Why Grandmasters Need Helpmates

After five rounds of the Marshall Chess Club championship, grandmaster Jaan Ehlvest, the defending champion, is in the lead with 4 points. Six other players, including New York Knights manager Irina Krush, are in close pursuit and tied for second with 3.5 points. The final four rounds will take place next weekend.

Two years ago, I had an amusing experience with Ehlvest, who was once ranked No. 5 in the world. The story, which I tell in King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game, illustrates why grandmasters are not necessarily the best people to organize and promote chess events, even if their command of sixty-four squares is unsurpassed.

Ehlvest invited me to his six-game match against Zappa, the world amateur computer champion, on April 29 and 30, 2005. The match was being held in an auditorium in Estonian House, an old ornate building in Manhattan that had been a speakeasy during Prohibition. The promotional flier billed Alexander Shabalov, the 2003 U.S. champion, as doing the play-by-play commentary for the audience. Ehlvest set the admission price for the first evening at a whopping $59. I showed up at the scheduled hour as his nonpaying guest. The event was a disaster. The auditorium was empty. There was not a single paying customer, Shabalov stayed home (we were told) because he had forgotten that it was his wife’s birthday, and the computer itself never arrived. We ended up drinking vodka for the evening after Ehlvest was unable to reach the machine’s programmer and handler on his cell phone.

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One Response to “Why Grandmasters Need Helpmates”

  1. Andy B. Says:

    LOL! Great story- it would have been funnier if Ehlvest didn’t show up either.

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