Legends of "Buster"

"Buster" Plays Kaplan

In the late seventies or early eighties, Vladimir Kaplan, International Grandmaster, former champion of Europe and the USSR, and author of many books, was brought to Chicago, by our Pool Checker's community. We wanted to see him up-close against "Buster."

Even though he had won three APCA championships in succession, there were those of us who still clamored for a showdown match between him and "Buster"- in Chicago. Never mind that he had already ‘mugged’ "Buster" (5 straight wins) in a 14 game match in New York, we still wanted to see for ourselves.

I was in the forefront of that movement to bring Mr. Kaplan to this City. We just had to see for ourselves. And so, we sent for him. We were so concerned with the importance of this match, that we even flew in Mr. Henry Johnson of Inkster, Michigan to be the referee. We knew that Mr. Johnson had been a no-nonsense military man and that he would be the perfect person to referee this very important match. Additionally, Mr. Johnson had some unique experience in directing this kind of match. He had been the Tournament director for the AICS (100 Sq. Board) tournament for many years. But, because of his unique talents, Mr. Johnson just might have performed his job too well. For nearly 4 hours of play (with a 30 min. intermission), one could barely hear a pin drop as the two combatants played in almost perfect silence. And the games they played were replayed by our top players many time, but no noticeable mistakes could be found.

To this day, we have been able to find only one miscue in the entire match and that was the one that "Buster" made when he lost. The final score was Kaplan 1 and "Buster" 0. While "Buster" lost that match to the International Grandmaster, he would leave with his head unbowed.

A personal note about Mr. Kaplan. In the year of 1978 at the APCA Tournament in Atlanta, Georgia, Mr. Kaplan‘s first APCA tournament after his arrival in America, (He had emigrated from Russia and had been in this country for only a few months), I had been his very first opponent. At the time, I was recording my games with a tape recorder (If you don't believe me, just ask Eastpoint), and he was doing his recording in the regular manner, on a pad. We were, perhaps, the only ones in the whole tournament who were recording our games. One of my club members walked up to me and said, "Who are you playing, "Pecan." And whispered to him Just another ’white man’ who doesn't have a suit and tie on.' That statement, by me, was not intended to be malicious, it was intended as a joke. And we laughed it off. But, It did show my ignorance of my opponent. And I would pay dearly. The fact is, I had never heard of Mr. Kaplan.

You see, Vladimir Kaplan was no laughing matter and I would ruefully find that out. I lost both games. As I arose from the table after my two losses, I had (I thought) the satisfaction of knowing that I had recorded the games and could study them for future references, and use them for surprises on my coming opponents because only I would know.

In 1980, Mr. Kaplan published his very first book in America-Tournament Checkers. And to my chagrin, there on page 160, Game #27, and page 171, Game #33 were the two games he had won against me. And now the 'cat was out of the bag,' and all of my potential opponents and victims could profit from the information. But, then it might not have been so bad after all. Mr. Kaplan, who was without a doubt one of the greatest player that ever lived, used my two defeats to demonstrate to others what moves NOT to make when playing the game of American Pool Checkers. And so, I said to myself, at least, the games had been immortalized.

Oh, back to the match, I can recall talking to "Buster" about the extraordinary slow play as I was taking him home (He never owned a car and had never driven one, he would often relate to me). In offering suggestions as to how we could speed up the game and make it more exciting, he would always agree, by saying, "Yes I know." "But you just don't want to lose any of those games." I had heard this reply many times. I then, knew it was time to drop that issue.

After his 1 - 0 defeat at the hands of Mr. Kaplan, "Buster" would admit that the Grandmaster was the better player. But again, the gap was closing.

The "Buster" ship would rise again as he bows out in a ‘blaze of glory'- as the Legends wind down in the next issue…