JEFFERSONVILLE — At 3, most kids are starting to master some toys.
Jeffersonville's Andy Porter had more complex aspirations at that young age. He asked his father to teach him the game of chess.
“I loved it from the first time I even watched my first game as small child,” he said. “I begged my dad to teach me when I was 3, but he said 'Nope, you're too young.' And so finally at age 5, he relented. My dad gave me my first chess book, which I still have.”
That early interest paid off.
Now 47, Porter won first place at the Indiana State Chess Association Championship in early November, the first such title in 31 years for a Southern Indiana resident.
“Winning the state championship is just a dream come true,” Porter, a math teacher at Christian Education Consortium and professional math tutor, said. “I mean that was a lifelong goal of mine. It's one of those things that you kind of have in the back of your mind and you aspire to, but you never really know for sure whether you can attain that.”
BACK AND BETTER
Porter said that in the early 2000s, he took a hiatus from chess as he spent more time with his family and working on his career. Then, five years ago, he decided to again throw himself into it fully.
“I've worked really, really hard over the last five years,” he said. “I put in quite a few hours a week studying and preparing.”
The hard work paid off, as Porter has a score of 2,176 with the U.S. Chess Federation. A score of 2,200 is a master. Porter said that a lot of his preparation involved studying chess games that have been archived in the International Chess Database.
“Once you reach a certain strength level, they start recording those games,” he said. “You can go into the database and find your opponents' games. You can play over those games, try to pick out what their weaknesses are, what their style of play is, what kind of positions they’re comfortable in, what kind of positions they're uncomfortable in.
"You try to play and direct the game into their weaknesses so that you can improve your chances.”
Porter said he's always had a competitive spirit, and this is part of the draw of chess for him.
“People who are not involved in chess do not realize what a sporting element there is involved in it,” he said. “Of course, it's not the same as a physical sport like track or basketball, but as far as the competition aspect of it, its very very similar.”
Porter said he's had some great coaches, and credits Dennis Gogol — six-time Indiana State Chess Champion, who was the last from the area to win 31 years ago — as being very instrumental in his path to the championship.
“I'm thrilled to win it myself, but I'm also really pleased to be able to win it as his student,” Porter said. “He's a gentleman as well as being a fierce competitor and I just kind of feel like he deserves this, too.”
Going into the second round of the tournament, which has five rounds, Porter played a child prodigy who had just beaten one of the top masters in the first round. He said his toughest game, however, was in round three against an Indiana University student.
“He was really tough to beat — at one point I actually probably had a worse position,” Porter said.
He said his opponent offered him a draw, and he had a difficult decision to make. He could remember Gogol's words as he did.
“He told me beforehand, 'If you’re going to win a championship, your margin of error is one draw,'” Porter said. “'If you get a loss, you will not win. You can give up a draw, but you have to win all of your other games.'”
Porter said he decided to decline the draw and he ended up winning that round as well as the next two, which were against former state champions.
He said that he had a great support system with his family and friends, which helped calm him going into an intense final round.
“When you’re at the chessboard, you’re investing yourself, your personality, your temperament, your fears even play a role in the decisions you make,” he said. “There are so many options available to you. But I just had a lot of peace going into that final game.”
Craig Hines, president of the Indiana Chess Association, has known Porter for more than 15 years and said he has definitely seen his improvement over the past five.
“He's stays at the board and plays the game,” he said. “He's a very determined, resourceful opponent.”
Hines said although there were several players rated above Porter going into the tournament, he wasn't surprised to see him come out on top.
“He's been improving so much and I had a feeling he might break though there," Hines said.
He said he can see similarities in the styles of Porter and that of his coach and predecessor Gogol.
“They're tenacious,” he said. “You do a lot of work when you play a game. You expend a lot of energy and its physically demanding. Even though you're sitting there, it's physically and emotionally draining to play at the level they play at.”
Hines, who is working with Porter to bring more chess opportunities to the area, said he is proud of his friend.
"He's a good representative for Indiana,” he said. “I'm happy to see him win.”
Porter said he hopes his story will serve as an inspiration to others to know that it's never too late to pursue their dreams.
“I would encourage people to not give up, but don't continue to procrastinate,” he said. “You have to make a decision: If this is something that's a dream of yours, make a decision that you're just going to do it. And invest the time and pick a start date and say 'This is it, I'm going to do it,' and take the necessary steps to give yourself a chance to reach that goal.
"Because what a thrill. I'm so grateful and humbled and happy to have done it.”