John Wagner is a well-known figure among the students and other patrons of the Memorial Union’s Rathskellar.
Chess novice Jeremy Imhoff was Wagner’s opponent on Friday, Feb. 28 at The Rathskellar.
“I don’t stand a chance,” Imhoff said concerning the match he and Wagner were about to play.
Imhoff, a beginner, plays mostly for entertainment, and he enjoys playing Wagner to pick up on some of his philosophies.
Wagner currently plays chess about three times a week and first competed there in 1962. That year, he beat his first chess master, Bill Martz, under the Bavarian buttresses of the Rathskellar.
Chess master is the third-highest rank a player can receive, grand master being the highest. Wagner said he has checkmated his fair share of grand masters.
“I’ve beat many,” Wagner said.
The first time he beat a grand master was in 1982 at East Towne. That man’s name was Art Bisguier.
“He was doing a simultaneous exhibition,” Wagner explained. “I used a move called Kasparov’s Sacrifice; neither of us thought it was possible.”
Throughout Wagner’s long personal history with the game, The Rathskellar has been one of his favorite arenas.
“People are relaxed and open-minded enough to enjoy the time they spend here,” Wagner said of the Rathskellar.
Wagner says after years of practicing in the Union, he still sees faults in his game.
“I can beat good players, but play poorly sometimes, too,” Wagner said.
Wagner said his time spent playing does equate proportionately with his accomplishments.
“The year before I was first or second in the Wisconsin Chess Association’s most tournament games played,” Wagner said.
Wagner, currently ranked tenth in the WCA, also spends recreational time playing pool, bridge and sheep’s head. Chess does have elements to it that makes it Wagner’s favorite pastime.
“You can interact with people on different levels; the psychic, mental, emotional and personal,” Wagner said. “It affords a glimpse into infinite knowledge; as long as humans play chess, there will always be opportunities for new positions.”
“In the Navy, I learned to play blindfolded,” Wagner said. “If you can imagine the game, you can imagine things in your own life.”
Wagner offered a free-time philosophy to explain why he spends so much time in the game.
“To me, free time is the only time there is,” Wagner said. “I will endeavor to do what is pleasing, enjoying and entertaining as much as possible. If you can do something you enjoy, you can’t go wrong; it’s something you’re meant to and needed to do.”
Wagner feels it is important that he gives back for all that others have taught him. He teaches young prodigies at Canterbury Bookstore. Wagner said it helps them to “develop focused thinking.”