psychogeographic oral history project

“It was here that my life totally changed and that the entire evolution of my life as a professional chess player began”

YMCA 1929-1990 (Rebuilt in 1961)
936 St Charles Ave

My name is Jude Frazier Acers. You are standing at the event of my lifetime…

‘1956, one summer night, this is it. The road to the Friday night Lee Circle* YMCA chess club that was an hour and a half via Harahan bus and the tracks. The sixth visit, 85 degrees,  cachug cachug Coca Cola machine. Tiny chess room, four tables, four chess players, no air conditioning, of course. I looked at Robert E. Lee through the window.  I'm choking back tears, virtually without a family; so hopeless a chess player that nobody in the chess club will even consider playing a game with me. The Coke machine provides the blazing blue eyes fantasy. I'll look at the chess players through empty bottles, kaleidoscope self-made entertainment before the sixth trip home. Totally alone. Completely lost. 'It's all right. Jude Acers. It's okay. Things will get better. Hang in there, kid'. No money for a Coke and too proud to beg. Come next week. 'Hey young man, would you like to play a game of chess?' Shock black hair, grimy hands, works two jobs, a plumber, electrician dressed in his Pelican plumbing supply uniform, of course, as always. The chess pieces all wood, six to eight inches tall.’

His name is Adrian L McAuley,  the first rated chess master in New Orleans history.

Eleven year old Jude Acers is roaming around, and it was here that my life totally changed and that the entire evolution of my life as a professional chess player [began]- 40 million copies of the Guinness Book of World Records, a drawn match with a grandmaster, the draw with Fischer, was all revolving around a four foot space where this man, Adrian L. McAuley, met this child. Lee Circle YMCA was a place where people could play chess and where things could happen, like magic.

I can be found at the gazebo, the New Orleans French Market, right behind Joan of Arc and the three flags, about two blocks from the Cafe DuMonde.  There really are millions of people who know that a man with the red beret plays at that location. I've been there 42 straight years. When I die, there will be a statue of me there, I'm sure. And there will be two chess boards suitable for chess or checkers and two cement chairs for people to just walk up and play, for like, hundreds of years.

*Formerly named Lee Circle, prior to the monument’s historical removal in 2017

Lee Circle Y.M.C.A., 936 St. Charles Ave
Springfield College Archives and Special Collections

Jude Acers at his New Orleans chess table, 2021

(photo by Sarrah Danziger)