Archive for the ‘Etienne Bacrot’ Category

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.”