Archive for September, 2007

Nakamura is Flamed on Eve of Chess Match

September 17, 2007

There is a rich tradition in coffeehouse chess of trash talking. In blitz games, in particular, chess hustlers often verbally harass their opponents in mid-play to distract them and soften them up for the kill. Chess lore is also full of sore losers’ flaming adversaries whom they perceive as clueless. (Even a monkey pecking at a typewriter can occasionally pound out a sonnet worthy of Shakespeare.) After one such defeat, the great Aron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935) is said to have climbed up on the chessboard, dropped to his knees, and shouted to the heavens, “Oh Lord, why did I have to lose to this idiot?”

The tradition of verbal abuse at the chessboard is alive and well, especially on the Web. Hikaru Nakamura, the top board on the New York Knights and an omnipresent Internet devotee, used to like to tell opponents “Bend!” and “Resign and spare yourself further humiliation.”

Hikaru is paired tonight in the U.S. Chess League against the Boston Blitz’s Larry Christiansen. Yesterday, Hikaru was online at the Internet Chess Club observing the moves of a game from the World Championship in Mexico City. Larry, or at least someone using his account, was online too and decided to get foul with Hikaru:

LarryC-BOS(GM) kibitzes: when i beat u
LarryC-BOS(GM) kibitzes: im a be like
LarryC-BOS(GM) kibitzes: bend over
LarryC-BOS(GM) kibitzes: and ill even come if u want as drunk as i am now
LarryC-BOS(GM) kibitzes: lol

Nakamura, who was apparently watching football as well as the World Championship, played it cool and did not respond. Just as well because it turned out that the sophomoric kibitzer wasn’t Christiansen, my sources say, but someone impersonating him (a Boston Blitz teammate, perhaps?) who had access to his user name and password.

My memoir King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game is full of amusing examples of players’ misbehaving. The book has been out less than a week, and is still available at a special introductory rate at Amazon of 34% off.

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Earth Isn’t Doomed After All

September 13, 2007

If you are feeling down because of the protracted war in Iraq, the anniversary of 9/11, or the ineptitude of the international chess federation to put forward a coherent plan for choosing a world chess champion, here’s some news to cheer you up. A team of astronomers in Naples, Italy, believes that five billion years from now Earth may be able to outlast the expected apocalyptic swelling of the Sun to 100 times its current diameter. In the current issue of Nature, they report the discovery of an Earthlike planet that survived its own sun’s explosion.

Entertainment Weekly Awards King’s Gambit an A-

September 11, 2007

King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game was published today. It’s a strange feelingjoy that this long project of mine is now complete. Hope that the book will find its way onto the reading lists of nonplayers who want to understand how this seemingly arcane game brings out strong emotions (and, sometimes, crazy behavior) in both professional players and amateurs alike. Hope that my father-son story of deception and betrayal may resonate with other people.

I have now posted the beginning of the book on my Web site.

I am cheered by the review of King’s Gambit in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly. The magazine gave my book an A-: “The first chapter of Hoffman’s chess-obsessed book includes the phrase ‘an early light-squared bishop sortie by White.’ If these words send you running for the relative simplicity of a Parcheesi board, fear not. Hoffman, the former editor-in-chief of Discover, weaves a layman-friendly work about family (specifically his father, a chess-playing pathological liar) and the neurotic personalities who are consumed by bishops, rooks, and Sicilian openings. Whether pondering why top female players are so scarce or detailing his tense journey to a Libyan tournament (where he is suspected of being a CIA agent). Hoffman traps readers from his opening moves.”

Never Underestimate the Power of a Sleeping Knight

September 11, 2007

home-350.jpgJay 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 countryat 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.

A Whale of an Index

September 10, 2007

Two-time U.S. Women’s Champion Jennifer Shahade blogged about how she began “reading” my book King’s Gambit by consulting the index for all mentions of Shahade.

I love indexes. Today I found my old Thomas calculus book from high school, and, just as I remembered, there was a little hijinks in the index. It says, “Whales, p. 188.” But turn to page 188 and you’ll find no mention of whales; there are two graphs on the page, though, that are vaguely whale-shaped.

Can you name the book that contains the following index entries?

Allen, Woody, 20

Bust, 376-77

Clinton, Bill, 311

Cruise, Tom, 72

Fishburne, Laurence, 65

Houdini, Harry 20

Madonna, 199

“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.

New York Knights Off Suicide Watch

September 5, 2007

Thankfully, the New York Knights are off suicide watch following their big choke against the Baltimore Kingfishers last week in the U.S. Chess League. Manager Irina Krush is still keeping superstar Hikaru Nakamura on the bench. She is putting forward the following lineup tonight against the Philadelphia Inventors:

New York Knights     Philadelphia Inventors
GM Pascal Charbonneau: 2532     GM Sergey Kudrin: 2599
IM Irina Krush: 2442     IM Bryan Smith: 2446
IM Robet Hess: 2457     NM Daniel Yeager: 2247
Matthew Herman: 2172     NM Elvin Wilson: 2240
Avg Rating: 2401
    Avg Rating: 2383

Game time is 7:30 PM, and the moves can be observed in real time at the Internet Chess Club or live at New York’s Marshall Chess Club and Philadelphia’s Franklin Mercantile Chess Club. I plan to go to the Marshall.

Owen Wilson and Me

September 4, 2007

The current issue of People, with an anguished Owen Wilson on the cover, is the first consumer magazine to review my book. I’m happy that People awarded King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game, three and a half out of four stars!

“Chess has long been known as the game of kings,” People wrote,” but according to journalist and former Encyclopaedia Britannica president Paul Hoffman, it also attracts models, madmen, and malcontents. Take Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of chess’s international governing body, who rules the semi-autonomous Russian province of Kalmykia and believes the game has extraterrestrial origins. The author’s thorough study of the sport is rife with backstabbing, suicide and adultery. The sum is a story readers will find fascinating, even if the closest they’ve ever come to playing the game in checkers.”

King’s Gambit will be in the stores in seven days, but pre-publication copies are available at 34% off.

PLEASE PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY!