Sunday, September 30, 2007

Elroy N. Mess

Elroy N. Mess, 85, father to long-time Kenilworth Chess Club Champion NM Scott Massey, died September 23, 2007. The funeral will be held at the Growney Funeral Home, 1070 N. Broad St., Hillside, on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2007, at 10 a.m. Friends may call Monday, Oct. 1, from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Chess Fest in Asbury Park

Just a reminder that Chess Fest 2007 in Asbury Park is tomorrow, September 29th, from 10-2 at the Asbury Park Convention Hall (get map). The highlight of the day will feature Monmouth County children ages 5 to 18 playing GM Maurice Ashley in a simultaneous exhibition.

Lasker's Defense to the Queen's Gambit

Back in 2005, FM Steve Stoyko gave a wonderful series of lectures at the Kenilworth Chess Club on a Black 1.d4 repertoire built around Lasker's Defense to the Queen's Gambit Declined. I recently compiled those lectures (along with some new material) into a single article. Steve will return, beginning next week, October 4, at 8:15 p.m. to begin his long-anticipated lecture series on a 1.e4 Black repertoire built around the French Defense. The fee will be $5 per lecture and I will present more information early next week.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

NJ Knockouts Beat New York Knights

The New Jersey Knockouts came back from last week's loss to the Queens Pioneers to beat the low-ranked New York Knights and reclaim their even record. I have annotated the games from last night's Round 5 match and posted them online. GM Joel Benjamin's win on top board against Knights standout Pascal Chardonneau set the pace, and Mackenzie Molner's win on board 3 gave us the second full point we needed for victory. These were two great attacking games in the Sicilian and both are worth a close look.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"The Tsar's Opponent" in The New Yorker

For those who wonder about the status of Garry Kasparov's campaign for the Russian presidency, David Remnick's "The Tsar's Opponent: Garry Kasparov takes aim at the power of Vladimir Putin" (The New Yorker, October 1, 2007) makes an excellent and informative read. I am always intrigued by the way that chess becomes conflated with politics (see here, here, and here for instance), and Remnick's analysis is often quite astute in this regard. I was especially struck by the following aside about the way that chess championship matches are always mapped onto concurrent political situations in the public imagination:
Like heavyweight championship bouts, matches for the world chess championship have a way of taking on political meaning. Bobby Fischer’s psychodramatic match with Boris Spassky in Iceland, thirty-five years ago, was a Cold War epic (of a particularly neurotic type). In the popular press, it was not enough to say that Spassky failed to contend with Fischer’s brilliant and unpredictable openings; more comprehensibly, it was a triumph of American ingenuity over a sclerotic Soviet bureaucracy.

In 1984, when Kasparov made his first bid for the world title, the political drama was purely Soviet. The regime was in its last year before perestroika. Konstantin Chernenko, a career apparatchik, directed the imperium from his sickroom. His senescence was a symbol of the regime. The market stalls and store shelves were bare. The technological age had arrived—but not in the Soviet Union. Karpov, the world champion, was an exemplar of the Brezhnev-Andropov-Chernenko “era of stagnation,” an obedient member of the nomenklatura. As a player, he was a defensive artist, whose style, like Kutuzov’s in war, was to absorb and smother attacks and then destroy his confounded opponent. Like Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, he was a living symbol of official Soviet achievement.

Kasparov represented a new generation. At twenty-one, he was ironic, full of barely disguised disdain for the regime. He was a member of the Communist Party until 1990—his chess ambitions required it—but no one saw him as subservient. Rather, he was cast, in his challenge to Karpov, as a champion of the young and of the outsiders. His chess style was swift, imaginative, daring—sometimes to the point of recklessness. Karpov painted academic still-lifes; Kasparov was an Abstract Expressionist.

The full text of this wonderful article is available online at The New Yorker's website along with a 22-minute audio clip ("His Next Move") from Remnick's interview with the former chess champion.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Jeff Sarwer - Josh Waitzkin, National Primary Championship 1986

I was rereading parts of Josh Waitzkin's very interesting book The Art of Learning, and I became fascinated by the story of Jeff Sarwer who is described as a chess prodigy, living a vagabond existence on the streets of New York with his lovely sister and manic depressive father. According to Josh, during the famous National Championship tournament of 1986 (immortalized in the book and film Searching for Bobby Fischer), Sarwer slept in his father's car each night. The game he played with Waitzkin is actually quite interesting and much better than the film itself portrays. I got the score from Jeff Sarwer's website, where you can learn what happened to that phenom of 20 years ago. Be sure to check out the fascinating video footage from his chess prodigy years. His sister is apparently working on a memoir of their childhoods titled Silent Conversations, which is certainly one book I look forward to reading.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

NJ KO'd by Queens

Ju - Zhao, USCL 2007
White to play and win.

Stripunsky - Benjamin, USCL 2007
White to play and win.

Sounds like a New York Post headline... The New Jersey Knockouts, who had been undefeated through three rounds of US Chess League action, lost a return match to the Queens Pioneers last night after their first two boards, GM Joel Benjamin and IM Zlotnikov, went down to defeat. I have annotated the games and posted them online. In previous matches, New Jersey had been holding their own on the strength of their top boards and the occasional luck of their bottom boards. But in last night's match, the roles were reversed, with the bottom two boards, young masters Molner and Ju, coming through with 1.5 out of 2 points while the top two were blanked.

The heartbreaking part of the night was that both Benjamin and Zlotnikov had chances to at least hold their games. Benjamin probably could have equalized against Stripunsky's early novelty in the Taimanov Sicilian by playing 11...d5! but instead went pawn hunting with 11...Nxd4 12.Bxd4 e5 13.Be3 Nxe4?! creating a whole series of problems for himself that led to his King being stuck in the center of the board and subject to attack. Stripunsky, out for revenge after losing to Benjamin in their previous match, was relentless in his pursuit of Black's King and finally capitalized on its situation with a nice concluding combination (see diagram above). Zlotnikov, meanwhile, chose neither his favorite English with 1.c4 nor my recommended 1.e4 (in order to play against Vovsha's favorite Scandinavian Defense) but instead 1.Nf3, which he has favored of late, leading to a rather stale-looking Reti system where Black had greater control of space. However, Zlotnikov secured excellent chances in the middlegame and missed at least one chance for a very clear advantage. But he missed his chances, let his initiative slip away, lost a pawn to a nice Knight fork, and finally blundered the Exchange to prompt his resignation. If we had drawn either of these games, we would have at least maintained our unbeaten record.

The bright spot of the night was last year's New Jersey State Champion and Cadet Champion Evan Ju's performance on bottom board, where he redeemed his lucky draw against Queens in the first round with a very careful and masterly performance. Ju was able to repel his younger opponent's unsound attack and gain a winning material advantage for the endgame, which he promptly converted to a win by a nice concluding combination (see diagram above).

More coverage of the match (if you can stomach it) can be found at the following links:

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

NJ Knockouts vs. Queens Pioneers Redux

The New Jersey Knockouts play a return match tonight (7:00 ET on ICC) agains the Queens Pioneers, against whom they were lucky to squeeze out a draw in their first round meeting. This is going to be a very volatile and unpredictable match-up, with evenly-matched and tough, seasoned opponents on nearly every board. All results are possible, but I'll stick my neck out and make a prediction: another drawn match for the "NJ Even Stevens."

Board 1
GM Alex Stripunsky (Q - 2626) --GM Joel Benjamin (NJ - 2653)
This repeat of the match-up from Round 1, with colors reversed, will surely be a fight to the death. Stripunsky will want revenge, so Benjamin will have to watch out and hang tough. But I think Joel has his number and will gain at least the draw as Black in a very tough game.

Board 2
IM Mikhail Zlotnikov (NJ - 2387) -- IM Eli Vovsha (Q - 2501)
Zlotnikov has shown some variety in his opening repertoire of late, playing an occasional 1.Nf3 and even 1.e4 rather than his always-the-English 1.c4. Against Vovsha, I think 1.e4 is the ticket to victory, with a prepared line against Vovsha's doubtful Scandinavian. If Zlotnikov plays 1.e4, I think we win. If he plays 1.c4, I think we draw at best and possibly lose.

Board 3
FM James Critelli (Q - 2319) -- NM Mackenzie Molner (NJ - 2355)
Critelli was Board 1 on this past year's USATE winners "Beavis and Buttvinnik" (who Kenilworth played in round 5). Mackenzie Molner has been playing some very tough chess, though, including a victory over Zlotnikov at the US Open this year. This is a battle between two rising stars and could easily yield all possible results. But I'll stick my neck out and predict at least a draw for NJ.

Board 4
NM Evan Ju (NJ - 2268) -- NM Parker Zhao (Q - 2192)
Ju pressed too hard as Black against a lower-rated player in the first match-up with Queens and was lucky to pull out a draw (after losing his queen to rook and knight) by setting up a fortress. He has a great chance for redemption as white against another less experienced opponent and I don't think he'll let this one pass him by. A win is likely for NJ.

There has been great match coverage on the NJ Knockouts blog, which is worth checking out.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Chess Hustlers in New York Times

Dylan Loeb McClain has a good article in today's New York Times on the chess hustling scene in the city ("In Street Chess Games, a Pedigreed Pastime Becomes a Gritty Sideline"). There have been a number of pieces on the chess hustling scene in NYC (e.g.: "New York Chess Fans Take the Game to the Street" or "It was supposed to have been a pleasant Sunday afternoon in Bryant Park"), which is also featured in books and films (most notably Searching for Bobby Fischer). In my view, it's a rich part of the Chess Tourist scene (see also here).

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Karna Small Bodman

Checkmate and Gambit by Karna Small Bodman
Karna Small Bodman, who worked at the White House during the Reagan administration, has two recent novels with chess-related titles. They may interest readers who enjoy political thrillers.

WFM Abby Marshall

Steve Goldberg's Scholastic Chess column this week at ChessCafe (permanent link) features some of Abby Marshall's games from her strong performance at the US Open. Her last name alone predicts great things for this young lady, and she must be among the best native-born female players. Related links:

Friday, September 14, 2007

Moncure Daniel Conway on Chess

Moncure Daniel Conway
Moncure Daniel Conway was an American Transcendentalist writer and Methodist minister of the mid- to late-nineteenth century and one of the earliest cultural critics of chess in the United States. Here are some interesting selections from his works regarding the game, including commentary on his meeting with Paul Morphy.

Selections from “Chess” (The Atlantic, June 1860: pp. 662-672)

There is no call for any one to vindicate this game. Chess is a great, worldwide fact. Wherever a highway is found, there, we may be sure, a reason existed for a highway. And when we find the explorer on his northward voyage, pausing a day in Iceland, may pass his time in keen encounters with the natives,--that the trader in Kamtschatka and China, unable to speak a word with the people surrounding him, yet holds a long evening’s converse over the board which is polyglot,--that the missionary returns from his pulpit, and the Hindoo from his widow-burning, to engage in a controversy without the theologicum odium attached,--the game becomes authentic from its universality. It is akin to music, to love, to joy, in that it sets aside alike social caste and sectarian differences: kings and peasants, warriors and priests, lords and ladies, mingle over the boards as they are represented upon it (664).

Looked at simply as a diversion, chess might naturally impress a man of intellectual earnestness…. It is not a diversion; a recreation it may be called, but only as any variation from ‘the shop’ is recreative. But chess has, by the experiences of many, sufficiently proved itself to have serious uses to men of thought, and in the way of an intellectual gymnasium. It is to the limbs and sinews of the mind—prudence, foresight, memory, combination, analysis—just what a gymnasium is to the body. In it every muscle, every joint of the understanding is put under the drill; and we know, that, where the mind does not have exercise for its body, but relies simply on idle cessation for its reinforcement, it will get too much lymph. Work is worship; but work without rest is idolatry. And rest is not, as some seem to think, a swoon, a slumber; it is an active receptivity, a masterly inactivity, which alone can deserve the fine name of Rest. Such, we believe, our favorite games secures better than all others (665).

Chess has even its Mythology,--Caissa being now, we believe, generally received at the Olympian Feasts. True, some one has been wicked enough to observe that all chess-stories are divisible into two classes,--in one a man plays for his own soul with the Devil, in the other the hero plays and wins a wife,--and to beg for a chess-story minus wives and devils; but such grumblers are worthless baggage, and ought to be checked (669).

One who knows the game will feel that it is sufficiently absorbing to be woven in with the textures of government, of history, and of biography. It is of the nature of chess gradually to gather up all the senses and faculties of the player, so that for the time being he is an automaton chess-player, to whom life and death are abstractions. … Some of the ealiest writers on chess have given their idea of the all-absorbing nature of the game in the pleasant legend, that it was invented by the two Grecian brothers Ledo and Tyrrheno to alleviate the pangs of hunger with which they were pressed, and that, whilst playing it, they lived weeks without considering that they had eaten nothing (670).

He who masters chess without being mastered by it will find that it discovers essential principles. In the world he will see a larger chess-field, and one also shaped by the severest mathematics: the world is so because the brain of man is so,--motive and move, motive and move: they sum up life, all life,--from the aspen-leaf turning its back to the wind, to the ecstasy of a saint (671).

Selections from Autobiography: Memoirs and Experiences (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1905)

Despite all my freedom there was a curious survival in me up to my twenty-seventh year of the Methodist dread of card-playing. The only indoor game I knew was chess. There was a flourishing Chess Club in Cincinnati, and I entered into the matches with keen interest. For a time I edited a weekly chess column in the Cincinnati Commercial, and wrote an article on Chess which Lowell published in the Atlantic Monthly. Whenever in New York I hastened to the Chess Club there, and watched the play of Lichtenstein, Thompson, Perrin, Marache, Fiske (editor of the Chess Monthly), and Colonel Mead, president of the club. This was at a time when the wonderful Paul Morphy was exciting the world. In July, 1858, I called on him at the Brevoort House, New York. He was a rather small man, with a beardless face that would have been boyish had it not been for the melancholy eyes. He was gentlemanly, and spoke in low tones. It had long been out of the question to play with him on even terms; the first-class players generally received the advantage of a knight, but being a second-class player I was given a rook. In a letter written at the time I mention five games in which I was beaten with these odds, but managed (or was permitted) to draw the sixth. It is added:--

When one plays with Morphy the sensation is as queer as the first electric shock, or first love, or chloroform, or any entirely novel experience. As you sit down at the board opposite him, a certain sheepishness steals over you, and you cannot rid yourself of an old fable in which a lion's skin plays a part. Then you are sure you have the advantage; you seem to be secure--you get a rook--you are ahead two pieces, three!! Gently, as if wafted by a zephyr, the pieces glide about the board; and presently as you are about to win the game a soft voice in your ear kindly insinuates, Mate! You are speechless. Again and again you try; again and again you are sure you must win; again and again your prodigal antagonist leaves his pieces at your mercy; but his moves are as the steps of Fate. Then you are charmed all along, so bewitchingly are you beheaded: one had rather be run through by Bayard, you know, than spared by a pretender. On the whole, I could only remember the Oriental anecdote of one who was taken to the banks of the Euphrates, where by a princely host he was led about the magnificent gardens and bowers, then asked if anything could be more beautiful. "Yes," he replied, "the chess-play of El-Zuli." So having lately sailed down the Hudson, having explored Staten Island, Hoboken, Fort Hamilton, and all the glorious retreats about New York, I shall say for ever that one thing is more beautiful than them all--the chess-play of Paul Morphy.

This was in July, 1858. I had already received a domestic suggestion that it was possible to give too much time to an innocent game, and the hint was reinforced by my experience with Morphy. I concluded that if, after all the time I had given to chess, any man could give a rook and beat me easily, any ambition in that direction might as well be renounced. Thence­forth I played only in vacations or when at sea.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

NJ Knockouts Draw Kingfishers

Ippolito-Enkhbat, USCL 2007
White to play and win.

Lunna-Rouleau, USCL 2007
White to play. What result?

I have posted the games from last night's match between the New Jersey Knockouts and Baltimore Kingfishers. My predictions of yesterday turned out to be fairly accurate. Benjamin, as Black, did gain a slight endgame edge over Blehm and made him suffer a bit before admitting that the game was a draw. Ippolito had a tough time against Enkhbat, who had a clear advantage until he allowed Ippolito to get the outside passed pawn that decided the game (see diagram above). This was the "lucky break of the week" for New Jersey. On Board 3, Shen went down badly to his much more experienced opponent. And Lunna's brilliant draw on Board 4 (see above) proved critical in securing a tie result at 2-2.

After this third drawn match in a row, though, we might consider changing the name to "Even Stevens."

Other USCL Coverage:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

NJ Knockouts Play Tonight

US Chess League action continues tonight when the New Jersey Knockouts try to swat the Baltimore Kingfishers (7:15 p.m. EST on ICC). Both teams have an even record and all of the match-ups are too close to call. New Jersey might have the edge on the top boards, but the bottom boards are definitely at risk. I predict another draw for New Jersey -- 2:2 again. That may be the best we can hope for....

Board 1
GM Pawel Blehm (B - 2589) vs. GM Joel Benjamin (NJ - 2653)
Even with Black, I think Benjamin is unbeatable and should have a chance for a win here. His performance two weeks ago against Stripunsky was stellar and showed that he is ready for a heavy-weight wrestling match. This one is going to be tough, but I predict a Benjamin victory in a long endgame.

Board 2
IM Dean Ippolito (NJ - 2447) vs. FM Tegshsuren Enkhbat (B - 2411)
Ippolito is very solid and should have held a draw last week as Black but for one bad slip. As White this week he has a good chance to make up for last week's debacle, and no doubt he will be pressing for the win. But Enkhbat is extremely solid as Black and has been very tough to beat in USCL games. If he holds a draw, which seems very possible, then we will need at least a draw on one of the bottom boards.
Board 3
WGM Katerina Rohonyan (B - 2329) vs. NM Victor Shen (NJ - 2218)
Victor did not look so solid last week and should have lost as White if he did not catch a lucky break. I expect him to have trouble as Black, especially against Rohonyan's much greater experience. This is going to be a tough match-up for New Jersey.

Board 4
NM Todd Lunna (NJ - 2221) vs. NM John Rouleau (B - 2295)
White on Board 4 should be a plus for New Jersey, but Lunna's typical opening repertoire is not the best for exploiting that advantage. The young Rouleau did much better than Lunna in the recent US Open and seems to be more on the rise. This one is going to be tough, but Lunna might provide a critical draw.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Why Girls Don't Play Chess

Sixteen-year-old Emma Pierson has written a surprisingly mature and well-polished three-part reflection titled "Why I Play Chess" (Part One, Part Two, and Part Three) at the Chess Tales blog, which includes the following reflection on why more girls don't stick with the game:

The social stigma surrounding chess hits women particularly hard. Only four percent of chess players are female; when I asked girls who still play chess the reason for this lack of participation, all of them cited the social stigma surrounding chess. Girls are more confined by stereotypes than boys, something I still struggle with....

Hat tip: BCC Weblog.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Review of Zugzwang (A Novel)

The Guardian reviews Ronan Bennett's novel Zugzwang ("The great game"), which we mentioned when it was first serialized in The Observer. I was disappointed that the author felt licensed to introduce a fictional chessplayer into the famous tournament of St. Petersburg 1914 (where the term "Grandmaster" was introduced) which serves as the plot's backdrop. But if you are not troubled by such things, it is certainly a good read and an interesting psychological murder mystery.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

New Jersey Knockouts vs. Tennessee Tempo

Shen - Larson, USCL 2007
White to play and draw.

I have posted the games from the match between The New Jersey Knockouts and Tennessee Tempo (US Chess League, September 5, 2007) with light notes. As the great Yogi Bera once said, "it was deja vu all over again." As they did last week, the Knockouts caught a lucky break to draw a critical game and thus draw the match against a lower-rated team.

The Knockouts were losing badly on the two bottom boards, but then the Tempo's Board 3, seeing that the win on Board 4 (where Larson was up two connected passed pawns in a Rook ending) was in the bag, took a draw by repetition against his higher-rated opponent, perhaps afraid of blowing his advantage in time pressure by trying too hard to win. But the Knockout's Victor Shen pulled a draw out of the jaws of defeat (or out of somewhere else perhaps), and the match was drawn 2-2.

The Knockouts have drawn both of their matches so far, more from luck than anything. Let's hope they can play better next time. And, if they don't, let's hope their luck continues!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Max Sherer at the 2007 NJ Open

Max plays blitz as father Jonathan looks on.
Nine-year-old Maximillian Sherer had a great tournament at the NJ Open, finishing even at 3-3 in the under-1900 section despite facing much higher rated opposition in every round. I have annotated two of his better games from the event. Max's game against Ernesto Labate (whose rating was in the Expert range when I played him myself years ago) shows that the youngster can be tough under pressure--battling back with perfect play to fend off a speculative piece sacrifice by the Judo master and Westfield legend.
Max has been playing regularly at the Kenilworth Chess Club of late, where he has defeated strong opposition in the Summer Tournament, as documented by The Chess Coroner (who lost to Max himself). I think you can expect great things from this kid. As his coach, though, I may be a little prejudiced...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

IM Mark Ginsburg

I noticed that IM Mark Ginsburg recently uploaded a bunch of archival photos and games to his blog. The pictures are so much a part of their era that they will make you laugh, especially a shot of Ben Finegold displaying his pocket knife. I also liked the clever game IM Franciscus Borm - Ginsburg, Belgium 1987, which I could not find in a database. Worth checking out, along with other Ginsburg games at

Monday, September 03, 2007

USCL Rankings

David Glickman of the BCC Weblog has a useful post today ("A Matter of Semantics and Mathematics") providing what appears to be an objective ranking system for the USCL teams, which he calls the US Chess League Quantitative Power Rankings. The New Jersey Knockouts hold a respectable center-of-the-pack standing after their drawn first round match last week. They will face the Tennesseee Tempo (ranked near the bottom at #11) on Wednesday, September 5, at 8:00 p.m. Let's hope that the USCLQPR rankings have predictive value.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

2007 New Jersey Open Begins Today

It's not too late to join the 61st New Jersey Open, A Heritage Event, which starts today or tomorrow (if you choose the faster schedule) and runs through Monday, September 3 at the Somerset Ramada Inn, 60 Cottontail Lane, Somerset NJ, Exit 12 off I-287, Weston Canal Road (732.560.9880) -- see map here. I recommend at least dropping by to check out the booksellers and the action. Last year's tournament was won by NM Evan Ju, as covered in these pages.

2007 NJ Open Tournament Info

  • Grand Prix Points: 50 Enhanced
  • Pairings: 6 Round Swiss System, in four sections, with 2 or 3 day playing schedules.
  • Time Limits: 40/2, SD/1
  • Open: EF: $80 at site. No re-entries in Open section. $$ 600-450-350-300-200-100, top Exp. & A $100 each, trophies to NJ Champion, top Exp. & A.
  • Lower 3 sections: EF: $75 at site, $40 re-entry after round #2. U1900: $$ 500-300-200-100, top class B $100 & trophy. U1600: $$ 500-300-200-100, top class D $100 & trophy. U1300: $$ 500-300-200-100, trophies top class E & Unrated. Former C players may not win first in U1300. All sections: Trophies to top three. Unrated may not win first prize except in Open. 3-day schedule: Reg. 9/1, 9 am-11 am.
  • Rounds: Sat. 12-7, Sun. 11-6, Mon. 9:30-4. 2-day schedule: Reg. 9/2, 9-10:30 am. Rds.: Sun. 1-3 (G/45) 11 am then ASAP with short breaks. Schedules merge in round 4. Two half-point byes permitted in rounds 1-5, if requested before round #1.
  • TD: Ken Thomas (908) 763-6468,
  • All prizes guaranteed. No ear covering. NS. NC. W.