Thursday, 20 September 2007
... Hsin Jen from Singapore.
Congratulations to Hsin Jen, and commiserations to the other entrants. I'll try and recover our review copy and run a third competition!
Sunday, 16 September 2007
This is your second chance to win a copy of Paul Hoffman's
KING'S GAMBIT: A SON, A FATHER, AND THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS GAME
Simply answer this question:
Which chess playing artist would Paul invite to a dinner party?
Check out the concluding part of our podcast interview for a rather generous hint!
Answers by Wednesday to chesstales AT 21thoughts DOT com. The winner will be drawn at random from the correct replies. Please remember to include your address in the email.
With the help of a glamorous assistant and her lucky 50p pieces, we randomly selected a winner for the competition to win a copy of Paul Hoffman's "King's Gambit: A Son, A Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game".
The answer was the Sicilian Dragon.
Despite, having correct entries from as far afield as Buenos Aires, Kentucky, Singapore and India, our winner (based on the sequence of tossed coins) comes from Alnwick (just 30 miles up the road and home to delectable duchesses) . So, congratulations to Rob McEwan, and commiserations and thanks for entering to everyone else.
Friday, 14 September 2007
When the book came through, I arranged for our contributor Martin Seeber to take a look and share his thoughts:
"We’re going to write a review said Roger, a review about a book from America. A book about chess from the land of Bobby Fischer. America.
When you read it you’ll realise that its not like other books.
Since I was a child I have loved to listen to stories and tell them too. Well Paul Hoffman you’re a great storyteller and a clever biographer. And the story, well its chess and that’s our favourite. Like a set of beautiful short tales, all interwoven together, Kasparov storming out in defeat, Karpov trying to deny his losses, genius and madness, coaches and pupils, almost undercover in Moscow, simultaneous exhibitions, epic battles between the two Ks. It’s a wonderful game so good you want to keep it all for yourself and to quite honest Mr Hoffman’s done such a brilliant job that a few more millions will join the global chess community.
I felt very touched by his references to his own game development, only one player can be world champion but many of us take part and many of us dream of being better than we are. I am sure Paul is being modest for if he played like he writes he would be cheered out of the chess hall.
Sharing your life and intimate thoughts with others is the key to any art and Paul has let us in to his personal world. My father is 82 and still has a big role in my life but I’d find it difficult to tell thousands of people about our thoughts. Paul Hoffman’s book is filled with courage and insight.
The game of chess is as modern as the latest computer and as ancient as civilization. Play it with friends, inside, outside , as a sport, pull up your chair on a winter’s night, sit on your dad’s knee, show your granddaughter the moves, imagine it all the young and the old, handicapped who play without disability, and there in the great chess libraries around the world there’s a book to inspire us all and on its cover we can read the name Paul Hoffman. Okay Paul I’m taking the King bishop’s pawn and of course without hesitation the book." Martin Seeber
Our first competition to win a copy finishes today (so hurry up with your entries). We'll have a second competition starting tomorrow.
Wednesday, 12 September 2007
The concluding parts of a fascinating interview with best selling author Paul Hoffman
Part 4: on sex, insanity, Russia, the Dragon, and Kasparov's openings (1.1MB .mp3)
Part 5: North American vs. European chess culture (1.0MB .mp3)
Part 6: on playing chess and being remembered (1.2MB .mp3)
Part 7: 5 chess players for dinner (882KB .mp3)
You should also check out Paul's blog.
Tuesday, 11 September 2007
KING'S GAMBIT: A SON, A FATHER, AND THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS GAME
Simply answer this question:
Which 'fire-breathing' opening did Gary Kasparov use to take the lead in his 1995 World Championship match with Viswanathan Anand?
Answers by Saturday to chesstales AT 21thoughts DOT com. The winner will be drawn at random from the correct replies. Please remember to include your address in the email.
Look out for further chances to win a copy later this week on Chess Tales.
I was really fortunate last week to grab a 'transatlantic' interview with best-selling author Paul Hoffman about his latest book,
" King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game ".
The interview is our first podcast on Chess Tales:
Part 1: on chess anecdotes (1.8MB .mp3)
Part 2: on Lautier, Kramnik and playing Kasparov (1.5MB .mp3)
Part 3: chess head-banging and stage-diving! (900KB .mp3)
Look out tomorrow for parts 4-7.
Paul's book is released today. We'll be publishing a review tomorrow, and running competitions throughout the week to win copies, so keep your eyes peeled.
You should also check out Paul's blog.
Sunday, 9 September 2007
<< Click here for Part 2
Stereotypes are alluring because they let us be lazy–you don't need to bother to understand someone, with all their complexities and nuances, but can rely on a preconception. It didn't matter that I played piano and basketball, that I wrote essays to understand the world and dreamed of being a writer, that I empathized so deeply with people I couldn't even watch scary movies–all the quirks that make me who I am were ignored. Instead, I was a chess geek, as boring and black and white as the game that was my supposed obsession. Stereotyping someone is like reading a summary of a poem–you're missing the point, for while you may understand it well enough to pretend you've actually read it, you won't get the beauty, the uniqueness, that makes it worth reading it the first place.
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. After vowing fierce opposition to all social trends in junior high, I moved to a new high school and slowly reconciled my chess playing with my social life. I realized that, as foolish as social trends may be, it is necessary to conform somewhat to fulfill people's expectations–it may be too hot to wear clothes in the summer, but we still don't go naked.
my friends accept me for who I am–a girl with an eccentric habit but to whom they can still relate.
Thus, I compromise–I go to dances, I gossip about boys, but I also fly across the country to play in national tournaments–and my friends accept me for who I am–a girl with an eccentric habit but to whom they can still relate. The stigma around chess still bothers me, although I laugh about it when questioned. I was walking alongside a highway with some friends when one commented, "That car just honked at you."
"No one would honk at me," I said cynically, "I play chess." The words were bitter, but my tone was not. While I have no illusions about chess's sex appeal, I have gradually realized that people worth knowing will accept that I'm a chess player–I went out with a boy who was willing to play chess with me at three in the morning.
Still, I live in two worlds–one where I can discuss the intricacies of the Danish Gambit and the second where I can discuss the intricacies of dating–but the worlds do not intersect. And while I feel at home in both, they sometimes come into conflict. I once skipped a team tournament to attend a friend's sweet sixteen. When I finally arrived at the tournament, still wearing the dress from the party, I endured the ridicule (some joking, some serious) of everyone from the parents of my teammates to the employees at the tournament. "You skipped a chess tournament," they would say incredulously, "for a birthday party?" As incredible as it seemed to them, I'm sure my other friends would have been equally shocked had I skipped the birthday party instead. What's a girl to do?
It is ironic that chess, the game rejected by social boundaries, is the game that overcomes them.
And the stereotypes come not only from outside the chess world but from inside it as well–many boys find it hard to believe that a girl is as good as they are. I actually enjoy lower expectations; my reaction to the "glass ceiling" has always been to crash through it. There are few things more beautiful than the expression of an overconfident teenage boy–after I beat him. Once I win their respect, however, most boys I play are friendly and–at least over a chess board–outgoing. Most of the time I almost forget the gender distinction exists; for me, it is easier to be accepted inside the chess world than outside it.
It is ironic that chess, the game rejected by social boundaries, is the game that overcomes them. But it is also fitting: for chess players, who must be brave or oblivious enough not to care about social boundaries, create an environment where they dissolve. The nature of the game itself–the equality at the beginning of the game and the fact that the same rules apply to everyone–also overcomes differences.
I once played a game against an old Norwegian man with a reputation as a formidable chess player. He was a longtime friend of my grandparents; I was around ten at the time and had the sense I was upholding our family honor. I defended my position carefully and managed to force a draw; afterwards, as we analyzed the game together, he explained the nuances of the position to me in fluent, accented English. We played again the following day; overconfident from my previous success, I attacked recklessly. He defended patiently, then exploited the weaknesses I had created; soon, I was forced to resign. Again we analyzed the game; as we shared our thoughts of the past few hours, we began to see beneath the silent facade that social boundaries build. Though we were from different lands and generations, we found a link in chess.
I never saw him again. A week later, I asked my mother why he had come to visit.
"He came to say goodbye, honey," she told me softly. "He's got terminal cancer."
I turned away, standing quite still as it sunk in. Then I fled up the stairs, barely able to see through my tears. I did not understand how I had grown to care about this man so deeply over the course of two chess games. Only later would I see how chess had forged a bond between us: through cooperating to understand its infinite possibilities, we had grown to understand each other.
Saturday, 8 September 2007
<< Click here for Part 1
A chess game is, in a way, very similar to a human life. Chess games are stories: brief, reckless, and dramatic, or long, slow, and careful. A chess game passes through distinct stages, from opening to endgame. To succeed at chess, you must plan in both the short and long term. Finally, chess, like life, is a mystery: there are four hundred ways for white to play the first move and black to respond, and from there the possibilities branch out to form a tree whose scale is far beyond our comprehension–there are more ways for a chess game to go than there are atoms in the universe. A chess game is a microcosm of life, decades of joy and tragedy condensed into a few hours.
...if chess is a version of life, it is only an idealized, simplified one, where everyone starts equal, the rules are known, and you really can see things in black and white.
Perhaps the attraction is that, if chess is a version of life, it is only an idealized, simplified one, where everyone starts equal, the rules are known, and you really can see things in black and white. Chess is simple enough that computers can be programmed to play it well. This is because the decisions in chess can be made using only logic; in contrast, life decisions rely much more on emotion. While you can decide to attack on the kingside through analytical thinking, it is impossible to determine analytically whether you are in love. The second major difference is that chess, unlike life, is completely individual; players must confront their difficulties without any assistance, and the only human they interact with–their opponent–is trying to destroy them. It would be impossible to withdraw into yourself and live a happy life without speaking to another person; but in a chess game, people sit in silence for hours, struggling to overcome their problems alone.
The similarities between chess and life would attract anyone–and are what inspire people like David Mehler to teach chess in schools. But the differences make chess players rare. People who enjoy chess are generally analytical, using logic rather than emotion; they also problem solve independently.
But the game itself is not the only attraction–for chess has a social aspect as well. There's a wonderful camaraderie among chess players, which probably comes from the shared experience of spending hours hunched in contemplation of a few plastic figures. I can spend hours playing blitz with people I barely know, enjoying the banter and friendly competition as much as the game itself.
There's a strange intimacy about two opponents at a chessboard; both are utterly absorbed in a world they have created together, oblivious to outsiders; for the few hours they sit across from one another, each is the most important person in the other's life.
A chess game also provides an unusual way to interact with people. In no other social setting could you sit across from someone for hours without saying a word, but since silence in tournaments is mandatory, ignoring your opponent is not rude but compulsory. Chess, in theory, is devoid of human interaction, a conflict of minds where the only communication occurs through the movement of pieces–but this is not the case. There's a strange intimacy about two opponents at a chessboard; both are utterly absorbed in a world they have created together, oblivious to outsiders; for the few hours they sit across from one another, each is the most important person in the other's life. At the same time, however, a sharp dichotomy is apparent; for white's goals are opposite black's, and the former's triumph means the latter's despair. The intimacy seems paradoxical contrasted with such opposite goals; but when I play chess, I focus as much on my opponent as on the board. For me, it is easier to interact with someone while playing chess: because of the silence imposed in tournaments, interaction feels sincere rather than compulsory. A smile, a shrug, a whispered comment–rather than social necessities, in a chess game these are genuinely friendly, because the expectations are reversed–silence, rather than conversation, is demanded. I suspect this freedom, to withdraw into one's own mind for hours at a time, without any pressure to interact with others, draws many to chess. A chess game is a risk free way to interact with someone without the potential awkwardness of conversation–which provides unusual opportunities.
I once sat down at a board, shook my opponent's hand, and moved my king's pawn forward to begin the game; in the pauses between moves, I found I was studying his face more intently than usual. By the sixth move I realized, with a combination of horror and amusement, that I had a crush on him. (A long chess game, incidently, is ideal for developing a crush on someone; during the long pauses between moves, it's easy to stare baldly at your opponent without notice, because they are studying the board. Unfortunately, from a romantic point of view, the majority of my opponents seem to be depressingly un-crushworthy.)
Though he was lower-ranked than I was, I soon found myself losing because I was focusing more on his eyes than on the position. It was a happy, dreamy nonchalance; I was completely uncompetitive, content to lose slowly if it meant I could stare at him for another hour or two. Then, very suddenly, rationality triumphed over hormones. I realized that I didn't even know my opponent's name and would probably never see him again, but if I lost this game because of the color of his corneas (green) I would regret it for the rest of my life. Furious at myself, I resolved to salvage the mess I had made. When I played the move that won his queen, he stared in disbelief, perhaps shocked that his idiotic opponent of an hour before had suddenly improved so dramatically. He eventually ran out of time, which was fine with me: I had both won the game and gotten to stare at him for four hours. In what other social setting could you do that?
The attraction to chess, then, has two main parts: the game itself and the social setting. But what explains why so few play chess? While the attractions of the game are unusual, there is a third factor which makes chess players so rare: the social stigma.
I'm not going to explore the reasons behind the stigma that surrounds chess, because it would be like trying to justify any baseless prejudice. A more interesting question is why people continue to play in spite of it. There were two reasons I didn't stop playing chess in spite of the stigma: at first I didn't realize it existed; and by the time I did, I didn't care.
I viewed myself as a hero, quixotically fighting not to fit in; my classmates probably viewed me as a dork.
I'm not sure when I realized chess wasn't a normal activity for a kid; I had always seen it as something like basketball. When I was in fifth grade, I endured the mockery of my classmates for months for stubbornly insisting that chess was a sport. In seventh grade, I would spend my break playing speed chess with a friend while a popular boy tried to break our clock by stepping on it. I was always oblivious of social trends, partly because of my parents' insistence on not having a TV, partly because of my personality. Even when I was, however, I struggled not to conform. I refused to go shopping, although part of me wanted to have pretty clothes; I refused to wear jeans, although I liked their color and texture. I was fiercely contemptuous of the popular kids in my grade–I felt superior to them because I refused to follow their trends, even though part of me desperately wanted to fit in. When I watched One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest at the end of middle school, I wept for half an hour, empathizing with McMurphy's struggle not to conform, to resist the Combine. I viewed myself as a hero, quixotically fighting not to fit in; my classmates probably viewed me as a dork. >>
Look out for part 3 tomorrow on Chess Tales.
Friday, 7 September 2007
It is getting late. I am sitting across the table from a guy, our knees not quite touching. Around us, the room has gradually emptied and now we are alone. Our eyes meet for half a second; he looks away. I continue to study his face, searching for clues. He seems composed; my hands are shaking. I watch intently as he meets my eyes again and reaches slowly towards me.
As my energy has ebbed, however, my antipathy has grown; at this point, my need for food is compensated for by my desire to destroy my opponent.
Then he moves his rook two squares to the right and taps the clock, starting my timer counting down. I cup my chin in my hands, trying to overcome my exhaustion. We have been playing for four hours, and I have not eaten dinner; my headache has faded to a mental numbness. As my energy has ebbed, however, my antipathy has grown; at this point, my need for food is compensated for by my desire to destroy my opponent. I contemplate hideous chessboard revenges–first, I'll skewer him, then I'll fork his rooks; I'll finish him off with a vicious zugzwang. He resigns half an hour later, to my relief, and I feel my anger fading. No longer my opponent, he now seems likeable once more. As we pick up the pieces, I remember what it's so easy to forget–it's only a game.
My grandfather taught me to play chess when I was seven. We played at a local French café; I learned the rules over baguettes and crepes with strawberries and whipped cream. We must have made a strange sight, a seven year old and a seventy year old, his expression of fierce concentration mirrored on my pudgy face. We became regulars, arriving at 9:00 each Sunday and lingering for hours; slowly, I began to grasp the tactics and gain an intuitive sense of the game, though it would be years before I could beat him. On occasion, the owner of the café would comment on our game, asking who was winning. "She's a killer," my grandfather would say proudly, shaking his head and grinning.
I have played reverends and accused felons, football players and math prodigies, the young and the dying and everyone in between.
By the time I was nine, my interest had grown to the point that my parents were searching for other players. A man who taught at the U.S. Chess Center in D.C. destroyed me. Realizing my position was hopeless, I offered him a draw. He looked at me sternly. "That's poor sportsmanship," he said. Chagrined, I turned to go, but he stopped me at the door. "Who taught you to play?" he asked.
"My grandfather," I replied.
"Tell him that he did a good job," he said.
That summer I went to a camp at the Chess Center; in the years that followed, I have been there more times than I can count. The Chess Center was founded by David Mehler, a chess expert, polymath and Harvard dropout, in a crusade to improve children's lives through chess. His theory–substantiated by scientific evidence–is that chess improves concentration, memory, and general academic ability. Mr. Mehler is brilliant and caustic; he mocks adults and children alike. Although he can be a patient and subtle teacher, he swiftly rewards stupidity or arrogance with biting sarcasm. If I am playing when he enters the room, I will try to avoid moving until he has left, for fear of his reaction to a mistake. He does not tolerate troublemakers in his domain; pushups are doled out as punishment for mischief, and he even stuffed one miscreant into a trash can. ("Don't do it after lunch," he advised the boy, "It'll be full then and I'll stick you in upside-down.") His demeanor seems at odds with the philanthropy of his actions. The Chess Center is a non-profit organization housed in a basement, apparently kept alive through donations or bankrolled by Mr. Mehler. Whatever the reason for his crusade to save the world through chess, profit was certainly not one of them. Mr. Mehler's personality epitomizes the qualities that I find so often in chess players. The layers of sarcasm and introversion, the eccentricities and prickliness, often disguise a person well worth knowing.
There is no such thing as a typical chess player; I have played reverends and accused felons, football players and math prodigies, the young and the dying and everyone in between. In spite of this diversity, there are commonalities that draw us to the game.
Look out for part 2 tomorrow on Chess Tales.
Meet Emma Pierson:
I am 16 years old and have been playing chess since I was 7. I love words, competitions of all kinds, being outside, and sarcasm. My friends think I'm cynical; I think I'm idealistic. I live in Virginia, USA; I love our country but not our president.
Emma's a very decent chess player, and an excellent writer. Two weeks ago she sent me an essay she'd written:
I recently wrote an essay about my experiences playing chess -- not just about the game itself, but about the unusual social environment it creates, and why it does not attract more girls.
We are going to serialise it in 3 parts, starting today, on Chess Tales.
Monday, 3 September 2007
Martin Seeber writes for Chess Tales:
Talking to Charlie Storey last week he mentioned his forthcoming chess campaign in Liverpool in the major open (good luck CS) , where he will chase an IM norm.
The games last all week but the top billing goes to the England-China international match. Wor(our) team are led by Adams and Short who outgrade their Chinese opponents, however further down the line-ups the Chinese are strong. The women are also playing with Jovanka Houska representing us. It will be fascinating to see the games, especially the style of the top Chinese players.
I have a Chinese friend called Keith who I met at my daughter's swimming lesson. He was playing a little boy who showed alot of talent for his age. The third week they played I went up to Keith to tell him I was impressed with his pupil but as he was just learning English he thought I wanted a game. So we met at a local pub played chess and talked about the world. He showed me how to play Chinese chess, but he killed me as I couldn't always remember the pieces as they were in Chinese characters.
Whatever happens in the match everybody wins from an event like this.
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Chess Tales by Roger Coathup: A collection of online articles about chess and chess players.