Archive for the ‘Brighton Beach’ Category

Hail Gata Kamsky, Chess Champion from, Yes, the United States

December 16, 2007

I was one of the (too few) chess-crazed Americans who got up early this morning to watch the live Webcast of fellow countryman Gata Kamsky playing the fourth game of his World Cup match in Siberia against Alexey Shirov. The game began at 5:00 a.m. EST, and three hours and thirty-five moves later, the game was drawn. Kamsky had won their four game match by the score of 2.5 – 1.5 and was now the World Cup Chess Champion. No American has done this well in international chess since 1972, when Bobby Fischer defeated Borris Spassky to become undisputed World Champion.

Kamsky played a total of 18 games in a series of World Cup knockout matches and lost not a single game. He was unflappable in positions where his opponents were attacking him, and he consistently employed an active defense. For his efforts at the chessboard, Kamsky will return to Brighton Beach with $120,000. Hail Kamsky!

The Internet is of course a great medium for watching world-class chess events. You can get up and stretch between moves, or you can watch commentary from top players who are also observing the games. It is sad, though, how few spectators attend these events in person. Notice the absence of an audience in this photograph of the penultimate game between Kamsky and Shirov. I like watching in person, because the tension is so palpable.


[Kamsky is on the right.]


Back to Brighton Beach

June 11, 2007

Black (Boris Gelfand) to mate Kamsky in two moves. How? Click here for the answer.

There will not be an American player in September’s World Chess Championship in Mexico City. Gata Kamsky, the only candidate from the United States, was knocked out today in the fifth game of his qualifying match against Boris Gelfand in Elista, Kalmykia. Kamsky had the advantage of White today and needed to win to even the score.

But he chose a lackluster opening to sidestep Gelfand’s trademark Najdorf Sicilian and then lost after he pressed too hard to try to give himself winning chances. And so his Israeli opponent, a fellow Russian emigre, advances to the world championship after two wins against Kamsky and three draws (The sixth game will not be played because Gelfand has already secured victory).

I was rooting for Kamsky and admired how he got back into the game after a six-year break, during which he earned a law degree. But, like “The Sopranos” and Flatland, all good things must come to an end. Still, Kamsky is young enough that he could take another shot at the World Championship. And for that matter I suppose HBO could resurrect “The Sopranos” since they didn’t kill off Tony.

Back in the U.S.S.R

June 10, 2007

Siberian emigre Gata Kamsky may be back on Russian soil, but things are not looking good for the Brighton Beach hopeful’s bid to play in the World Chess Championship in September. Today he struggled to draw the fourth game of his six-game World Championshio Qualifying match in Elista, Kalmykia. Kamsky remains a point down against Boris Gelfand of Israel, having lost one game and drawn three.

If Kamsky wins tomorrow, he’s still in the hunt. If he loses, he can make it back to Brooklyn before Coney Island’s historic boardwalk attractions have been dismantled to make way for luxury condos.

K Power Rules in Chess

June 7, 2007

“There is a joke in chess circles that you don’t stand a chance of becoming world champion unless your name is Russian and starts with a K,” I write in King’s Gambit: A Father, a Son, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game. “Kramnik, Kasparov, Karpov, Kasimdzhanov, and Khalifman were all world champions during the past twenty-five years, and another K, Korchnoi, was the strongest challenger to the throne.”

And so Brighton Beach hopeful Gata Kamsky’s quest for the world title has at least alphabetic tradition on his sidenot to mention 301 million Americans who have not seen a fellow countryman as world number one since 1975, when Bobby Fischer flaked out on defending his title.

Today, Kamsky drew with the Black pieces against Boris Gelfand of Israel in the second game of a six-game World Championship Qualifying match in Elista, Kalmykia. Yesterday’s gamethe first of the matchwas also a draw. Neither player has drawn blood yet. Both men are originally from Russia: Kamsky is from Siberia and Gelfand from Belarus.

American Star Advances in World Chess Championship Qualifier

June 1, 2007

With a decisive 3.5 – .5 victory over his French adversary, Gata Kamsky of Brighton Beach now proceeds to the second and final round of the qualifying matches for September’s World Chess Championship in Mexico City.   The final rounda six-game matchwill take place in Elista, Kalmykia, from June 6 to 14.  Kamsky’s success is impressive because, after a six-year absence from tournament chess, he has clawed his way back with a vengeance.

Kamsky, who defected from Siberia to the United States in 1989, is the second American to make a triumphant comeback after a long hiatus from tournament chess.  Former women’s world champion Susan Polgar took an eight-and-a-half-year break from international competition before leading the U.S. Women’s team to a silver medal in the 2004 Chess Olympiad in Calvia, Spain.

Both Kamsky and Polgar’s absences from chess were voluntary.  Not so for Alexander FyodorovichIlyin-Genevsky, a master whose story I tell in my book King’s Gambit: A Father, a Son, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game

Ilyin-Genevsky convinced Moscow to support the game and organized the first Soviet Championship in 1920.  As a player he was not among Russia’s very best (although he was skilled enough to be the three-time champion of Leningrad and to defeat Capablanca once in 1925), but he had the curious distinction of being the only known master who had to learn the game twice from scratch, because a brain injury in World War I erased his memory of how the pieces moved. 

During the Russian Revolution, when food shortages, power outages, and sub-zero temperatures brought Moscow to a standstill, Ilyin-Genevsky buried himself in chess.  Even after the central chess club—along with the city’s theaters, and other venues of entertainment—had been destroyed, he would hike through the frigid, blacked-out city to play against a dozen other chess addicts in a basement apartment illuminated by match light.

Go Gata, Go!

May 31, 2007


At the halfway point in the first match in the World Championship Qualifying Tournament in Elista (”Help me, MapQuest!”), Kalmykia, the Brooklyn legend Gata Kamsky has surged to a commanding 2.5-.5 lead over French phenom Etienne Bacrot. 

The word on the rue is that Bacrot—who once had the distinction of being the world’s youngest grandmaster—has turned his attention from I-can-barely-pay-the-rent chess to I-can-buy-the-building poker.  (Poker is legal in Paris, unlike in New York, and the elegant Aviation Club de France, founded in 1907 at the dawn of heavier-than-air flight, is a congenial place to play poker late into the night.)  

Whatever the reason for Bacrot’s shaky play, I’m happy Kamsky is winning, and not just because I want to see an American play in the World Championship in September in Mexico City.  But also because I want Kamsky to avenge the loss Bacrot inflicted on Canadian champion Pascal Charbonneau in the 2004 World Championship in Tripoli, Libya.  I accompanied Pascal to North Africa then and watched everything he did that week to prepare for his two-game battle with the Frenchman.   

Three chapters of my book, King’s Gambit: A Father, a Son, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game, are devoted to Pascal’s chess career and our exciting and harrowing adventures on and off the chessboard in Tripoli (I was detained there and accused of being a spy).  Here’s an excerpt from the chapter called “Gadhafi’s Gambit and Mr. Paul”:

It was now forty-five minutes until his game with Bacrot, and Pascal told me that it was time to put chess aside, stop our heavy conversation, and do “the most inane thing possible, something that required no thinking whatsoever.”  We didn’t have much to work with.  The television in our hotel room received only two English-language stations, and the first, CNN International, was hardly comforting.  Paul Johnson Jr., an American engineer, had been kidnapped in Saudi Arabia, and CNN was replaying footage of his distraught wife pleading with his captors not to behead him. 

Luckily, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” was on the other channel.  We watched as Lieutenant Uhura told Kirk, “Captain, I’m getting something on the distress channel.”

“Maybe,” I said, “she’s picking up Bacrot’s cries of anguish as you crush him.”

Pascal laughed. 

A few minutes later Kirk was being philosophical: “Admiral, how we deal with death is just as important as how we deal with life.” 

“He’s speaking to you, Pascal,” I said.  “He’s telling you that if you reach a bad position you must not cave in.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” he said, and he pantomimed a sizzling tennis serve. 

“Strike!” I shouted. 

Pascal looked deflated.  “Shit!  If you thought that was baseball, I’m in trouble.” 

“No, no. I meant to say, ‘Ace.’  I got the word wrong.  Sports isn’t my thing.”

He served again.   

“Ace!” I shouted.

 “Better!” he said.  “Now I’m going to beat the punk.”

Food Outing I

May 14, 2007

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I love ethnic food and ethnic neighborhoods.  After helping my friend Damian (who snapped this picture) take publicity photos of his actress friend Shelly (on my right) in the sands at Brighton Beach, we headed back under the elevated train and ate cherry pelmeni and mushroom julienne at the Oceanview Cafe, a favorite restaurant of mine, albeit one that, despite its name, has no ocean view.