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”: