Archive for the ‘Krush’ Category

Chess Lies

August 23, 2007

Yesterday I watched a loud dispute between two woodpushers in Washington Square Park. Neither in fact was a particularly good player, but each was obnoxiously insisting that he had mastered the deepest secrets of the game. (Which was a ridiculous claim, and would have been unbelievable even if the players had been much more accomplished; Garry Kasparov, the greatest chess talent ever, once told me that there are still things about the game that even he does not understand.)

Why is it that chess players are so prone to exaggerate their prowess at the 64 squares? In my youth, when I frequented the nineteen stone chess tables in Washington Square Park (which would figure in movies like “Searching for Bobby Fischer”), I often faced patzers who fabricated stories about how they’d once trounced the great Bobby Fischer at blitz. They’d even point to the exact table on which the purported victory took place, and some would show me the moves of these alleged miniatures. If Fischer had lost that many games back then, he would have given up chess long before he famously won the world championship from the Russian standout Borris Spassky.

I’ve noticed that when chess amateurs describe their ability, they are prone to add a couple of hundred points to their peak rating. And when they tell you the score of a lengthy blitz match against a stronger player, the score tends to shift in their favor with each telling.

Are chess nuts more likely to bend the truth than people who don’t know how a knight moves? Or is mild résumé inflation part of the human condition?

Let Me Dream: King’s Gambit the Movie

July 26, 2007

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

Krush Rules

July 23, 2007

While killing time on an airport stopover in Atlanta, I noticed there is a great photo of Irina Krush, the new U.S. Women’s Chess Champion at Chess Life Online.  Even if you’ve already read about her victory on CLO, you should look again because they’ve substituted a fantastic new picture, which shows off her love of animals.

Ignoring My Fortune Cookie, I’m Off to Costa Rica

July 23, 2007

The legendary Eek the Geek at Coney Island. Photo by Damian Panitz.

My last fortune cookie said: “Action with a brain. Today you should proceed with caution.” So what did I do? On the spur of the moment, I booked a flight to Costa Rica. My friend Damiana tech head, hard rocker, and filmmakersent me an email from an Internet hut somewhere in Central America and invited me to join him. The invitation came at the right time: this is the perfect week for me to get away, before I start doing promotional activities related to the publication of King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game.

Any trip with Damian should be interesting. The man likes freaks. So much so that he’s been photographing them for years. His idea of the perfect wedding is one where the waiters and barmaids are midgets, fat ladies, and other denizens of circus sideshows. (While he was telling me this, his girlfriend looked a bit horrified; she said that she wanted a traditional wedding—white dress, white cake, white drapes.)

One day, when Damian couldn’t leave work, he sent me a text message imploring me to go in his place to an all-day reunion of sideshow freaks at Coney Island. I was happy to go because, sadly, the Coney Island amusement park is being torn down this year to make way for nondescript luxury condos and upscale boardwalk concessions. I went with a friend, and we had a great time watching two generations of fire eaters, sword swallowers, snake wranglers, dancing dwarfs and contortionists do their thing. It was all very quaint, even family-friendly, compared to some of the performance art I’ve seen in Manhattan. (The only part that made me squeamish was when the sword swallow instructed a member of the audience pull the sword out of his throat and stomach to prove that it was real.)

I’ll be in Costa Rica for a week, and I hope Damian’s interests extend beyond freaks to the beach and the jungle. From there I won’t be able to watch on-line as my friends Pascal Charbonneau and Irina Krush kick chess butt in Montreal, but I hope to have the sporadic Internet connection so that I can check on their progress and blog intermittently.

No Rest for the Chess Weary

July 21, 2007

Irina Krush, 23, the new U.S. Women’s Chess Champion, is making her way today from Stillwater, Oklahoma, the improbable site of the women’s championship, to Montreal, where she is playing in the seven-round 2007 MonRoi International Women’s Grand-Prix Finale. The first round is tomorrowshe doesn’t even get a day’s restand continues through July 28. Chess organizers generally do not consult each other about the timing of their tournaments, and so the professional chess circuit can be grueling or even maddeningly impossible. (A ridiculous example of the latter happened in May, when Gata Kamsky, the top rated American player, had to sit out the U.S. Championship, also in Stillwater, because of a prior commitment to play in a strong tournament in Europe.) OK, Krush’s hurried travel to Quebec is made easier by the flush of victoryand the fact that chessmate Pascal Charbonneau is waiting there to celebrate with her. They are both two-time champions, he of Canada and she of U.S. Women’s chess, of course.

While Irina was tearing up the chessboard in Stillwater, which is America’s newest chess mecca thanks to the generous sponsorship of Frank Berry, Pascal was playing his first two games in the 2007 Eighth Montreal Chess International, one of the strongest chess events ever held in North America. It is so strong that Pascal, rated 2503, is seeded last! He lost the first game and then winged his way through an opening he barely new (the White side of the Two Knight’s Defense) to achieve a draw against “Chucky,” the No. 1 seed Vassily Ivanchuk of Ukraine. Ivanchuk, the No. 4 player in the world, with a rating of 2762, outranked Pascal by an imposing 250 points.

Pascal told me that he was happy Irina had won. Now, he said, he could try to focus on his own remaining games in the tournament (there are seven more rounds, the last on July 28) rather than worrying about how she was doing.

Thanks to MonRoi, the games in both and 2007 MonRoi International Women’s Grand-Prix Finale.

Irina Krush is the new U.S. Women’s Chess Champion

July 20, 2007

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Irina Krush, 23, is the new U.S. Women’s Chess Champion. She went undefeated in nine rounds, winning five games and drawing four.  She won the title once before, when she was 14 and became the youngest U.S. Women’s Chess Champion ever, a record that still stands. In 2000, she continued to break records by becoming the first American woman to earn the title of international master. Irina emigrated from the Ukraine in 1988 before she turned five, the age at which her father taught her the game.

Irina’s life revolves around the game. “I am very chessy,” she once told me, when I was interviewing her for King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game. Irina is uncomfortable giving interviews—she’d rather be playing chess than talking about the game. But one morning at 3:00 A.M., when I was driving home from a tournament with her and Pascal Charbonneau, she was unusually philosophical. Of all the top players I know, she is the most idealistic about the power of chess to give meaning to life.

“Chess is a gift that civilization handed us,” she told me. “I believe chess can bring me closer to the spiritual part of this world in a way that simple material stuff can’t.” She sees no intrinsic reason why women can’t play as well as men but doubts whether there will ever be many women in chess. “You have to be obsessive to play the game well, and women aren’t as obsessive as men,” she said. “I’m not fanatically crazy about chess. I like the game but I’m not going to study it ten hours a day like many male grandmasters did when they were teenagers.”

U.S. Chess Queens Call a Truce

July 18, 2007

Irina Krush, the No. 1 seed in the 2007 U.S. Women’s Championship had a short draw last night with No. 2 seed Anna Zatonskih in the fourth round of the nine-round tourney in Oklahoma, an unlikely chess mecca. Krush’s official chess rating is only a hair higher than Zatonskih’s. I had expected Irina to go all out to beat her chief rival because she’ll need to lap Zatonskih, who is half a point ahead of her, if she is going to win the coveted title of U.S. Women’s Champion. But Zatonskih chose an unambitious response to Krush’s Queen’s Gambit Accepted and the two cerebral gladiators agreed to a very quick draw, on the 11th move.

Grandmaster Pascal Charbonneau, who watched the game from Montreal over the Internet, told me that the drawn position was dull. “Neither of them wanted to continue this boring game,” he said, “because there wasn’t much fight in the position.” He said that, even with the 1/2 point deficit, Irina stood well in the tournament, because she would have more Whites than Blacks in the remaining five rounds and had already faced her strongest adversaries.

Women and Chess

June 28, 2007

“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….

Kudos to Krush!

June 12, 2007

Irina Krush in a blitz tournament (five minutes a game) at the Polgar Chess Center in Queens.

Irina Krush, a member of my fantasy chess team and a friend whose chess career I’ve followed closely for a few years, can rejoice at her strong performance (four wins, including one over U.S. Champion Alexander Shabalov, one draw, and one loss) at the just-concluded National Open in Las Vegas. 

Susan Polgar, hardly a chess slouch herself (a former women’s world champion, she is the only women in the United States to hold the title of grandmaster—and the first woman in the world to earn the GM title the same way men do), reports on her blog that Irina gained fifteen rating points at the National Open to become just the third female player in the country whose rating has broken the 2500 barrier.  Irina deserves a warm welcome back home in Brighton Beach.

Now rated 2512, Irina sees no intrinsic reason why women can’t play as well as men but doubts whether there will ever be many women in chess.  “You have to be obsessive to play the game well, and women aren’t as obsessive as men,” she told me when I interviewed her for King’s Gambit: A Father, a Son, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game.  “I’m not fanatically crazy about chess.  I like the game but I’m not going to study it ten hours a day like many male grandmasters did when they were teenagers.”


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