The first picture proves that chess masters can be very happy: GM Pascal Charbonneau, two-time champion of Canada, and IM Irina Krush, two-time U.S. Women’s Champion. The second shows that they can be serious: flanked by Marshall Chess Club president Frank Brady, I wait (in my designer T-shirt—I dressed up out of respect for my audience) to field a tricky question from a listener. The third shows the crowd that assembled for the book signing.
Archive for the ‘Jennifer Shahade’ Category
I love indexes. Today I found my old Thomas calculus book from high school, and, just as I remembered, there was a little hijinks in the index. It says, “Whales, p. 188.” But turn to page 188 and you’ll find no mention of whales; there are two graphs on the page, though, that are vaguely whale-shaped.
Can you name the book that contains the following index entries?
Allen, Woody, 20
Clinton, Bill, 311
Cruise, Tom, 72
Fishburne, Laurence, 65
Houdini, Harry 20
photo of the 2006 New York Knights by John Fernandez
U.S. Chess League Commissioner Greg Shahade has announced that Hikaru Nakamura is joining the New York Knights for the 2007 season. Hikaru has an uncompromising, go-for-broke playing style that makes his games a real treat for the crowd. He even trots out openings (like bringing his queen out on the second move of a double-king-pawn opening) that would get him laughed out of the local chess club if it weren’t for the fact that he is the second-highest rated player in the country.
The above photo is of the 2006 New York Knights; from left to right are two-time Canadian Champion Pascal Charbonneau, two-time U.S. Women’s Champion Irina Krush, two-time U.S. Women’s Champion Jennifer Shahade, Matthew Herman, and Robert Hess.
My over-active imagination has been fueled by a caller from Hollywood who inquired about film rights to my book. And so I’ve come up with a fantasy cast for King’s Gambit the movie:
The Cast (in order of appearance)
Johnny Depp as Paul Morphy
Rosie O’Donnell as Morphy’s mother
James Gandolfini as my father (because Rodney Dangerfield, Jackie Gleason, John Belushi, and John Candy are unfortunately unavailable)
George Clooney as me
Angela Landsbury as Mrs. Perrutz (my kindly therapist when I was three)
Jake Gyllenhaal as Pascal Charbonneau
Natalie Portman as Irina Krush
David Blaine as David Blaine
Scarlett Johanssen as Jennifer Shahade
Reese Witherspoon as Susan Polgar
Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Garry Kasparov
Jim Carey as Nigel Short
Ben Kingsley as Bruce Pandolfini
Anthony Hopkins as Claude Bloodggod
Mel Gibson (behaving like he did when he encountered the trooper) as Bobby Fischer
Six years ago I watched legendary chess teacher Bruce Pandolfini (who is played by Ben Kingsley in “Searching for Bobby Fischer”) give a lesson to Fabiano Caruana, eight. I was observing the lesson because I was writing a profile of Bruce for The New Yorker.
Now, at the age of 14 years and 350 days, Fabiano has reached the chess stratosphere. He has become the country’s youngest grandmaster ever, breaking Hikaru Nakamura’s 2003 record of 15 years and 58 days. (Nakamura, for his part, had broken Bobby’s Fischer’s 1958 record by three months; Fischer’s record had stood for 44 years!) Congratulations Fabiano! In Chess Life Online, Jennifer Shahade reports on how Fabiano achieved the GM title (which still must be formally granted by FIDE, the world chess federation).
Here’s what I wrote in The New Yorker (June 4, 2001):
Fabiano Caruana, the top-ranked player in the country under the age of eleven, was happy to see Pandolfini when we reached his parents’ Park Slope apartment. He folded up his scooter and plopped down at a chess table in the front room. He is small for his years—he is eight—and has curly brown hair and bright, alert eyes. Pandolfini was eager to show Fabiano some new rook and pawn endings, but Fabiano insisted on playing a game. Pandolfini chose a cramped formation called the French Defense, a favorite of Botvinnik’s. Fabiano, a tenacious attacker, couldn’t sit still while he played; he stood up or slung both legs up on the table, and stared off into space while Pandolfini was thinking. When Pandolfini moved, he responded instantly with a move of his own.
“The little machine is eating me alive,” Pandolfini said, “but that pawn move can’t be right. It weakens the dark squares.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Fabiano said.
“Of course it does,” Pandolfini said.
“No, it doesn’t,” Fabiano repeated.
“Fabiano’s greatest strength,” Pandolfini told me later, after Fabiano had lost the game, “is that he has the courage of his convictions. He is stubborn and sticks to his ideas, come hell or high water. That serves him well in tournament play-you need to believe in yourself-but it makes him harder to teach. When he has a misguided idea, it’s not easy to talk him out of it.”
“There’s a reason why women themselves do not excel at the game,” Garry Kasparov once told me over dinner. “Chess is a combination of war, science, and art, areas in which men dominate and women are naturally inferior. Not by choice but by design. I tell the truth, even if it is not what people want to hear.”
In King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game, I devote a forty-page chapter called “Female Counterplay” to women in chess. It’s not so much a theoretical discussion as it is a portrait of the chess experiences of Jennifer Shahade and Irina Krush.
At Chess Life Online, Jennifer recently posted a fascinating interview she did with Elizabeth Vicary, a chess expert and legendary junior-high-school chess coach in Brooklyn. Vicary just finished her masters thesis on girls and chess. Her discussion with Jennifer is a must-read for anyone interested in the contentious subject of cognitive differences between men and women. Here’s a snippet of their conversation:
JS-What surprised you most through your research?
EV- How sexist I was as a teacher. I thought I was enlightened, feminist, etc. and that I didn’t favor boys over girls at all. But after a couple days of watching myself, I realized I have a lot of work to do. Even though I call on both genders a similar amount, I found that I ask girls much easier questions. And honestly, often it was because I didn’t think they were capable of answering the harder ones and I didn’t want to embarrass them….
JS-I blushed when I read the part where you discovered you asked girls easier questions, because I also consider myself an enlightened feminist but, I definitely also ask girls easier questions… I didn’t consider this habit critically till I read your thesis… I always did it consciously, hoping to get more girls involved.
EV-There is some superficial value in it, but it’s infantilizing, and just perpetuates any actual skill difference. It’s naïve to think you’re fooling them. Kids pick up on things like that quickly….
Hikaru Nakamura’s star in the chess firmament is rising even as Gata Kamsky’s is flickering (and will hopefully rekindle). The 19-year-old resident of White Plains, New York, came in an uncontested first this weekend in the National Open in Las Vegas.
Nakamura first broke records at the age of 10, when he became the youngest master ever in America, and then again at 15, when he became a grandmaster at a younger age than Bobby Fischer. His interest in chess seemed to wane when he entered college but now the passion is back—and he is playing and studying chess with avengence.
Nakamura was gracious—a rare and welcome quality in a world of grandmasters known for their runaway cocksureness—when Jennifer Shahade interviewed him for Chess Life Online She told him that he owed his victory to “playing real openings for a change” and to the encouragement offered by fans.
“Considering my recent results have been less than stellar,” he said, “and the fact that my confidence hasn’t been as high as in the past, it was so nice that so many players offered me kind words and wished me good luck. That other people still believe in me, meant a lot.”