Archive for the ‘cockiness’ Category

The Knightmare Continues

September 18, 2007

Last night, the New York Knightsa powerhouse team on paperstruggled again and couldn’t extricate themselves from their calamitous four-round slump in the U.S. Chess League. They lamely drew with the Boston Blitz. Hikaru Nakamura, the most exciting young player in American chess, couldn’t score a win in his second appearance as a Knight on Board One. At least the nineteen-year-old phenom didn’t lose, as he did last week. But his position against Boston’s Larry Christiansen looked dicey for awhile and Hikaru’s teammates were afraid that he was going down.

Hikaru’s numerous fans on the Internet love his aggression but they are waiting for him to temper it with strategic vision. There was disapproving chatter about why he made most of his moves so incredibly fast as if he were playing bullet (one-minute chess). One grandmaster who was observing the game said, “Hikaru plays at the speed of light and wonders why he almost loses. I think he’ll get less cocky if he continues to do badly.”

Manager Irina Krush was in Gmunden, Austria, yesterday for a women’s blitz tournament that’s being staged concurrently with the World Senior Open. (Originally the women players were supposed to participate in a wear-what-you-want fashion show for the entertainment of the geriatric men, but fortunately someone scuttled that sexist idea.) With Irina away, the job of motivating the New York Knights fell on her husband and assistant manager Pascal Charbonneau.

When I interviewed Pascal for King’s Gambit, we spoke at length about how hard it was for them to play in a tournament together and both do well. If he’s doing well and she’s not, he can’t just channel all his energy into continuing his winning ways, but also must try to buck her upand vice versa, if she’s doing well and he’s not.

Team play together is a bit different because there is a week between rounds and thus more time to recover from a brutal loss. I was struck, though, by how in the first round they made nearly consecutive blunders, as if they were wired too much into each other’s play. Last night, for whatever reason, Pascal seemed to be able to focus fully on his game against his old college chess teammate, fellow grandmaster Eugene Perelshtyen. “I was not happy to give up all my pawns in the endgame,” Pascal told me, but he succeeded in weaving a satisfying, Internet-crowd-pleasing mating net.


The Grudge Game That Barely Was

July 28, 2007

For all the press-conference talk (and, admittedly, my own hyping) of the grudge chess game in Montreal between Nigel Short and Gata Kamsky, the hoped-for confrontation was an uneventful draw, which was interesting only initially because Short trotted out a rare opening, the Ponziani, that has barely been played in high-level chess since the Late Cretaceous. Maybe he kept the gloves on because he was trying to recover his equilibrium from an otherwise terrible tournament.

As John Saunders, the editor of British Chess Magazine, blogged today:

“Which brings me to the main talking point of the Montreal event: the dismal showing of Nigel Short. He got off to an absolutely dreadful start, 0/4, which became ½/6 (thereby equalling his… start at the 1980 Phillips and Drew tournament when he was 14 years 10 months old). It is reported that he was suffering from dental problems, which is indeed unfortunate, though I’m also told that Alekhine had similar problems in the early stages of his world championship match against Capablanca, had six teeth pulled out and went on to become world champion.”

Saunders’ whole blog entry is worth reading. He has the following to say about the game that wasn’t:

“One cannot help wondering whether the dental problem was the only reason for Short’s debacle or whether yet another airing of his ancient grudge against Kamsky after round two may have been a contributory factor. The English grandmaster has an elephantine memory for slights and disputes from the past and his inability to keep a statesmanlike silence could perhaps be his Achilles heel in a tournament context. It was noticeable how he occasionally liked to dust off and rehash some old vendetta in one of his newspaper columns whenever there was a slow news week in chess. Sometimes entertaining, sometimes offensive, but he no longer has this conduit for his pent-up aggression. Whatever the rights and wrongs of what happened between the Kamskys and Short all those years ago, he should surely have channelled all the remaining aggro into their individual game in Montreal and let the pieces do the talking. And, if I might be permitted to patronise the former world championship finalist further on his selection of opening (just this one time – I promise it will never happen again): the Ponziani is not a good choice if you want to play for a win with White. Believe me, I’ve tried and it’s not up to the job.”

Record $55,000 Bet in Impromptu Chess Match

July 10, 2007


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 Shahadean international chess master who defected from I-can-barely-pay-the–rent chess to I-can-buy-the building pokerstill 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

Chess Nut

July 6, 2007

Making the Right Moves, from the Board to the Boardroom

Garry Kasparov’s How Life Imitates Chess, scheduled to be published here in the States in the fall, has some entertaining stories.   Like Boris Spassky, the tenth world champion, advising Kasparov, the thirteenth world champion, that the way to defeat Tigran Petrosian, the ninth world champion, was not to attack the hell out of him (Petrosian was an expert at repelling sharp thrusts) but rather to press him continuously and methodically:

“He counseled me that the key was to apply pressure, but just a little, steadily.  ‘Squeeze his balls,’ he told me in an unforgettable turn of phrase. ‘But just squeeze one, not both!'”

Hikaru Nakamura

May 15, 2007

The 2007 U.S. Championship starts this afternoon.  The number 1 seed is Hikaru Nakamura, who, after a stab at college, has put aside academics and returned to the chessboard.  

Below is a piece I did for The Wall Street Journal on Hikaru’s rise to the top echelons of American chess.  Although the article is a few years old, Hikaru’s take-no-prisoners style of chess and life may be as true now as it was then.  But first, a chess problem:

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Here’s a position from a game Hikaru played as White against Sergei Karjakin, another talented junior.  What move would you make for Hikaru? The answer can be found at Chess Life Online, the excellent Web site of the United States Chess Federation.

The Wall Street Journal, July 8, 2003  

Meet Hikaru Nakamura, Boy Chess Wizard 

By Paul Hoffman 

Four Sundays ago, in the sixth and final round of the 2003 National Open Chess Festival in Las Vegas, Hikaru Nakamura, a 15-year-old prodigy from White Plains, was pacing around the tournament hall.  His 24-year-old opponent, Kazakhstani grandmaster Darmen Sadvakasov, a former world junior champion, hadn’t moved for over an hour, and Mr. Nakamura, who had lost patience, went to look at the game of one of the other 898 competitors, Sunil Weeramantry, his stepfather.  Mr. Weeramantry gave him the thumbs-up sign, and he returned to his own game in the front of the hall. 

When Mr. Sadvahasov finally moved, he menacingly advanced a knight toward Mr. Nakamura’s king.  But the younger player was not worried; the position was complicated and double-edged, and he had an attack of his own going against Mr. Sadvakasov’s monarch.  The moves of the game were being reproduced on a large wallboard so that people across the room could follow the battle.  A hundred woodpushers were watching, and they debated in hushed voices which king would be the first to fall.  A mere six moves later, Mr. Sadvakasov resigned in disgust, and a smattering of applause broke out, in violation of the prohibition on noise in the tournament.  With five wins and one loss, Mr. Nakamura was tied for first place.

The crowd was enthusiastic because Mr. Nakamura is arguably the country’s best hope for succeeding on the world chess stage.  [2007 note: our most immediate hope now seems to be Gata Kamsky, who is sitting out the 2007 U.S. Championship because of a prior commitment to play in a tournament in Bulgaria.] This past February, at a tournament in Bermuda, he became the youngest American to earn the coveted title of international grandmaster, breaking a record that Bobby Fischer established 45 years ago.  On September 10, 1958, at the age of 15 and a half, Mr. Fischer became a grandmaster at a world-championship qualifying tournament in Portoroz, Yugoslavia. On February 5, 2003, Mr. Nakamura did it four months younger. 

“It’s a big accomplishment,” he told me, “but how far I go in chess will depend on how much I improve in the next couple years.  I want to be ranked in the top 100 players.  If I can achieve that, I’ll think about the world championship.”  No American has won the world crown since Mr. Fischer defeated Borris Spassky in 1972.  Mr. Nakamura’s mother, violinist Carolyn Weeramantry, is home-schooling him so that he has time to play in chess tournaments. 

He learned the game at the age of seven by watching his older brother, Asuka, and stepfather play, and at 10 he set his first chess record by becoming the youngest American ever to earn the title of national master.  Mr. Weeramantry, a legendary New York-area chess coach and former first board for the Sri Lankan national team, taught his stepson the finer points of the game, but Mr. Nakamura didn’t sound too grateful when I spoke to them in their chess-trophy-filled condominium in White Plains.

“I’m glad I don’t play like you,” he told his stepfather.  “You’re a hacker. You take far too many risks and throw away won games by not leaving yourself enough time at the end and blundering in time pressure.” 

“Sadly, you’re right,” Mr. Weeramantry responded.  “I suffer from indecisiveness.  I take too long to choose my moves.  One of the things I admire about Hikara is that if he does lose, he quickly absorbs the loss and gets over it.   Not like me—a defeat lingers with me sometimes for days and affects my subsequent play.”  Mr. Weeramantry, an affable and jovial man away from the chessboard, has been known to pound the table and scream after losing a game.

“You have lots of very bad habits,” his son scolded.

In a classical chess tournament, each player is allotted two hours for the first 40 moves and an additional hour for the remainder of the game.  Mr. Nakamura is renowned for the speed of his play, and at Vegas he also won the blitz competition (in which each side has five minutes for the entire game) that was held the evening before the main event.  His forte is tactical situations, complex positions in which both sides are engaging in hand-to-hand combat like in his game against Mr. Sadvakasov.  “Objectively,” Mr. Nakamura conceded, “Sadvakasov probably had an advantage after his hour-long think and knight move, but I was hopeful that I could see through the complications more clearly then he could.” 

His fellow competitors marvel at his confidence.  “He certainly knows current opening theory very well,” said Alexander Baburin, the editor of the Internet daily Chess Today.  “His quick moves are very unpleasant to face.  He is sending a psychological message that he knows your stuff and is ready for it.”

“He’s insane about winning,” said Greg Shahade, an international master in  Brooklyn.  “I’ve never faced anyone with a greater motivation to win.  You can imagine that what’s the young Fischer was like.” 

 Most of his friends, Mr. Nakamura explained, are from the chess world, and he sees no need to suppress his killer instinct when he plays them. “I just beat them,” he said, “and laugh at them.  My friends are patzers.” 

Bobby Fischer apparently felt the same way.  He famously dismissed his fellow chessplayers as “weakies.”