Archive for the ‘chess’ Category

Alien vs. Facebook

April 5, 2009

When chessboards are shown in ads and film, a common mistake, if there are no real chess players on the set, is to arrange the board incorrectly with a black square in the right-hand corner.  An advertisement for Alien vs. Predator makes an even more elementary error, which I haven’t seen before:  Black appears to be moving first.  Maybe I shouldn’t be so picky because the habitues of Alien vs. Predator are more known for engaging in gory fights than in  playing leisurely cerebral board games.

Alien vs. Predator advertisement

Al least the guys at Facebook (co-founder Mark Zuckerberg playing White and product director Chris Cox playing Black) know who goes first and how to set up the chessboard.  Zuckerberg will be a piece up after he takes the bishop that has just checked his king.  Maybe Cox is giving up the cleric on purpose, believing that it’s a good career move to let his boss win, or maybe Cox just made a mistake because he was giddily distracted thinking about his company just having reached 200 million users.

Facebook (Facebook photo from the NY Times)

Chess Tipping

April 28, 2008

My friend Chris sent me this photo of the tip jars in the coffee shop below his office. Judging by the distribution of money, it seems that the shop is frequented by more woodpushers than masters. Or could it be that there are more (self-identified) good players than weak ones but the latter are better tippers?

Political Endgame

April 19, 2008

A chess analogy carried unusually far in The Huffington Post: “At this point the entire endgame is predictable. Clinton, like a good chess player, can easily see that the remaining moves inevitably lead to checkmate; it’s time for her to tip over her King and concede defeat.”

Chess for the Masses

March 20, 2008

Chess educators have long hoped that the royal game would be universally taught in schools across the country. Today’s New York Times reports that Idaho will become the first state to offer a chess curriculum. Anecdotal evidence from a pilot program with second and third graders suggests that chess not only improves cognitive skills (concentration, planning ahead) but also emotional development. The children learned to be gracious in victory and mellow in defeat (lessons they may forget if they ever become grandmasters).

Yet Another Bad Chess Analogy

March 17, 2008

In a story on the prosecutor who’ll decide whether to bring charges against Elliot Spitzer, The New York Times clumsily invokes chess: “In a way, the case is like a chess match with two grand masters, in which the high-powered players know and trust each other but will pull no punches.”

Trust each other? Suspicion, not trust, seems to dominate relations between the world’s chess elite. This is a sport in which top players freely level cheating accusations at each other when things aren’t going their way.

Castro’s 638 Lives (Or is it 634?)

March 3, 2008

fidelcastro.jpg (Fidel Castro flanked by world chess champion Tigran Petrosian and grandmaster Lev Polugaevsky)

Speaking of heads of state and aspiring h.o.s’s who play chess, Fidel Castro was a stand-out. But judging from the surviving game score of a King’s Gambit he defended and won in 1966 (when the 17th world chess Olympiad was held in Cuba), he was more accomplished as a revolutionary than as a woodpusher. Away from the chessboard, Castro was certainly a master of defense.

Tonight on the Sundance Channel is the U.S. premiere of “638 Ways to Kill Castro,” a British documentary that explores his invincibleness. The film’s title “refers to the number of assassination plans that Fabián Escalante, the former director of Cuban intelligence, claims to have evidence for and, in many cases, to have thwarted,” writes Mike Hale in today’s New York Times. “Mr. Escalante breaks it down by administration:

Eisenhower, 38;

Kennedy, 42;

Johnson, 72;

Nixon, 184;

Carter, 64;

Reagan, 197;

Bush Sr., 16;

Clinton, 21.

(That adds up to 634, but we can forgive him for losing track of a few poisoned diving suits.)”

Ralph Nader Plays the Chess Card

March 3, 2008

Not to be upstaged by Michelle Obama when it comes to woodpushing, Ralph Nader told Politico: “I was a good chess player. I did it more for the enjoyment than to crush my opponent.”

And chess was not the only game he played. “I used to play a lot of ping-pong,” he recalled. “I have a wicked backhand.”

The most interesting thing he told Politico had nothing to do with games. It was about an incident from elementary school and shows that his self-righteousness goes back at least sixty-five years:

“I was in the third grade and my teacher, Miss Franklin, said there was a public library near the school. I raised my hand and told her that it was a private memorial library and not a public library. ‘Don’t you counter me!’ she said. And she made me sit in the dunce chair. A dunce chair in the corner, and she was factually wrong.”

Chess Admits a Prospective First Lady and a Serial Killer

February 17, 2008

Two people in the news this past week were revealed to be practitioners of the royal game. The New York Times reported that Michelle Obama and her brother played chess as children. Their mother prohibited them from watching more than an hour of television a day, and so they “were expected to fill their time with books, chess, sports….”

Michelle Obama is an illustrious addition to the gallery of chess players. Not so for the other addition, Steve Kazmierczak, who shot up Northern Illinois University. In high school, the Times revealed, Kazmierczak “was a B student with a baby face who was active in chess club….”

Heath Ledger and Chess, Part II

January 24, 2008

Yesterday I blogged about Heath Ledger’s interest in chess. In the past 24 hours, two interesting items on the subject have appeared in the mainstream press.

From the Los Angeles Times: “For the last year, Ledger also had been gearing up for his directorial debut, working with veteran screenwriter Allan Scott on an adaptation of the Walter Tevis novel ‘The Queen’s Gambit,’ about an orphan girl who becomes a chess prodigy. Scott said they recently offered the part to ‘Juno’ star Ellen Page.

“‘The movie is about chess, and what is a little known fact is that Heath was very close to being on the grandmaster level,’ said Scott, who met and spoke to the actor frequently over the last year in New York and London. ‘He was a chess whiz, and he intended to get his grandmaster rating before he started shooting the picture.'”

Ledger played in chess tournaments as a child in Australia, but it has to be a tremendous exaggeration to describe him as close-to-grandmaster strength. The exaggeration would perhaps be excusable if it weren’t coming from the screenwriter who is turning one of the all-time great chess novels into a film. And the idea of the actor’s getting a grandmaster rating before filming can only be described as fantasy, albeit a delightful one, which fellow chess obsessives can appreciate.

At the other extreme is People.com, which undoubtedly understated Ledger’s chess prowess by portraying him as a mere woodpusher. People quotes a Greenwich Village dog walker who’d watch the insomniac Ledger play chess at 6:30 A.M at the celebrated stone tables in Washington Square Park: “He didn’t seem to be such a good chess player but I’m not sure ….”

Heath Ledger, “Chess Champion,” Is Found Dead at 28

January 23, 2008

ledger.jpgphoto from MTV News

Heath Ledger’s talent as an actor was considerable: he has been compared to Marlon Brando and, with his earlier death, to James Dean. In Western Australia, where he grew up, he was a child actor, but he also exhibited many other talents, among them chess.

A profile of Ledger in Current Biography says that in his youth, “he had been involved in numerous sports and other activities: he was the state junior chess champion at age 10 and a junior go-kart racing champion, played hockey for the state team, and dabbled in cricket.”

In an interview last November, Ledger discussed his chess playing on MTV:

MTV: I hear you play a lot of chess in Washington Square Park.

Heath Ledger: Yeah. I’ve played since I was a kid. I play at least one game a day.

MTV: That’s dedication.

Ledger: Yeah, or obsession.

MTV: Smoking and chess?

Ledger: Yeah, they go hand in hand.


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