And with his 90th birthday just a week away, it’s not likely to change.
Lopez was 8 and living in Manhattan when his father introduced him to the game of checkers.
“He used to always win until I was 12,” Lopez said. “Then one day at the library, I accidentally found a book on checkers. I didn’t tell him about the book, but after I read it, he never beat me.”
Seventy-eight years later, players are still having trouble defeating Lopez, who in October won the Western States Checkers Championship in Las Vegas.
“Yup,” he said, “Murrieta is home to the western champion.”
In 1966, Lopez was ranked third in the country. Long before that, chess was so popular that important matches were broadcast on radio. Each of the 64 squares on the board was designated with a number so fans could follow the moves.
When he was in the Army, Lopez once played 60 matches simultaneously, and either won or drew all of them. He would also compete against top players from around the country by mailing moves on a postcard.
And then came the personal computer.
Interestingly, Lopez said, technology can be blamed for the demise of checkers, but it may also turn out to be its savior.
“I cringe when I see kids shooting up each other in video games. That doesn’t require thinking. Checkers teaches you sportsmanship and how to think ahead.”
But at the same time, he added, websites that allow players to compete online in tournaments or just learn how to play the game have attracted a new generation of fans.
Lopez moved to Southern California in 1947 after Army buddies told him about “the sunshine and oranges, which sounded great after living in the concrete jungle.”
While in the service, he was assigned to a base in upstate New York where he was an interpreter for Italian soldiers captured in Africa during World War II.
Along with checkers, languages have been an important part of Lopez’s life. After moving to Southern California, he taught the romance languages at UCLA. He later became chairman of the Foreign Languages Department at East Los Angeles College, and there he met a student named Margie. They started dating, and now have been married for 34 years.
Lopez retired from teaching in 1980, but he continues to study languages. He has hardly retired from checkers, however, playing regularly against the computer because “I can’t find strong players around here.”
He is also quite a tennis player, and for the past 60 years he has been an instructor.
“I was running around at the age of 87, beating 20-year-olds,” he said. “I’ve slowed down a little since then.”
Whatever Lopez is talking about, the subject usually returns to checkers.
“I’m always coming up with surprises while playing. It’s a more difficult game than people realize. It requires more finesse than chess. One bad move in checkers and you lose. That’s why beginning players give up.”
While chess has attracted iconic players such as Bobby Fischer and Russian grandmasters, checkers has never had a household name.
“Maybe,” he said, “someday sponsors will recognize the game for what it is.”
“It’s a fascinating game, and it keeps me young.”
If you have an idea for an Inland People profile, contact Assistant Metro Editor Mark Acosta at 951-375-3725 or macosta@PE.com
OCCUPATION: Retired in 1980 after serving as chairman of the Foreign Languages Department at East Los Angeles College
NOTABLE: In October, he won the Western States Checkers Championship in Las Vegas.
Correspondent News PE.com
Tuesday, February 7, 2012 - CHECKERBOARD KING "A Murrieta man learned the game early, learned well and won a Western State crow in October in Las." Gerry sent this to Alan Millhone who forwarded the email article to me.