Chess Culture

Some thoughts on the recent tragedy during the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis

If a chess player is caught cheating, every notable accomplishment that follows is viewed with suspicion. The recent controversy during Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis serves as a reminder to our students that nothing good comes from dishonesty. If Hans Niemann had never been caught cheating before, his win over Magnus Carlsen would have been seen as a magnificent performance, perhaps a once-in-a lifetime accomplishment. That he has admitted cheating repeatedly in his young life, however, has caused this result to be viewed more skeptically.

Many prominent figures in the chess world have weighed in on the likelihood or lack thereof that Niemann broke any rules during the game in question.  This much is certain: in the third round of the annual elite Sinquefield Cup round-robin event, Niemann, the lowest-rated player in the tournament, defeated Carlsen, the long-time World Champion and highest-rated player.  The day after the loss, Carlsen withdrew from the tournament, the first time in his career he has pulled out in the middle of an elite event.  Carlsen’s only public explanation for the withdrawal was an enigmatic Twitter post that was viewed by many as a possible allegation that Niemann had received some form of outside assistance in the game the day before.

At the present moment, any evidence of foul play during that game is subjective and inconclusive.  What has truly amplified the contention is Niemann’s self-confessed history of cheating in online games, some as recently as three years ago.

Our experience shows that most people enjoy playing with strong players but nobody likes playing without confidence that the game will be played fairly. If players don’t follow the same rules, the game is no fun. Trash-talking diminishes the competition, as distracting or annoying an opponent is not supposed to be part of chess. Trying to get away with a touch-move violation, taking a move back, moving an opponent’s piece, or using a computer during a game, all are things that might tempt a player, but players of character resist those thoughts.

There is no game, and there is no tournament, so important that it is worth damaging your reputation or honor. Once either is lost it can take a long and miserable time to get it back.

The Lessons and Legacy from Bobby Fischer’s 1972 World Championship Win

Fifty years ago today, Boris Spassky resigned the 21st and final game of his match with Bobby Fischer, making Fischer the World Chess Champion.  Fischer’s rise to the top had long been a story that transcended the world of chess, and the Cold War undertones ensured that the 1972 championship match in Reykjavik would be the most followed chess competition in history.  His PBS coverage of the match made Shelby Lyman a household name in America, and the PBS coverage of the match had higher ratings than the commercial broadcasts competing against it.

 

The image of the self-taught Fischer, working alone against the Soviet Union’s combined force of world-class coaches and players who helped Spassky prepare, fueled the narrative of the triumph of individual brilliance over collectivism.  No player outside the USSR had even qualified for a championship match since the end of World War II, so his title win was an improbable underdog story as much as it was the tale of a generational talent realizing his potential. Although Fischer’s run to the World Championship included a string of twenty wins in a row against world-class players (even today the closest any player has come to that record is eight straight wins), Fischer had failed to win any of the five games he had previously played against Spassky so there were plenty of doubts about his ability to defeat him in a match.

Bobby Fischer in 1972. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

It also caused a surge of popularity for chess in the Western world, and in the United States in particular.  Sales of chess sets reportedly climbed more than 20 percent in the wake of the 1972 match, and tournament participation ticked up as more Americans were drawn to learn the game to better identify with Fischer’s genius. It was that year that David Mehler, the founder of the U.S. Chess Center, first taught chess to people who wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

Spassky took an early lead in the 1972 match, after an infamous blunder by Fischer in the first game and an even more infamous forfeit in the second game.  Fischer then won the third game, his first-ever win against Spassky, and after a draw in game 4 the two players reached the position on the left in game 5.  It was Fischer’s (Black’s) turn to move here.  What is the best move?

The answer is at the bottom of the page!

 

The events of 1972 secured Fischer an iconic legacy in the history of chess.  The events after 1972 ensured that that legacy would be a complicated one.  It is saddening to recount how Fischer tarnished his personal reputation with his abhorrent public statements. And the chess element of Fischer’s life story following his win in Iceland is also disheartening to retell, because the 50th anniversary of Fischer winning the title is also the 50th anniversary of his departure from competitive play.  After that 1972 match victory, Fischer became a recluse for 20 years.  He declined to compete in any tournaments, turning down what would have added up to millions of dollars in endorsements and appearance fees, and he refused terms for any future world championship matches and forfeited the title three years after winning it.  

 

For Fischer, giving up chess meant not only vanishing from the public’s eye, but also disappearing from the lives of nearly everyone he had met during his years as a chessplayer.  He resurfaced only briefly in 1992 for another, unofficial, match against Spassky, who at that point was no longer a contender for the world championship.  By playing that match in war-torn Yugoslavia in possible violation of international sanctions, Fischer became the subject of a U.S.-issued arrest warrant. Fischer never returned to the United States, nor did he ever play a public game of chess again after winning the second match against Spassky. He eventually received political asylum in Iceland, where he died in 2008.

 

As much as we may take inspiration from Bobby Fischer’s immense talent and try to follow the examples Fischer set with the strategies and tactics he used to win his games, we implore young people to not have the same approach to the game that Fischer had.  We want our students, whether or not they become top-class players, to be interested in playing chess and to sustain that interest for their entire lives, because that is more satisfying than becoming world champion and leaving the game before turning thirty. Don’t set out on a chessplaying journey with the sole goal of achieving a specific rating or attaining a specific title – even if it is the world championship title.  Instead, play to improve your skills, play to make new friends, and play for the fun of playing.

Solution to the above puzzle: Fischer won with 27…Bxa5.  If 28. Qxa4 Qxe4 quickly forces mate, due to the dual threats of Qxe1# and Qxg2#.  If White moves the queen to b1, c1 or d2, Fischer would have continued 28…Bxd1 29. Qxd1 Qxe4 30. Qd2 Nxg2 and he is three pawns ahead, so Spassky resigned.  After drawing level by winning game 5, Fischer then immediately won game 6 to take the lead of the match, a lead he would never relinquish.

Come Play Chess at Silver Branch Brewing Company on June 7

The Chess Center invites all of our grown-up patrons (over 21 years of age) to join us the first Tuesday of each month for Bishops and Beers at Silver Branch Brewing Company.  

Starting June 7, participants will be able to come out and play chess while enjoying the beverage offerings at one of Silver Spring’s finest local production breweries.  One of our certified U.S. Chess Center instructors will be hosting proceedings.  Board, sets, and some clocks for those who wish to play rapid and blitz games will all be provided.

Whether you’re a complete beginner or a seasoned master, you’re welcome to come play with us.

Registration is available here: https://chessctr.org/play/bishops-and-beers/.

Chess Helps Bridge Generational Gaps

A piece from the Parenting section of last week’s Washington Post highlights the value of chess not just as a tool for sharpening children’s intellect, but also for improving their social skills.  In particular, Paul Rogers notes the ease with which chess can help children connect with people from older generations.  Whether bonding with parents and grandparents or playing with adults outside of the family, chess instills in kids the belief in kids that win or lose, they are part of something that everyone enjoys.  And for children who struggle in ordinary social situations, the game can provide a special value.

Rogers’ observations are in line with what we at the Chess Center have seen throughout our history of organizing events for young people. Few other pursuits can match the universal accessibility of chess to players of all ages, genders, backgrounds, and physical capabilities.  And unlike with an electronic game franchise that has new editions or sequels coming out every year, parents who take up the hobby of chess alongside their children don’t have to worry about the game being replaced.  Chess is an activity that has stood the test of time.  The rules have not changed in half a millennium, but the strategic complexity of the game keeps us all interested.

All of our instructors who were fortunate enough to learn chess in our childhoods now look back on those years with great fondness; we remember the first time we sat across from an adult at a chess board, playing or discussing a game, and were treated as equals.

Big Nate and a Chess Question

A curious reader of our website sent in the following question:

“In the Big Nate comic strips, there is a recurring theme: Nate is put into check, and Nate responds by making one move to checkmate his opponent. This led me to wonder about actual plausible board configurations that could result in this outcome. Has anyone come up with such configurations?”

It doesn’t happen often, but here is a silly example:

This specific position would not likely arise in a game, but the concept of answering a check with a winning discovered attack is known in chess. Thanks for your question!

Congratulations to the 2021 DC Championship Winners

Congratulations to Sal Rosario and David Sherman, two of the Center’s former teachers, for splitting the championship honors as 2021 District of Columbia Champion and Senior Champions.

Eighteen players competed over the weekend in this year’s DC Championship, where Dennis Norman went 4-0 to capture first place overall and Bijan Tahmassebi took clear second with 3½. The top two finishers are from Maryland, so were ineligible for the DC titles. Rosario and Sherman each went 3-1.

Special congratulations to the students who played.  Two of our young champions, Ben Nemelka and Amanda Lossef both did well against the adult competition, and we are very pleased to see Anna Miller and newcomer Samson Neuberger playing.

All photos provided courtesy of Mr. Bill Simmons, used with permission.

Thank you to Eugene Meyer for 29 years of service to the Chess Center

Eugene Meyer accepted an award for his 29 years of service on the Center’s Board of Directors.

One of the co-founders of the U.S. Chess Center in 1991, International Chess Master Eugene Meyer was instrumental in the success of the Center in establishing chess classes in hundreds of local schools.

IM Meyer was among the twenty highest-rated players in the country for a couple of decades and was an active participant in local and national tournaments and leagues, winning many championships. For many years, until he emigrated to Virginia, he was the District of Columbia’s highest-rated player.

In honor of his 29 years of service and generosity to the U.S. Chess Center, Executive Director Christopher McCleary presented IM Meyer with an award last week.  Thank you, IM Meyer!

Photos from “Bishops & BBQ” on October 14, 2021

Thank you to Money Muscle BBQ and everyone who came out on Thursday, October 14, 2021, to spend the evening with us playing chess, eating barbecue, making new friends, and enjoying beautiful fall weather under Piggy Smalls’ tent. 

Want to play more chess? Our offices are finally re-opening for limited hours and open play starting this Saturday, October 16th from 1:00-5:00pm.

WHERE
U.S. Chess Center
8560 Second Avenue, Suite 118
Silver Spring, Maryland  20910

WHEN (New Hours)
Saturdays 1:00pm – 5:00pm

For the rest of October, play chess for free.  Starting in November table fees are $5/day, but Chess Center Members always play for free, so Become a Chess Center Member!

Bishops & BBQ: Thursday, October 14th 5:30-7:30pm at Money Muscle BBQ in Silver Spring, MD

Please join the U.S. Chess Center team and our friends at Money Muscle BBQ for an evening of “Bishops & BBQ.”  Come play chess and enjoy delicious barbecue at this family-friendly event while helping support the U.S. Chess Center.

WHAT: Bishops & BBQ
WHEN: Thursday, October 14, 2021 from 5:30 – 7:30pm ET
WHERE: Money Muscle BBQ Tent: 8620 Fenton Street, Silver Spring, MD 20910
                (If raining, find us at All Set Restaurant)

Door prizes for lucky guests and Money Muscle BBQ will donate a percentage of event sales to the U.S. Chess Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.  Chess play and conversation is free! 

To make a donation in support of our mission to promote self-confidence, social skills, and academic success for all, click here.

Bishops & BBQ

International Chess Day: July 20th

July 20th is International Chess Day, the day the International Chess Federation (FIDE) was founded, in 1924. First proposed by UNESCO in 1966, International Chess Day has been celebrated annually ever since, and on December 12, 2019, the UN General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution also recognizing the day.

How are you celebrating International Chess Day?  Send us a picture of you and/or your student(s) playing chess; or share an anecdote about learning or playing chess; or how it has made an impact in your life; and we’ll feature your pictures/stories right here on our blog, Notate.  Email your photo or story to: admin@chessctr.org.

Support the U.S. Chess Center: In honor of International Chess Day, please donate to help us teach students to play chess in order to promote self-confidence, social skills, and academic success.

The U.S. Chess Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and charitable donations, which are tax-deductible to the maximum extent allowed by law, enable us to:

► Keep our fees exceptionally low;
► Provide scholarships/discounts to financially challenged families;
► Offer free or low-cost chess instruction to Title I public schools.

Thank you!

Some Fun Facts About Chess

► Mathematically there are more possible games of chess than there are atoms in the Observable Universe.
► 605 million adults play chess regularly.
► Chess comes from the 6th century Sanskrit game chaturaṅga, which translates to “four arms.” The arms refer to the elephants, horses, chariots, and foot soldiers of the Indian army, which evolved into the modern bishops, knights, rooks, and pawns.
► Although the rule allowing pawns to move two squares on their first move was first proposed in the late 13th century, it was not generally accepted until 1492 when a large group of chess players in Paris also adopted the en passant rule.

Celebrating #InternationalChessDay

Kendrick Smith:  I didn’t come to the game of chess until 2012, when I was thirty-six years old.  I picked up a book by John Nunn entitled, Learn Chess.  My first attempts to play were against friends, whom had been playing since their childhood.  It is inevitable to say that they annihilated me causing me to take an early hiatus. Fast forward to April 2020, the pandemic. To implement social distancing in our office, they broke our team up into a day and a night shift. To keep people engaged and morale up, someone had a bright idea to bring in a chess board, where the night shift would play a move against the day shift. I thought to myself, it would take forever to finish the game. So I brought in a board of my own, and set it up at my desk. When work was slow, my coworkers would stop by to play. I got beat often, but I began to learn. I had read that five was a good age to introduce a child to chess, which was the exact age that my son was. Each day that I came home from work, I showed him a piece and how it moved. I next showed him pawn promotion, En passant, and castling.  Then the following week I showed him how to set up the board. We immediately began playing games. The beautiful thing was that on the days I was teaching Manny about chess, my wife would be at the island in the kitchen, listening and watching. She quickly picked up the game just from our sessions. We would each then take turns playing one another. it was it at this point that I began to enjoy the game of chess. I began watching several movies about chess, i.e., Fresh, The Queen’s Gambit, Critical Thinking, Brooklyn Castle, The Knight’s of the South Bronx, End Game, and Searching for Bobby Fischer. We now play every chance we get. Win, lose, or draw, we love the royal game. As matter of fact, when we’re eating at restaurant’s outdoors, we’ll play games, while waiting on our food. Attached is a picture of my son Manny and I playing at our favorite Ethiopian restaurant, Cher Cher. We plan on having Manny join the chess center this fall.

Ashwin, a Chess Center student, playing chess:

Photos & Games from an International Exhibition Match with Lusaka Province Chess Association of Zambia, Saturday, June 12, 2021

The US Chess Center played a match with a team from the Lusaka Province Chess Association (LPCA) in Lusaka, Zambia, on Saturday afternoon (evening in Africa), June 12th.  Each team was supposed to field 12 students, but the Zambian team had a few technical difficulties and only nine were able to participate.  The games were hard-fought, with every player having plenty of opportunities.

Before and after the match, the students went to break-out rooms to meet and learn about each other.  In addition to having common interests in sports and music, the kids from both locations like to play video games and have parents who restrict how much time they may spend online.

The coaches discussed the challenges of attracting and keeping girls involved with chess.  In Zambia, much competition is played among teams and the leagues require that at least one player per six-person team be female.  The coaches have succeeded in educating parents about the long-term value, both cultural and educational, of chess so that their attrition rate is low.

An excellent relationship was established and more matches between the two groups are expected to occur starting this summer. 

Here are some of the games played (Click the board to view the game at Lichess):

USCC - LPCA
LPCA - USCC
USCC - LPCA
LPCA - USCC
USCC - LPCA
LPCA - USCC
USCC - LPCA
LPCA - USCC
USCC - LPCA

WGM Jennifer Yu answers students’ questions and plays a consultation game against our Sunday Chess group

Woman Grandmaster (WGM) Jennifer Yu, the 2019 US Women’s Champion, spent time with our Sunday Chess group on May 16, answering students’ questions and playing a consultation game with them. Jennifer spoke about her training for tournaments, her expectations of playing chess indefinitely but not making it her career, and her passion for doing the best she can.  Watch some of the Q&A here:

After chatting with the students, WGM Yu played a consultation game with them.  In a consultation game, a group (in this case the US Chess Center’s Sunday Chess students) plays collectively, discussing and determining each move together as a team.  

USCC Sunday Chess (White) - WGM Yu (Black)

Nearly three hours later, the match resulted in a draw.  Watch each move in the match on Lichess here: https://lichess.org/kl7LM8LG#1

Thank you to WGM Yu for spending a Sunday afternoon with our students!

Brooklyn Castle re-release on March 5th, Panel discussion following with Soledad O’Brien at 8pm ET

The Emmy-nominated documentary film Brooklyn Castle is being re-released this Friday, March 5, 2021.

BK_newPoster_crowns_01

BROOKLYN CASTLE tells the stories of five members of the chess team at a Title 1 – below-the-poverty-line – inner city junior high school that has won more national championships than any other in the country.

To celebrate, Soledad O’Brien will host a panel discussion with Rochelle Ballantyne and Pobo Efekoro (students in the film), as well as Elizabeth Spiegel and John Galvin (teachers from the film) on March 5th at 8pm ET following the nationwide re-release. Soledad will discuss the power of chess, teaching, and defying the odds.  Visit http://brooklyncastle.com/ for theater listings, streaming options, and more information.

Or rent the film right now for $1.99 (and up) from:
Amazon Prime Video: https://www.amazon.com/Brooklyn-Castle…/dp/B00BB1VDLC
YouTube Movies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYA98pBGqZA

Or stream online for FREE with participating Library Cards or University IDs at Kanopy: https://www.kanopy.com/product/brooklyn-castle

“Masterminds: Chess Prodigies” at the World Chess Hall of Fame [Virtual Tour]

Masterminds: Chess Prodigies 
Opening Thursday, February 11, 2021, 5:00 pm CST / 6:00pm EST

Masterminds is an exhibition that tells the stories of notable chess prodigies including Bobby Fischer, World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen, and the Polgar sisters. Through photographs, videos, and mementos of important chess matches and tournaments from the collection of the World Chess Hall of Fame, viewers will learn more about these talented young players as well as their later accomplishments. The exhibition will also highlight the achievements of players who took up the game later in life and still made a mark on the world of chess. 

“Unlike many other fields, in chess, kids can sometimes compete with—and defeat—adults,“ explains Emily Allred, curator at the World Chess Hall of Fame. “Whether we’re exploring the real-life story of Tanitoluwa (Tani) Adewumi, an eight-year-old Nigerian refugee who won the K-3 New York State Championship only a year after beginning to play the game, or fictional chess prodigy Beth Harmon from The Queen’s Gambit, the genius behind these chess prodigies is truly awe-inspiring.”

A virtual tour of the exhibition will be available on WCHOF’s YouTube and Facebook channels.  The exhibition runs through November 7, 2021.

Kamala Harris, vice president of the United States, credits early mentors, chess with her success

The U.S. Chess Center congratulates our newest, history-making and chess-playing Madam Vice President, Kamala D. Harris, who has frequently mentioned learning chess from her “Uncle Sherman” as a formative part of her childhood.

Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ

“I had a lot of – I mean, there were a lot of people in my life who’ve mentored me along the way – men and women. And, I mean, I told a story recently about my uncle Sherman who was a lawyer who – when I was a kid, he said I’m going to teach you how to play chess because you need to – you need to understand strategy. You need to understand because chess is a metaphor for life in so many ways. It’s a – you know, there’s the board, and there are all these different players that can move differently – right? – and they each have a power, a pretty profound power. And he taught me through teaching me chess how, one, everyone can move differently, each has power – a pawn can take out a king – and also taught me to learn that you have to, you know, try to really think about the 10th step before you take the first step. So that’s early in my life a mentor.”

NPR POLITICS PODCAST, June 12, 2019
A young Kamala Harris at her mother Shyamala’s laboratory at UC Berkeley. (Courtesy of Kamala Harris)

“Other nights, I would go over to Aunt Mary’s house, and Uncle Sherman and I would play chess. He was a great player, and he loved to talk to me about the bigger implications of the game: the idea of being strategic, of having a plan, of thinking things through multiple steps ahead, of predicting your opponent’s actions and adjusting yours to outmaneuver them. Every once in a while, he would let me win.”

The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris (Published by Penguin Books)

“Our family consisted of a lot of aunts and uncles who were not born, the brothers and sisters of my mother. But in every way were my aunts and uncles, my Uncle Sherman, at a very young age taught us how to play chess. He said, I want you to learn about that board. I want you to learn to think steps ahead.”

CNN Special Report, Kamala Harris: Making History. Aired January 17, 2021

Kamala Devi Harris is an American politician and attorney who is the vice president of the United States. Harris served as a United States senator from California from 2017 to 2021, and as attorney general of California from 2011 to 2017. Born in Oakland, California, Harris graduated from Howard University and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. She began her career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, before being recruited to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and later the City Attorney of San Francisco’s office. In 2003, she was elected district attorney of San Francisco. She was elected Attorney General of California in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. Harris served as the junior United States senator from California from 2017 to 2021. Harris defeated Loretta Sanchez in the 2016 Senate election to become the second African American woman and the first South Asian American to serve in the United States Senate. – Wikipedia

“Uncle Sherman” was Sherman L. Williams, an attorney and Harris family friend, who was married to Dr. Mary Agnes Lewis (“Aunt Mary”). Vice President Harris spent many evenings at their home where Uncle Sherman taught her chess and inspired her to pursue a career in the law.

The U.S. Chess Center Visits Cuba

The U.S. Chess Center took seven young chess ambassadors to Cuba from December 27, 2018, through January 3, 2019. We played chess with masters in three cities: Havana, Trinidad, and Camaguey, and with students in Havana and Camaguey.

To see even more photos, visit the blog of Reemberto Rodriguez. Mr. Rodreguez joined us on the trip.