A couple of days a ago I received a phone call from an excited friend. The conversation went as follows:

Friend: “Robert, you’ll never guess what has happened!”
Robert: “What?”
Friend: “You have a game published in today’s Saturday Age Chess Column.”
Robert: “Impossible! I haven’t played a tournament game for 15 years and I haven’t died so why would they publish one of my games?”
Friend: “You may not have died but John Hanks has – aged 83 years he passed away a couple of weeks ago.”
Robert: “Oh No! Not my 12 move loss to Hanks in the 1975 Interclub competition?”
Friend: “No. Your 45 move loss to Hanks in the 1974 Australian Chess Championship.”

John Hanks was an Australian Chess Master, a Life Member of the Australian Chess Federation, and one of the county’s leading players from the late 1940’s to the 1970’s.

He was runner-up in the 1949 Australian Championships and played board two for Australia at the Havana Olympiad in 1964, but never quite made it to the top of the tree.

In life he was an unusual, pedantic man, set in his ways and invariably in the right in any argument.
Imagine a tall old man, stooped over with wavy hair, glasses and slightly deaf. He always wore the same old jacket with leather patches over the elbows. Can you imagine such a man as a linesman at the Australian Open Tennis and calling the ball “out” for Jimmy Connors and John McInroe? Hanks often officiated at the Australian Open Tennis and I just hope that they didn’t dispute his line calls.

He was renown for writing 20 page, illegible, hand-written letters to the chess authorities setting out his views. He had not upgraded to the typewriter let alone the computer. When I was Australian Chess Federation Secretary I remember receiving many such letters which were impossible to read even if you had the time, so I would write back to Hanks thanking him for his letter and advising him that the ACF Council had noted his views with interest. I was such a liar.

We shared a common interest in tennis and Hanks would often come up to me at chess tournaments and discuss shot by shot his latest tennis match. Sometimes it was interesting but more often than not I ended up thinking “this man could bore for Australia!”

He worked as a Civil Engineer for the Country Roads Board for 43 years, and it is said that after his retirement he kept turning up to work for 6 months so as to set some personal service record!

He was a good chess player and has beaten most of the leading players of his era, myself included, several times. I remember my most embarrassing moment in chess being the first round of the 1975 A Grade Interclub competition when they announced that I had won the Australian Championship and everyone gave me a round of applause. Ten minutes later I had lost ignominiously in 12 moves to Hanks!

It was sad in his latter years when he was always in time trouble, and even if he had a few minutes left on the clock you knew that it was physically impossible for him to make the moves in time.

I would have loved to have interviewed Hanks on tape (as I did with Garry Koshnitsky on his 90th birthday) to record his life story and views on the history of Australian Chess, but I had no idea that he was ill and I’ve left it too late.

We can learn a lot from the chess players who have gone before us, and they all have interesting stories to tell.

For all his foibles I quite liked Hanks and it’s very sad that he is no longer with us.

Vale John Hanks.

John Hanks

One Response to “Hanks for the Memories”

  1. September 06, 2009 at 8:59 pm, Norman Greenwood said:

    Dear Robert

    You may be interested to know the late Stefan Kruger (NSW Chess Champion 1949) was Dux of The Scots College, Sydney in 1942 and John Hanks was the Prox. Accessit.

    I am contemplating submitting an entry on these two outstanding chess players for the College Magazine (The Lion & Lang Syne) and seek your permission to reproduce your article on John.

    I have a photo from the College Magazine of Stefan and John taken in 1943 I can send you.

    Warmest regards

    Norman Greenwood (Class of ’49)