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.

(Another) Missed Opportunity

December 7, 2007

On Wednesday evening, at 9:11, I received an unusual text message from a cell phone number I didn’t recognize: “Ultrasecret hanging out with 40 wasted nurse practitioners. They know how to wrap a bandage.”

I thought it was porno spam—the first I had ever gotten on my cell—and feared a barrage of texts for penal enhancement supplements (see comments below) and get-rich-quick Nigerian oil schemes. I showed the text to a friend, and he too agreed it was porn.

I particularly liked the appellation “practitioners.” Nurses are a mainstay of pornography, or so I’ve been told. But these were not just nurses—care-givers in tight white dresses who were eager to attend to your needs—but nurse practitioners: they had additional schooling. The implication was that they could hold a conversation between acts of bandaging.

Last night I was IMing my friend Chris, and he said, at one point, “I hung out with 30 drunk nurses last night.”

Oh damn, I thought, the party I missed!

During the previous evening’s debauche, he had been using a different cell phone, which accounts, of course, for my not recognizing that the text was from Chris. I realize now that the unusual expression “nurse practitioners” (which is particularly wordy for a text message) should have been a giveaway: only he (who is an appealing amalgam of heady and hedonistic) would have used it.

No Nunchucks in the White House, No Fellation in the Library

December 5, 2007

Once I went to a reception at the White House for Stephen Hawking. As I passed through the metal detectors at the security check point, I read a sign that listed prohibited items such as knives, guns, and nunchucks. Gee, I thought, does the sign really deter world-be presidential assassins? And nunchucks!! If it weren’t for the sign, would Kobudo warriors have taken over the president’s home?

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the august reading room of The New York Public Library searching for a topic for my next book, and I was similarly struck by a list of seemingly self-evident prohibited behavior:

Obscene and/or abusive language or gestures.

Creating a public disturbance.

Harassing or threatening behavior.

Sexual acts.

Use of bicycles, skates, skateboards, scooters, or similar items.

Engaging in any activity that is a violation of criminal or civil law.

Blind Light

November 30, 2007

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There’s only one day left to experience Antony Gormley’s Blind Light at the Sean Kelly Gallery on 528 West 29th St. in New York. It’s incredible: You walk into a transparent room within a room filled with air so misty that you can’t see more than two feet. It’s totally disorienting and cool.

Gormley wrote: “Architecture is supposed to be the location of security and certainty about where you are. It is supposed to protect you from the weather, from darkness, from uncertainty. Blind Light undermines all of that. You enter this interior space that is the equivalent of being on top of a mountain, or at the bottom of the sea. It is very important for me that inside it you find the outside. Also you become the immersed figure in an endless ground, literally the subject of the work”

Bad Heir Day

November 28, 2007

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The New York Post comes through once again with a great coverline and a photo to match (this dude makes even Einstein look kempt). An inside headline is pretty punny, too: DA’S KICK IN THE ASTOR. Yesterday’s cover, on the same subject, was also a winner: CROOK ASTOR.

Two World Chess Champions Face Confinement

November 26, 2007

Two former world chess champions were in the news this week, and for reasons that have nothing to do with the royal game.

Garry Kasparov was arrested on Saturday in Moscow for leading an anti-Putin rally. He was sentenced to five days in prison and is now confined to “Petrovka 38,” a criminal facility in Moscow. He has not been allowed visitors since his imprisonment and has been prohibited from speaking on the phone. The rally was peaceful.

His arrest—only a week before parliamentary elections—was planned in advance by the authorities. “Of course we are very worried,” Kasparov’s wife, Dasha, told the press, “especially after hearing the police at the court say they had been ordered in advance to arrest Garry specifically. Who knows what they have planned for him? And why can’t we visit him? We are asking everyone to get this story out and to let Putin know that the world is watching and that he will be responsible if any further harm comes to Garry.” The Web site of Other Russia, the pro-democracy movement that Kasparov leads, will have updates on his situation as news becomes available.

The word is out that Bobby Fischer, the pride and embarrassment of American chess, has been hospitalized in Iceland for kidney and perhaps mental problems. The details in the press and blogosphere are frustratingly scarce. Mig Greengard’s Daily Dirt gives the best summary of what’s known about Fischer’s condition.

King’s Gambit Signing in Philadelphia

November 23, 2007

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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.

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For the Love of Curling

November 21, 2007

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Leave it to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the wacky head of the international chess federation (who claims he was once spirited away in a yellow space ship and believes that chess came from outer space), is now advancing a novel argument for why chess should be an Olympic sport. “Isn’t it absurd that chess on ice is an Olympic sport,” Ilyumzhinov said, and ‘mere’ chess is not?” In fact, he said, he is thinking of suing the International Olympic Commission to get iceless chess into the Olympics.

Huh? Come again, please. It turns out that curling—a sport, played on ice with granite stones and brooms, of which most Americans have only the dimmest awareness—has long been known as “chess on ice,” just as chess itself has long been called “the royal game.” Here, for example, from The New York Times: “‘Curling is often called chess on ice,’ said Chris Moore, 50, a banker in Cleveland who has been curling for more than 35 years. ‘It’s intellectually challenging because all the strategy involved requires you to think four or five moves ahead. And it demands accuracy and finesse. Many times a game comes down to hitting a square inch from over 120 feet away.”

Aside from the linguistic argument, Ilyumzhinov makes an unspoken point: if something as weird and esoteric (in terms of lack of mass appeal) as grown men playing with brooms on ice qualifies as a sport, chess surely should too.

Naturally, the curling blogs are amused by Ilyumzhinov’s position: “Chess on ice. Bah.”

I, for one, think curling is cool, and I’m trying to find a place in New York where my Canadian friends and I can try out the sport.

Superstition in Chess

November 19, 2007

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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?

The Invertebrate Turkey

November 18, 2007

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I went this afternoon to visit the Lochness monster (because it was a drizzly day, with limited visibility—perfect conditions, in other words, for the shy serpent to show its face). Then I sped back to Williamsburg to attend a cooking demonstration at The Brooklyn Kitchen on how to de-bone a turkey. I wasn’t born yesterday, but I didn’t know such a thing was possible.

The idea is that the turkey cooks faster without bones, and you can plump it up with more stuffing than you could force inside the familiar bony T-day bird. Also, you can carve it more elegantly when there are no bones. Or you can make a turducken—every vegetarian’s nightmare—in which the turkey is stuffed with a duck that is stuffed with a chicken.

De-boning the turkey doesn’t look so hard but it is not for the squeamish. You have to get down and dirty with the bird. Surgeons and taxidermists will have an advantage.