Archive for the ‘drink’ Category

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


The S___ the Talent Had to Put up with

June 21, 2007


I needed some recent photographs of me that my publisher could use to promote King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game  My friend Damian Panitz shot me at a stone chess table in a park in Sunnyside, Queens.  Please note all the bird feces (to the right of me on the bench) that Damian subjected me to.  There were excrement-free chess tables, but no, Damian is an artist, and he insisted that the light was diffuse, and hence perfect, at this table. 

Easy for the photographer to say: He did not have to sit under a tree inhabited by a flock of diarrhetic pigeons.  There was soupy poop next to the board, and we needed to work fast before goopy dung landed on my black shirt.  It was a hot day, and you can see by the water bottle on the table that at least Damian attended to his model’s hydration needs.

The Dominican chess hustlers in the park decided I was an Eastern European chess god.  They surrounded us, and I tried to tell them that I was just an obsessed woodpusher, but the language barrier interfered with their understanding me.  We drafted the guy who said he was champion of the park (and who carried a broken iPod) to hold Damian’s reflector for the photo shoot.  The position on the board is something the guy insisted on showing me.  For the actual photos (this one was just a test), we set up the age-old position known as the King’s Gambit.

Publishing Confidential, Part I

June 3, 2007

You Can Run but You Can't Hide: The Life and Times of Dog the Bounty Hunter

Pasanella & Son Vintners in the South Street Seaport is a stylish, architecturally splendid wine shop where fish mongers once hocked cod.  A 1967 blue Ferrari, with its trunk open and filled with wine, is normally parked in the middle of the store, but was out on the town Friday night.   My publisher, Hyperion, needed all the space in the wine shop for a classy party in which its fall-list authors like me could schmooze booksellers who had descended on the city for the annual BookExpo America, at the Javits Center.  First, though, Hyperion brought all of us authors together for dinner—a gracious gesture given that writing is a solitary craft, and I at least don’t know that many other people who write books.

Now writers are like dogs—we’re all apparently one species but we come in shapes and sizes as diverse as dachshunds and great Danes.  So there I was, seated at dinner between fellow scribes Duane “Dog” Chapman (You Can Run but You Can’t Hide) and Kansas novelist Laura Moriarty (The Rest of Her Life)—with Hyperion author Caroline Kennedy (A Family Christmas) joining the party once the booksellers arrived.  The dinner gave me a rare chance, I thought, to discuss with these other wordsmiths the trade-offs involved in first-person versus third-person narration or even the outre second-person.

Laura Moriarty’s fiction addresses mother-daughter issues,

The Rest of Her Lifeand my book, King’s Gambit, explores father-son dynamics, through the lens of chess, and so we realized that between the two of us we had the entire family unit covered.  Laura wanted to know what I blogged about.  “Not just chess,” I said, “but food, words, anything that I’m passionate about.”

“Words?” she said.

“Yeah, about phrases I hear, and their possible origins.”

She said that she had a very literal mind and could not help thinking, whenever she heard a colloquial expression, like the phrase “butt load,” of what the words themselves meant.  I told her she should be prepared to cringe when she read my blog entry on the tough-guy expression “Don’t blow smoke up my ass.”

Now I’m off to the Javits Center to be humbled by the tens of thousands of different books sold each yearand wonder how on earth mine will ever catch the eyes of prospective readers.

Overheard on Bedford St.

May 29, 2007


Having once written articles under tight deadlines in a wide-open newsroom, I am used to a noisy workplace.  Indeed, I prefer to work amidst hustle and bustle and can tune out most conversations around me.   I was correcting a proof of my book King’s Gambit: A Father, a Son, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game at a coffee shop called Verb while overhearing—and largely ignoring—a conversation at the next table.  (Verb is the place I go when I’m in Brooklyn in the afternoon and want only decaf, which my favorite Brooklyn morning spot, Gimme Coffee, which makes the best cup of coffee in the world, is too hip to serve.) 

“You could send you story to McSweeney’s,” one twenty-something dude told the other.  “You can find the address on-line.  Your story would appeal to the David Eggers crowd.   Then again, you might want to reach a larger audience.  The themes you write about are universal.  Don’t just send it out to random publishers.  It will be lost in their slush piles.  You need an agent.”

“I don’t know how to get an agent.”

“My girlfriend can help you.  She knows an agent.” 

The conversation went on in this general way for half an hour, and I only perked up when the unpublished author inquired why the themes he wrote about were universal.

“Well,” his coffee companion said, “You were born in Puerto Rico.  Your father died in 9/11.  You went to jail.  And now you’re a fine man who has made something of himself.” 

Now I listened closely, dying to know why he had been incarcerated.  But, to my dismay, the two men just quietly nursed their lattes and finally left, without revealing anything else personal.

“All the NEWS That’s Fit to Print”

May 19, 2007

The What’s Offline department in today’s New York Times reported the news that Working Mother magazine has reported the news that The European Journal of Social Psychology has reported the news that scientists at the University of Queensland in Australia have found that coffee is medicinally goodif it’s the other person who is drinking it.  Two cups of coffee apparently make someone to whom you’re talking more open-minded to your point of view. 

Okay, this is an amusing research result but the report in the aforementioned European journal is not newsit’s a year old.  So now my blog has reported the news that today’s New York Times has reported the news that Working Mother magazine has reported the news that The European Journal of Social Psychology has reported the news that scientists at the University of Queensland in Australia have found that coffee is medicinally goodif it’s the other person who is drinking it. 

The researchers down under found that “with caffeine consumption we are more likely to attend to, and agree with, persuasive arguments.  The experiments involved asking people their attitudes about voluntary euthanasia before and after reading persuasive arguments against their initial beliefs. Prior to reading the arguments, the participants consumed orange juice with either caffeine (equivalent to two cups of coffee) or no caffeine (placebo).”

Copy Editing Confidential

May 19, 2007

I’ve been poring over (it’s poring not pouring, right?) a type-set proof of King’s Gambit: A Father, a Son, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game in search of annoying typos. 


Gremlins are inevitable in a work of 150,000 words (yes, I have a lot to say!) but I’m hell-bent on reducing them to a minimum.  I’ve had nightmares ever since a well-intentioned copy-editor  inexplicably changed Veselin Topalov’s first name, which I had corretly spelled, to Vaselin.  Now maybe Vaseline is an apt nickname for a grandmaster who is as oily as petroleum jelly (after being down two games in last year’s world-championship match, the slippery Bulgarian tried to distract the chess world from his pathetic 0-2 score by charging his opponent with going to the bathroom too frequently and consulting a chess-playing computer while on the privy).   

Now Vaseline does figure in King’s Gambit, but not as someone’s first name.  In Chapter 8, “I’m Not the World’s Biggest Geek,”  I describe the late Alexander Wojtkiewicz, who was perhaps the most active grandmaster on the U.S. weekend tournament circuit.

“In a chess world full of oversized characters, Wojtkiewicz was still a stand-out.  He was equal part hustler and naïf, and the stories about him were endless and amusing.  Like the time he wondered unknowingly into a gay bar with a male friend and a woman.  At some point the woman had a nose bleed and Wojt got the attention of the place when he anxiously and loudly asked the bartender for Vaseline, an old Polish remedy for her affliction.  There was also the time that he was staying with friends in Chicago, disappeared for a weekend without telling them, and returned with no explanation, as if he had just stepped out to buy a paper, except that he was now on crutches.”

Esopus 8

May 16, 2007

Esopus is a frothy creek, frequented by trout and tubers, that snakes through the towns outside Woodstock.  My friend Tod once had a cottage on a roaring stream connected to the creek.  Now he has created a lush extravaganza of a magazine called Esopus

I went the other night to a launch party for their eighth issue, in the white gallery-space basement of New York City’s Center for Architecture, an attractive building that’s just a stone’s throw from the granite chess tables in Washington Square Park. 

Before I joined the hundred other Esopus revelers, I added my name and cell phone number to the bottom of a list that was kept by a greeter who sat at a desk by the front door.  I was told that sometime during the evening I’d be called by a member of the Headlong Dance Theater, a Philadelphia-based troupe that would put on an individualized dance performance just for me.  The greeter volunteered that no sex would be involved.

An hour and a half and two chardonnays later, a woman called my cell phone and asked where I was.  She instructed me to go up two flights of stairs and out the front door.  She said she would call me back when I was outside.

As soon as I was in front of the building, she called again and told me to cross the street without getting run over and take a seat atop a small yellow sticker attached to the base of the famous statue of Mayor LaGuardia.  “Paul,” she said, “you need a nickname.  I’m going to call you Buzz,” and she pronounced Buzz as if had four z’s.  “Is that okay, Buzz?”

It was more than okay.  I liked it.  It was macho.  Like Buzz Aldrin.  I had the right stuff. 

As I sat on the sticker, she told me to experience the world around me.  “The man drinking coffee on your left, the UPS truck passing in front of you, the birds on the branch above your head,” the voice coming through my phone said, “now take it all in, Buzz.”  I took it all in, but she was nowhere to be seen.  She told me to sit there for 30 seconds immersing myself in my surroundings and she’d call me back.


She called on cue and asked me how I was doing.  Then she instructed me to go to a pay phone half a block away on the other side of the street.  She said I’d find a colored sticker to affix to my shirt.  While I walked to the phone, she asked me if I knew that a bee has 3,000 eyes through which they are able to see everything around them.  I told her I didn’t know that.


Once the sticker was on me, she instructed me to go around the corner and into an NYU building.  The security guard, she said, would notice the sticker and check to see that my name was on a list.  Then I’d take the elevators to the sixth floor and look for Room 606.  It was confusing to find the room, she said, so she promised to call me back when I emerged from the elevator.


When she called back, she told me to walk past the picture of Billie Holiday and around the corner past a series of music practice rooms.  I did as she instructed and found Room 606, which had a honeycomb-cell symbol on the door.  “Be brave, Buzz,” the voice on the phone said before hanging up.  A woman emerged from Room 606 and greeted me, “Hi Buzz.” 


I finally got it.  Buzz was not a spaceman’s name but had bee connotations.  The woman explained (or maybe the phone voice had told me some of this—my recollection is fuzzy because at the time I was nervous and excited about what would be expected of me) that I’d have four minutes alone in the cell with three dancers.  That they would respond to my movements and mimic them.  That no one would be watching.  That I should make of the experience what I wanted.  That it would end in exactly four minutes when the music stopped.  She asked me if there was anything I wanted to leave with her while I went inside.  I gave her my sweatshirt and glasses. 


Inside were two casually dressed women and one man who were all down on the floor entwined theatrically in a frozen dance pose.  All was quiet.  Then the music started and I gingerly walked around them. They did not respond.  I was unnerved that they were not copying my movements, as I thought was promised.  I walked in a big square around them and self-consciously raised my arms a bit, but still they did not respond.  I’m the kind of person who, at parties with strangers, usually hovers in the corner near the chips and salsa. 


Something overcame me, though, and I suddenly got down on the floor and scooted in close.  Now the bees came to life, and I can’t really describe what happened next—it was all a fun blur—but one of the women was kind of in my lap at one point.  Just as I was getting comfortable, the music stopped and my four minutes were up.  The performance was incredible.

Half Truth

May 16, 2007

Last night I was carded, for the first time in years, at the Half King, a tavern owned by scribes and filmmakers.  I was thrilled: maybe the Ponce de Leon rejuvenating herbs that I had purchased online from the Nigerian oil minister were finally taking effect.  I was enjoying the moment.  Alas it was only a moment.  My dining companion, who had also been carded, gave me a patronizing, don’t-flatter-yourself look and proclaimed that the Half King’s policy was to card everyone.  I said that it wasn’t.  But I had no idea—she might have been right.  I lost myself in the crab cakes, which thankfully were moist and crabby and not the dough pucks so often turned out by inferior kitchens. 

I was wondering who this Half King was, and the restaurant’s Web site helpfully provided half an answer: 

The eighteenth-century Seneca chief known as “The Half King” is a figure so obscure that no one knows his real name – it was most likely Tanaghrisson, or something close to it.  Tanaghrisson stepped into American history in 1748, when the Iroquois League designated him leader of the Senecas and
Delawares who had migrated to the upper Ohio valley. Ordinarily an Iroquois headman who acted as an official spokesman for the League was called a “King”, but because the Ohio Indians were hunters and warriors without permanent council fire, Tanaghrisson enjoyed only an abridged authority; hence his title, “Half King.” 

Click here to read more.

Annals of Envy, Part I

May 14, 2007

Be warned Sopranos’ fans: if you haven’t yet seen last night’s episode, please stop reading this now!

I tuned into the show ten minutes late, just in time to see a battered Tony and Chris in the aftermath of a bad car wreck.  Chris, who’s in terrible shape and is coughing up blood, confesses to T that he’s not clean and begs the mob boss to help him. Chris is afraid of losing his license once the police arrive and he is tested for drugs.  Tony, who’s gotten as far as dialing 91 on his cell phone, could make Chris’s worries go away simply by taking his place in the driver’s seat. 

Instead, he shockingly suffocates his second cousin, blocking Chris’s nose so that he chokes on his own blood.  The scene is particularly disturbing because it’s not clear whether Tony is convinced that Chris is going to die before an ambulance arrives and is merely trying to cut short his suffering or whether he is cruelly murdering him. 

The latter proves to be the case: in imaginary (dream) and real sessions with his therapist, Jennifer Melfi, we learn that Tony despises his cousin.  Tony sees Chris as a weak, sniveling drug addict who can’t be trusted not to rat to the Feds.  His contempt for Chris knows no bounds: he beds one of Chris’s old girlfriends and does peyote with her, too.

Now I like Christopher Moltisanti, and I’ll miss him in the last three episodes.  If I were the kind of guy who let envy get the better of me, I’d rejoice at Chris’s death.  After all, he had the scorching hot girl, Adrianna (even if he ultimately had to off her), and he made a Hollywood movie, which I want to do.  And Michael Imperioli, who plays Chris, isn’t just a good actor, he’s encroached on the writing world by penning several episodes of The Sopranos.  What’s more, the real-life Chris had a bar in Manhattananother dream of mineand has a rock band, called La Dolce Vita, for which he is the lead singer and guitarist (while I am relegated to the ranks of the tone-deaf).  Oh yes, and he and his lovely, talented wife also own a theater.  But, as I said, I’m not the envious sort.