Archive for the ‘U.S. Chess League’ Category

Superstition in Chess

November 19, 2007


Last week at the Marshall Chess Club, Jay Bonin wielded the sword and shield that brought the New York Knights enough luck for them to make it to the semifinals of the US Chess League, but not enough luck to get them to the finals.

Is there really luck in chess, the consummate game of skill? Of course, there is. I’m lucky if my opponent slept poorly the night before my game. I’m lucky if he plays the one sequence of opening movies that I studied for hours before the game. I’m lucky if he blunders horribly in a position that he could otherwise have won (although maybe I helped cause the blunder by creating so many problems for him at the chessboard that I wore hi down).

In King’s Gambit, I write about superstitions at the board. Players who insist in wearing their lucky T-shirt or underwear or keeping score with the same special pen. World champion Anatoly Karpov was famous for not washing his hair when he was on a winning streak. Grandmaster Nigel Short said of Karpov: “Unfortunately, he had long tournaments where he never lost a game—the guy got greasy.”

Care to share your chess superstitions, or special rituals before the game?


Good Knight

November 15, 2007

The New Yorks Knights bid to win the US Chess League was stopped cold last night by the Boston Blitz. Board One, the battle of former US chess champions, Hikaru Nakamura for New York and Larry Christiansen for Boston, was the first game finished; it was a hard fought draw. Then Iryna Zenyuk, the hero of the Knights this year, couldn’t continue her winning ways and went down to her first defeat of the season on Board Four.

On Board Two, Pascal Charbonneau, playing Black for New York, had a great position. On move 29 (shown below)

he shifted his rook to g7, a logical-looking move, training the queen and rook battery on the White king. But White can then defend by retreating his bishop to f1. Black’s position, of course, is still strong, though. When I joined all the Knights for a gallows-humor post-mortem afterward, Pascal realized that on move 29 he should have penetrated with his queen to d2 so that he is forking White’s bishop and b-pawn.

Later Pascal had blundered into the position shown below, in which White, on move 35, has a cute, decisive shot. Can you find it?

The shot is Rh4, attacking and winning Black’s queen. The undefended rook is immune to capture by the queen because then White mates on g7. After Rh4, the French Canadian showed his excellent command of English by uttering a choice expletive.

With Pascal’s loss, New York was down two games, and would lose the match no matter what happened in the sole remaining encounter, between “Sleeping Knight” Jay Bonin and Denys Shmelov. Bonin, in fact, probably had a losing game because Shmelov was up material and had too many pawns. To the delight of his teammates, Bonin ended up swindling Shmelov by weaving a mating net and dangerously advancing his one foot soldier.

Marshmallows Win; Knights Rule

November 8, 2007

My loyalties were torn again last night. I wanted to go to the Marshall Chess Club* and watch the New York Knights in person in the first round of the playoffs in the U.S. Chess League. But I also wanted to attend the one-year birthday party of The Brooklyn Kitchen, a groovy store in über-groovy Williamsburg, the section of Brooklyn in which I encamp whenever I’m in the city.

My stomach won out, but that’s because I could be really nerdy at the party and occasionally fire up my laptop to look online and check on the progress of the Knights.

The highpoint of the party was the Bodega Challenge, a cooking competition in which people brought Thanksgiving side dishes that they had prepared from ingredients purchased at a bodega. There was a $20 cap on the ingredients, and the contestants had to produce receipts. The bodegas had to be pre-qualified by Brooklyn Kitchen: they weren’t supposed to sell sushi, kombucha, imported beer besides Heinekin, organic milk, or Pirate’s Booty, and they couldn’t take credit cards. A true bodega would sell lottery tickets, Velveeta, and individually wrapped slices of Kraft cheese. It would have a resident cat and a Plexiglas divider between the customers and the cashier.

Some entrants tried to go upscale with carrot ginger pumpkin soup, but the judges singled out a gloppy marshmallow concoction festooned with a faux turkey made from apple slices and post-expiration-date pistachios.

When I peaked at the Knights, top board Hikaru Nakamura had reached a queen and pawn ending. Sending his king to the center of the board, he planned to jettison all of his kingside pawns in an attempt to queen a pawn on the queenside. The game turned out to be a draw because his opponent could spoil the fun by perpetually checking Nakamura’s king. His teammates, Irina Krush, Jay Bonin, and Irina Zenyuk, all came through with wins to wallop Philadelphia and advance to the semifinals next Wednesday against Boston.

[*speaking of the Marshall, next Tuesday, November 13, at 7:30 PM I’ll be doing a book talk and signing there on King’s Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game.]

Knights Now Try to Do What the Yankees Didn’t

November 1, 2007


It was a wonderful night. No one egged my house or tp-ed my yard, and the New York Knights finally pulled it all together and made it to the playoffs in the U.S. Chess League by defeating the New Jersey Knockouts 2.5 to 1.5. The match was extremely tense. Early on, New York soared to a commanding 2-0 lead, with victories by “Sleeping Knight” Jay Bonin and Irina Krush. The Knights then gave back a point when Pascal Charbonneau misplayed a drawn rook ending against Joel Benjamin.

Everything came down to whether Irina Zenyuk (shown above) could hold a draw on board 4. After 117 moves, and more than four hours of play, she did.

Credit also goes to Queens. The outer borough played a supporting role in enabling the Knights to reach the playoffs: they crushed Baltimore.

The Knights also cast off the spell of the Nakamura paradox, proving that they can win even when their top player is sitting out.

Next Wednesday the Knights will square off in the playoffs against the Philadelphia Inventors.

Knights’ Last Stand

October 31, 2007

My loyalties are torn tonight. I’ll be in Woodstock trick-or-treating with my eight-year-old, while the New York Knights have their last, up-hill shot of making it into the playoffs of the U.S. Chess League. So I won’t be watching them play live at the Marshall Chess Club tonight, but will be observing them online as they down the New Jersey Knockouts. Go Knights!

Knights Need Help from Queens

October 25, 2007

Alas, the New York Knights went down to defeat last night in the US Chess League at the hands of the Philadelphia Inventors. The first two boards, Irina Krush and Yuri Lapshun, lost; Robert Hess drew, and Irina Zenyuk won. The last round of the regular season is next week, and the Knights have an outside chance of reaching the playoffs. They will need to defeat the New Jersey Knockouts and score at least a full win more than the Baltimore Kingfishers achieve against the Queens Pioneers. So how about a little cross-borough cooperation, with the Pioneers doing their part to help their Manhattan brethren?

The Knights can’t yet get it together when their star Hikaru Nakamura is otherwise occupied. He is off in Barcelona crushing grandmasters by making his moves at his usual breakneck speed.

New York Pins Hope on Wild Knight

October 24, 2007


The New York Knights have to win tonight if they are going to have a shot at the playoffs in the US Chess League, but their top man, Hikaru Nakamura, is in Barcelona kicking butt in the nine-round Casino de Barcelona tournament there (the Web site is in Catalan!). The White Plains wonder is in uncontested first place in Spain after five rounds, with three wins and two draws.

Filling in for Hikaru in New York is not No. 2 Knight Pascal Charbonneau but wild-man alternate Yuri Lapshun (shown above), whose outre openings are often crowd-pleasers. He is one of the few international masters to venture the Orangutan, the shoving of the queen-knight pawn two squares on move one. He’ll have Black tonight against the Philadelphia Inventors, and the action starts at 7:00 PM on the Internet Chess Club.

The Knights will have to break the spell of needing Nakamura in order to win.

Nakamura Breaks Out

October 17, 2007

The New York Knights beat the Queens Pioneers in the US Chess League when Hikaru Nakamura, the White Plains wonder, broke the Nakamura paradox and won his first game as a Knight. Maybe it was the inspiration teammate Jay Bonin provided when he arrived at the Marshall Chess Club donning a shield and sword and shouting, “Go Knights!” New York still has a chance to reach the playoffs. The Knights played their match early this week. The other teams play tonight.

The new world chess champion Vishy Anand said yesterday that he hopes to see chess as an Olympic sport. Now, I too would welcome all the attention chess might get if it were part of the Olympic games. But, as one wag said, “I don’t consider something to be a sport if I can do it better while smoking.”

The Nakamura Paradox

October 11, 2007

The New York Knights kept their playoff chances alive by defeating the Boston Blitz 2.5- 1.5 last night in the U.S. Chess League—just as top Knight Hikaru Nakamura had cockily guaranteed. Pascal Charbonneau and Irina Zenyuk both won for the Knights, Hikaru drew, and Jay Bonin lost.

The four occasions on which Hikaru, who’s arguably the most exciting teenage talent in U.S. chess, played first board for New York, the Knights won (twice) or drew (twice). And all three times that he sat out the match, the Knights lost. Now here’s the paradox: Hikaru’s individual record so far is subpar, one loss and three draws. So why does the team only do well when he’s playing?

“It’s his comforting presence and great team spirit,” explained one wag who was watching the game on the Internet Chess Club.

When Hikaru pulls himself out of this slump and gets on a winning roll—and I’m sure he will—the Knights will be unstoppable.


A new review of my book King’s Gambit has appeared in an upstate New York arts publication. Click here for a look.

Advice for Boston Blitz

October 10, 2007

With the Yankees and Mets disgraced, the New York Knights hope to restore the Big Apple’s winning way by demolishing the Boston Blitz tonight in the United States Chess League. Hikaru Nakamura, on Board One for the Knights, has made public his plan to “crush” Beantown’s Jorge Sammour-Hasbun. My advice to Jorge is not only to brush up on irregular chess openings but also to review simple endings.

For instance, after a tense see-saw battle, Jorge as White may be happy to take a draw in the following, apparently sterile position:

But Hikaru will want to play on, hoping to wear him down before the 50-move draw rule applies. Now, Jorge, try to keep your king centralized. Hikaru will try to intimidate you into tucking the king away on h1:

If you reach the above position, Jorge, it would not be good to withdraw your bishop to g1:

Because then Hikaru will mate you!

Let’s go Knights!