Down the street from where I stay when I’m in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is a watering hole called Barcade, in which twenty-something hipsters play classic video games like Ms. Pac-Man and Donkey Kong while nursing microbrewed beer. There’s a chalk board that lists the names of the people who have scored the highest at these games at Barcade. For months after he moved out of Brooklyn, the name of Greg Shahade—an international chess master who defected from I-can-barely-pay-the–rent chess to I-can-buy-the building poker—still topped the list.
Greg is a gamester par excellence. Thus it did not surprise me to hear that, during the recent world series of poker in Las Vegas, Greg took time away from the cards to play a best two-out-of-three chess match in which he severely handicapped himself by playing without one of his rooks. Greg and his opponent had 60 minutes apiece for each game, but Greg handicapped himself further by giving his adversary the right to purchase additional thinking time for $300 a minute. There was $55,000 riding on the games—it was a bet between two third parties who, Greg told me, “knew nothing about chess.” Greg stood to be cut in for $7,000 if he emerged victorious. Indeed, he won easily, two games to zero.
I will wager that 55K is a record wager for a chess game. And who says chess doesn’t pay?
Here, for the chess cognoscente, are the moves; Greg’s opponent, like the $55K bettors, proved not to know much about chess. Greg was White in the first game and was missing the king rook.
1.d4 d5 2.c4 Bf5 3.Nc3 c6 4.Bf4 e6 5.c5 Qa5 6.a3 Bxc5 7.dxc5 Qxc5 8.Rc1 d4 9.Ne4 Qa5+ 10.b4 Qxa3 11.Nd6+ Ke7 12.Qxd4 Nd7 13.e4 Bg6 14.Ra1 c5 15.Qxg7 Qxb4+ 16.Bd2 Qd4 17.Qxd4 cxd4 18.Bb4 Kf6 19.f4 e5 20.f5 Bh5 21.h3 Nh6 22.Bd2 Ke7 23.Nxb7 Rab8 24.Na5 Rhc8 25.Bxh6 f6 26.Bc1 Kf7 27.g4 Nc5 28.gxh5 Nxe4 29.Bc4+ Ke8 30.Ne2 Nd6 31.Be6 Rc7 32.Ba3 Ne4 33.Bd5 Nc5 34.Bc6+ Kf8 35.Bxc5+ Kg7 36.Bd6 Rxc6 37.Nxc6 Rb6 38.Rxa7+ Kh6 39.Bf8+ Kxh5 40.Rxh7+ Kg5 41.Ne7 Rb1+ 42.Kf2 d3 43.Bh6+ Kh4 44.Be3# 1-0
In the second game, Greg was Black and started without the queen rook.1.g3 d5 2.Bg2 e5 3.d3 c6 4.Nf3 Bd6 5.Bd2 Bg4 6.Nc3 Qc8 7.h3 Be6 8.e3 Nf6 9.Qe2 0-0 10.Ng5 Bd7 11.e4 d4 12.Nd1 c5 13.f4 h6 14.Nf3 Nh5 15.Qf2 exf4 16.Bxf4 Bxf4 17.gxf4 Nxf4 18.Qg3 Qc7 19.Qh2 f5 20.b3 fxe4 21.dxe4 Qa5+ 22.Nd2 Nc6 23.Rf1 g5 24.h4 Nb4 25.Rc1 Qa3 26.Rb1 Nxc2+ 27.Kf2 Qb4 28.Nf3 g4 29.Qg3 Kh7 30.a3 Qb6 31.Bh1 d3 32.Ne3 c4 33.Qxf4 Rxf4 34.Kg3 Qxe3 0-1