Saturday, May 4, 2013

Tennis, Anyone? How About Chess?

It seemed logical, in those Depression-era classes we read about yesterday, to include lessons in such practical matters as typing or reading Braille. The one class that Sam Bean taught that didn’t seem to fit the qualifications of austerity was chess.

A love of chess, however, became what focused Sam’s energies—and brought him recognition in his later years.

After those quiet years of early family life—and through the loss of his wife, Maud, in 1933—Sam resurfaced in newspapers five years later in reports about his prowess in local chess tournaments.

An article in the Oakland Tribune on April 15, 1938, recapped Sam’s life story and added this new chapter to the tale. The headlines for the page 12D report read “Chess Club Honors Blind Champion.” Of special interest is the fact that this article includes a photograph of the now middle aged Sam, still looking very much like his twin brother, William Bean, although somewhat slimmer. (The article and photograph may be accessed here, both by subscribers to as well as by guest viewers.) The photograph shows Sam with the specially built raised chess board which was given to him by his fellow club members.

Still facile at working with his hands despite his visual handicap, Sam had evidently kept up on his cabinetry skills, and had also become adept at stringing tennis rackets. Perhaps these were some of the additional ways in which Sam continued to maintain his financial independence and also provide for his two sons.
            Alameda, April 14.—Although blind for 30 years, Samuel W. Bean, 43, of 1807 Santa Clara Avenue, is an outstanding chess player and cabinet worker.
            This week, as winner of the Alameda Chess Club’s season tournament, Bean was presented with a raised chess board, built especially for him by the club.
            Bean lost his sight when he was 13, the result of being hit with a rock while playing. The blow also destroyed his hearing.
            The injury did not, however, materially handicap him. In the hope someday his sight and hearing might be restored, Bean kept mentally and physically alert.
            In addition to winning his own club competition, he won the Alameda group’s competition with the Mechanics Institute of San Francisco.
            Bean does expert cabinet work and strings tennis rackets between chess matches.
            As early as 1915 he won a gold medal for work done by the handicapped at the Pan-American Exposition of that year.


  1. I have never understood chess..but I bet he played earlier in his he could see the board and moves in his head:)

    1. Very likely, Far Side. Sam did have that advantage of having his eyesight for those early years. On the other hand, I've read some other reports about his interests that are quite surprising--even if he did pick them up from those years before the onset of his blindness.

  2. The different shapes of the chess pieces would make this game easy to manage, but I would think you could also knock a lot of pieces over. Every "Sam story" reveals another amazing detail about a remarkable man.

    1. I don't know if he used any specially marked pieces--weighted for stability, or etched in Braille for identity--but I imagine knocking over pieces would present a hazard...maybe even make some enemies out of those opponents!

      However, from what little I know of chess tournaments, there was usually someone watching each move and likely recording it on paper, so whatever inadvertent slip of the hand might have happened could easily be remedied through that record.

  3. Amazing, he must have had a great spatial ability.

    1. I have read, in books about such matters, how the brain adapts to the deprivation of some senses by augmenting the capacities of others. In Sam's case, this would be doubly so. Perhaps that explains how he was able to acquire some other skills one wouldn't have expected of a deaf blind person.

  4. Wow. I came right to your next blog after the last one, in order to find out about Sam,

    And now I see that he is . . . a chess expert! That makes a lot of sense. I can see how chess can be a tactile sport, in a way. (My flailing attempts at chess probably come from relying too much on "visualization.") Also tactile would be stringing tennis rackets and doing cabinetry. Sam must have a highly developed sense of touch by this time.

    Trying to follow the chronology, I'm assuming his boys must still be young, or no more than teenagers. How they must respect their father. Outstanding.

    1. Life with a father such as Sam must have been an interesting experience for these two. They lost their mother at such a young age. While their grandmother certainly did what she could to fill in the gap, there is no replacing a dad for boys of that age.

      However, I do know that for both of Sam's sons, the Boy Scouts did fill an integral role during their school years, too.


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