Archive for the ‘Pascal Charbonneau’ Category

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.

New York Pins Hope on Wild Knight

October 24, 2007

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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.

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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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.

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.


“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.

Kingfishers Clobber Knights: I Should Eat Crow

August 30, 2007

Wimpy logo or not, the Baltimore Kingfishers tragically defeated my New York Knights 3-1 in the first round of the United States Chess League. Pascal Charbonneau and Irina Krush were both winning in their respective games but threw it all away.

It is a very sad day in the Big Apple, but New Yorkers are used to bouncing back. I remember when the city was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1975 and President Gerald Ford refused to help (which occasioned the famous Daily News headline: “Ford to City: Drop Dead”). Well, we survived when Washington turned its back on us. And we will survive the indignity perpetrated last night by Baltimore.

After 34 moves, Irina had reached this promising position as White against her avian foe.

One of the joys of watching top-level games on the Internet Chess Club is that you never know who may drop by and kibitz. Last night, I and the other woodpushers who were watching Irina’s game online were treated to unexpected commentary by the legendary Gata Kamsky, the No. 1 ranked player in the United States. Gata said that she had a “strong advantage” in the position above and suggested a quiet continuation. But Irina surprised him (‘Nice,” he said, approvingly) with the forceful pawn push f5.

Now if Black is so greedy as to grab the f-pawn, he has no defense against the sly Bishop shift Bh5

and Irina shoving her e-pawn (after Black, say, moves his king):

The e-pawn is now immune to capture by the Black f-pawn because then her bishop will capture the opposing cleric.

But none of this after f5 was to be. Black did not grab the f-pawn bait, and although White continued to enjoy a strong game, the wily kingfisher eventually swindled her.

New York Knights Ready to Rip Baltimore

August 29, 2007

New York KnightsBaltimore KingfishersToday, at 7:15 PM, my home chess team, the New York Knights, will square off in the opening week of the U.S. Chess League against the Baltimore Kingfishers. The games can be watched in real time on the Internet Chess Club or live at the world famous Marshall Chess Club in New York’s Greenwich Village. Knight’s manager (and Board Two player) Irina Krush is confident: “My strategy is to win,” she told me. “I think we have an advantage on every board except maybe Board Three, and there it’s pretty even.” Each team fields four players.

I think, though, that Irina is being coy and not disclosing the real reason the Knights have a clear advantage. It’s because they have a vastly superior logo (above left). The Knights’ logo is elegant, with its heraldic shield and horse (although the horse itself has an indifferent expression and could look tougher). But the bird in Baltimore’s logo is the wimpiest kingfisher I’ve ever seen. It looks like a delicate humming bird in search of nectar. Where’s the noble tuft on the kingfisher’s head? And why doesn’t it have a fish in its mouth?

New York will also win because its Board One (Pascal Charbonneau) just qualified for a Green Card on Monday and will want to do his adopted American city proud.

(And now please excuse the shameless plug, but I have a child to feed: revealing profiles of Irina Krush and hubby Pascal can be found in my new book King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game, which is available at amazon for an inviting 34 percent discount!)

Here’s tonight’s lineup:

Baltimore Kingfishers     New York Knights
FM Tegshsuren Enkhbat: 2411     GM Pascal Charbonneau: 2532
IM Larry Kaufman: 2375     IM Irina Krush: 2442
WGM Katerina Rohonyan: 2329     IM Jay Bonin: 2340
WIM Tsaagan Battsetseg: 2234     FM Marc Arnold: 2316
Avg Rating: 2337
    Avg Rating: 2408

New York Knights Are Looking Bright

August 8, 2007

photo of the 2006 New York Knights by John Fernandez

U.S. Chess League Commissioner Greg Shahade has announced that Hikaru Nakamura is joining the New York Knights for the 2007 season. Hikaru has an uncompromising, go-for-broke playing style that makes his games a real treat for the crowd. He even trots out openings (like bringing his queen out on the second move of a double-king-pawn opening) that would get him laughed out of the local chess club if it weren’t for the fact that he is the second-highest rated player in the country.

The above photo is of the 2006 New York Knights; from left to right are two-time Canadian Champion Pascal Charbonneau, two-time U.S. Women’s Champion Irina Krush, two-time U.S. Women’s Champion Jennifer Shahade, Matthew Herman, and Robert Hess.


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