Tributes (chronological order)
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NM Alex King
Sad to hear of the passing of NYC chessplayer Wesley Hellner (1944-2020) at the age of 76 from COVID-19. Wes,
a USCF Expert with a peak rating of 2065, was a fixture at the Marshall Chess Club, where he racked up hundreds of tournament
games per year. I played him there twice - a draw in 2013,
and a win in 2015 (click for game
) - but I saw him around the club all the time,
including just last month when I visited to play in a tournament.
He was always mellow and pleasant to be around,
and never obnoxious or pugnacious like some Marshall players. He had a very solid style, and this picture (by Jim West) is a
great example of the kind of dead-equal position I often observed him in. He had a thick New York accent and the most illegible scoresheet
handwriting I have ever seen. I'm sad he's gone, and the Marshall won't be the same without him!
Although I only knew Wesley Hellner for about a year, I’d like to think the four rated games that I played against him as well
as the countless times we were in the same tournament forged a bond between the two of us, despite the massive age difference.
The last I spoke to Mr. Hellner was at the February Weekend U2400 tournament, where we shared first round results.
He had scored a draw against a very strong player I knew from NYC Chess, whereas I had pulled off a win against a very strong player,
around 2100 USCF. Fortunately, Wesley had been able to see the end of my game, which gave him some insight during our conversation.
His final remark to me before we both departed from the Club was “you played like a master”, a compliment that is not given often
to an 1800 level player.
Wesley was a constant presence at the Marshall, always meandering around to see other games as well as to
play his own. He had the record for 2nd most tournaments played at the Marshall , second only to Mr. Jay Bonin, a legend in his
own right. I will put here
my only win against Wesley, a game that is most likely
wrong at some points due to inaccuracies in notation but hopefully will make apparent Wesley’s fighting spirit and creativity at
the chess board, despite this game being a loss for him. My condolences go out to his family, and I hope Wesley will not be forgotten
after this unfortunate time has ended.
Mark E. Gerstl
I first met Wesley in the late 1980s, through my close friend, Jerry Simon, a life master who passed in 2006.
The three of us would meet once or twice a week at a local park in Northern Manhattan to play quick chess( G10 or 15).
This continued for several years and I probably played Wesley hundreds of games.
He was a natural player and did not belong to the USCF. He never had played a rated game in his life. He was very good tactically
and quite resourceful. He did not know opening theory but would consistently dig himself out of bad openings through his resourcefulness.
I was always impressed by his simple down to earth attitude and his honesty. He took losses in stride.
Jerry and I encouraged him to join the USCF, but he said that he did not care about ratings and just enjoyed playing chess as he derived
aesthetic pleasure from it.
After Jerry passed away in 2006, I briefly lost touch with Wesley.
To my pleasant surprise, one night in 2012, while playing my weekly Thursday night classical game, I noticed Wesley at the club.
He had joined the club , now that he was retired, and went on to become one of the most active players in the country. He played 503 rated
games in 2019!! He played the first rated game in his life in 2011 at the age of 67!
He was always a gentleman and displayed great sportsmanship at all times. He never got upset when he lost as he was just interested in enjoying the experience.
It was a treat for me to play rated games against him after all these years.
I will miss him both on and off the board!
Andrew Yukai Zheng
I had the privilege of knowing Wesley for the past several years while
playing tournaments at the Marshall. In those years, he was a warm
presence and familiar face to me at the club long before I had the
chance to face him over the board. During our two rated games, he
proved himself a tenacious fighter that found creative ways to
mitigate threats that I introduced against him. In our first game, I
escaped with a draw by repetition from a miserable position. The next
time we played, he won after converting an active position into a
One quality I've always admired about Wesley was his authentic
appreciation for the experience of chess rather than its outcome. He
demonstrated this attitude through his undying enthusiasm for
analyzing interesting positions and spectating others' games. As an
ambitious young scholastic player, I discovered that tournament games
could be a turbulent emotional experience, often finding myself elated
by wins and disappointed by losses. After seeing Wesley winning an
upset one day, I casually remarked to him how much his rating would
rise because of it. He gregariously replied, "I'm old, I really don't
care about rating." His enjoyment of chess was a pure one, one that I
hope to emulate someday.
Over time, I have gotten used to seeing Wesley almost every time I go
to the Marshall, energetically playing blitz with other club regulars
or clustered alongside others around an ongoing game. The club will be
an emptier place without him. Rest easy, Master Wes. I will miss you.
Andrew Yukai Zheng
I am deeply saddened to hear that Wesley Hellner, one of the “legends” of the Marshall Chess Club passed away from COVID-19.
A former schoolteacher, Wesley interacted with kids his whole life. I always remember his favorite expression before every tournament:
"I'm rootin' for you!" His positivity and kindness were staples of his personality and were infectious to those around him!
I was fortunate enough to get to know Wesley better over the past few years and I enjoyed arriving early for the "Dining Club" to listen
to banter about the latest sports news, chess stories, and politics. One day, before an action tournament, Wesley offered to buy me a pizza
and a drink on his way to Citarella. I could not help but be struck by the kindness of this gesture.
Chess was a big part of Wesley’s life. His solid, tricky, tenacious style allowed him to score upsets over many strong players, including myself.
In the many tournaments we participated in together, one memorable instance was when Wesley, up a piece, gave a “mercy draw” out
of pity for his young opponent.
Wesley also was a big part of Marshall life. I scarcely remember a week at the Marshall without seeing Wesley hanging around. As a
dedicated member, he would stay hours on end to watch the last game of a round, long past the conclusion of his own game. He loved
to watch game analysis and discuss the position with players of all levels. Through the many years Wesley spent playing at the Marshall,
members young and old alike came to respect him and his love for the game. In my eyes, he was a “grandfather” figure of the Marshall Chess Club.
In July 2018, Wesley and I were paired in a G/50 weekend tournament. I reached a completely winning position, however I trapped my own king in a
mating net. Not realizing I blundered mate, I played a move that sealed the net around my king (position below). With a quick whisk of his hand, Wesley announced
“Checkmate!” and fell back in his chair chuckling at my rookie mistake. As I sat with my head in my hands, Wesley came over to apologize for the win.
In his true Wesley style and classic New York accent he said “You’ll get me next time, Master.” I hope his encouragement, friendliness, and love for
chess will not be forgotten and that the club will continue to embody the spirit that Wesley brought with him every day.
Brian J. Shoot
I feel a terrible loss. Wesley embodied everything that was right
about the Marshall, and about our chess world. I imagine that over
the last few years he played as often, and was on premises, as much as
anyone else. He was a gentleman, an always friendly face, a welcoming
presence. He loved the game for its own sake.
I wish I knew him better, and I’m truly saddened I never will.
Whenever the club reopens, the first major tournament should be the
Wesley Hellner Memorial.
Brian J Shoot
In my 4 years of playing chess at the Marshall, Wesley has been my
most frequent opponent, as I’m sure he is for many. He clearly loved
the game and would always hang around well after his game ended (which
was always early because he played at lightning speed) to watch all of
the other games finish. I’ll miss battling him at the board and
chatting with him.
The one point of solace that we can take from this tragedy is that a
large number of people looked up to Wesley just as I did. He was
kind, supportive and a pleasure to be around. One lasting regret is
that I will never be able to get even with him (His lifetime score
against me was much stronger than his rating would think is
What made Wesley different was the answer to a complicated question:
Why do we play? Wesley did not play to gain rating, attain titles or
win cash prizes. He confided to me on one occasion that even he could
not read his own score sheet. He did not review his games to learn
from his losses as he didn't really care. So why did he play?
Wesley played for the love of the game and the friendships that he was
able to develop late in life. He did what he loved in his retirement
years. In the end maybe he has taught the rest of us one last lesson.
Wesley, you will be missed by more people than you can know.
Rest In Peace.
As a Manager, I was lucky enough to come to know Wesley through our many interactions at the club.
I witnessed him play often in the high caliber tournaments where whether he won or lost, he was respectful
and friendly towards his opponent. For lack of a better term, Wesley was a chess "superfan" and genuinely enjoyed
watching any games in progress, regardless of whether they were higher or lower rated - including my own. I'm grateful
that I had the opportunity to play against him in the U2400 in January. He won a hard-fought match where he pounced and
exploited a miscalculation flawlessly. Despite the rating differential, he graciously offered encouragement and insight
as to how I could have played better. I always appreciated that from an opponent. Wesley brought no ego into the club;
only a genuine love of the game. It's no wonder why he was universally loved and appreciated. He was the ideal member
of the Marshall Chess Club.
I'm going to miss him.
Rest in Peace, Wesley.
Manager at the Marshall Chess Club
I sadly discovered about Wesley Hellner, my best senior friend at the Marshall Chess Club’s, passing from COVID-19
a couple days ago.
Even though we knew each other for one and a half years, I noticed how Wesley was a “godfather” of the Marshall
Chess Club. He was a player who played well in almost all aspects of his game. He may have not known opening theory
that well but he still knows how to turn it into a playable position. His attitude was unbelievably impressive.
He took any result of the game positively. Whether he lost or drew he still continued and kept fighting.
He was nice to players all ages and comforted them all the time. He was very active in tournaments.
Literally, any night when the club was open, he would play chess and watch the last game continue till the very end.
I even played Wesley 2 times in Marshall tournament as black. He played the London System nicely, we went into a
solid middle game and play a queen and rook endgame till we agreed to a draw. Yes, he may have an illegible
notation to read but he played like an expert in his games. The tricky moves I play, he knows the trick behind
them so I don’t win. He evens like to make funny comments on the game like “That’s funny”, or “Ahh, nice try!.”
(If you want to see the games, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
He was the nicest, friendliest person I met in the Marshalls. His love, courage, and friendliness will not
be forgotten from the spirit of Wesley. May he Rest In Peace.
When I first started working at the Marshall Chess Club, Wesley was the first member that gave me a
very warm and respectful welcoming. Immediately our personalities clicked and I always looked forward to
talking to him. As a tournament director I'm grateful for the privilege I had to oversee many of Wesley's chess games.
I enjoyed watching his composure, unique style of play, and quietly rooting for him. He would often come by
the club office to share his soda and talk with me. When he won a tournament we would celebrate his victory and I
remember seeing a very happy smile on his face. I will always remember those moments we shared talking about chess.
I feel very proud to have met him. He had a gentle soul, he was a gentleman, an excellent chess player, and my friend.
I will miss him very much.
Wes Hellner was one of the kindest people I have ever met. He was not immune (and why should he have been?)
to an intense desire to win, but never did he eye his opponents askance or mistreat them due to his own desire
for success. I hope I can carry that lesson forward.
I love you, Wes. You were so good to me and Juliette. You will be missed.
Tom M. Fini
Dear Marshall Chess Club Family:
I am a chess dad who often left my son TJ to play a game at the Marshall Chess Club against Wesley Hellner.
I remember waving goodbye to both Mr. Hellner and TJ, then going across the street to eat a meal at a bar while
waiting for TJ to call me to tell me the game was over. Mr. Hellner was so gentle and wonderful.
When I learned that Mr. Hellner passed, I first decided to keep it a secret from my 12 year old son.
But the next day, I realized that my son would learn about it anyway. So I decided to tell him myself.
As I started to speak the words, I started to cry. I hope you can tell Mr. Hellner’s family how much his gentle
and loving nature inspired young chess players. TJ has promised he will write a tribute about how he felt playing
against Mr. Hellner. This is a heavy loss. But I know we will all prevail together, with Mr. Hellner’s
gentle spirit guiding us.
Tom M. Fini
NM Jim West
I remember speaking to a FIDE master at the Marshall Chess Club after he was held to a draw by Wesley. The FM said,
with an astonished look on his face, "This Hellner! He says he never took a chess lesson in his life, that he learned
how to play chess in the park. He's a good player!"
In addition to being a chess fan, Wesley liked to talk about current events during lunch breaks. Until I learned of his
untimely passing, I was looking forward to the reopening of the club so that I could discuss the 2020 presidential election with Wesley.
Alas, now that will never happen.
NM Jim West
The Marshall Chess Club will never be the same without Wesley Hellner. I played him twice, one a win and one a loss, and both of them were very
enjoyable. He was always nice to everyone and had a fun personality. He went out of his way to make everyone have a better day. He was a very talkative
person and he always offered to analyze his games with his opponent. Even though I didn't play against him a lot, almost every other game
I sat next to him. No matter the result, he always kept a smile on his face. I hope his friendliness and empathy will not be forgotten!
My favorite game against Wesley was one that I played on December 23, 2018, three days after my 11th birthday. I played the Tarrasch variation
of the French Defense and lost. In fact, Wesley's precise play in this line led me and my coach to abandon the Tarrasch from my opening repertoire.
The game went as follows:
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 c5 4. exd5 exd5 5. Ngf3 Nf6 6. Bb5+ Bd7 7. Bxd7+ Nbxd7
8. O-O Be7 9. dxc5 Nxc5 10. Re1 O-O 11. Nb3 Nxb3 12. axb3 g6 13. Bh6 Re8 14. h3
a6 15. Qd3 Rc8 16. Rad1 Qb6 17. Re2 Bc5 18. Be3 Bxe3 19. fxe3 Rc7 20. Qd4 Qxd4
21. Nxd4 Rce7 22. Rde1 Ne4 23. Kh2 h5 24. h4 Nf6 25. Kh1 Ng4 0-1
After 24.h4, my position is lost (see attached photo). As you can see from the game, precise play by black doesn't give white many chances.
And so, with that, I said goodbye to the Tarrasch.
I hope to see you all soon and we can remember Wesley together in person.
I feel like a piece of me has floated away after hearing the news of Wesley Hellner’s passing. He played a significant role in my chess life for many years.
Counting the number of memories I have of Wesley would be like counting the number of intense blitz and rapid matches he played against Jose de Villa before his
tournament games. I’d like to share a few precious moments I had with him. I remember when I had just joined the club at the age of eight and was still refining
my notation skills. I was playing Wesley in one of the G/50 tournaments when I realized that I had missed a move. I asked Wesley to see his notation, and he handed
over a piece of paper that looked like it was written in a complex WWII code. I didn’t know at the time that his illegible notation was legendary, and that quirk
was one of the many things that made him the man, the myth, the legend.
As many young chess players know, there exists something unofficially known as the “Marshall Regulars Ladder,” comprising a successively harder set of opponents:
Robert Cherubin, John Walton, Fidel dos Santos, Wesley, Jose de Villa, Edward Kopiecki (another regular who has sadly recently passed), Jim West, Asa Hoffman,
Jay Bonin, and Michael Rohde. Lucky for me I have been able to make that treacherous climb through horrible bishops and seemingly unbreakable Slavs. Wesley
was one of the main rundles of that ladder. Rated at about 1950, he was nowhere near a “fish.” On the day when I finally defeated him, he uttered one of his
many famous quotes: “When you’re a grandmaster someday, at least I can say I beat ya!”
The news of his death is heartbreaking, but I think he would be most appreciative if we keep our hopes up in these hard times and focus on the positive memories.
Wesley, everything about you will be remembered: the oral hygiene kit in your pocket protector containing a toothbrush and toothpaste, your hilarious sense of humor,
and your unique playing style.
To those in a younger generation who may not get to share the memories I had with him, I hope you will enjoy bonding with some of the other amazing rungs of
the Marshall Regulars Ladder. The charisma and integrity in the game that you have shown will stay with us at the Marshall for years to come.
It is sad to hear of the recent passing of Wesley Hellner because of the COVID-19, he was a great friend, competitor, and contributor to the chess community.
I always loved his resilience and patience.
Wesley was known for his kindness as he gave many youth players and elder players support and always was there to analyze. I have grown as a chess player being
around him. Wesley was never rude but always there to play a fun and competitive game. He would be there almost every day giving it his best.
Every time I saw him, he would motivate me by saying “he’s a master,” with his motivation I soon became one. One personal moment I had with him was one where we
were playing and I had lost on time and I was in a winning position and Wesley was watching and after my loss, I had my hands on my head and his words of motivation
helped me to come back in the tournament. We also went over that game and he said, “you had it,” those words were inspiring, and Wesley never demoted me only supported me.
I would like to thank Wesley for being kind, respectful, encouraging, and thoughtful he will always be remembered as a great person, and I hope his family/relatives
stay strong through this tragedy. I wish that Wesley rest in peace.
It is very sad to hear Wesley Hellner pass away. He was such a nice man and always supported everyone. I think I played him 4 times and every single time he would always say
"Oh not you. Your good". I lost to him the first three times but finally beat him the last time. I really wanted to play him again for the fifth time but when I heard that
he passed away a few weeks ago I felt very sad. He always called me a "master" and having a Marshall legend pass will be very hard. No one will replace Wesley.
So sad to hear this news. I had known about Wesley long before I ever played against him at the Marshall. A very nice gentleman who many years ago once asked to review
a game he saw me play (after drawing another one of his fellow regulars at Marshall) and since that day forward always remembered me by name when he saw me.
It wasn't until another year or so later that I finally was paired against him in the U2000 weekly game, little did I know this would be our only game against each other.
Being the eternal class player that I am, I felt enormously lucky to have scored a draw against him.
In these few years that I've known him at Marshall I certainly
echo all of the sentiments that other members here have voiced - Wesley indeed epitomized what a chess playing enthusiast ought to be. He never seemed to care about ratings
nor tournament results. He consistently showed up at almost every tournament just for the love of the game. This was always very apparent in the way he would openly review or
replay games with anyone regardless of their rating, their age, or the outcome of the game. I hope his example will be remembered and future generations of chess players
will emulate his passion for the game.
I used to live in the same neighborhood as Wesley in the Bronx. Finishing our Thursday Open games late at night, I would sometimes catch him on the train and we'd talk before arriving home sometimes at midnight or at 1am. I'd have work the next day. Sometimes I'd take a walk and check if there were street hustlers playing in the park. Often, I'd see Wesley with them, battling away with youthful vigor against people half his age. When playing anybody, he more than matched their energy. He loved the game.
My fondest memories of Wesley were of his always checking in on me. In between rounds, he would always ask me how I was doing in the tournament. My favorite: those precious moments when I'd beat a master, Wesley would be in the corner smiling, giving me a thumbs up. I felt like a kid who passed his test, every time.
He'd call me "Master Levin" even though I haven't achieved the title yet. If someone else was paired against me, he'd tell them in his unmistakable accent, "He's a good playa!" Funny enough - I think he said that about all of us.
I'm really shaken by this loss. I still miss Ed Kopiecki, who was another player who passed recently. When we return to the Marshall someday, I know I'll still be looking for Wesley, yearning to show him the best online games I played over this expansive and unforgiving time.