When Orrin Hudson speaks, it's hard to tell whether he's talking about chess or life:
Make every move count.
Surround yourself with smart players who can make you better.
You will win or lose based on the decisions you make.
Hudson, 46, a two-time city chess champion of Birmingham, Ala., who now lives in Atlanta, has a surplus of catchphrases, raps and inspirational sayings that he uses to keep young people out of trouble.
Today he returns to Philadelphia after 10 years to compete in the World Open chess tournament, which runs through Sunday at the Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel, 17th & Race streets.
Hudson was here in 1999 to compete in the same tournament, his last chess competition, coming in fifth overall and winning $200, at the old Adam's Mark Hotel on City Avenue.
A former Georgia state trooper, he started a youth program in 1999 called Be Someone, after hearing about a deadly shooting at a Wendy's in New York.
"I heard about that and I said, 'Evil prevails when good people do nothing.' "
Since then, he has committed his life (and most of his income) to fighting educational disparities and youth violence. Through Be Someone, he has spoken throughout the country, and estimates that he has reached 20,000 children through his chess boot camps and motivational lectures.
Hudson uses pop-culture references and high-energy rap/poetry to keep kids engaged and on the right track.
One such kid was Robert Curry, of Atlanta.
Curry was skipping school, his grades were bad, and he was hanging around with gang members. His mother, Debra, said that she couldn't sleep at night, afraid that he might not come home.
"In my vision, I saw my son either dying far too early or I saw him in jail," she said in a phone interview this week. "I was so desperate for a solution."
She needed an intervention for her son, and after hearing about Hudson on TV, she gave him a call at 1 a.m. and asked for his help.
Hudson began tutoring Curry in chess - and in life - in summer 2004.
Curry admitted ambivalence at first: What could this man with his corny catchphrases about chess do to help him?
But after nine months, Curry said, he started making better decisions. His grades rose. He recalled one night when some old friends came around wanting to take him for a ride and he opted not to, thinking that it could be dangerous. That night, the friends wound up in jail after the cops pulled them over and found illegal substances in the car.
"Orrin used to always say, 'People don't think. You've got to stop and think.' And this one time, I did that and it actually worked," Curry said by phone from Atlanta.
Curry said that the procedural aspects of chess also helped him make it through school, get his GED and then into Georgia Perimeter College.
"He said: 'Here's where you are; here's where you need to go. See it in your head; put it down on paper and get to that point,' " Curry said.
Hudson also had a troubled youth. He grew up in the Birmingham housing projects with 13 brothers and sisters. He was stealing and hanging around with the wrong crowd, when a high school teacher, James Edge, introduced him to chess and a whole new way of thinking.
"He said to me: 'Orrin, you cannot fly with the eagles if you're scratching with the turkeys. You gotta get yourself around people who are doing great things, making the right moves.' "
Hudson said that he owes his life to Edge and is dedicated to paying it forward.
Today, he'll go against chess players from around the world, although he's admittedly out of practice. It hasn't been much of a challenge playing with young men for the last 18 years.
But the odds have been against Hudson before: When he was young, people told him that he wouldn't amount to much, and he was ranked last in the two chess championships that he eventually won.
"I beat some people who had much higher ratings, and it's because nature is neutral," he said. "I teach the kids that."