Friday, February 29, 2008

Your Moment of Zen II

Write the caption, or tell the story behind the picture, if you're so inspired.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

News Flash: Obama Doesn’t Read Blogs

He may play chess, but according to veteran Chicago Sun-Times political writer Lynn Sweet, Sen. Barack Obama doesn’t read blogs.

Not even Susan? Not even Mig? How does he keep up on all the USCF dirt? And being from Illinois, how could be possibly not read chessdad64?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wacky Wednesday: Philidor Kerfuffle

Wacky Wednesday always rolls around sooner than expected, and with it comes pressure to find a suitably goofy game for the occasion. This week I didn’t have time to root around in my database, so I went online and played some two-minute bullet games in the hope of getting something fresh. It’s a high-percentage strategy for producing weird games, since as likely as not I will blunder idiotically and lose quickly under such absurd time controls, or, with any luck, some hapless opponent will do so first.

Mirabile dictu, this time it was the latter.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Bg4 4.dxe5 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 f6 6.exd6 Qxd6 7.Qd3
Not the best move, I’m sure, though it’s a developing move for me if we exchange queens (8. Qxd3 Bxd3), and if Black doesn’t take the bait we stare down each other with delicious “tension” in the position.

7. . . . Qc5 8.Be3 Qe5 9.Nc3 Nc6 10.Nd5 O-O-O 11.O-O-O Nb4 12.Qd4 Qe6
This person really doesn’t want to exchange queens. What brilliant tactical maneuver does he have in mind for his?

13.Qxa7 Qe5 14.Bb5
I can’t honestly claim that this move was part of my ultimate mating attack. Here I just wanted to develop the bishop and unite the rooks.

14. . . . Qxb2+
I don’t know much about chess, but this doesn’t strike me as very good move. Did Black think his queen was protected here? I’ve made that mistake.

15.Kxb2 Nxd5 16.Qa8# 1-0

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Do the Obamas Play Chess?

We chess people feel so marginal that we’ll sometimes grasp at anything that offers hope of pulling us into the mainstream. Last month it was reports that actor Heath Ledger, who died tragically at 28, was a chess player. How much of a chess player? That’s not clear. Some people said he played often in Washington Square Park. That’s all we needed to hear. He was just like us, and we just like him.

Now, based on a single word in a New York Times profile of Michelle Obama, we are again tempted to allow our hopes of acceptance to be bouyed. According to the article, playing chess was one of several things Mrs. Obama did as a kid to develop her mind (hat tip: Paul and Susan). According to Susan, Michelle’s husband, Senator Barack Obama, also enjoys the royal game. Several commenters on Polgar’s site say he writes in his first book, Dreams from My Father, of learning chess from his grandfather and stepfather.

It makes sense. Both Mr. and Mrs. Obama are frightfully smart, and they live in Hyde Park, one of the most chessically inclined neighborhoods in Chicago, so how could they not like chess?

To put it in perspective, however: no one named Obama is a member of the U.S. Chess Federation, and neither member of the would-be first couple has a FIDE rating as far as I can tell.

And while in years past I would sometimes spot Mr. Obama doing the family shopping at the now-defunct Hyde Park Coop, I can’t ever recall seeing him or his wife among the woodpushers at Starbucks or the 53rd Street Borders. If the Obamas do play chess they’ve obviously also made room in their lives for other things. They must have that balance thing going on, which is sometimes popular with certain chess players. I guess that’s okay for some people.

Has anyone out there ever played chess with either of our famous neighbors?

Endgame: Speaking of chess breaking into the mainstream, today a real chess player has gotten a write-up in a real newspaper read by ordinary people. Rob Krause of Renaissance Knights and a coach at state champ Stevenson High School is profiled in the Daily Herald.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

In Keeping With Our Well-Deserved Reputation for Promptness

The kids in Chicago’s Kings & Queens Chess Club won a national championship last fall, and since this spot about it ran on Channel 2 in December, I figured it’s high time we showed it to you here.

Congratulations, kids—albeit a little belatedly. (Warning: the video ends with one of the oldest and worst chess jokes in the world.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Your Moment of Zen

Write the caption if you like. Bonus points if you can name the people in the photo.

Then, if you can decipher the position on the board and send it to us in FEN notation . . . .

Never mind. Happy Friday. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fried Liver on Toast

I’ll keep this short. Maybe if I hurry I can get my Wacky Wednesday post up before Polly, who, like many an active chess player, seems to be luxuriating in the warm afterglow of last weekend’s amateur tournaments.

I like playing the Fried Liver Attack as White whenever my opponent obliges. Here is the critical position in the opening (which is arrived at in part because Black played 5. … Nxd5 rather than 5. … Na5, which computers and those who know about chess say is better.) Black to move, of course, since she’s in check.

The best move in this position is Ke6, which protects the knight on d5. (Of course, by bringing the king farther out toward the center it also leads to a sharp, highly tactical, and dangerous game, which is what makes the Fried Liver Attack so much fun.) There may be other playable moves, but the one that is instantly disastrous for Black is the one my opponent played in the game below.

Yes, 7. ... Kg8??? spells doom. Don’t let it happen to you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Dali’s Chess Fingers Fetch 23 Grand

Board sold separately

How weird is this?

Dali’s Finger Chess Set Leads Sales At Palm Beaches Auction
Feb 19th, 2008

A chess set designed by Salvador Dali reproducing his own fingers achieved $23,400 at Auction Gallery of the Palm Beaches January 7.

A closeup look at the details of the digits of Dali could be found in the figures of a chess set he designed at the request of his friend Marcel Duchamp in 1964 for the American Chess Federation.

All of the pieces of the set were modeled after Dali's fingers except the two queens, which used one of Dali's wife's fingers crowned with a tooth, and the rooks that were modeled after the saltcellars of the Hotel Saint Regis in New York. Of the 32 pieces, 16 are sterling silver and 16 are silver gilt. The set
was cast by F.J. Cooper of Philadelphia and was signed and numbered “AE 45.” . . .

More here. Give me a bunch of solid-plastic Staunton pieces any day.

What was the American Chess Federation? Was it a real thing, or did they just get the USCF name wrong?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

All Is Wells

Small Ray squad scores big at South Side tourney

Only four kids from Ray School played in Saturday’s chess tournament at Wells Prep, but every one of them went home with a trophy, the first time that’s happened in a citywide event.

(Full standings here for the tournament, sponsored by the Youth Chess Foundation of Chicago and hosted by nearby Wells Prep on Pershing Road. More photos here.)

Competition for overall tournament champion came down to a head-to-head match between two Ray kids: Phillip Parker-Turner and Sonam Ford, who entered the final round leading the heady advanced section. It was not the first time that has happened: Phillip and Sonam have each won the section in previous tournaments, and they have been battling for the league’s top spot all year.

This time Phillip won the fifth-round game between the two to emerge as the day’s top player among a throng of 150. In other divisions, Ray third grader George Vassilatos won his first trophy, with a 4.0/5 eighth-place finish in the beginner section, and fifth-grader Andy Margulis, playing his first tournament as an intermediate, proved that he certainly belongs in that highly competitive section by winning a fourth-place trophy, also with a 4.0/5 score.

Congratulations to Disney Magnet School and Coach Trevor Scott for winning its fourth YCFC team competition; to Lorenzo Grego of Ancona School for winning the beginner competition; and to Jabari Dean of Cook School for finishing first in Intermediate.

Thanks to the YCFC for another great tournament and to David Layne and everyone at Wells for their first-rate hospitality.

Click for more:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Don't Get Smart!

Eat your peas, control the center, develop your pieces, and don’t get too fancy

It’s Wacky Wednesday, kids, the day that by common agreement has been set aside for chess bloggers to come clean and publish their quickest and most humiliating losses. Because I’ve demonstrated my willingness to do this in the past and promise to do so again in the future, I hope my colleagues will forgive me for bending the rules a bit today and showcasing not one of my own horrendous losses, but that of a worthy opponent I played in an online blitz game early this morning.

I think I can justify the transgression based on the instructiveness of the game itself and its value as an object lesson in what not to do.

As you can see from the classification above, Black’s defense is called the Grob—the macho variation to be specific. It involves opening with flank pawns, flouting most chess wisdom. As I understand it this is a tack taken frequently by chess hustlers who know how to use the approach to catch novices unawares. Among the many virtues of Paul Hoffman’s excellent King’s Gambit is a thorough review of the Grob and its history.

The thing is, this is unsound chess and should not be attempted by players who don’t know what they’re doing, as my opponent clearly did not. Among other faults, he or she did not develop his or her pieces, and this led to an early checkmate because his or her king was trapped. Don’t let it happen to you—whether you be a she or a he. Open with your center pawns, develop your pieces rapidly, and if you want to play an offbeat opening, try to make sure you know what you’re doing.

End of lecture. Now go have fun, and as Bruce Pandolfini says, be brilliant.

And as Chessdad64 says, Kumbaya.

Game viewer:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Igor & Gleb on the Sicilian

They're Back

Kids: A few months ago, you may recall, we brought you a lesson on the Two Knight Defense by two very charming dudes named Igor and Gleb. Well, they're back, this time with some tips on the Sicilian. For novice players, I recommend learning to respond to the Sicilian as White when it's played against you before trying to play it as Black. It's exciting but tricky.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Adios, DG

Ace Blogger Hangs It Up

It’s a sad day in the blogosphere and a sad day for chess. David Glickman, who has blogged for years at Boston’s Boylston Chess Club under the moniker “DG,” has announced today that he will take a permanent hiatus from blogging. Whether it’s the unexpected results of the Super Bowl or just wanderlust, he feels the urge to move on.

DG is one of the best in the business: by turns intelligent, articulate, wise, and funny. Creative, too. The occasional write-the-caption challenges you see here are a direct rip-off from Boylston, and much of the other material you see here and at chess blogs everywhere owes many less-obvious debts to his example and high standards.

In due course I will try to pull together a tribute cum roundup of his best pieces. I’d welcome suggestions from anyone who reads him regularly.

Good luck, DG.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Sonam's Game

At long last we present in its entirety the game with the cool mating attack from our January 20 post. The winner was eight-year-old Sonam Ford, a member of the Ray School Chess Club, who had the White pieces. His valiant opponent was an adult man who had the misfortune to sit down across the board from Sonam at the Hyde Park Border’s on 53rd Street in December.

Notice how in the game’s exciting finish Sonam relinquishes both of his rooks to win his opponent’s queen, technically a sacrifice, since it represents a slight loss of material. (queen = 9 pawns; two rooks = 10). Yet the sacrifice was well worth it because it left White with a commanding positional advantage that quickly led to checkmate. (Black retained both of his rooks, but they were out of position.) That’s tactical chess at its best.

Incidentally, last week at the Touch Move Chess Center Sonam completed the 25 rated games he needed for an established U.S. Chess Federation rating. He is now rated officially at 1243, which, when the federation’s new leader lists come out in April, should land Sonam in the top 100 nationally in his age group.

Have you played an interesting game lately? If so, please send it to us and we'll publish it.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Chess, Chess Everywhere

Herewith scenes from recent Chicago chess touraments, starting with some spirited bughouse at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club today, in the latest tournament by Chess Education Partners:

In other Hyde Park chess action, 59 players descended on the University of Chicago’s Quadrangle Club on January 20 for the latest Third Coast Challenge chess tournament was held by the Renaissance Knights. Among those in attendance were several members of the U of C Chess Club, whose top board, Jeremy Kane, tied with Isaac Hagerling for first place in the tournaments open with 3.5/4. More photos here.

Jeremy Kane and Gene Scott (I think)

In another Renaissance Knights event that did not take place in Hyde Park, IM Stan Smiatankin, scourge of the suburbs, once again left destruction in his wake, this time by playing three consecutive simuls against 6th, 7th & 8th graders in January.

Stan the Man

You may recall that last summer Stan summarily dispatched the mayors of Forest Park and Oak Park at one time, in a game that evoked Morphy at the Opera House. This time Northbrook Junior High School was the scene of his triumph.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Happy Birthday, Len Despres

Alderman Leon Despres, one of the greatest Chicagoans in the city’s history, turns 100 today. You can do a lot in a hundred years, the more so if you’re relentlessly active, and “Len,” as he is known around the neighborhood, has combined longevity with alacrity for life and the pursuit of social justice to amass a list of accomplishments that no mere blog post could hope to summarize properly.

He is perhaps best known for the twenty years (1955-75) he spent representing Hyde Park and vicinity in the Chicago City Council as the 5th Ward alderman, most of which time he was the lone voice of dissent in that (ahem) great deliberative body against The Boss, Mayor Richard J. Daley. As a firebrand opponent of Daley’s autocratic rule, Despres so unnerved DaMare that his microphone was often turned off from the podium while he was in the middle of a speech.

Well beyond that, however, Leon Despres has been a tireless activist for progressive causes—labor, civil rights, women’s rights, political reform, economic justice—for more than 70 years. He had already earned enough respect in town by 1937 that he was asked to speak at the protest rally following the Memorial Day Massacre in South Chicago that year. And the people he’s met! He went horseback riding with Trotsky and took Frida Kahlo on a date to the movies.

And he’s never stopped. He was near 80 when I used to see him on the CTA in the mid-1980s, heading toward the Loop, where he was parliamentarian to a very different mayor, Harold Washington, sitting at Harold’s right hand (or was it the left?) during City Council meetings.

Happy birthday, Len. And thanks.

You can read, see and hear more about Leon Despres:

WBEZ’s Eight Forty Eight
Chicago Tribune (don’t miss the video)
Chicago Afternoons with Leon, by Kenan Heise
Despres’s 2005 book, Challenging the Daley Machine
Video: Beyond Haymarket and Pullman, in which Despres discusses Memorial Day Massacre

Friday, February 01, 2008

More Gems from Jersey

Michael Goeller, the Big Brain of American chess bloggers, the Streatham & Brixton of the New World, has done it again. Emanting from his perch in suburban New Jersey, Michael’s latest confection of a post provides a guide for the perplexed on the subject of “chess publishing,” which nowadays increasingly means creating a chess Web site and putting a lot of cool stuff on it, like position diagrams and whole games in Portable Game Notation that your readers can punch through move-by-move with the mouse.

Since I do some primitive chess publishing here, I’ve been asked by friends and colleagues to post something similar by way of providing advice to the technically disinclined. Michael has beaten me to it, however, and he is better qualified for the task to boot.

If you have a chess site or blog or even the faintest aspiration of someday having one, check it out. While you’re at it, see this, too.