Archive for the ‘King’s Gambit book’ Category

All the Chess That’s Fit to Print

October 2, 2007

At The New York Times, the chess guy is Dylan Loeb McClain. He writes a column on Sunday and a regular blog called Gambit.

The royal game occasionally creeps into other parts of the paper, too. Witness this neat revelation in The Times Magazine for Sept. 16: When conservative gadfly Patrick Buchanan was asked to name his favorite recent gift, he said:“My wife bought me a chess set that consists of the Continental Army, with George Washington, and the British Army. I don’t play chess anymore, but it’s neat.”

And then there was Michael Weinreb’s review in the Sunday Book Review (Sept. 30) of, well, my book King’s Gambit.

Why Chess Makes Kasparov Qualified to Lead Russia

October 2, 2007

I am of course familiar with the stereotype of the chess player as madman. And in King’s Gambit I portray individual chess games as passionate, operatic encounters.

Thus I am always amused by the reverse stereotype: chess playing presented as sterile, as an activity as tedious as waiting for paint to dry. Last night a correspondent on “Anderson Cooper 360” briefly discussed Garry Kasparov’s candidacy for the presidency of Russia and said (and I apologize if I may have gotten an inconsequential word or two wrong; I was wearing my dozing-off cap, not my journalist hat): “He might make a very good president because he has a lot of experience sitting around with old guys where nothing much happens.”

King’s Gambit Book Signing in Greenwich Village

September 21, 2007

If you’re in New York City on Tuesday, please come to my first public event for King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father and the World’s Most Dangerous Game. On September 25 at 7:00 PM, I’ll be signing copies of the book and giving a short talk at Barnes & Noble, 4 Astor Place. At the event, I’ll be interviewed by Dr. Frank Brady, the president of the Marshall Chess Club and author of the definitive biography of Bobby Fischer.

You don’t need to be in New York to listen to my appearance on “The Leonard Lopate Show” on WNYC at 1:00 PM on Monday, September 24. The show will be streamed live on the Web.

Grandmaster Andy Soltis Says Accept “Gambit”

September 19, 2007

New York Post

I have always enjoyed the books and Chess Life column of grandmaster Andy Soltis. He can marshal words and turns of phrase as skillfully as he can marshal pawns and knights. And so his review of King’s Gambit in Sunday’s New York Post meant a lot to me. (I’m also tickled that the review appeared in the Post, whose headlines I’ve enjoyed for years). Under the headline ACCEPT ‘GAMBIT’ AS A GOOD READ, Soltis writes:

“Paul Hoffman, an accomplished author and magazine editor, was being interviewed for the job of publisher of the Encyclopedia Britannica in 2000 when the quirky new owner asked him just two questions. One was: What is the shortest possible checkmate?

“Hoffman, then 43, hadn’t played chess in 25 years. But he knew the Fool’s Mate (1 g4 e5 2 f3 Qh4), and this knowledge earned an impressive new addition to his résumé – one that turned out to be such a bizarre, stressful experience that he began playing tournament chess again for relief.

“His midlife crisis became a re-immersion in chess, including hanging out at a Moscow tournament with a world class player, Joel Lautier; investigating the bizarre subculture of “Grobsters” (1 g4 players) and Washington Square Park hustlers; and playing spectator at a world championship tournament in Moammar Khadafy’s Libya.

“He also tried to understand his con-man dad, who introduced him to the game and how he first became obsessed with it after his parents marriage collapsed.

“The result is King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father and the World’s Most Dangerous Game published this month by Hyperion…. Of the several general-interest books with a chess theme that appeared this year, this is the one to buy.”

The Knightmare Continues

September 18, 2007

Last night, the New York Knightsa powerhouse team on paperstruggled again and couldn’t extricate themselves from their calamitous four-round slump in the U.S. Chess League. They lamely drew with the Boston Blitz. Hikaru Nakamura, the most exciting young player in American chess, couldn’t score a win in his second appearance as a Knight on Board One. At least the nineteen-year-old phenom didn’t lose, as he did last week. But his position against Boston’s Larry Christiansen looked dicey for awhile and Hikaru’s teammates were afraid that he was going down.

Hikaru’s numerous fans on the Internet love his aggression but they are waiting for him to temper it with strategic vision. There was disapproving chatter about why he made most of his moves so incredibly fast as if he were playing bullet (one-minute chess). One grandmaster who was observing the game said, “Hikaru plays at the speed of light and wonders why he almost loses. I think he’ll get less cocky if he continues to do badly.”

Manager Irina Krush was in Gmunden, Austria, yesterday for a women’s blitz tournament that’s being staged concurrently with the World Senior Open. (Originally the women players were supposed to participate in a wear-what-you-want fashion show for the entertainment of the geriatric men, but fortunately someone scuttled that sexist idea.) With Irina away, the job of motivating the New York Knights fell on her husband and assistant manager Pascal Charbonneau.

When I interviewed Pascal for King’s Gambit, we spoke at length about how hard it was for them to play in a tournament together and both do well. If he’s doing well and she’s not, he can’t just channel all his energy into continuing his winning ways, but also must try to buck her upand vice versa, if she’s doing well and he’s not.

Team play together is a bit different because there is a week between rounds and thus more time to recover from a brutal loss. I was struck, though, by how in the first round they made nearly consecutive blunders, as if they were wired too much into each other’s play. Last night, for whatever reason, Pascal seemed to be able to focus fully on his game against his old college chess teammate, fellow grandmaster Eugene Perelshtyen. “I was not happy to give up all my pawns in the endgame,” Pascal told me, but he succeeded in weaving a satisfying, Internet-crowd-pleasing mating net.


Entertainment Weekly Awards King’s Gambit an A-

September 11, 2007

King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game was published today. It’s a strange feelingjoy that this long project of mine is now complete. Hope that the book will find its way onto the reading lists of nonplayers who want to understand how this seemingly arcane game brings out strong emotions (and, sometimes, crazy behavior) in both professional players and amateurs alike. Hope that my father-son story of deception and betrayal may resonate with other people.

I have now posted the beginning of the book on my Web site.

I am cheered by the review of King’s Gambit in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly. The magazine gave my book an A-: “The first chapter of Hoffman’s chess-obsessed book includes the phrase ‘an early light-squared bishop sortie by White.’ If these words send you running for the relative simplicity of a Parcheesi board, fear not. Hoffman, the former editor-in-chief of Discover, weaves a layman-friendly work about family (specifically his father, a chess-playing pathological liar) and the neurotic personalities who are consumed by bishops, rooks, and Sicilian openings. Whether pondering why top female players are so scarce or detailing his tense journey to a Libyan tournament (where he is suspected of being a CIA agent). Hoffman traps readers from his opening moves.”

A Whale of an Index

September 10, 2007

Two-time U.S. Women’s Champion Jennifer Shahade blogged about how she began “reading” my book King’s Gambit by consulting the index for all mentions of Shahade.

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

Bust, 376-77

Clinton, Bill, 311

Cruise, Tom, 72

Fishburne, Laurence, 65

Houdini, Harry 20

Madonna, 199

“The Yin of the Nerd in Lockstep with the Yang of the Jock”

September 7, 2007

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The secret is out. The New Jersey Knockouts have discovered why the New York Knights have had an incredibly dismal start in the U.S. Chess League. The Knockouts blog noted that there is something wrong with the photo (above) of 15-year-old Robert Hess (the Knight’s third board) that appeared in the laudatory profile of him in the New York Daily News. (I believe the News reporter was going for a Pulitzer, or the position of Poet Laureate, when he wrote of Hess: “the yin of the nerd in lockstep with the yang of the jock.”) What’s wrong, of course, is the position of the board: the White square does not belong in the left-hand corner.

OK, it’s a common mistake in movies and even public spaces. (In King’s Gambit, I describe how Au Bon Pain cemented chess tables into the ground in Harvard Square with the boards positioned incorrectly.) The difference here is that the prop master was an international chess master.

So this weekend, in preparation for Monday’s big match against San Francisco, Knights manager and task master Irina Krush is foregoing the Gorgonzola and putting her team through grinding, back-to-basic drills.

“Now, Hikaru, practice putting the queen on its own color… Very good, Hikaru. Now remember what Nimzowitsch said: ‘Keep the queen at home until at least the third move.’ I want to see nice classical development. No c3 on move two.  Yes, you got it, knights before bishops.”

“When you castle, Pascal, my dear, it’s always the king that moves two squares.”

“Now, Robert, a pawn can move two squares only on its first move. And can you lose the football helmet during the game? Remember we’re playing over the Internet. Your teammates, not the opponents, are the only ones who are going to be distracted by your headgear.”

“Brilliant, Elizabeth, you set up all eight pawns correctly!”

“Jay, the knight’s the only piece that can jump.”

“Matt, very good, you got itthe knights start next to the rooks.”

The Gorgonzola Defense

September 6, 2007

Gallows humor swept the back room of the Marshall Chess Club last night after the New York Knights went down to their second straight 3-1 defeat in the U.S. Chess League, this time at the hands of the Philadelphia Inventors. “What do you have to say to your fans?” I asked manager Irina Krush moments after the match ended.

“Do we still have fans?” she replied. After some thought, she added: “We lost on boards three and four this time. Last week we lost on boards one and two. Maybe now we’ve gotten all the losses out of our system.”

Before the match, I had dinner with three of the Knights at Piadina, an Italian restaurant a stone’s throw from the Marshall. Four of usNew York’s chess power couple (Irina and Pascal Charbonneau), Jay “I’d like to play a rated game every night” Bonin, and meoccupied a cozy table in the middle of the place. Irina had chosen Piadina because a meal there, along with a cafe latte, was part of her pre-game ritual that had served her so well last season. Perhaps the problem was that, after much discussion, she adventurously deviated in her choice of entrée to the daily special of artichoke ravioli with gorgonzola.

When I was working on King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game, Pascal told me about their respective pre-game rituals. “Some chess players are superstitious about what they wear,” Pascal said. “I couldn’t care less. Irina always gives me this you’re-too-rational speech. She’s superstitious about her shirt, her jacket, the pen she uses.”

Next Monday, when the Knights play again, I’ll make sure she sticks to one of her regular dishes.

Owen Wilson and Me

September 4, 2007

The current issue of People, with an anguished Owen Wilson on the cover, is the first consumer magazine to review my book. I’m happy that People awarded King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game, three and a half out of four stars!

“Chess has long been known as the game of kings,” People wrote,” but according to journalist and former Encyclopaedia Britannica president Paul Hoffman, it also attracts models, madmen, and malcontents. Take Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of chess’s international governing body, who rules the semi-autonomous Russian province of Kalmykia and believes the game has extraterrestrial origins. The author’s thorough study of the sport is rife with backstabbing, suicide and adultery. The sum is a story readers will find fascinating, even if the closest they’ve ever come to playing the game in checkers.”

King’s Gambit will be in the stores in seven days, but pre-publication copies are available at 34% off.

PLEASE PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY!