Archive for September, 2007

Score One for the First Amendment

September 27, 2007

Last night I shirked my responsibility as New York Knights bloggerI was too tired and chessed out from King’s Gambit activities the evening beforeand, instead of going to the Marshall Chess Club, went with my friend Chris for an out-of-borough dining experience.

We set out to find Greek food and ended up in Queens (Astoria, to be specific) at Agnanti, a comfortable, country-style restaurant on a residential stretch of Ditmars Boulevard. The food was all fresh, unpretentious, and expertly seasoned. The menu is long, and we took our server’s recommendations of eggplant dip, meat-stuffed tomatoes, salt-cod cakes, and a salad with feta and huge brown-bread croutons.

But the real fun of the meal was when Chris checked his iPhone and discovered that Mobile Commons, the company he co-founded, had made the New York Times Web site (and, subsequently, the front page of the paper itself) over a first-amendment dispute with Verizon. Mobile Commons provides mass-text-messaging technology to progressive organizations that want to mobilize their memberships. One of these organizations is Naral Pro-Choice America, and Verizon had refused to let Naral bulk-text its members with pro-abortion messages.

Now I’ve had my own share of free-speech problems, and at one time I wanted to be an ACLU lawyer, and so I was delighted and proud that my friend was on the right (left?) side of the issueand on the front page of the Times, no less! It made the salt cod even tastier.

By this morning. Verizon had reversed itself.


Isn’t It Lovely

September 27, 2007

Well, I have not heard back from the casting agent who dropped by the Marshall in search of two male chess players, one young and one old, for a TV commercial for medical insurance. (“At the chessboard, you must protect yourself against unforeseen dangers like a sudden attack on your king. In life, too, you must guard against the unexpected. Fischer Health Insurance can help you do just that.”) Drats, maybe I should have gone for the part of the older woodpusher.

My favorite TV ad that involves chess is a milk commercial in which the histrionic grandmaster Victor Korchnoi (a Soviet defector who played for the world championship) faced a placid opponent named Lovely.

Is Chess Bad for Marriage?

September 26, 2007

In Shakhmatnaya Goryachka (“Chess Fever”), a silent film made by Vsevolod Pudovkin during the Moscow International Tournament of 1925, a player’s fiancée wants him to quit chess and focus more attention on her. She complains to world champion José Capablanca, who makes a cameo appearance in the film, that she cannot even stand the thought of chess. Capablanca, in keeping with his reputation as a Don Juan, responds: “I understand how you feel. I cannot stand the thought of chess when I am with a lovely lady.”

I’ve posted a YouTube clip of Capablanca’s cameo. Does anyone have an English version I can post?

Bathroom Break

September 24, 2007

The world championship now being conducted in Mexico City is a nice reprieve from last year’s off-the-board shenanigans in Elista, Kalmykia, when the Bulgarian challenger Veselin Topalov insinuated that reigning champion Vladimir Kramnik was cheating on the toilet and the tournament officials responded by locking Kramnik out of his bathroom.

“I was lying on my couch next to my toilet and was furious,” Kramnik recalled. “I did not think about the world championship or the score. And then there was a new problem: I had to go to the bathroom, urgently. I asked the arbiter to open my toilet. He just shrugged and offered me an empty coffee cup.”

Engaging “Engaging Pieces”

September 23, 2007

I’ve been catching up on my reading, and this weekend I got to Howard Goldowsky’s anthology of interviews, short fiction, and opinion pieces. What comes through most in the book is how much Howard cares. He cares about chess, and he cares about people. Before I cracked open Engaging Pieces, I already knew that Howard was a thoughtful interviewer. (He’s questioned me twice, once for ChessCafean interview that’s anthologized in Engaging Piecesand once for the October 2002 Chess Life.) But from reading his book, I discovered that he is also an entertaining fiction writer. Fans of the royal game will enjoy his work.

King’s Gambit Book Signing in Greenwich Village

September 21, 2007

If you’re in New York City on Tuesday, please come to my first public event for King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father and the World’s Most Dangerous Game. On September 25 at 7:00 PM, I’ll be signing copies of the book and giving a short talk at Barnes & Noble, 4 Astor Place. At the event, I’ll be interviewed by Dr. Frank Brady, the president of the Marshall Chess Club and author of the definitive biography of Bobby Fischer.

You don’t need to be in New York to listen to my appearance on “The Leonard Lopate Show” on WNYC at 1:00 PM on Monday, September 24. The show will be streamed live on the Web.

Martin Landau Dragged into Chess Cheating Scandal

September 20, 2007

The manager of Veselin Topalov, who forced world chess champion Vladimir Kramnik to defend his hydration and evacuation habits in last year’s Toiletgate cheating scandal, has finally released a video. The manager claims that Kramnik left the video behind in his private restroom at the World Championship and is the blueprint for how he cheated Topalov. (Many thanks to Tom Panelas for posting the video on his own blog.)

Grandmaster Andy Soltis Says Accept “Gambit”

September 19, 2007

New York Post

I have always enjoyed the books and Chess Life column of grandmaster Andy Soltis. He can marshal words and turns of phrase as skillfully as he can marshal pawns and knights. And so his review of King’s Gambit in Sunday’s New York Post meant a lot to me. (I’m also tickled that the review appeared in the Post, whose headlines I’ve enjoyed for years). Under the headline ACCEPT ‘GAMBIT’ AS A GOOD READ, Soltis writes:

“Paul Hoffman, an accomplished author and magazine editor, was being interviewed for the job of publisher of the Encyclopedia Britannica in 2000 when the quirky new owner asked him just two questions. One was: What is the shortest possible checkmate?

“Hoffman, then 43, hadn’t played chess in 25 years. But he knew the Fool’s Mate (1 g4 e5 2 f3 Qh4), and this knowledge earned an impressive new addition to his résumé – one that turned out to be such a bizarre, stressful experience that he began playing tournament chess again for relief.

“His midlife crisis became a re-immersion in chess, including hanging out at a Moscow tournament with a world class player, Joel Lautier; investigating the bizarre subculture of “Grobsters” (1 g4 players) and Washington Square Park hustlers; and playing spectator at a world championship tournament in Moammar Khadafy’s Libya.

“He also tried to understand his con-man dad, who introduced him to the game and how he first became obsessed with it after his parents marriage collapsed.

“The result is King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father and the World’s Most Dangerous Game published this month by Hyperion…. Of the several general-interest books with a chess theme that appeared this year, this is the one to buy.”

A Manifold Walks into a Five-Dimensional Bar

September 18, 2007

OK, let’s get even nerdier than chess. What’s the difference between an extroverted mathematician and an introverted one?

The extroverted mathematician looks at your shoes.

Back in the Late Cretaceous, I actually performed mathematical paper-folding tricks on “David Letterman.” Does anyone out there know any other (stupid) math jokes?

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.