Archive for the ‘Hikaru Nakamura’ Category

Good Knight

November 15, 2007

The New Yorks Knights bid to win the US Chess League was stopped cold last night by the Boston Blitz. Board One, the battle of former US chess champions, Hikaru Nakamura for New York and Larry Christiansen for Boston, was the first game finished; it was a hard fought draw. Then Iryna Zenyuk, the hero of the Knights this year, couldn’t continue her winning ways and went down to her first defeat of the season on Board Four.

On Board Two, Pascal Charbonneau, playing Black for New York, had a great position. On move 29 (shown below)

he shifted his rook to g7, a logical-looking move, training the queen and rook battery on the White king. But White can then defend by retreating his bishop to f1. Black’s position, of course, is still strong, though. When I joined all the Knights for a gallows-humor post-mortem afterward, Pascal realized that on move 29 he should have penetrated with his queen to d2 so that he is forking White’s bishop and b-pawn.

Later Pascal had blundered into the position shown below, in which White, on move 35, has a cute, decisive shot. Can you find it?

The shot is Rh4, attacking and winning Black’s queen. The undefended rook is immune to capture by the queen because then White mates on g7. After Rh4, the French Canadian showed his excellent command of English by uttering a choice expletive.

With Pascal’s loss, New York was down two games, and would lose the match no matter what happened in the sole remaining encounter, between “Sleeping Knight” Jay Bonin and Denys Shmelov. Bonin, in fact, probably had a losing game because Shmelov was up material and had too many pawns. To the delight of his teammates, Bonin ended up swindling Shmelov by weaving a mating net and dangerously advancing his one foot soldier.

Marshmallows Win; Knights Rule

November 8, 2007

My loyalties were torn again last night. I wanted to go to the Marshall Chess Club* and watch the New York Knights in person in the first round of the playoffs in the U.S. Chess League. But I also wanted to attend the one-year birthday party of The Brooklyn Kitchen, a groovy store in über-groovy Williamsburg, the section of Brooklyn in which I encamp whenever I’m in the city.

My stomach won out, but that’s because I could be really nerdy at the party and occasionally fire up my laptop to look online and check on the progress of the Knights.

The highpoint of the party was the Bodega Challenge, a cooking competition in which people brought Thanksgiving side dishes that they had prepared from ingredients purchased at a bodega. There was a $20 cap on the ingredients, and the contestants had to produce receipts. The bodegas had to be pre-qualified by Brooklyn Kitchen: they weren’t supposed to sell sushi, kombucha, imported beer besides Heinekin, organic milk, or Pirate’s Booty, and they couldn’t take credit cards. A true bodega would sell lottery tickets, Velveeta, and individually wrapped slices of Kraft cheese. It would have a resident cat and a Plexiglas divider between the customers and the cashier.

Some entrants tried to go upscale with carrot ginger pumpkin soup, but the judges singled out a gloppy marshmallow concoction festooned with a faux turkey made from apple slices and post-expiration-date pistachios.

When I peaked at the Knights, top board Hikaru Nakamura had reached a queen and pawn ending. Sending his king to the center of the board, he planned to jettison all of his kingside pawns in an attempt to queen a pawn on the queenside. The game turned out to be a draw because his opponent could spoil the fun by perpetually checking Nakamura’s king. His teammates, Irina Krush, Jay Bonin, and Irina Zenyuk, all came through with wins to wallop Philadelphia and advance to the semifinals next Wednesday against Boston.

[*speaking of the Marshall, next Tuesday, November 13, at 7:30 PM I’ll be doing a book talk and signing there on King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game.]

Knights Need Help from Queens

October 25, 2007

Alas, the New York Knights went down to defeat last night in the US Chess League at the hands of the Philadelphia Inventors. The first two boards, Irina Krush and Yuri Lapshun, lost; Robert Hess drew, and Irina Zenyuk won. The last round of the regular season is next week, and the Knights have an outside chance of reaching the playoffs. They will need to defeat the New Jersey Knockouts and score at least a full win more than the Baltimore Kingfishers achieve against the Queens Pioneers. So how about a little cross-borough cooperation, with the Pioneers doing their part to help their Manhattan brethren?

The Knights can’t yet get it together when their star Hikaru Nakamura is otherwise occupied. He is off in Barcelona crushing grandmasters by making his moves at his usual breakneck speed.

New York Pins Hope on Wild Knight

October 24, 2007

yury_lapshun.jpg

The New York Knights have to win tonight if they are going to have a shot at the playoffs in the US Chess League, but their top man, Hikaru Nakamura, is in Barcelona kicking butt in the nine-round Casino de Barcelona tournament there (the Web site is in Catalan!). The White Plains wonder is in uncontested first place in Spain after five rounds, with three wins and two draws.

Filling in for Hikaru in New York is not No. 2 Knight Pascal Charbonneau but wild-man alternate Yuri Lapshun (shown above), whose outre openings are often crowd-pleasers. He is one of the few international masters to venture the Orangutan, the shoving of the queen-knight pawn two squares on move one. He’ll have Black tonight against the Philadelphia Inventors, and the action starts at 7:00 PM on the Internet Chess Club.

The Knights will have to break the spell of needing Nakamura in order to win.

Nakamura Breaks Out

October 17, 2007

The New York Knights beat the Queens Pioneers in the US Chess League when Hikaru Nakamura, the White Plains wonder, broke the Nakamura paradox and won his first game as a Knight. Maybe it was the inspiration teammate Jay Bonin provided when he arrived at the Marshall Chess Club donning a shield and sword and shouting, “Go Knights!” New York still has a chance to reach the playoffs. The Knights played their match early this week. The other teams play tonight.

The new world chess champion Vishy Anand said yesterday that he hopes to see chess as an Olympic sport. Now, I too would welcome all the attention chess might get if it were part of the Olympic games. But, as one wag said, “I don’t consider something to be a sport if I can do it better while smoking.”

The Nakamura Paradox

October 11, 2007

The New York Knights kept their playoff chances alive by defeating the Boston Blitz 2.5- 1.5 last night in the U.S. Chess League—just as top Knight Hikaru Nakamura had cockily guaranteed. Pascal Charbonneau and Irina Zenyuk both won for the Knights, Hikaru drew, and Jay Bonin lost.

The four occasions on which Hikaru, who’s arguably the most exciting teenage talent in U.S. chess, played first board for New York, the Knights won (twice) or drew (twice). And all three times that he sat out the match, the Knights lost. Now here’s the paradox: Hikaru’s individual record so far is subpar, one loss and three draws. So why does the team only do well when he’s playing?

“It’s his comforting presence and great team spirit,” explained one wag who was watching the game on the Internet Chess Club.

When Hikaru pulls himself out of this slump and gets on a winning roll—and I’m sure he will—the Knights will be unstoppable.

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A new review of my book King’s Gambit has appeared in an upstate New York arts publication. Click here for a look.

Advice for Boston Blitz

October 10, 2007

With the Yankees and Mets disgraced, the New York Knights hope to restore the Big Apple’s winning way by demolishing the Boston Blitz tonight in the United States Chess League. Hikaru Nakamura, on Board One for the Knights, has made public his plan to “crush” Beantown’s Jorge Sammour-Hasbun. My advice to Jorge is not only to brush up on irregular chess openings but also to review simple endings.

For instance, after a tense see-saw battle, Jorge as White may be happy to take a draw in the following, apparently sterile position:

But Hikaru will want to play on, hoping to wear him down before the 50-move draw rule applies. Now, Jorge, try to keep your king centralized. Hikaru will try to intimidate you into tucking the king away on h1:

If you reach the above position, Jorge, it would not be good to withdraw your bishop to g1:

Because then Hikaru will mate you!

Let’s go Knights!

Deadest Draw But Knights Finally Rally

October 4, 2007

It doesn’t get any more drawish in chess than two lone kings. This is the position in which Hikaru Nakamura, playing Board 1 for the New York Knights, finally agreed to a cessation of hostilities with grandmaster Gregory Serper of the Seattle Sluggers. They could have called it quits earlier, but the feisty Nakamura, fresh from a satisfying first-place finish in this past weekend’s Miami Open, always tries to squeeze the juice out of any position even when there is not a drop of juice to be had.

The funny thing about the final position is that it is impossible to lose, even for someone entirely new to the game. You could draw this, dear reader, even if you don’t know how to play chess. So feel good about yourself for being able to hold your own in this position against the hottest and most aggressive young player on the U.S. chess scene.

Last night, the New York Knights finally won their first match in the U.S. Chess League. They whupped Seattle 3-1, with international masters Irina Krush and Jay Bonin scoring easy wins and Irina Zenyuk joining Hikaru in drawing.

The Knightmare Continues

September 18, 2007

Last night, the New York Knightsa powerhouse team on paperstruggled again and couldn’t extricate themselves from their calamitous four-round slump in the U.S. Chess League. They lamely drew with the Boston Blitz. Hikaru Nakamura, the most exciting young player in American chess, couldn’t score a win in his second appearance as a Knight on Board One. At least the nineteen-year-old phenom didn’t lose, as he did last week. But his position against Boston’s Larry Christiansen looked dicey for awhile and Hikaru’s teammates were afraid that he was going down.

Hikaru’s numerous fans on the Internet love his aggression but they are waiting for him to temper it with strategic vision. There was disapproving chatter about why he made most of his moves so incredibly fast as if he were playing bullet (one-minute chess). One grandmaster who was observing the game said, “Hikaru plays at the speed of light and wonders why he almost loses. I think he’ll get less cocky if he continues to do badly.”

Manager Irina Krush was in Gmunden, Austria, yesterday for a women’s blitz tournament that’s being staged concurrently with the World Senior Open. (Originally the women players were supposed to participate in a wear-what-you-want fashion show for the entertainment of the geriatric men, but fortunately someone scuttled that sexist idea.) With Irina away, the job of motivating the New York Knights fell on her husband and assistant manager Pascal Charbonneau.

When I interviewed Pascal for King’s Gambit, we spoke at length about how hard it was for them to play in a tournament together and both do well. If he’s doing well and she’s not, he can’t just channel all his energy into continuing his winning ways, but also must try to buck her upand vice versa, if she’s doing well and he’s not.

Team play together is a bit different because there is a week between rounds and thus more time to recover from a brutal loss. I was struck, though, by how in the first round they made nearly consecutive blunders, as if they were wired too much into each other’s play. Last night, for whatever reason, Pascal seemed to be able to focus fully on his game against his old college chess teammate, fellow grandmaster Eugene Perelshtyen. “I was not happy to give up all my pawns in the endgame,” Pascal told me, but he succeeded in weaving a satisfying, Internet-crowd-pleasing mating net.


Nakamura is Flamed on Eve of Chess Match

September 17, 2007

There is a rich tradition in coffeehouse chess of trash talking. In blitz games, in particular, chess hustlers often verbally harass their opponents in mid-play to distract them and soften them up for the kill. Chess lore is also full of sore losers’ flaming adversaries whom they perceive as clueless. (Even a monkey pecking at a typewriter can occasionally pound out a sonnet worthy of Shakespeare.) After one such defeat, the great Aron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935) is said to have climbed up on the chessboard, dropped to his knees, and shouted to the heavens, “Oh Lord, why did I have to lose to this idiot?”

The tradition of verbal abuse at the chessboard is alive and well, especially on the Web. Hikaru Nakamura, the top board on the New York Knights and an omnipresent Internet devotee, used to like to tell opponents “Bend!” and “Resign and spare yourself further humiliation.”

Hikaru is paired tonight in the U.S. Chess League against the Boston Blitz’s Larry Christiansen. Yesterday, Hikaru was online at the Internet Chess Club observing the moves of a game from the World Championship in Mexico City. Larry, or at least someone using his account, was online too and decided to get foul with Hikaru:

LarryC-BOS(GM) kibitzes: when i beat u
LarryC-BOS(GM) kibitzes: im a be like
LarryC-BOS(GM) kibitzes: bend over
LarryC-BOS(GM) kibitzes: and ill even come if u want as drunk as i am now
LarryC-BOS(GM) kibitzes: lol

Nakamura, who was apparently watching football as well as the World Championship, played it cool and did not respond. Just as well because it turned out that the sophomoric kibitzer wasn’t Christiansen, my sources say, but someone impersonating him (a Boston Blitz teammate, perhaps?) who had access to his user name and password.

My memoir King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game is full of amusing examples of players’ misbehaving. The book has been out less than a week, and is still available at a special introductory rate at Amazon of 34% off.


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