ChessMaine Interviews: Dick Powell

03.02.14 Deer Isle-Stonington chess coach Dick Powell is gearing his teams up for the upcoming scholastic team state championships at the University of Maine Orono on March 8th. The veteran coach of thirty-three state championship teams and twenty-three runner up teams took time out to speak with us for this exclusive interview.

Dick Powell over the board at a recent tournament hosted by John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor.

ChessMaine: Let's start at the beginning. Can you recall when you first learned how the pieces moved and who introduced you to the game?

Dick Powell: I learned the chess moves by osmosis in junior high school. Three friends and I got tired of playing bridge and started chess as part of our "all nighters" at each of our homes. The next year, as high school freshmen, we joined the chess club team supervised by my geometry teacher.

CM: How long have you been playing the royal game and what is it about chess that keeps you interested?

DP: I guess if I was twelve or thirteen then I've been playing for fifty-seven or fifty-eight years. The fact that I could play wherever I happened to be--Madagascar, New Zeland, Brazil, Guatemala, Massachusetts, Rhode Island etc., was what kept me interested.

CM: You are an active tournament player but you are better known for your accomplishments as a chess coach leading Deer Isle-Stonington to many state championships and national competitions. Can you describe your career with DIS chess?

DP: My chess coaching career started in Brazil where I also coached tennis and cross country. It took five years of building a high school chess team (here in Maine) to begin to see the results. We finished third in the state in 1991, second in 1992 and finally first in 1993. However, it was the 1994 team that really sparked a lot of interest among DIS parents and young people. We came in second in the country in the Under 1300 category. At that time there were only three divisions: Open, Under 1600 and Under 1300. We were in the smaller ranking group because most of the players hadn't played long enough to have a higher rating. The team that beat us had 3,000 students (in their high school) and the only undefeated player in the tournament. They were from Philadelphia. We had 179 students at DIS High School that year. We got a front page article in the Bangor Daily News and also got an article and picture in the Boston Globe.

(At that point) so many parents campaigned to have their K-8 sons and daughters play that I was "forced" to start a junior high program and later an elementary school group. When these groups started my (high school) players were their coaches. The results speak for themselves: thirty-three state championships and twenty-three runners up.

CM: Would you be willing to reveal some of your secrets to teaching kids chess and maybe offer a few pointers to coaches interested in building their team up to competition at the state level?

DP: There are no "secret formulas" that I used along the way. Keeping their interest and having fun were the cornerstones for me. I copied every idea! Even the "famous" chess-a-thon was someone else's idea.

I remember he time when I chaperoned a dance in October at the start of the school year. The new principal couldn't get over the fact that nobody was dancing in the gym, They were all in front of the office watching two senior boys playing chess!

My advice to coaches interested in "building" a program is to find a way to interest everybody, not just "chess nerds". At DIS the players named themselves chess jocks. And they were.

CM: In addition to regular practices with your students, I notice you offer other fun events like the chess-s-thon and other in-house tournaments.

DP: Yes, Deer Isle is quite a distance from anywhere so we need "local" chess events more than most teams. And, of course, the local paper covers us so the kids are proud to see their names, and often pictures, in the paper.

CM: You seem to have both a supportive community and supportive parent group. How have you managed to involve folks and build support for the chess program at DIS?

DP: We started our supportive parent groups as a money-making necessity in order to go to the Nationals after our first state title in 1993. The "island" though, really out does itself with their response to our "would like to ask for a contribution letter". One nice man called me about ten days before our trip and said he would "take care of" the rest that we hadn't earned. Those eight players went to Dallas with flights, hotel and food all "taken care of".

CM: The state scholastic championships are less than one month away. Are you and your teams doing anything to ramp up preparations as the big day draws near?

DP: With the "States" only a couple weeks away we are mostly trying to keep morale high and thank the players that can't go for their participation. There are numerical limits in each category so we can only send around fifty players.

CM: The afternoon K-8 chess gatherings at the Ellsworth Middle School that you organized have really increased in popularity. If I'm not mistaken, nearly 150 students participated in the most recent one. What was the process of organizing and running these events which, by the way, I think are a great opportunity for K-8 players to get together for lots of chess and lots of fun.

DP: Actually, we started with only Ellsworth, Holbrook and DIS and each year more schools heard of them and now we have around ten. If I had organized it at DIS, we wouldn't have half the numbers because of the distance involved.

CM: In addition to coaching and playing you also run the Ellsworth Chess Club that meets Thursdays from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the Ellsworth Public Library and participate in the meetings of the Maine Association of Chess Coaches (the group that organizes and directs the state scholastic championships).

DP: The Thursday evening Ellsworth Chess Club is great for me because first, I can play without a hundred kids looking over my shoulder and second, I can try out new "lines" without worrying about winning and losing.

CM: The Maine chess community certainly owes you a big debt of gratitude for all you do to promote both scholastic and adult chess in Maine. Thanks for your dedication and hard work for all of us and thanks for the interview!

DP: The Maine chess community has given more to us on Deer Isle than we have given back; you certainly don't owe us anything and we'd like to thank you for all you do, especially for you, Dan, and all the work and time you put into publicize anything chess related.


kudos to dick powell, my mentor. after reading this interview, i just realized that that my real beginning was the day i asked him about the national format. this was only a couple of years after he started his sucessful string of winning. we used to butt heads often and and with some success. i loved the cometition. my other mentor was mike schaab. he got me into td'ing. thanks for all the memories of chess. again thank you dick powell!!!

The Bucksport Middle School benefited tremendously from your hard work. Thanks, Dick, for being who you are! You have been and continue to be an inspiration to me and many.

Deer Isle has certainly been blessed with Dick Powell all these years. Hundreds of Island students have learned their love of chess from this amazing man, and have also been given the opportunity and experience to travel to a faraway states to compete at the National level. He has absolutely enriched the lives of all who know him. Thank you so much Dick!!

Thank you for all you do for Maine chess and for the kids. You are an inspiration, not just to those in Deer Isle, but also to those of us in Cape Elizabeth and throughout the rest of the state. If only we could bottle your infectious enthusiasm and dedication to the sport!

That's a great photo that shows the inquisitive side of Dick Powell. I have not seen him for about 6 years and it does not look like he has changed a bit. It took me a long time to figure out that Dick's secret to staying young is to not wear long pants! And the photo does not show if that has changed. I bet it has not. Thanks.

Thank you Dick Powell for work you have done for all your students and Maine chess

Post a comment

  • Navigation: