Archive for the ‘King’s Gambit book’ Category

“I’m a Terror to Teachers”

April 7, 2008

In King’s Gambit: A Son, A Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game, I wrote about my losses (expected but painful nonetheless) in simultaneous chess exhibitions to Bent Larsen and Garry Kasparov. On Friday, I had the opportunity to be on the other side of the table when I played 24 kids at once at the chess club in my son’s elementary school. I now appreciate the stamina that simuls require. I was nearly dizzy when it was all over and dropped a bishop in a twenty-fifth game, against the sole adult who crashed the gathering.

Later that evening, the chess club held a bake sale at Poetry Night at the school. A couple hundred people showed up to hear the kids read verse that they had composed. My eight-year-old was one of the readers. He wouldn’t tell me in advance what he was going to read. His classmates recited nice, sentimental ditties about the beauty of sunsets, deer, and swans. Not my kid. He’s a little Jack Nicholson. He brought down the house with a poem that began: “I’m a terror to teachers/ a stingray to substitutes/ I can make the clock hand go to 3:30/ when it’s only been two seconds of math.”


Why Grandmasters Need Helpmates

December 11, 2007

After five rounds of the Marshall Chess Club championship, grandmaster Jaan Ehlvest, the defending champion, is in the lead with 4 points. Six other players, including New York Knights manager Irina Krush, are in close pursuit and tied for second with 3.5 points. The final four rounds will take place next weekend.

Two years ago, I had an amusing experience with Ehlvest, who was once ranked No. 5 in the world. The story, which I tell in King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game, illustrates why grandmasters are not necessarily the best people to organize and promote chess events, even if their command of sixty-four squares is unsurpassed.

Ehlvest invited me to his six-game match against Zappa, the world amateur computer champion, on April 29 and 30, 2005. The match was being held in an auditorium in Estonian House, an old ornate building in Manhattan that had been a speakeasy during Prohibition. The promotional flier billed Alexander Shabalov, the 2003 U.S. champion, as doing the play-by-play commentary for the audience. Ehlvest set the admission price for the first evening at a whopping $59. I showed up at the scheduled hour as his nonpaying guest. The event was a disaster. The auditorium was empty. There was not a single paying customer, Shabalov stayed home (we were told) because he had forgotten that it was his wife’s birthday, and the computer itself never arrived. We ended up drinking vodka for the evening after Ehlvest was unable to reach the machine’s programmer and handler on his cell phone.

Latest Review of King’s Gambit

December 8, 2007

The Oregonian is the latest newspaper to review my book. Under the title “Mated to a Fanatical Spouse: Chess Mastery,” the review begins:

“After reading King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game, Paul Hoffman’s memoir of his and others’ lives in and around the world of professional chess, it’s easy to see how this mesmerizing sport keeps itself largely removed from the hearts and minds of the American public.

“For every Garry Kasparov, the former champ and would-be successor to Vladimir Putin, witness: the cruel decline of another former champ and current anti-Semitic expatriate Bobby Fischer; the narcissism of Kalmykia President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a millionaire who runs the international chess federation FIDE and whose own Russian republic chokes on dust as he showers the chess world with his excesses; and the madness of Vladimir Nabokov’s Luzhin, the broken grandmaster culled from reality in the novel The Defense.

“Neither flawed genius nor chess is new to Hoffman….”

And the whole review can be read here.

King’s Gambit Signing in Philadelphia

November 23, 2007


Next Thursday, November 29, I’ll be in Philadelphia for a book talk and signing at 7:00 PM at a cool independent bookstore called Head House Books. Head House is at 619 South Second Street.


Author’s Nightmare

November 14, 2007

A friend told me that he had a dream (“Sorry, Paul,” he prefaced it) in which my book King’s Gambit had sold only 431 copies. I gulped when he told me this. It’s not enough, I thought, that I have to have anxiety dreams about my failing; my friends get to do it for me, too!

There is a rich tradition of authors worrying about whether their books are going to slip into oblivion. Even winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature have had this anxiety.

“I can remember Bertrand Russell telling me of a horrible dream,” the great number theorist G.H. Hardy wrote in his wonderful book A Mathematician’s Apology (1940). “He was in the top floor of the University Library, about A.D. 2100. A library assistant was going round the shelves carrying an enormous bucket, taking down books, glancing at them, restoring them to the shelves or dumping them into the bucket. At last he came to three large volumes which Russell could recognize as the last surviving copy of [Russell’s 1913 magnum opus] Principia Mathematica. He took down one of the volumes, turned over a few pages, seemed puzzled for a moment by the curious symbolism, closed the volume, balanced it in his hand and hesitated….”

“Sets a New Standard for Serious Nonfiction Writing on Chess”

October 28, 2007

Today’s Dallas Morning News has a review of my book by Tim Redman, founder of the Chess Program at the University of Texas at Dallas and former president of the U.S. Chess Federation:

“Paul Hoffman’s engaging memoir relates how chess rescued him from a troubled adolescence and then offered solace to him as an adult: ‘Chess offered a tidy black-and-white sanctuary from the turmoil in the rest of my life.’

“Such a tale is typical for serious adult chess players…. But Mr. Hoffman’s writing skills and close access to the top echelons of chess make this book stand out.

“And what a group these players be! As a teenager, Mr. Hoffman beats his first grandmaster, Nicholas Rossolimo, at the latter’s small chess studio in Greenwich Village. During the course of the evening, Nick served a supper of steamed mussels with garlic, conversed with Paul’s father about Nabokov and Sartre, played chess with Paul, and consumed five bottles of white wine before resigning a lost game by dipping his king in the mussel broth and scattering the rest of the pieces.

“Mr. Hoffman’s descriptions are letter-perfect, and he doesn’t shy away from the game’s negative effects on some: its addictive nature and its frequent association with insanity and obsession. Indeed, as he notes, the chess world readily accepts eccentric behavior. For some, regrettably, chess is the Sargasso Sea of intellect.

“…Mr. Hoffman has sought to comprehend ‘the inner life of chess players.’ Whether nonfiction can accomplish this goal as well as fiction… remains to be seen. But Mr. Hoffman has come closer than anyone so far.

“The book’s great strength lies in its many interviews with key players…. His account of his encounter with the Keystone Kops of the Libyan security state, where he went to report on the World Chess Championship, is harrowing though comical in retrospect. The book is rich in such narrative treasures.

King’s Gambit, in short, sets a new standard for serious nonfiction writing on chess.”

The entire review is here.

Next King’s Gambit Signing

October 18, 2007

I’ll be doing my next talk and book signing at the historic Marshall Chess Club on Tuesday, November 13, at 7:00 PM. If you haven’t been to the Marshall, you should check it out. It’s in a brownstone at 23 West 10th Street in New York City, and there are great black and white photos on the walls of chess giants of yesteryear. At my talk, Dr. Frank Brady, the president of the Marshall, will lead a Q & A about King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game.

Last Sunday’s San Diego Union-Tribune ran a piece called “SO MANY BOOKS…” It began “…and so little time. Every year in this country some 60,000 tomes are published, and [we] can’t get to most of them. Nonetheless, we’ve culled some from the herd that might be worth a look. These are not reviews—they are book alerts.” Thankfully, one of the four books culled was King’s Gambit, for which the Union-Tribune offered a sweet tag line: “The blood sport through the lens of an expert observer of the game, and of life.”

It’s Tough Being an Author

October 15, 2007

Mediabistro threw a publishing party at Bar Martignetti at which I was the guest of honor (I’m the guy in the bottom photo with the wine glass). I enjoyed telling the assembled literary celebrants about King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game and raffling off three copies of the book.


King’s Gambit Book Party

October 12, 2007

I should have posted this earlier.  Jennifer Shahade took some great photos at my Barnes and Noble reading for King’s Gambit and put them on her blog at Chess Life Online.

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.


King’s Gambit Accepted

October 11, 2007

Today marks the one-month anniversary of the publication of my new book, King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game. I’m happy with the response of readers and reviewers to the book, and have gotten feedback from far-flung regions of the world. So thank you all.

As a writer who holed himself up for two years in Internet cafes (after a couple of years of solid research), it was gratifying for me to read a review in Newsday that acknowledged the complexity of the book and responded to my portrayal of chess as a passionate activity.”Chess is truly a great subject,” Emily Gordon wrote in Newsday. “There’s nothing sedentary about the players of this seated game. Hoffman – who once played Kasparov himself – seems to have met most of them, and he has a terrific ear for dialogue. He shows us that chess rivals can be close as lovers: “After he downed another vodka, Karpov looked a bit wistful. ‘I know Kasparov as well as I know anyone,’ he told me. ‘I know his smell. I can read him by that.’ Indeed, the two men had sat face-to-face for a total of perhaps 750 hours, their foreheads sometimes only millimeters apart as they leaned in over the chessboard. ‘I recognize the smell when he is excited and I know it when he is scared. We may be enemies, but we are intimate enemies.'”

You can read the entire review here.