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 TheChessPiece.com, 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