True story: I was a spy for the blackmar-diemer

True story: I was a spy for the blackmar-diemer

The BMD Gambit

Armand Blackmar was born in 1826 in Maine. Later in life he moved to New Orleans and ran a sheet music business with his brother. Other than music his greatest joy was playing chess against the best players at the chess club. He came up with the Blackmar Gambit (1.d4, d5 2.e4, dxe 3.f3.) hoping for a great attack. With every attack there is a defense, and other players ended the gambit with 3…e5. Then the gambit went into the closet for a hundred years until Emil Diemer improved upon the idea in 1932 by adding the moves 3.Nc3, Nf6 4.f3! The BMD Gambit, as it’s known, became an attacking opening.

I became a member of the BMD cult in the early 60’s, playing it and studying it every chance I could. I got so good with it that players stopped letting me play it. My BMD games were published in opening books and magazines. I had students come and ask me to teach them the opening.

I was asked to be on the USA world BMD gambit correspondence team. We played teams from all over the world.

In the late 60’s, I was in the U.S. Army on my way to Viet Nam and still playing in the correspondence tournament. I would get about a dozen cards a week. Coming back from the field I would spend a day or two answering them. One week I came back and found no cards. I didn’t think too much about it as mail can get sent to the wrong place. But after two weeks I was worried.

I was told, in no uncertain terms, to report to the CIA and Army Intelligence office. It was just like in the movies! The room was dark, and I could hardly see the two men questioning me. I sat in a chair with a light on me. They said, “Are you a spy for the communist party?” I told them “No!!”

“Then tell us about these.” In front of me they spread out all my missing postcards. The stamps had been removed. The fronts and backs of the postcards were separated, and they had been sprayed to see if there was invisible writing. I told them I was playing chess by mail. The notation is different in correspondence. We use all numbers and not letters and numbers. So the moves 1.d4, d5 2.e4, dxe 3.Nc3, Nf6 4.f3 become 1•4344,4745, 2•5254,4554 3•2133,7866 4•6263. The two men thought it was some knid of code. It was. It was chess code!

Just a quick explanation of correspondence notation and these intelligence officers were bored enough to be convinced that I couldn’t possibly be a secret agent.

So, they put everything in a bag and handed it to me and said, “You’re free to go but have to drop out ot the tournament.” And so ended my career as an international chess spy.

Why learn chess? Simple: It’s a great mental workout that helps children perform well in the classroom. Chess is a logical game where kids have to plan ahead and adjust to new situations. But most of all, it’s fun!


Larry Ball (Coach Larry) teaches students of all ages at the Steinitz Chess Academy in Beaverton. For more information, email Larry at