Archive for the ‘Irina Krush’ Category

Why Grandmasters Need Helpmates

December 11, 2007

After five rounds of the Marshall Chess Club championship, grandmaster Jaan Ehlvest, the defending champion, is in the lead with 4 points. Six other players, including New York Knights manager Irina Krush, are in close pursuit and tied for second with 3.5 points. The final four rounds will take place next weekend.

Two years ago, I had an amusing experience with Ehlvest, who was once ranked No. 5 in the world. The story, which I tell in King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game, illustrates why grandmasters are not necessarily the best people to organize and promote chess events, even if their command of sixty-four squares is unsurpassed.

Ehlvest invited me to his six-game match against Zappa, the world amateur computer champion, on April 29 and 30, 2005. The match was being held in an auditorium in Estonian House, an old ornate building in Manhattan that had been a speakeasy during Prohibition. The promotional flier billed Alexander Shabalov, the 2003 U.S. champion, as doing the play-by-play commentary for the audience. Ehlvest set the admission price for the first evening at a whopping $59. I showed up at the scheduled hour as his nonpaying guest. The event was a disaster. The auditorium was empty. There was not a single paying customer, Shabalov stayed home (we were told) because he had forgotten that it was his wife’s birthday, and the computer itself never arrived. We ended up drinking vodka for the evening after Ehlvest was unable to reach the machine’s programmer and handler on his cell phone.

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 Now Try to Do What the Yankees Didn’t

November 1, 2007

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It was a wonderful night. No one egged my house or tp-ed my yard, and the New York Knights finally pulled it all together and made it to the playoffs in the U.S. Chess League by defeating the New Jersey Knockouts 2.5 to 1.5. The match was extremely tense. Early on, New York soared to a commanding 2-0 lead, with victories by “Sleeping Knight” Jay Bonin and Irina Krush. The Knights then gave back a point when Pascal Charbonneau misplayed a drawn rook ending against Joel Benjamin.

Everything came down to whether Irina Zenyuk (shown above) could hold a draw on board 4. After 117 moves, and more than four hours of play, she did.

Credit also goes to Queens. The outer borough played a supporting role in enabling the Knights to reach the playoffs: they crushed Baltimore.

The Knights also cast off the spell of the Nakamura paradox, proving that they can win even when their top player is sitting out.

Next Wednesday the Knights will square off in the playoffs against the Philadelphia Inventors.

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.

King’s Gambit Book Party

October 12, 2007

I should have posted this earlier.  Jennifer Shahade took some great photos at my Barnes and Noble reading for King’s Gambit and put them on her blog at Chess Life Online.

The first picture proves that chess masters can be very happy: GM Pascal Charbonneau, two-time champion of Canada, and IM Irina Krush, two-time U.S. Women’s Champion. The second shows that they can be serious: flanked by Marshall Chess Club president Frank Brady, I wait (in my designer T-shirt—I dressed up out of respect for my audience) to field a tricky question from a listener. The third shows the crowd that assembled for the book signing.

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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.


Never Underestimate the Power of a Sleeping Knight

September 11, 2007

home-350.jpgJay Bonin napped during his game but still managed to win. In fact, the New York Knights seemed to be winning at one point on all four boards in their U.S. Chess League match last night against the San Francisco Mechanics, but choked on two of the boards and tied the match. The Knights at least got on the scoreboard, and jubilant New Yorkers were dancing in the street. (Perhaps a few New Yorkers were also celebrating because my book King’s Gambit was finally published.) For a team that looks almost invincible on paper, it is astonishing that, in the first three rounds this season, they have yet to win a match.

Manager Irina Krush fielded Hikaru Nakamura on Board One, in his debut performance in the U.S. Chess League. The nineteen-year-old resident of White Plains is one of the most exciting chess talents in the countryat the age of ten, he was the country’s youngest chess master ever and at 15, he became a grandmaster at an earlier age than Bobby Fischer.

His games are always real crowd pleasers. Although the time control for the game was 75 minutes per side plus a bonus 30 seconds for each move played, Hikaru acted like the game was bullet chess, an absurdly fast version of chess in which each side has only a minute for the whole game. Hikaru moved instantly much of the time, and at one point his opponent was down to only a couple of minutes on his clock while Hikaru still had 71 minutes. And yet Hikaru amazingly went down to defeat because he didn’t take any of his time to think: he blundered away a promising position and then had to give up too much material to fend off a mating attack. During the losing endgame, he shook his head in total disgust with himself and banged his temple with one of the Black pawns.

Matt Herman also lost, on Board 4. But Irina checkmated her adversary on Board Two, and Jay Bonin would have mated his opponent on Board Three except that his opponent wanted to avoid the ignominy of an actual mate and resigned just before.

Last week’s loss can be chalked up to gorgonzola; Nakamura’s loss this week can be ascribed to overconfidence gleaned from playing with a patzer just before the match.

When I arrived at the Marshall Chess Club for the match, I was greeted by a cute casting director who asked me if I wanted to audition for a television commercial that involved chess. She revealed nothing about the ad except that she needed to cast two people, an older man and a younger one, who’d play chess together. “Ah,” I joked, “I can solve half your problem. Now you have to find the older man.”

Before I had my screen test, she auditioned Hikaru. She decided to videotape him playing blitz and asked me to be his sparring partner. I quickly butchered the White side of a Sicilian Najdorf, but luckily she needed only 30 seconds of videotape and canceled the game in the middle before I could fully embarrass myself any further.

“The Yin of the Nerd in Lockstep with the Yang of the Jock”

September 7, 2007

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The secret is out. The New Jersey Knockouts have discovered why the New York Knights have had an incredibly dismal start in the U.S. Chess League. The Knockouts blog noted that there is something wrong with the photo (above) of 15-year-old Robert Hess (the Knight’s third board) that appeared in the laudatory profile of him in the New York Daily News. (I believe the News reporter was going for a Pulitzer, or the position of Poet Laureate, when he wrote of Hess: “the yin of the nerd in lockstep with the yang of the jock.”) What’s wrong, of course, is the position of the board: the White square does not belong in the left-hand corner.

OK, it’s a common mistake in movies and even public spaces. (In King’s Gambit, I describe how Au Bon Pain cemented chess tables into the ground in Harvard Square with the boards positioned incorrectly.) The difference here is that the prop master was an international chess master.

So this weekend, in preparation for Monday’s big match against San Francisco, Knights manager and task master Irina Krush is foregoing the Gorgonzola and putting her team through grinding, back-to-basic drills.

“Now, Hikaru, practice putting the queen on its own color… Very good, Hikaru. Now remember what Nimzowitsch said: ‘Keep the queen at home until at least the third move.’ I want to see nice classical development. No c3 on move two.  Yes, you got it, knights before bishops.”

“When you castle, Pascal, my dear, it’s always the king that moves two squares.”

“Now, Robert, a pawn can move two squares only on its first move. And can you lose the football helmet during the game? Remember we’re playing over the Internet. Your teammates, not the opponents, are the only ones who are going to be distracted by your headgear.”

“Brilliant, Elizabeth, you set up all eight pawns correctly!”

“Jay, the knight’s the only piece that can jump.”

“Matt, very good, you got itthe knights start next to the rooks.”

The Gorgonzola Defense

September 6, 2007

Gallows humor swept the back room of the Marshall Chess Club last night after the New York Knights went down to their second straight 3-1 defeat in the U.S. Chess League, this time at the hands of the Philadelphia Inventors. “What do you have to say to your fans?” I asked manager Irina Krush moments after the match ended.

“Do we still have fans?” she replied. After some thought, she added: “We lost on boards three and four this time. Last week we lost on boards one and two. Maybe now we’ve gotten all the losses out of our system.”

Before the match, I had dinner with three of the Knights at Piadina, an Italian restaurant a stone’s throw from the Marshall. Four of usNew York’s chess power couple (Irina and Pascal Charbonneau), Jay “I’d like to play a rated game every night” Bonin, and meoccupied a cozy table in the middle of the place. Irina had chosen Piadina because a meal there, along with a cafe latte, was part of her pre-game ritual that had served her so well last season. Perhaps the problem was that, after much discussion, she adventurously deviated in her choice of entrée to the daily special of artichoke ravioli with gorgonzola.

When I was working on King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game, Pascal told me about their respective pre-game rituals. “Some chess players are superstitious about what they wear,” Pascal said. “I couldn’t care less. Irina always gives me this you’re-too-rational speech. She’s superstitious about her shirt, her jacket, the pen she uses.”

Next Monday, when the Knights play again, I’ll make sure she sticks to one of her regular dishes.


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