Archive for August, 2007

Chess and the Spiritual World

August 10, 2007

Bobby Fischer once said, “They’re all weak, all women. They’re stupid compared to men. They shouldn’t play chess, you know. They’re like beginners. They lose every single game against a man.”

The anthropologist Margaret Mead disagreed: “Women could be just as good at chess, but why would they want to be?”

Irina Krush, the newly crowned 2007 U.S. Women’s Champion, has a good answer: “I believe chess can bring me closer to the spiritual part of this world in a way that simple material stuff can’t.”

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.

Two Views on Kasparov’s Bravery

August 7, 2007

When Garry Kasparov retired from chess to go into Russian politics and oppose Vladimir Putin’s turning away from democracy and a free market economy, Kasparov’s family and friends feared for his safety. Indeed, in the subsequent months, Kasparov was bashed over the head with a chessboard, detained by the authorities, and his associates were beat up and arrested–apparent warning shots from Moscow to show him that they could squash him at any moment of their choosing.

And yet the chess community is divided on the issue of his safety. Vladimir Kramnik, Kasparov’s younger countryman who displaced him as world champion, believes that the older, outspoken Russian has nothing to fear from the Kremlin. He told the British magazine Chess (in an article called “When Lev met Vlad,” issue No. 4, 2007) that he didn’t believe that Kasparov’s life was in danger and that Russia was not the totalitarian state portrayed in Kasparov’s interviews in the West.

Contrast this with the attitude of New in Chess, the Dutch magazine that is a must-read for the grandmaster set and other fans of the royal game. Kasparov writes a chess column for New in Chess, and in issue No. 4 an editorial note marvels that this was the first time the 13th world chess champion had failed to turn in his column, owing to the rigors and dangers of his campaigning for an open Russia. “[Putin] likes to present the Russian opposition as an insignificant small group of disgruntled people,” New in Chess said. “But if the group is so insignificant then why does he send thousands of militiamen into the streets to keep this small group from uttering their protests?”

Justice, Finally, in Libya

August 3, 2007

In June 2004, I went to Tripoli with Canadian champion Pascal Charbonneau to watch him represent his country in the world chess championship. At that time the United States did not have diplomatic with Libya, and the United States Chess Federation had discouraged American players from participating. I attended anyway because I really wanted to witness a world championship for King’s Gambit and the tournament organizers were trying to arrange for me to play chess with Libyan strongman Muammar Gadhafi, who was funding the 64-player knockout championship with $1.5 million of his personal assets.

But my visit turned into a nightmare after I was detained and interrogated repeatedly because they suspected that I was a CIA agent who might fire a poison dart at Gadhafi. A month before I arrived, a Libyan “court” had imposed a death sentence on five Bulgarian nurses who had come to the health-care-impoverished country as idealists eager to help save lives but ended up framed for infecting 400 children with HIV-tainted blood. During my detention, the possible imminent execution of the medics was big news, and was very disturbing to me because I, too, did not want to be made an example of by the Libyan “court” system.

Fast forward to this past week, when I was out of the loop on international news because I was in the jungle in Costa Rica: the six nurses, after extensive appeals by many European heads of states, were finally set free. They had been imprisoned since 1999 and under a death sentence for the past three years.