Archive for June, 2007

Kasparov Takes Toronto

June 15, 2007

On Monday, June 18, Garry Kasparov, the thirteenth world chess champion and arguably the greatest player of all time, will take a break from his new career as chief thorn in the side of Vladimir Putin to play twenty games of chess simultaneously in Toronto.  The event is being orchestrated by Belzberg Technologies

A couple of years ago, I watched Kasparov give a simulalso sponsored by Belzbergagainst twenty-four traders on the New York Stock Exchange.  I describe the simul in my book King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game:

Kasparov had limited the event to people who were rated below 2000.  The emphasis on rating seemed strange to me, because Kasparov had achieved godlike status in 1998 by demolishing the entire Israeli national chess team of grandmasters and international masters—players rated in the 2500s and 2600s—in simultaneous play.  At the stock exchange, the opponents were complete amateurs and he disposed of them all, 24-0, in only an hour and forty-five minutes.

Although the competition was weak, I was impressed by how earnestly he had taken the event.  To make it interesting for himself, he had been determined not to concede a single draw, let alone a loss.  One of the games stayed with him.  “If he had played better,” Kasparov told me afterward, “I’m not sure I could have won.  I’d have to play like Karpov”—his archrival, against whom Kasparov played 144 games in five world-title matches.  He chuckled at the thought.  “Yeah, like Karpov, grinding him slowly, slowly down in an agonizingly long game.” 

We were wolfing down a buffet dinner at the stock exchange because he was about to fly to Germany, but the conversation kept returning to this particular game.  “Maybe if I played f5, I could have broken through,” he said, interrupting some non-chess story that I was relating.  Kasparov could not stop thinking about the game until he had determined the truth of the position.  It was remarkable how the greatest mind in chess managed to turn an informal encounter with an amateur into a rich intellectual challenge.


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R.I.P., Mr. Wizard

June 14, 2007


Sadly, Mr. Wizard has finally retired, not just from television but from the corporeal world.  Don Herbert, the host of “Watch Mr. Wizard,” the  science show for children that ran on NBC from 1951 to 1965, died Tuesday in Los Angeles at the age of 89.  In my kooky Sixties household, I was limited for awhile to half an hour of television of week, so “Watch Mr. Wizard” had to compete with “Howdy Doody” and later “Gilligan’s Island”  But the folksy Mr. Wizard, who had no advanced education, sometimes won out and fueled my childhood interest in science.  The conceit of the show was that he always performed a science experimentone with a minimum of equipmentfor a kid from the neighborhood.   

Mr. Wizard’s cultural significance can’t be overestimated.  According to his obit in The New York Times, “During the 1960s and ’70s, about half the applicants to Rockefeller University in New York, where students work toward doctorates in science and medicine, cited Mr. Wizard when asked how they first became interested in science.”

Lottery Millionaire Wants a Chess Set

June 12, 2007

What does a 55-year-old single man who won the $37 million Canadian Lotto jackpot this week plan to spend his money on?  According to Reuters and, the Toronto resident will purchase a simple new wooden chess set and move from a rooming house into his own apartment.

Nakamura, the Gracious Chess King

June 12, 2007

Hikaru Nakamura’s star in the chess firmament is rising even as Gata Kamsky’s is flickering (and will hopefully rekindle). The 19-year-old resident of White Plains, New York, came in an uncontested first this weekend in the National Open in Las Vegas.

Nakamura first broke records at the age of 10, when he became the youngest master ever in America, and then again at 15, when he became a grandmaster at a younger age than Bobby Fischer. His interest in chess seemed to wane when he entered college but now the passion is backand he is playing and studying chess with avengence.

Nakamura was graciousa rare and welcome quality in a world of grandmasters known for their runaway cocksureness—when Jennifer Shahade interviewed him for Chess Life Online She told him that he owed his victory to “playing real openings for a change” and to the encouragement offered by fans.

“Considering my recent results have been less than stellar,” he said, “and the fact that my confidence hasn’t been as high as in the past, it was so nice that so many players offered me kind words and wished me good luck. That other people still believe in me, meant a lot.”

Kudos to Krush!

June 12, 2007

Irina Krush in a blitz tournament (five minutes a game) at the Polgar Chess Center in Queens.

Irina Krush, a member of my fantasy chess team and a friend whose chess career I’ve followed closely for a few years, can rejoice at her strong performance (four wins, including one over U.S. Champion Alexander Shabalov, one draw, and one loss) at the just-concluded National Open in Las Vegas. 

Susan Polgar, hardly a chess slouch herself (a former women’s world champion, she is the only women in the United States to hold the title of grandmaster—and the first woman in the world to earn the GM title the same way men do), reports on her blog that Irina gained fifteen rating points at the National Open to become just the third female player in the country whose rating has broken the 2500 barrier.  Irina deserves a warm welcome back home in Brighton Beach.

Now rated 2512, Irina sees no intrinsic reason why women can’t play as well as men but doubts whether there will ever be many women in chess.  “You have to be obsessive to play the game well, and women aren’t as obsessive as men,” she told me when I interviewed her for King’s Gambit: A Father, a Son, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game.  “I’m not fanatically crazy about chess.  I like the game but I’m not going to study it ten hours a day like many male grandmasters did when they were teenagers.”


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Back to Brighton Beach

June 11, 2007

Black (Boris Gelfand) to mate Kamsky in two moves. How? Click here for the answer.

There will not be an American player in September’s World Chess Championship in Mexico City. Gata Kamsky, the only candidate from the United States, was knocked out today in the fifth game of his qualifying match against Boris Gelfand in Elista, Kalmykia. Kamsky had the advantage of White today and needed to win to even the score.

But he chose a lackluster opening to sidestep Gelfand’s trademark Najdorf Sicilian and then lost after he pressed too hard to try to give himself winning chances. And so his Israeli opponent, a fellow Russian emigre, advances to the world championship after two wins against Kamsky and three draws (The sixth game will not be played because Gelfand has already secured victory).

I was rooting for Kamsky and admired how he got back into the game after a six-year break, during which he earned a law degree. But, like “The Sopranos” and Flatland, all good things must come to an end. Still, Kamsky is young enough that he could take another shot at the World Championship. And for that matter I suppose HBO could resurrect “The Sopranos” since they didn’t kill off Tony.

Chess Clocks in Presidential Debates?

June 10, 2007

U.S. presidential candidates who know how to play chess will have an advantage if Seth Godin has his way.  The marketing guru has proposed that the presidential debates be modified so that each candidate has more control over the time he spends answering questions.  “Why not use a chess clock style timing device,” Godin writes in his blog, “so that each candidate can be free to answer a question for as long as she likes, but each candidate enters the debate with exactly the same amount of time to allocate?”

Back in the U.S.S.R

June 10, 2007

Siberian emigre Gata Kamsky may be back on Russian soil, but things are not looking good for the Brighton Beach hopeful’s bid to play in the World Chess Championship in September. Today he struggled to draw the fourth game of his six-game World Championshio Qualifying match in Elista, Kalmykia. Kamsky remains a point down against Boris Gelfand of Israel, having lost one game and drawn three.

If Kamsky wins tomorrow, he’s still in the hunt. If he loses, he can make it back to Brooklyn before Coney Island’s historic boardwalk attractions have been dismantled to make way for luxury condos.

American Chess Star Falters

June 8, 2007

Although he had the advantage of the White pieces today, Gata Kamsky played a timid sequence of opening moves known as the London System and went down to a stinging defeat in 58 moves. Born in Siberia, Kamsky is America’s only shot at winning the World Chess Championship in 2007.

Kamsky has proved himself to be a scrappy fighter, often excelling in time-pressure scrambles, but he has handicapped himself in his bid for the world crown by apparently not preparing any sharp openings. Or if he has cooked up some early-move novelties, he is strangely reserving them for lateralthough at this rate, they’ll unfortunately be no later. He is now behind 1-2 (with two draws and a loss) at the halfway point in the six-game match against the fiery tactician and fellow Russian ex pat Boris Gelfand.

After Kamsky thirtieth move as Black, the above position was reached. Now Gelfand as Black won a pawn on the spot. How did he do it?

K Power Rules in Chess

June 7, 2007

“There is a joke in chess circles that you don’t stand a chance of becoming world champion unless your name is Russian and starts with a K,” I write in King’s Gambit: A Father, a Son, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game. “Kramnik, Kasparov, Karpov, Kasimdzhanov, and Khalifman were all world champions during the past twenty-five years, and another K, Korchnoi, was the strongest challenger to the throne.”

And so Brighton Beach hopeful Gata Kamsky’s quest for the world title has at least alphabetic tradition on his sidenot to mention 301 million Americans who have not seen a fellow countryman as world number one since 1975, when Bobby Fischer flaked out on defending his title.

Today, Kamsky drew with the Black pieces against Boris Gelfand of Israel in the second game of a six-game World Championship Qualifying match in Elista, Kalmykia. Yesterday’s gamethe first of the matchwas also a draw. Neither player has drawn blood yet. Both men are originally from Russia: Kamsky is from Siberia and Gelfand from Belarus.