Thursday, January 31, 2008

Float, the Pawn Does

Please write the caption and submit is as a comment below.

Hat tip: Boylston Chess Club, from whom we have shamelessly “borrowed” (stolen?) the idea for this feature.

Incidentally, I’ve had this photo on my hard drive for so long I don’t remember where it came from. If anyone knows, please tell me so I can add the appropriate links and attribution. Thanks.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Was Fischer Planning a Comeback?

Not surprsingly, the media and blogosphere have been abuzz over the death of Bobby Fischer. Much of the outpouring has been the predictable ritual hand-wringing about the tragedy of a genius gone mad, but there have been a few deeper and more provocative reports that I think are worth reading.

For the record, I yield to no one in my disgust over the late world champion’s conduct and bigotry in the later years of his life, but I am not so bound to political correctness that I cannot at the same time appreciate the pathos and bathos of the Fischer story. It seems necessary to state this because I have heard people say that to spend any time reflecting on Fischer is unseemly. I disagree. One does not have to like or approve of Fischer to find his biography fascinating, and finding it so, I would add, does not constitute a weakness of character or indifference to his failings.

You are of course free to disagree, and if you do you may wish to read no further in this post, lest you be seduced into finding unwonted titillation in a tale you have already foresworn on moral grounds.

One of the more interesting stories to emerge in the past two weeks said that at the time of his death Fischer was looking to end his 35 years of exile from chess and return to the board. The Associated Press reports that GM Helgi Olafsson, acting on Fischer’s behalf, had exchanged e-mails with World Champion Vishy Anand about a match in which the two would play Fisher Random Chess, also known as Chess 960, a chess variant invented by Fischer in which the pieces in the back rank are scrambled, forcing players to be creative and rendering memorization of opening sequences moot. Fischer had said on a number of occasions that he was no longer interested in traditional chess.

Would such a match really have happened had Fischer lived? I doubt it. He was known for expressing interest in such meets in the past—just last year there was talk of one between Fischer and Anatoly Karpov—but he always pulled out at the end, often claiming the prize money was inadequate, even when it was in the millions.

If you’re looking for just a few pieces to read about Fischer that round things out, I’d recommend New York Times articles by chess writer Dylan Loeb McClain, Bruce Weber, and the always-excellent Ed Rothstein. Good blog posts include Chessdad64 and Streatham & Brixton.

There is also this sad story about Fischer’s estrangement from his mother, Garry Kasparov’s reactions here and here, and this item about the looming fight over Fischer’s estate.

Postscript: Speaking of Fischer Random Chess, thanks to the miracle of blog widgets you can now play a truncated version of that game (30 squares, 20 pieces) right here on this page, near the bottom of the righthand column.

(Revised Tuesday morning, 01/29/08)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Top Chess Site Publishes Blog Roundup

Goran Urosevic of has put together a roundup of assorted chess blogs, including such A-listers as Michael Goeller, DG of Boylston Chess Club, Dennis Monokroussos, Streatham & Brixton, Elizabeth Vicary, and Polly Wright.

This humble blog is also privileged to be among these eminent celebrities, for which I'm grateful. Thanks to Goran for showcasing your colleagues, to DG for getting the word out, and to Chessdad64 for calling the original alert to my attention.

Finegold Wins FIDE Tournament

Congratulations to IM Ben Finegold of Michigan, who has won the 7th North American FIDE Invitational tournament, which concluded yesterday here in Chicago. Ben finished 8.0/9, edging out out Illinois state champ IM Angelo Young by a point. Dr. Tansel Turgut finished right behind Angelo with 6.5/9, and he too is to be congratulated for earning a norm toward the International Master title.

See all the games here.

IM Angelo Young looks on as IM Ben Finegold (left) battles Gauri Shankar in the final round

IM Angelo Young (white pieces) vs. IM Arjun Vishnuvardhan

Congratulations to tournament director Sevan Muradian of the North American Chess Association for another successful FIDE tournament in Chicago and to IM Young for hosting it at his Touch Move Chess Center, which incidentally now has a blog.

Friday, January 25, 2008

New World—Brave or Cowardly?

This video has nothing to do with chess, and I don’t even agree with all of it, but I find it captivating nevertheless.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Good Kids

Are chess players better behaved?

It’s long been claimed that chess can make kids smarter, but now a study from Aberdeen University says that it actually makes children better behaved. (Hat tip: Susan)

Unfortunately, chess doesn’t seem to have had a salutary behavioral effect this morning in Pennsylvania.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Here’s the renowned artist Marcel Duchamp, who late in life famously forsook his art for chess, becoming obsessed with the Royal Game. Here he reclines happily before his chess board. But something is amiss. What is it? Hat tip: Mida.

IN CHICAGO FIDE ACTION TONIGHT, IM Angelo Young beat tournament leader IM Ben Finegold to take the lead in the 7th North American Invitational. Angelo is now on top with 3.5/4 with five rounds to go.

Monday, January 21, 2008

FIDE Tournament This Week

January is whizzing by so fast I almost forgot that this is the week of the latest mostly-masters tournament at Touch Move Chess Center by Sevan Muradian’s North American Chess Association. Some people will be angling for International Master norms in the 10-player round robin, in which IM Ben Finegold holds the lead after three rounds with a perfect 3.0/3. IM Angelo Young of the Chicago Blaze is right behind him, though, with 2.5/3. His Blaze teammate FM Mehmed Pasalic and local master Albert Chow are also playing.

It was originally thought that 13-year-old wunderkind Ray Robson would be here in search of his final IM norm, but young Ray got it at another tournament and has already qualified for the title.

The tournament, which is among the few in this country sanctioned by FIDE, the World Chess Federation, continues every night this week and during the day on Saturday. Schedule and latest standings here. You can watch the tournament in person at TMCC or on the Internet at MonRoi.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cool Mating Attack

White to play and win in an unspecified number of moves.

This is from a real game played by a member of the Ray School Chess Club. Please leave your solutions in the comments section below. I'll tell you how our young colleague did it in another post.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

More Top Players Join Blaze

The Chicago Blaze got good news last week when two more of Illinois’ top players agreed to join the team. Grandmaster Yury Shulman and International Master Jan Van De Mortel will be members of the Blaze when it represents the Windy City in the U.S. Chess League next season.

Yury and Jan are both well known in Chicago-area chess circles. Yury, who came that close to winning the U.S. Championship in 2006, runs his chess school out of Barrington, and Jan is a mainstay of Chess Education Partners. He also lives in Hyde Park and teaches chess at the Neighborhood Club.

The guys will join the previously announced players, which include GM Dmitry Gurevitch, IM Angelo Young, FM Mehmed Pasalic, and experts Adam Strunk and Ilan Meerovich. These new roster additions boost the Blaze’s chances of being a top contender in the league from day one. More here from team manager Glenn Panner, who has the enviable task of juggling all this local fire power.

Get it? Fire power? Blaze? Go ahead and groan if you like, but get use to it. You’ll be hearing a lot more bad puns when the team sets the town on fire. (Oops.)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Tomorrow's Tournament Cancelled

I just got an e-mail from Mike Cardinale of the Youth Chess Foundation of Chicago announcing that tomorrow's scheduled tournament at Burbank Elementary School has been cancelled because of the cold weather. Apparently the Chicago Public Schools administration has ordered all schools closed on Saturday.

Mike says they'll try to reschedule the Burbank meet soon. Stay tuned.

Bobby Fischer Dies

News organizations everywhere are reporting that former World Champion Bobby Fischer has died of "an unspecified illness" in Iceland, where he had made his home in exile in recent years. He was 64.

Fischer was born at Chicago's Michael Reese Hospital in 1943 and grew up in Brooklyn, becoming the youngest U.S. chess champion ever, at 14. He beat Boris Spassky for the World Championship in 1972, after which he became reclusive and his behavior increasingly bizarre. He never defended his title, and except for an unsanctioned rematch with Spassky in the early 1990s, he never played formal competitive chess again.

News article here.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

CPS Coaches Clinic January 25

To all Chicago Public School elementary chess coaches: this just came by e-mail from Stephen Wilkins of the CPS Sports Administration Department.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

They’ve Got the Touch

Kids take over North Side chess club

The club that has hosted some of the top chess players in the country and will soon become home to the Chicago Blaze was taken over by children last Saturday, as 14 of the area’s top scholastic players competed in the first Scholastic Chess Championship at IM Angelo Young’s Touch Move Chess Center.

The three top winners, in tiebreak order, each with scores of 4.0/5:

1. Yue Xu
2. Phillip Parker-Turner (Ray School)
3. Deuce Rachal

“Phillip led from start,” said Angelo, “until he succumbed to the Xu Yue, the eventual winner.” Phillip, the 4th-grade Ray School star, lost to Yue in Round 5, yet still finished in second place on tiebreaks. Yue had quite a weekend: she also finished first in the Sunday tournament at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club.

Yue Xu will be seeded in December for the Grand Finale, and the others, including Phillip and Ray’s Sonam Ford, can come back on February 2 for another chance to be seeded themselves.

More photos here. Cross table here.

Photos: Phillip Turner

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Happy Birthday, ECC

Tonight the Evanston Chess Club celebrates its one-year anniversary, and it’s a milestone not only for them, but for chess in the Chicago area generally. At a time when chess clubs struggle to survive, Evanston Chess is one of the game’s great success stories. Started by a group of local chess players as a place for adults to play in a friendly, laid-back setting, the club has thrived by sticking to that principle and by charging absurdly low entry fees (typically $5) for first-rate tournaments. Nobody’s getting rich off of chess in Evanston, though they are having a lot of fun. ECC’s Tuesday-night meetings and weekend events attract some of the area’s top players, yet they have plenty of room for duffers like you and me. I’m sorry to say I haven’t visited the club yet, but maybe I can manage it before its second anniversary.

Happy birthday, Evanston Chess.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Back On Board

The holidays are over, and chess season is (almost) back in full swing

Chess Education Partners brought its traveling road show to Hyde Park again today with another tournament at the Neighborhood Club. Dozens of kids battled it out for four rounds, even though attendance was down a bit from the throngs that attended CEP’s December event. Clearly, many people still weren’t back from holiday break, including Ray School, which alas had no players to the meet.

Plenty of other kids had a great time, however. The winners:

Lower Primary (Grades K-1)
Akhil Kalghatgi
South Loop Elementary School

Upper Primary (Grades 2-3)
Niall Gillen
Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School

Elementary (Grades 4-5)
Xu Yue
Chicago Latin School

Junior High (Grades 6-8)
Madeleine Reiches
Caldwell Elementary School

As always, thanks to Chess Education Partners for holding tournaments in Hyde Park and to the Neighborhood Club for graciously hosting them. The next tournament at the Neighborhood Club is Sunday, February 3. Let’s see if we can get some Ray kids out there.

MEANWHILE, ON THE NORTH SIDE. Two Ray players, Phillip Parker-Turner and Sonam Ford, did make it to the first Scholastic Chess Championship at IM Angelo Young’s Touch Move Chess Center on Saturday. Phillip finished in a tie for first with two other players, including Xu Yue, who, you will note, won the Elementary division in today’s tournament. She had quite a weekend.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

My Marshall Moment

HISTORY: IT SMACKS YOU RIGHT IN THE FACE when you walk into the Marshall Chess Club. The Greenwich Village institution has more than 90 years of it, and its proprietors show it off proudly and conspicuously everywhere, with pictures and memorabilia. And I don’t blame them: If Fischer and Capablanca had been to my house, I’d hang their pictures in my living room, too.

Well, maybe not Fischer’s, but let’s not get into that. The point is that the club, housed in a West 10th Street brownstone once home to Frank Marshall, the dominant American chess player of the early 20th century, conveys to its visitors an immediate and pleasant sense of awe—fortunately, without the shock.

Riley Kellogg with Jay Bonin’s armor

I got there around dinnertime on the Saturday between Christmas and New Year’s. Although the place was nearly empty, I did get to see two prominent chess celebrities. The first was Riley Kellogg, the club’s manager, who greeted me at the office when I went to sign the guest book. Riley wears many hats in the chess world. Besides managing the club and directing many of its events, she’s a prolific editor and a prominent chess literata; she even had a show on ChessFM radio awhile back.

Riley explained the routine, gave me some scuttlebutt on the club, and even let me see two of its sacred relics: the talismanic toy sword and shield belonging to IM Jay Bonin, which are believed to have brought luck to the New York Knights of the U.S. Chess League, the team that plays its games at the Marshall. (Backstory from Paul Hoffman, Jennifer Shahade, and Elizabeth Vicary. Of course, with the Chicago Blaze now in the picture, the Knights will need more than plastic armor if they hope to win this year.)

Asa Hoffman (left)

As I say, it was dinnertime and the place was pretty quiet. Some kids were playing chess downstairs; a woman sat alone at a chess board in the front room purposefully reviewing a game with her MonRoi. There was only one adult chess game in progress, a postmortem (or maybe a lesson) in the back room, but one of the players was none other than Asa Hoffman, the well-known FIDE Master who for decades has been a mainstay of the Marshall and the New York chess scene.

Eric checks out his new club

I also got to meet a delightful chap named Eric, who had just gotten a club membership as a birthday present from his wife and was breaking it in. It was his first day at the Marshall, as it was for me. He would be back, however, and I wouldn’t. I was jealous.

History abounds at the Marshall

Friday, January 04, 2008

Upcoming Scholastic Tournaments

Four January events, two of them right here in the neighborhood:

Saturday, January 5. Touch Move Scholastic Chess Championship, as previously announced here. Touch Move Chess Center, 5639 North Ashland Ave., Chicago. Entry fee $30; USCF rated (minimun rating 500). Details here; online registration here.

Sunday, January 6. Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, 5480 South Kenwood Ave., Chicago. Sponsored and directed by Chess Education Partners. USCF rated; $20 entry fee. Check-in begins at 8:00 a.m. Details and online registration here.

Saturday, January 19. Burbank Elementary School. Sponsored and directed by Youth Chess Foundation of Chicago. Unrated; free of charge. Details here.

Sunday, January 20. 3rd Coast Challenge. University of Chicago Quadrangle Club, 1155 East 57th Street, Chicago. Sponsored and directed by Renaissance Knights. USCF rated; $30 entry fee. Registration 9:00 – 9:30. Details here; online registration here. This one isn’t strictly a scholastic tournament, but it does have a kid-friendly “Under 1000” division. Plus it’s here in Hyde Park.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Fire on the Prairie

Drama erupts in the Land of Lincoln, as dissed local expert challenges former state champ to grudge match

Just when you thought all the fireworks were happening on the East Coast, at BCC and Elizabeth Vicary’s blog, comes a big surprise from right here in The Great Flyover.

Glenn Panner

In a pre-Christmas blog post entitled, “Steve Tennant, I am calling you out,” Glenn Panner—a chess expert, nationally recognized tournament director from the South Suburbs, and manager-designee of the new Chicago Blaze—challenged his friend, one-time chess mentor, and former Illinois state chess champ FM Steven Tennant, to a chess match.

That’s right: an actual chess match.

Since losing at chess is a fate worse than death for many a serious player, Glenn’s decision to make it chess rather than, say, pistols at dawn, gives you some idea of just how serious he is.

What prompted this impulsive public challenge? Apparently it was Tennant’s skepticism about Glenn’s prospects for earning the 95 ratings points he needs to become a master.

I understand from Glenn that Steve has accepted the challenge. Stay tuned for details. Two thousand and eight is shaping up to be a dramatic year for chess in Illinois.

Steve Tennant

Apologies to Gary Rivlin.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New York in Nine Hours

My whirlwind swing through the Big Apple’s chess haunts

Let’s face it: New York City is the center of American chess. Compared to Chicago, the royal game seems to be everywhere in the Big Apple.

Last Saturday I had one day to see as many of the local chess landmarks as possible. I did the best I could, and thanks to unseasonably warm weather I even found action at some of the city’s famous outdoor venues, which you would expect to find quiet at this time of year. Herewith the highlights of my self-guided tour.

I. MacDonald Park
When people think of outdoor chess in New York, they think of Washington Square Park, but this spot in Forest Hills, Queens, now rivals its famous Greenwich Village counterpart as a leading local chess Mecca. An article at awhile back buoyed the park’s reputation worldwide, so it seemed like a good place to start the tour, considering I was embarking from Queens.

I found lots of chess players on hand, but more kibitzing than actual playing. The guy identified in the Chessbase article as “Trade ‘em off, Paul” was holding forth about chess, poker, and college football while two games were under way nearby. Still, I saw some good chess, lots of bonhomie, and a bit of spirited (though not mean-spirited) trash talk.

II. Polgar Chess Center
A few blocks up Queens Boulevard is the home base of GM Susan Polgar, America’s biggest chess celebrity. The Polgar Chess Center is a one of the top spots for scholastic training and

tournaments in the New York area. Naively, I had imagined I might luck out and be met at the door by Susan herself, who would then agree to a joint photo that could give me something I could lord over Sevan Muradian, but it was not to be; she wasn’t there. I did get to meet Leon, the club’s manager who chatted affably but declined to have his picture taken.

III. Washington Square Park
IM Josh Waitzkin, subject of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, cut his teeth here as a child in the 1980s, just as the film’s namesake and former World Champion had thirty years earlier. Many of the world’s greatest players have made pilgrimages to this hallowed site.

The nineteen concrete chess boards arranged in a circle in the southwest corner of this historic Greenwich Village park may be the single most famous chess site in the country. Nowadays it has a reputation for attracting hustlers, gamblers, and generally unsavory characters, but people continue to come to play.

I got there Saturday about two hours before nightfall, and for a winter’s day it was bustling, with three or four games in progress. I lost to one of the regular denizens named Simon.

IV. Marshall Chess Club
Also in Greenwich Village is the famous Marshall Chess Club, where more chess history has been made than I could even attempt to summarize here. I got there on a quiet Saturday night but still got to see some notable people. If possible I’ll do a separate post on my “Marshall moment.” (Update: Done. Here ’tis.)

V. Thompson Street Shops
A single block in Greenwich Village boasts more chess stores (two) than all of Cook Country, Illinois (which has one that I know of). According to a New York Times article a few years ago, the Village Chess Shop and Chess Forum were then embroiled in a major-league feud, and for all I know they may still be. No matter; both seemed to be thriving the night I was there. You can play chess at the Village Chess Shop, and both stores have lots of fancy sets.

Places I wanted to see but couldn’t get to: Bryant Park; the Chess and Checkers House in Central Park. (There simply wasn't enough time in the day, especially since I wanted to pay a visit to the old neighborhood.)

Hat tip: Michael Goeller, whose blog post, “A Chess Tourist in New York City” loosely inspired this one.

Related post:My Marshall Moment

MEANWHILE, BACK HERE IN CHICAGO, Renaissance Knights reports that more than 1,400 people played chess at the Mayor’s Holiday Sports Festival. Pictures here. I think I spotted former Ray School star Karen Dai in there somewhere.