Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Vicary is Brilliant

Best game in women’s championship wins prize

You don’t hear the word “brilliancy” in everyday usage, but in chess the word has a popular and specific meaning, referring to a game that is, well . . . brilliant. International Master Jeremy Silman defines brilliancy as “A game that contains a very deep strategic concept, a beautiful combination or an original plan.” Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan has published an entire book of brilliancies, plural.

And sometimes, when you play a brilliancy, your achievement is duly recognized, as it was for Woman FIDE Master Elizabeth Vicary, a competitor in the recently concluded U.S. Women’s Championship in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Elizabeth didn’t win the tournament—Irina Krush did that—but thanks to a special prize from the Web site Goddesschess.com, Ms. Vicary won $300 for a thrilling game against Woman Grandmaster Camilla Baginskaite, in which she defeated the higher rated player with the black pieces, playing the Bogo-Indian Defense. (I confess I don’t know that opening well, though I have always liked the sound of it. It’s named for the late Grandmaster Efim Bogoljubov, who played it frequently.)

It was an exciting game. One commenter on Mig Greengard’s Daily Dirt blog called it “a kitchen-sink attack . . . Thrilling to watch - I was on edge for the final 10 moves or more.”

Sacking the Exchange

I haven’t seen the game annotated anywhere, but Elizabeth herself comments on it in a blog post at the USCF site. Note that she likes “sacking the exchange,” as she does with 21...Rxb4, allowing her rook to be captured, for which she gets only a knight and a pawn in return. The term refers to giving up your rook for a minor piece, the intention being to get some kind of compensation for the sacrifice, such as a positional advantage or a better attack. See what GM Robert Byrne had to say about it 20 years ago.

As you may know, great chess players are not compensated the way rock stars and major-league ballplayers are. The figure above is not a typo; $300 is what you get for a brilliant chess game. Barely enough to make a dent in Elizabeth’s stay at the Stillwater Quality Inn during the tournament, though I guess it’s better than a poke in the eye with a stick.

Play through the game, and enjoy. Congratulations, Elizabeth.

Endgame: Congratulations to Eric Rosen for winning the recent blitz tournament at Evanston Chess and to Vince Hart for taking first place in the club’s “economy open.” Vince blogs about his chess adventures occasionally (hat tip: Chessdad64), so maybe we can expect some commentary on this tournament, if he is so moved. . . . Congratulations to Ron Washington and the other woodpushers at the North Avenue Chess Pavilion, who got some high-profile coverage last week from the Chicago Reader, in addition to our recent post. The Reader's Ted Cox did a nice job on the article, despite having run smack up against the pavilion's top two players in his first encounter with chess in many years.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Big Chess at Potter Fest

Ever since Ron Weasley’s self-propelled queen clobbered Harry’s knight in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the bond between chess and J.K. Rowling’s epic series has been unbreakable. After all, was it not their chess skills, in the end, that enabled Harry, Hermione, and Ron to reach the Stone and save the day?

Given the connection, then, it was natural for chess to be included in last Friday’s Harry Potter festival in Oak Park, a celebration of the seventh and final volume in the series. Included it was, and in a big way: a live chess game in which the pieces were played by real people who moved around the board at the direction of the players.

The players in this case were Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone and Oak Park Village President David Pope, who joined forces in a friendly exhibition game against International Master Stan Smiatankin. As they played, the costumed kids and adults acted out the moves for the assembled crowd on a big board stenciled onto the grass. In pooling their chess talents against the formidable IM, our West Suburban noblemen were as the Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard to Stan’s Paul Morphy. It was a courageous act for the mayors to take him on, but alas, like that famous game in Paris almost 150 years ago, victory again went to the lone master.

Oak Park's Village President David Pope (left) and Forest ParkMayor Anthony Calderone play against IM Stan Smiatankin

Fortunately, the politicians were politic about the results. “They were good sports,” said National Master William Aramil, who served as commentator for the event. “Neither used their influence with the local police to have Stan removed from park.” Nor did the Duke and the Count have Morphy clapped in irons and dragged off to the Bastille. Chess people are civilized, right? “Win with grace, lose with dignity,” as Susan is always reminding us.

And speaking of Susan Polgar, her chess über-blog covered the event, giving it national exposure. (Not that our humble weblog is chopped liver, mind you.) Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg was on hand as well.

Normal-size chess was available at a nearby tent for those not playing pieces in the main event. The whole thing was organized by the Renaissance Knights Foundation. More photos here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Mind Over (Chess) Material

His unoffial Web site describes Derren Brown as a "psychological illusionist, mentalist, hypnotist and magician." Whatever he is, what he does here is remarkable -- assuming it's real and not humbug. Hat tip: Lamarr Wilson. Click twice on the screen to play the video.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Chess on the Lakefront

Yesterday was the kind of beautiful and comfortable day you seldom get in late July, so I took advantage of it and headed up to the chess pavilion at North Avenue and the lakefront.

Ron Washington and Walter Sowa

It's a lovely spot, and the place is an institution among Chicago chess players. According to a nearby plaque, the semi-enclosed, space-age structure was built in 1957 in response to the popularity of the location among chess players back then. That makes this year the pavilion’s jubilee, and in my humble opinion it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Park District to mark the occasion by fixing it up a bit. It’s in considerable disrepair: several of the 22 outdoor chess boards are crumbling and unusable, the lights often don’t work at night, and the place just needs some work.

Apart from the lighting, however, these problems seem to matter little to the regular denizens of the place, who flock to it throughout the summer, especially on weekends. While I was there yesterday there were about six or seven games in progress at any given time, and the regulars said attendance was down because of a tournament at Tuley Park. (One person conspicuous in his absence was Master Aleksandar Stamnov, who was believed to be at the South Side meet.)

I got together for awhile with chess Expert Ron Washington, whom Chessdad64 describes as the “mayor” of the chess pavilion. Ray School parents may remember Ron for the simul he played with club members at our chess picnic last fall. After beating me a couple of times he gave me some valuable lessons (at a very reasonable price) on the ideas behind the Giuoco Piano and the Fried Liver Attack.

Next Walter Sowa showed up with the move history of a recent game from the World Open in which Ron and Walter’s mutual friend IM Emory Tate beat IM Salvijus Bercys. It was a brilliant game, and it was a treat for me to watch these two veteran players review it. Go to The Chess Drum to play through the game and read the analysis by Tate, who is well-known for his chess annotations.

More photos here.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Krush Wins Women’s Championship

Popular New Yorker grabs her second title

Congratulations to Irina Krush, who emerged today from a week of grueling competition in Stillwater, Oklahoma, to become the winner of the 2007 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship.

Irina’s victory was decisive and, thank heavens, averted the cumbersome series of tiebreaking blitz games (including one called “Armageddon”) that would have ensued had the regular nine-round tournament ended in a tie. It looked as if that might indeed happen going into the ninth and final round, which Irina and Katerina Rohonyan entered in a dead heat at 6.0/8.0. But Irina, with the black pieces and playing the Sicilian Defense, beat Tatev Abrahamyan in 40 moves. Some time later Katerina was forced to settle for a 56-move draw against Alisa Melekhina, making Ms. Krush the winner with the tournament’s top score of 7.0/9.0.

Irina is a familiar face on the American chess scene. She won the championship once before, in 1998; she’s represented the U.S. in some number of chess Olympiads; and she is a member of the New York Knights of the United States Chess League. (Yes, there really is a league of professional chess teams, and no, Chicago is not part of it. Just one of many ways in which we lag other big cities as a chess center, but don’t get me started on that. As Monty Python would say, “This is supposed to be an ‘appy occasion!”)

Congratulations to Irina Krush on an excellent victory.

More at the official Web site and from Steve, Susan, Paul, and Mig.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Showdown in Stillwater

America’s top female chess players battle for the championship

For the second time this year the epicenter of American chess is Stillwater, Oklahoma, where the top female chess players in the country are competing this week for the 2007 U.S. Women’s Championship.

After six rounds of the nine-round tournament, Katerina Rohonyan and top seed Irina Krush lead the field of ten players with 4.5/6 each. Right behind them is Tsagaan Battsetseg, with 4.0/6.0, followed by defending champ Anna Zatonskih and Camilla Baginskaite, each with 3.5/6.0.

Katerina Rohonyan, Irina Krush

The two-games-a-day round-robin match has been exciting and fast-paced and not without its surprises. Prognosticator Greg Shahade gave odds to Krush and Zatonskih, but Anna fell back following her fifth-round defeat to Katerina. If you’d like to follow the tournament while it’s in progress, now’s the time to do it because it will be over by Friday.

Since the executives at ESPN show little interest in women’s chess—or for that matter any event held at the Stillwater Quality Inn—it's a good thing the blogosphere has it covered. Former champion Jennifer Shahade is on the scene, writing for the U.S. Chess Federation, while Mig Greengard, The New York Times, and my old boss Paul Hoffman are reporting as well. One of the players in the tournament, Elizabeth Vicary, is blogging about the experience for the USCF. Steve Goldberg is watching things closely at Scholastic Chess Gateway. You can follow the games live through MonRoi technology.

And last but by no means least, don’t miss the excellent photos by Illinois’s very own Betsy Dynako, possibly the best chess photographer around. It’s hard to take good chess pictures—they can easily turn out all looking alike—but when they’re done well you get a strong sense of the game’s emotional intensity. Betsy’s photos achieve that, and along with Elizabeth’s blogging they convey the human drama of the event.

The match is sponsored by wealthy Oklahoma chess organizer Frank K. Berry. His brother Jim Berry is the tournament director. Thanks to them for supporting chess.

Rohonyan photo Copyright MonRoi

Friday, July 13, 2007

Shulman to Play for World Cup

Congratulations to local Grandmaster Yury Shulman, who gets a nice write-up in today's Daily Herald:

Chess grandmaster to vie for World Cup

, cbrooks@dailyherald.com, Posted
Friday, July 13, 2007

Chess Grandmaster Yury Shulman of Barrington is hoping to add another title
to his laundry list of accomplishments: world champion.

For the third time, Schulman has qualified for the World Chess Federation’s
World Cup, to be held Nov. 23 to Dec. 16 in Russia. . . .

Read the rest of the story here.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Chess for Lunch

As someone who works in the Loop and believes that chess should be played on more occasions and in more settings than it normally is, I wasn’t about to miss the June 20 Chess Lunch Break put on by Renaissance Knights at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Coach Rob (with hat) gives a chess lesson

That Wednesday afternoon, from 12:00 to 2:00, anyone could just walk into the center’s games annex, at 72 East Randolph, and play a game of chess or get a lesson from one of several teachers on hand: master William Aramil, expert Eric Heiser, and coach Rob Krauss of Stevenson High School.

Chess master William Aramil (right) instructs a player on the fine points

Here’s the game I lost to Eric. Anyone familiar with the Sicilian Defense will recognize quickly that I’m not (7. e5??).

Here also are some photos from another fun chess event by Renaissance Knights at the cultural center on June 9.

Monday, July 09, 2007

More Chess in Evanston

Evanston Chess, the place for friendly and relaxed adult chess in the Chicago area, will hold two more tournaments in the coming weeks. First up is a blitz match on Tuesday night, July 17. It’s unrated, so don’t let your lack of a U.S. Chess Federation membership keep you away from this one. After that, it’s the club’s second “economy open,” on Saturday, July 28. And when they say economy, they’re not kidding: it’s only five bucks to enter. Check out either tournament or both if you’re looking for some friendly chess with normal people—as normal as chess people get, at any rate. Details here and here. And while you're at it, stick this flyer up on the fridge to remind you that Evanston Chess meets every Tuesday night.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Chess in the Park

It never fails: bring out the chess equipment and you draw a crowd. That's what happened at the neighborhood 4th of July celebration in Nichols Park. We put sets on the park's two chess tables, plus an oversized set on the ground. The kids were on it like a cheap suit. Adults, too. More photos here.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A Miniature

Here's an online game I won recently on Yahoo! -- without playing particularly well, I might add. Kids and parents: please analyze and post your observations in a comment below. What did Black do wrong? What did White do wrong?

Have you played any interesting games lately? Did you record the game? If so send us the move history and we'll publish it.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Play the Masters this Sunday

You and your kids can play in a simul at Taste of Chicago

There’s more chess coming to Taste of Chicago. Next Sunday, July 8, Renaissance Knights of Northbrook will hold a “Triple Play Chess Simul” in which three of the top chess masters in the Chicago area will take on 50 regular players in a simultaneous exhibit—a simul, as it’s generally called. In this case, though, instead of one master, there will be three playing the same game: Grand Master Sam Palatnik, International Master Stan Smiatankin, and National Master William Aramil. As I understand it, each chess expert will play the circuit of challengers and play off the moves of the others. I’ve never seen it done this way before, but it should be interesting, to say nothing of making the game move faster and not drag on forever.

Sam Palatnik

William Aramil

Will having to play off another player’s moves unnerve the masters and give the patzers a better chance? The only way to find out is to play.

You can if you hurry. The game will take place Sunday from 12:30 – 2:30 p.m. in the Taste Sports Pavilion at the southwest corner of the Buckingham Fountain. If you or your child would like to play in the simul, get in touch with Renaissance Knights right away: RKnightsCCC@aol.com.

Off to Camp

There are still openings at Chicago-area chess camps this summer

Are there still empty weeks in your kid’s schedule this summer? If you’re looking for a way to fill them with something fun and educational, consider one of several chess camps going on in the Chicago area. There might just be one to suit your needs.

All of the camps listed below are run by trained professionals and reputable chess organizations. They’ll work with your kids to show them a good time and improve their chess games. Most combine chess with other activities, to keep the chess fun and prevent it from turning into drudgery. Call or write to each group for details.

The newest camp takes place on the North Side, at the Touch Move Chess Center, a popular new chess club run by International Master Angelo Young, the current and five-time Illinois state chess champion. The six-week camp starts next week, so get in touch soon: (773) 627-2759 or tmchesscenter@hotmail.com. I think you can attend camp for any number of the six weeks it’s open, but check with IM Young for details. More information here.

The only camp I know of on the South Side is run by the Hyde Park Academy for Scholastic Chess, at the Kennicott Park Field House. That’s probably started already, but since it goes for six weeks you may still be able to get in. Get in touch with Coach Wayne Smith.

Chess Education Partners and Renaissance Knights both have camps in the city and out in the ‘burbs.

Check ‘em out. Go to camp and come back to school in midseason form.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

March with Ray on Independence Day

Ray School will have a contingent in tomorrow's 4th of July parade in Hyde Park. If you're around and want to march, please come -- and wear those chess club t-shirts. Details below. See you tomorrow.

GOING TO THE 4th OF JULY PARADE IN HYDE PARK? IF SO, WEAR YOUR RAY SCHOOL T-SHIRTS AND MARCH WITH US THROUGH THE NEIGHBORHOOD!! The parade starts with bike/stroller decorating at 10:00 at the corner of 54th St. and Lake Park. We assemble at 10:30 and walk or ride through the neighborhood, winding up at Nichols Park (53rd St. between Kenwood and Kimbark) where there will be music and lots of FREE activities for the kids until 4:00. If you would like to help make the Ray banner or help at the table doing an easy art activity, call Jane Averill at 955-0122 or email at javeril@yahoo.com. SEE YOU ON THE 4TH!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A Taste of Chess

Illinois’s Warren Chess Scholars, including Ray School’s Phillip Parker-Turner and the state’s other top chess kids, held forth today in Grant Park and showed the Taste of Chicago crowd how the game is played. Thanks to chess mom and program chair Andi Rosen and all the kids who shared their chess skills with the people of Chicago.

More photos here.

Chess Prevents Alzheimer's

From United Press International:

Chess, reading help prevent Alzheimer's
Posted on : 2007-06-29 Author : Health News Editor News Category : Health

CHICAGO, June 29 (UPI) How often elderly people read a newspaper, play chess or engage in mental exercise is linked to their Alzheimer's risk, says a U.S. study.

The study, published in the online edition of Neurology, found a cognitively active person in old age was 2.6 times less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer's disease than a cognitively inactive person in old age.

The association remained after controlling for past cognitive activity, lifetime socioeconomic status, and current social and physical activity.

Study author Robert S. Wilson, of the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, studied more than 700 people in Chicago with an average age of 80 who underwent yearly cognitive testing for up to five years.

The researchers also found frequent cognitive activity during old age, such as visiting a library or attending a play, was associated with reduced risk of mild cognitive impairment, a transitional stage between normal aging and dementia, and a less rapid decline in cognitive function.

Copyright 2007 by United Press International