A Chess Master's return

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Young filmmaker Gabriel Adams loves chess. The Petaluma High School and Santa Rosa Junior College alumnus met, quite accidentally, former Chess Master Frederic Dutter as the older man was climbing into a Dumpster near Aqus Cafe. Known in the community as "Fritz," Dutter, who describes himself on camera as "an outdoorsman," has been homeless for more than 30 years. He suffers from schizophrenia and alcoholism, but has remained, throughout his challenging life, a brilliant chess player who once held the coveted title of Master.

Dutter and Adams started playing chess together two or three times a week for close to a year. As the chess master mentored the filmmaker in the finer points of the game, their friendship grew. Dutter confided in Adams his remarkable life story. He also lamented that all he wanted in life was to enter one more tournament to prove he was still a master. It had been a decade since he had last played at this level.

Adam's filmmaker brain went off. With Dutter's permission, Adams entered him in the inaugural East Bay Regional Chess Tournament, which took place in Concord over Veterans Day weekend. Ninety-seven chess players from beginners to masters traveled from as far away as Las Vegas, San Diego and Eureka to compete. The tournament was divided into four sections by skill level with 30 players including nine masters competing in the top section. Five rounds of chess were played over three days with each game taking up to five hours to complete.

Adams began filming Dutter as he prepared for the match, paid for his entrance free, drove him to Concord, put him up in a hotel and followed him on film throughout the event.

Dutter won his first game. He won his second game. To learn what happened, you'll have to watch the 19-minute short film Adams just completed called "Fritz and the Comeback," says the filmmaker's father, Eric Adams, of Sonoma County-based Sleeperwave Films. "I can tell you this: anyone who views this film will see the homeless of Petaluma in a new light."

"Fritz and the Comeback" premieres at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 30, at Aqus Cafe Foundry Wharf with several showings throughout the evening. "I am what I am," says Dutter on camera. "I am a chess player." Dutter will be in attendance along with Adams to answer questions. The screening is free though donations for COTS are encouraged.

Adams is currently working on a low-budget feature film with actors, producers and crew members from Petaluma. He is based in Los Angeles and works on films and television shows.

Watch the trailer for the film at youtube.com/watch?v=XCkiWjJrD2Q

(Frances Rivetti's South County Notebook column appears every two weeks. Her e-mail address is francesrivetti@gmail.com.)

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