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.


Anonymous said...

The Obamas probably aren't too much into balance right now. What with the presidential campaign and all (of course, this is the only reason why they aren't stopping by our local clubs. Oh, well.)