Jay 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 country—at 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.