Friday, November 30, 2007

Jacques Barzun Turns 100

This has nothing to do with chess, but today Jacques Barzun, an historian and critic whose work I enjoy and admire, is one hundred years old, and I just want to mark the occasion here. My colleague Bob McHenry has a fitting paean to the professor here.

Chances are you've never even heard of Barzun, but he was an intimate of people you have heard of, such as Auden and Trilling, and he was one of the great men of letters of the 20th century. The 21st, too, come to think of it. Was and is. And as if to prove that there's a blog for everything you can imagine, there's even one for Barzun's birthday. If you indeed have never heard of Barzun, I recommend the recent article about him in The New Yorker.

Kasparov Released

Former chess world champion Garry Kasprov has been released from jail, apparently unharmed, after serving the five-day sentence meted out to him by a Moscow court in a spurious trial earlier in the week. Kasparov was arrested and sentenced for leading a demonstration against the Russian government. Details from The Other Russia and Mig.

In an odd twist, former world champion Anatoly Karpov, Kasparov's longtime rival and personal nemesis, tried to visit Garry in jail but was turned away. It was a welcome gesture from Karpov, who as far as I know supports the Putin government.

Too bad he didn't get in. Mig speculates that since Kasparov had a chess set with him in his cell, the two could have played the greatest game of jailhouse chess of all time.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

CPS Coaches Meetings Next Week

Attention all elementary school chess coaches in the Chicago Public Schools: The annual mandatory meetings for coaches have apparently been scheduled for next week. Unlike previous years, though, when there was one citywide meeting for everyone, this year there will be more than one—how many, I don’t know.

For Areas 10-18, where my school is located, the meeting will be next Monday, December 3, at 3:30 PM. Having received no notice through my school or any other means, I called the CPS Sports Administration Department today and got this flyer from Mr. Stephen Wilkins. This is all the information I have. If you’re not in Areas 10-18, I’d suggest you e-mail Mr. Wilkins or call Sports Administration at (773) 553-3770.

Update (11/29): Here is the flyer for the North Side Meeting, December 6.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Is the Internet Killing “Real” Chess?

From the northern suburbs of New York City, the epicenter of American chess, comes a cri de coeur from veteran tournament player Polly Wright, who laments the decline of two local chess clubs in her area. According to Polly, the culprit is the Internet, which has made it so easy to play online that fewer people are venturing out to chess clubs.

It’s not the first time the Internet has been linked to the downfall of over-the-board (OTB) chess. Glenn Panner sees the trend here in the Chicago area, Jack Le Moine raised the issue in a forum on Susan Polgar’s blog, and someone named The Parrot claimed as long ago as 2004 that the Net had killed adult OTB chess. Two summers ago I chatted with some of the regulars at the North Avenue Chess Pavilion about this. These were players who had been going there for years, and some of them were convinced that the Internet was hurting attendance at the popular lakefront chess venue.

Polly’s ambivalence is palpable. “The Internet sucks!” she says, then adding: “Not really. I love the Internet, but at the same time I hate what has happened to local chess clubs that have lost players to Internet chess.”

I too have mixed feelings. The Internet is a great boon to chess. It enables anyone with online access to play anytime of the day or night, something that would have been impossible in the past. I play at several Web sites, and I enjoy it.

Yet as seems to happen with so many technologies that improve our lives in certain respects, the Internet also “bites back,” as it were, triggering unintended adverse consequences that make things worse in other respects. The problem isn’t limited to chess: We humans are simply better at developing new technologies than we are at controlling those technologies and making sure they serve our conscious and considered human needs. No one wants the Internet to hurt traditional chess, yet it may be doing just that, and our prospects for reversing the trend don’t look good at the moment.

What do you think? Feel free to leave comments below.

Postscript I. I haven’t been following the World Youth Chess Championships in Turkey, where a number of American kids are competing and holding their own. Fortunately, Chessdad64 is covering it, so I don’t have to.

Postscript II: The whole world is watching as Garry Kasparov remains in custody in Moscow. In an unusual twist that has his wife and mother extremely worried, his jailers have not allowed anyone to visit him.

“Of course we are very worried, especially after hearing the police at the court say they had been ordered in advance to arrest Garry specifically,” Dasha Kasparova, Garry’s wife, told The Other Russia. “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.”

To paraphrase Tom Lehrer: Garry’s family gets worried, I get worried. See our previous post about how to contact the Russian consulate in New York to lodge a protest. The Other Russia and Mig Greengard’s blog seem to be the places to go for updates.

tournament photo: johhnyscars via flickr

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Kasparov Jailed Again

For at least the second time this year, former world chess champion Garry Kasparov has been arrested in Moscow for leading a protest against the government of the Vladimir Putin.

After his April arrest, Kasparov was fined and released. This time he was sentenced to five days in jail. The Associated Press has details and photos. The video clip below is from an earlier protest at which Kasparov spoke.

Since retiring from competitive chess in 2005, Kasparov has stepped up his opposition to the Putin regime. As a leader of the dissident group The Other Russia, Garry is running against Putin for the Russian presidency, and although he has no chance of winning the government apparently regards him as a serious enough threat to harrass him continually.

You can protest Garry’s arrest by writing to the Russian consulate, calling them at (212) 348-0926, or sending snail mail to 9 East 91st Street, New York, NY 10128.

Aunt Mary's Greek Cookie Recipe

1 cup butter – softened (2 sticks)
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda


  1. Mix together butter, eggs, sugar, and vanilla.
  2. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda.
  3. Slowly pour the powder ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix together until the dough is very stiff.
  4. Put the dough on a large cutting board and knead well.
  5. Refrigerate dough for 2 hours.
  6. Make twists and put on cookie sheets (ungreased).
  7. Bake on pre-heated 350-degree oven for 15 minutes.

Makes about 50-55 cookies.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Classy Chess

A tournament for the rest of us

Think you’re not good enough to play in a real chess tournament? Think again. The “2007 Illinois Class Championships” take place on December 1 at Oakton Community College, and if you know the difference between a rook and a bishop there’s a place in it for you.

They’re called the “class” championships because you play only other players in your U.S. Chess Federation ratings class. Is your rating 1113? You’re in Class E, and you won’t play anyone over 1200. Rated only 983? You’ve got a real shot at the Class F championship. That’s right: the championship! Yes, I’m talking about you. (Correction, 11/25/07: See Sevan’s comment below for qualification.)

Win or lose, though, you’ll face players with whom you’re well matched all day long, players who will challenge you but won’t crush you like an aluminum can. And if you have no rating and you’re not a member of the USCF, what better time to join and find out where you belong on the ratings chart?

Go here for details and here to sign up.

Oh, by the way: you don’t have to be a patzer to play in Illinois Class Championships. Strong players are welcome, too. They just have to play in a higher division. So there. Mediocrity does have its rewards.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

In the Magic Kingdom

Host school Disney triumphs in YCFC opener, as Ray kids shine in all divisions

Walt Disney Magnet School on North Marine Drive yesterday hosted the long-awaited season opener of the Youth Chess Foundation of Chicago. The tournament saw outstanding performances by both new and veteran players.

Tournament results are here and more photos are here.

Top Ray players

The Disney Team

Some of the highlights:

Four Ray players won trophies at the event, including fourth grader Phillip Parker-Turner, who was the tournament’s top player overall, finishing first in the Advanced division.

Tournament host Disney Magnet School, under Coach Trevor Scott, won the team competition (Beginner division), continuing a surge the up-and-coming program began at the end of last season.

Ray’s Sonam Ford, playing his first tournament in the Advanced group, won a trophy for coming in third in that category. Finishing second, between Phillip and Sonam, was Burbank Elementary star Christopher Velazquez, who handed Phillip his only defeat of the day.

Allen Dai, a Ray second grader, finished second in the Intermediate division with an outstanding 5.0/6, losing first place to Lab School’s Arthur Chang only on statistical tiebreaks. Disney’s Delvin Hajdarevic, who came in third, also scored 5.0/6.

Fifth grader Andy Margulis of Ray finished fifth in the 80-player beginner division, which was won by Cook School’s Nyshya Pollard, who was playing in her first YCFC tournament. Since it was Andy’s third top-ten finish, he will advance to Intermediate at the next tournament, as will Nyshya automatically for coming in first.

Two Ray students, Joshua Anderson and Zion Richardson, played in their first tournament. They joined returning veterans Kaytlyn James, Lauren James, and George Vassilatos. All together, nine Ray kids played in the tournament.

Two new schools, Cook and Clinton, joined the league for the first time, and Fulton School, under Coach Eric Santos, returned after having made its first YCFC appearance last spring.

Unsolved chess mystery: Powerhouse Burbank Elementary, 21 strong, came with its normally huge contingent of players, yet I didn’t see one of their signature blue shirts all day. Is being inconspicuous part of Burbank’s new strategy?

Congratulations to the YCFC’s Mike Cardinale, John Lee, Saadiq Sajjaad, and their legions of volunteer helpers, for an excellent season opener. Next tournament: December 15, at a location to be announced. Watch this space for details.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Former CPS Chess Chief Hospitalized

Tom Larson, the former chess coordinator for the Chicago Public Schools who presided over several tournaments attended by Ray School chess kids, is serious ill, according to a report by Illinois Chess Association President Chris Merli posted on the organization’s online forum.

According to a communiqué Chris received from Tom’s brother, Tom is in the surgical intensive care unit of a hospital in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, close to where he now lives. Details here.

I join Chris and other chess people in Chicago in hoping Tom rallies quickly and recovers.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Finding Bobby Fischer?

Ray Robson’s Chicago Triumph

After his stunning victory over a field of strong, seasoned, adult masters recently, it’s tempting to conclude that young Ray Robson is the Next Big Thing in American chess. Only days after his 13th birthday, the fresh-faced kid from Florida finished first in the 6th North American FIDE Invitational with an outstanding 7.0/9, a half a point ahead of second-place finisher IM David Vigorito, who was in the lead until the last two rounds.

Enroute to victory, Ray beat three International Masters and three FIDE Masters and suffered only one defeat in nine rounds. He earned his first IM norm and seems on track to gain that distinguished title while he is still absurdly young.

What are we to make of Ray’s outsized success? Strong scholastic chess players are hardly a rarity; they’re actually quite plentiful, as a matter of fact. The writer and critic George Steiner observed years ago that children are often superior to their elders in three intellectual pursuits: music, mathematics, and chess.

Yet even in this era of teenage masters, when prodigies are everywhere, Ray Robson stands out. He seems even better than his best cohorts, climbing the ratings and title ladder faster than anyone else. Seeing this encourages us to hope that we have indeed found the next Bobby Fischer, that home-grown chess genius who will once again bring respect for American chess from the rest of the world and respect for chess itself from the rest of America. And it may be so; let’s just remember that such an expectation is a lot of pressure to put on a kid who isn’t even in high school.

David Vigorito

Mehmed Pasalic

Ray Robson’s triumph two weeks ago should not overshadow the other players who struggled mightily and did well at the Chicago FIDE tournament against a tough, competitive field. David Vigorito played superbly. (He has also just won the Boylston Chess Club championship.) So did local FM Mehmed Pasalic, who finished third (5.5/9) and FM Todd Andrews of Tennessee, who came in fourth (5.0/9) and reported lavishly on the event at the U.S. Chess Federation blog.

Todd Andrews

Judging from all the national attention the tournament got, I’d say Chicago chess was also a big winner in the event, and for that Sevan Muradian of the North American Chess Association should get a big hand, for putting on the kind of FIDE-affiliated events that can be found almost nowhere in the U.S. (And I’m sure Sevan wouldn’t mind if I mentioned the tournament’s in-kind sponsors, Cajun Chess and the, both of which donated equipment.)

Of course, kudos to IM Angelo Young for hosting the event at Touch Move Chess Center. The center only opened a year ago, but it’s hard to imagine how we ever got along without it.

photos: Sevan Muradian

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Karpov to Headline Education Seminar

Several Chicago chess educators will get together to hold a seminar on “Chess in Education” on Sunday, January 13 in Oak Brook, Ill. Teachers, parents, and coaches are all welcome, and teachers who attend will get professional-development credits.

Former World Champion Anatoly Karpov

Ths cost is $40 for the three-hour session at the Double Tree Hotel, the hallowed venue of many a recent chess struggle.

In schools around the country chess is rapidly moving beyond its traditional role as an extra-curricular activity and increasingly becoming part of the curriculum. One reason for the trend is the voluminous research showing that chess can help teach math and other subjects while promoting cognitive skills and cultivating virtues such as patience. You’ll hear the whole story from Dr. Mikhail Korenman of Chess for Peace and IntECS, John Buky of Chicago’s Chess Academy, and the U.S. Chess Federation’s scholastic chess director Jerry Nash.

Did I mention that former chess World Champion Anatoly Karpov will be there? I’m not kidding: read the flyer to find out about that and how to sign up.

The seminar is part of a larger weekend confab on scholastic chess that Dr. Korenman is holding. Details here. It looks big.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Novel Defense

I just finished reading Paul Hoffman’s excellent book King’s Gambit. In it he interviews GM Nigel Short, touching on Short’s 1993 defeat by Garry Kasparov for the world championship. Hoffman reports that unlike many grandmasters, who make noise and carry on at the chess board in attempts to unnerve their opponents during games, Short’s over-the-board behavior is always professional and respectful.

But has Paul seen this?

(Hat tip: Streatham & Brixton)

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Pas de Deux

How many Ray School students does it take to change a light bulb? I don’t know, but it only takes two to win a team trophy in a major citywide chess tournament. That’s what happened today in the first tournament of the year at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club put on by Chess Education Partners.

Despite the surprisingly low turnout from Ray for a tournament in our own front yard, fifth-grader Andy Margulis and fourth-grader Phillip Parker-Turner combined to give our school a first-place finish in the Grades 4-5 team competition. Fresh from his triumph dowstate yesterday, Noah Weeks-Brittan of the Chicago Latin School finished first in the individual competition in that division.

More pictures here. Thanks to the efficiency of Tournament Director IM Jan Vander Mortel, the individual results are already available from the U.S. Chess Federation here. Here are the team results for the event, which drew almost 50 kids from around the city and suburbs.

Grades K-1
1. Western Avenue
2. Flossmoor

Grades 2-3
1. Chicago Latin
2. Near North Montessori
3. Andrew Jackson

Grades 4-5
1. Ray School
2. Sacred Heart
3. Dewey Elementary

Grades 6-8
1. Cook

And afterwards, they played Bughouse:

Thanks to Jan, Chess Education Partners President Zack Fishman, and Peter Cassel of the Neighborhood Club. Next tournament in Hyde Park: December 2.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Phillip Scores Big Downstate

The FIDE invitational on the North Side isn’t the only chess tournament going on this weekend. Today, down in Bloomington-Normal, Ray School fourth grader Phillip Parker-Turner finished in a tie for 2nd place (4th place officially on tiebreaks) in the Illinois All-Grade Championship, posting four victories in five games. Congratulations to Noah Weeks-Brittan of the Chicago Latin School, whose perfect 5.0/5 landed him in first place in the 4th-grade field of 51 competitors. Allen Guo, Jyotsna Bitra, and several others also finished the meet with 4.0/5.

I understand the Bloomington-Normal area is a hotbed of chess and that organizers like Illinois Chess Association President Chris Merli, tournament director of today’s event, really know how to do it right. If you ever get a chance to play down there I urge you to go.

Robson Beats Vigorito

Thirteen-year-old FM Ray Robson, the fair-haired boy of the 6th North American FIDE Invitational, today beat previously undefeated IM David Vigorito, the only player who was ahead of him in the strong master tournament taking place in Chicago. With one round left in the meet, which concludes with games beginning at 4:00 this afternoon, Robson is now in the lead with 6.5/8 and is on track to win an International Master norm. Vigorito trails Robson by half a point heading into the last round.

The freewheeling Robson-Vigorito Sicilian game is here. Go here to see the other games or to watch the last round live later this afternoon. The latest standings are here.

Photo: Sevan Muradian

Friday, November 02, 2007

Chicago’s FIDE Meet: A Player’s View

“I never had a chance against Young and he ground me down.”

FM Todd Andrews

As the 6th North American FIDE Invitational heads into its final three rounds, player Todd Andrews, a FIDE Master and member of the Tennessee Tempo of the U.S. Chess League, has today provided his personal perspective on the tournament at the USCF site. His lengthy blog post includes a rich lode of commentary and game annotations.

Todd Andrews

Last night tournament favorite Ray Robson got back on the winning track after a round-five setback by beating Dale Haessel, and Illinois state champ IM Angelo Young defeated IM Stephen Muhammad, who played the Dutch Defense. (Side note to Chessdad64: Twas the Blackburne Variation. My seconds have confirmed it.) It was perhaps the most interesting game of the night. Standings here, games here.

Tonight’s main event: Robson vs. Young, 6:30 at Touch Move Chess Center, 5639 N. Ashland.

Minor Quibble: Should it be the Tennessee Tempi? There are six players on the team.

photo: Sevan Muradian (I think!)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Chess Basics: Two Knights Redux

A few weeks ago we showed you the Two Knights Defense with Igor and Gleb. That clip gave you a good overview, but with the first tournament of the year coming up this weekend, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to study it a bit more deeply, since it’s one of the most popular openings in scholastic chess. This video from Evanston's Matt Pullin will help. You know the drill: click twice on the screen to watch. Go over it as many times as you need.

Also, if you’re playing in Sunday's tournament, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to review Scholar’s Mate.

Fairy Tale Ends. For a few days there it looked as if 13-year-old IM Ray Robson might have an undefeated tournament, but it was not to be. He dropped his first game in the 6th North American FIDE Invitational tournament last night to FM Igor Tsyganov. Ray is still in second place, however, and can still earn an IM norm. In other action, Chicago FM Albert Chow won an interesting game against WIM Ludmila Mokriak. It’s been an exciting tournament, and we’re barely over the hump, with four rounds remaining in the nine-round meet. Games here. Play resumes tonight at Touch Move Chess Center.