablanca. I was also interested in Alekhine, he was such a character of chess history. In fact when I was in college I wrote a term paper on Alekhine for one of the writing classes I had. I thought that would be a lot less painful than a lot of other topics!

CM: Is there anything else you would like to add?

DM: I think I’Äôve taken up an awful lot of your time already. I can’Äôt imagine who would be interested in this!

CM: A lot of folks. You are one of the personalities of Maine Chess! It was a pleasure speaking with you today. Thanks for the interview.

DM: It was nice to meet you.


I remember fondly my days with the Bangor High School chess team and one of our finest hours was in the 1982 season. Bob, I would very much like to get the team together again at a place of your choosing. Please reply and lets exchange contact info.

What a treat today to have come across this website and this interview - and to see the names (especially here in the Comments section!) of so many friends from the past.

Really good to see you are still alive and well, Coach.

Best wishes,

Great article. Really really good chess coach and teacher. Duane did a great deal for chess in Maine. He inspired me and many others and created a love for the game that never goes away. I'd really like to see him and Graham Cooper again. Kerry Coffin, Henniker, NH

The recent death of Bobby Fischer left me wondering about Maine chess and I was delighted to find this website. I played chess under Mercier in the 80's. Although, I have not played an organized game in over 20 years, I never lost my appreciation for the game itself. It is good to see Mercier alive and well. He used to tell me I had a style similar to his: boring!. It is great to see postings from some names in the far reaches of my memory: Cooper, Morin, and, of course, Wlodklowski. I very much enjoyed Morin's art. Outstanding website!

Good to stumble onto your webpage this afternoon to retrace the plodding cadence of Duane's words echoing from the past. I share Duane's distaste for the new-fangled time controls, phony clocks, and regret the all-too-many lost weekends pissed away at tournaments but the warm handshakes and genuine pleasure of the company of George C.'s, Klausies, Wentzels, Kraplans and Eldridges and a whole host of others surely made up for quite a good deal of the beatings. Duane would easily be a master in any other state even at his current advanced decrepitude! Cheers All! Graham

Congratulations to Dan DeLuca on another outstanding interview. Duane Mercier is chess coach emeritus. Not only was he legendary in building the dominant Cony High School chess teams of the 70s and 80s, but Duane was an outstanding math teacher that influenced many of us towards careers in engineering, medicine, physics, computer science, and applied mathematics.

As high school students, we appreciated his facilitating a nexus with the generations of great players and novel personalities, e.g. George Cunningham, Klaus Albrecht, Roger Morin, Kerry Coffin, and many others. Playing these individuals at Cony High School tournaments did much to hone our skills and develop a deeper appreciation for chess as an art form, as well as a science and sport.

Thank you, Duane, for all your efforts and dedication. I do hope that you will return to the royal game in some form as its ambassador.

Dear Dan:
Great Article. A lot of fun to read. I remember Duane coming to the UMaine chess club in the early 70's. There was a big difference between having to play him and others like Roger Morin and Graham Cooper. Those two would kill you fast, but Duane did play a careful game and it left you feeling like you might have been able to win if you were more careful yourself. However, I remember learning that sometimes it was possible to win a Bishop pawn ending against a Bishop pawn by sacrificing your bishop at just the right time to destroy the opponent's pawn structure and promote your own passed pawn. Duane was one of the elite young players coming through the club.
I do not remember George Cunningham as being "crusty." He did have a droll and dry sense of humor and maybe the younger players were intimidated by that attitude. But George was loyal to the players and especially "the Game."

Another great interview from back in the day! I did not know Duane well at all and don't even recall paying him which is amazing considering all the other guys he mentioned I played many times.
Believe it or not Gary White is still in York, Maine and would be a great interview.
You really should interview Stanley Elowitch and John Curdo. Curdo played as much in Maine as anyone and could give you insight into a lot of the older guys. Elowitch and Morrill were friendly and he could give you some info on John Morrill who unfortunately died a few years back. keep'em coming...Steve Morgan

Hi Mercier. I read your interview and it's good to see you're well. I do remember all those Cony High School tournaments you used to hold and I would go to them to give your kids more experience and I'm still doing that today at 62. Best of luck Duane. Roger Morin

This is a great article and interview. There are alot of memories for me from Duane's Cony high school teams as I played for Bangor high school from 1980 to 1983. Having played Bryan, Wlodkowski, Christian Watson, David Sinclair, Andy Baillargeon I can accurately say that Duane was an excellent coach. My teammates in High School Mike Grant, Jim Morse, Ben and Tom Diebold always admired Duane and were envious of his players for the instruction he was able to give them. One bit of strategy that says a lot about his coaching is that he never let his players resign. He did this with the intent that he knew that at that level players made mistakes even if they were winning and he made his players wait for those mistakes from their opponents. I remember well watching there games as we prepared for our games against them. Duane drew nothing but the greatest of respect from his players and their opponents.

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