Archive for the ‘chess’ Category

Will the Chess Madness Ever End?

January 23, 2008

In his day, Bobby Fischer was involved in some messy disputes in the chess world, but none as strange and sordid as the current spamming scandal that is soiling the United States Chess Federation. From Monday’s New York Post, under the headline VULGAR CHESS MESS:

“In a classic example of brainy people behaving badly, a bizarre, epithet-filled dispute is rocking the staid world of chess.

“On one side of the fight is Samuel Sloan, 63, of The Bronx, a former securities trader, ex-con, former cabdriver and would-be Republican congressional candidate from Brooklyn.

“He served a year as a member of the executive board of the United States Chess Federation, the nation’s leading such group.

“In a $20 million suit filed in Manhattan federal court in October, Sloan claims he wasn’t re-elected because Paul Truong and wife Susan Polgar, who were elected to the board in July, posted more than 2,000 scurrilous remarks under his name on chess bulletin boards.

“One of the potty-mouthed postings was, ‘I will convert that bull dyke [name withheld] with my 41/4-inch power tool.’ Another accused Sloan of performing oral sex on a 12-year-old girl and being a purveyor of kiddie porn. A woman who answered the phone at the Truong-Polgar home had no comment.”

The New York Times has also covered aspects of the controversy in both the paper and in Gambit, its chess blog.

Susan Polgar and Paul Truong have denied the allegations in Sloan’s suit; see, for example, Susan Polgar’s Chess Discussion Forums.

My Moment with Bobby Fischer

January 22, 2008

In the late 1960s, when I was thirteen or fourteen, I was playing in the novice section of one of my first weekend chess tournaments at the now-defunct Hotel McAlpin near Penn Station in Manhattan. After one of the rounds, my opponent and I retired to the skittles room for a post-mortem discussion of our game. Other neophytes were doing the same thing, when Bobby Fischer, who was in his mid twenties then, entered the room, pulled up a chair, and joined our spirited discussion and suggested alternative moves. He seemed to enjoy analyzing our game, even though we were complete beginners. His explanations were clear and not at all condescending.

When I thought about this years later, I was impressed by how he had treated us as chess brethren.

64 Years for 64 Squares

January 18, 2008

Perhaps there is cosmic consolation that Bobby Fischer, a man who once said “chess is life” and devoted much of his to unraveling the mysteries of 64 squares, died at the age of 64.

Bobby Fischer is Dead

January 18, 2008

Bobby Fischer, the great pride of American chess and a poster child for paranoia, died yesterday of kidney failure in Reykjavik, Iceland. He was 64.

Fischer was a Cold War hero, and an international celebrity, when he became the world chess champion in 1972 by beating Boris Spassky and ending the Soviet domination of chess. He was the only American player in my lifetime to be a household name. I was in high school in 1972, and I watched his match with Spassky on public television along with millions of others. I remember two girls I knew who were glued to the televised coverage day after day, even though they didn’t know how a bishop or knight moved. They were fascinated by two grown men huddled over little figurines for hours in a grand cerebral battle.

Fischer’s moody behavior added high drama. He complained about the playing conditions—the presence of TV cameras, the height of his chair, noise from the audience—and for awhile it wasn’t clear that he was going to play at all. Henry Kissinger had to get involved and urge him to show up at the chessboard and fight on behalf of his country.

Fischer was once asked in a television interview what his interests were besides chess. “What else is there?” he innocently replied. And yet he dropped out of chess and the public eye soon after beating Spassky. He lost the world title in 1975 when he refused to defend it in a match. He joined a fundamentalist religious sect in California and had various run-ins with the law. Fischer, whose mother was Jewish, believed there was a worldwide Jewish conspiracy to destroy him. He reportedly had the fillings in his teeth removed because he feared that they were antennas receiving radio messages beamed by his enemies. The chess world waited for him to return, or at least to publish his favorite games, but all they got was a candycane-colored booklet called I Was Tortured in the Pasadena Jailhouse, an incoherent diatribe about his brief incarceration after being mistakenly arrested for a bank robber.

In 1992, Fischer was back in the spotlight, playing a $3-million rematch against Spassky in Yugoslavia, in violation of the State Department’s ban on American’s conducting commerce there. The games showed little of his earlier brilliance. Fat and slovenly, Fischer himself was also unrecognizable. The Cold War hero now spat on a letter from the State Department that protested his play and he uttered a bunch of obscenities. Again he vanished, only to emerge occasionally as a call-in guest on talk radio venting about Jews. He praised 9/11 because of the number of Jews who were killed in the World Trade Center.

In July 2004, Fischer was arrested by Japanese immigration agents in Tokyo’s Narita airport on the grounds of being illegally in the country with a revoked U.S. passport. Washington pressed for his extradition but Fischer was one move ahead of the American authorities and persuaded the Icelandic parliament, which fondly remembered the attention he brought to Reykjavik in 1972, to grant him Icelandic citizenship and a passport. After nine months in a Japanese detention center, Fischer boarded a plane to Reykjavik with his new fiancée, the head of the Japanese Chess Association, and went into hiding yet again.

Lip Balm Stains Chess Tourney

January 7, 2008

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Anna Rudolf, recent cheating-smear victim (as depicted on Susan Polgar’s blog).

I am back blogging, after a long holiday break.

The latest (false) cheating scandal in international chess soiled the Vandoeuvre Open in France during the last week in December. Latvian grandmasters were fazed by the strong performance of Anna Rudof, who was unexpectedly leading the tournament. The disgruntled GMs accused the Hungarian phenom of cheating.

The pattern of these nebulous accusations is often the same, as in Toiletgate and Toddlergate: a successful player is accused of going to the bathroom too often and having physical or wireless access to a chess-playing computer. In Rudolf’s case, suspicion centered on her lip balm, which was said to be a wireless device for communicating with a remote silicon adviser. To her chagrin, the organizers confiscated her handbag and lip balm before the key round. Her opponent refused to shake her hand before the game and told her she didn’t play fair. Her concentration was rattled and she ultimately blew the game.

The Web site Chessdom has an interview with Rudolf and continuing coverage of the nonsense.

It is now too common in chess for disgruntled losers to raise the specter of cheating without offering a shred of evidence. False allegations, which are maliciously made in order to hurt a player’s reputation and confidence, are as much a threat to tournament chess as are real cases of hidden microcomputers and surreptitious wireless devices. The problem is that FIDE, the international chess federation, has let the false accusers run amok.

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.

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[Kamsky is on the right.]

Kamsky Pulls Ahead in World Cup

December 14, 2007

Gata Kamsky defeated Alexey Shrirov today in a thrilling 37-move slugfest in Siberia that had his American fans (the really loyal ones who joined the live Webcast at 5:00 a.m. EST) on the edge of their seats. The real fireworks started shortly after 8:00 a.m. by which time some of the grandmasters kibitzing from the U.S. had consumed enough coffee to comment intelligently. The most astute observations, though, came from European GMs like Italian champion Fabiano Caruana who had less of a time-zone disadvantage.

Kamsky now leads in the finals of the World Cup by one game with two games remaining.

Kamsky on the Move

December 13, 2007

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[Kamsky studies his opponent’s first move, the advance of the king pawn, in today’s World Cup game.]

Grandmaster Gata Kamsky, America’s best hope for immediate triumph at the pinnacle of international chess, just drew the first game of his final match for the World Cup. Kamsky was playing Black in a double-king-pawn opening, and after a tense struggle that petered out into an even endgame, he and Alexey Shirov agreed to sustain hostilities on the 42nd move. Tomorrow Kamsky will have the first-move advantage of the White pieces.

Kamsky has been playing great chess for three weeks now in Khanty-Mamsiysk, Russia. Tomorrow’s game starts at 5:00 A.M. EST and can be viewed on the official Web site.

Mate in 208 Moves!

December 12, 2007

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[Alexey Shirov would need to have seen ahead a mind-numbing 206 moves in order to be sure of forcing a win in a game at the World Cup.]

According to the rules of chess, a player can claim a draw if 50 moves pass (50 for each side) in which no piece has been captured and no pawn moved. The original idea of the rule was that if one side seems to have an advantage in the endgame (the stage of the game where only a few pieces or pawns remain), 50 moves should be more than sufficient to turn that advantage into checkmate. If there was no 50-move rule, one side could keep playing on in a theoretically drawn position hoping to win only because his opponent becomes fatigued. But leave it to computers to discover that there are certain winning endgames that, even with best play, require more than 50 moves to win. These endgames are incredibly rare, and seem more like composed problems than positions that might arise in actual play, and so the 50-move rule has been left enforce.

Now, incredibly, one of these endgames—two lone knights versus a lone rook and bishop—actually occurred in a very important game, in the semifinals of the World Cup. Alexey Shirov and Sergey Karjakin had tied their regular games in the semifinals. To break the tie, the two grandmasters played two rapid games, and it was the first of these that saw the unusual endgame. With best play (from the position below), computers tell us, Shirov as Black could have checkmated Karjakin in 208 moves!! Shirov didn’t see that, of course, and the game ended in a draw.

The excellent online daily newsletter Chess Today discusses the endgame in the December 12th issue. Chess Today is a great, subscription-based publication and well worth the modest fee.

U.S. Chess Successes

December 10, 2007

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[Above photo from chessbase.com: proto chess wizard Fabiano Caruana at the age of three]

Kudos to two American chess players for triumphs this past week. Yesterday, Gata Kamsky of Brighton Beach reached the finals of the 2007 World Cup in Khanty-Mamsiysk, Russia, by defeating Norwegian prodigy Magnus Carlsen. The finals will take place on Thursday.

And last Tuesday, 15-year-old Fabiano Caruana, who once lived in Brooklyn, won the Italian Chess Championship. I’m sure he is destined for further chess greatness. In my dotage, I’ll be able to say I knew him when.