Sunday, May 24, 2015

Chess Program on Upper West Side

[photo by Kevin Hagen]

14-year-old Zachary Targoff [pictured] used his bar mitzvah money to start a chess program on the Upper West Side.

May 20, 2015 8:15 p.m. ET

Zachary Targoff is a better man than I am. I doubt I’d have used all my bar mitzvah money to do what Zach did with his nest egg. 

He started a chess program a year ago in April at Dorot, a Jewish social services organization on the Upper West Side that works to make older adults less socially isolated. To that end, and with the support of Zach and his parents, Dorot brings together teenagers and seniors to play chess. 

“We used the money I got from my bar mitzvah to fund this program,” the 14-year-old Zach said as he looked around the room where the young and old were hunched over chess boards. His donation paid for staff, refreshments, transportation for the seniors, and chess equipment and training. 

“I’m thrilled you’re teaching me chess,” Florence Chasen, 97, told the teenager as she moved her knight two spaces rather than the customary three. 

“The knight goes two spaces and then one space,” Zach explained patiently. 

A more dangerous opponent was 91-year-old Herman Bomze, who was engaged in a match on the other side of the room and who helped inspire the program. Zach and Mr. Bomze have been playing against each other since before Zach’s bar mitzvah in November 2013. 

“I was nervous the first time,” Zach recalled of his formidable opponent. “I expected we’d talk for five minutes about normal things. I knew once we started playing that the game would speak for itself.” 

So who wins? 

“When I first started playing with him, we would be splitting games,” said Zach, an eighth-grader at the Trinity School. “I thought I’d have to be giving up games. 

“As people get older things happen,” he added, choosing his words carefully. “He’ll still win games.”

The players meet weekly during the school year. The timing is different during the summer, explained Judith Turner, Dorot’s director of volunteer services. 

“Teens go to seniors’ homes and bring the chessboard with them,” Ms. Turner said. “We were so amazed by the outpouring of interest.” 

Zach and Mr. Bomze ended up talking about more than chess. The nonagenarian shared some of his personal history with the boy. 

“He told me a lot about his family,” Zach said. “How they came over from Europe. He showed me pictures of his family.” 

And as a bar mitzvah gift, Mr. Bomze gave Zach the chess set his father, who didn’t survive the Holocaust, had given him. 

“Unfortunately, his father couldn’t get a visa to America,” Zach explained as Ms. Chasen moved one of her pawns straight ahead—a move that would be acceptable in checkers but not in chess. “He was forced to stay in Europe and killed during the war.” 

“Remember the pawns capture diagonally,” Zach reminded her. 

I thought it best to let Ms. Chasen and Zach finish their game without further interruption and made my way to Mr. Bomze, who was in a spirited contest with 13-year-old Mason Sklar, a student at Hunter College High School. 

“Technically I’m winning,” Mason explained. “But I’m in a bad situation.” 

Since Mr. Bomze apparently had his hands full, his daughter, Bracha Nechama Bomze, a poet who accompanied him to the program, shared a bit of her father’s story. 

“He fled the Nazis in 1939,” she said. “He was 15. But his father was deported to Buchenwald.” 

Ms. Bomze said her dad had learned to play chess when he was 6, on the set he gave Zach. By the time he was 8, he was beating his father. 

“I said, ‘Why not use this set, Dad?’ ” Ms. Bomze recalled of Zach’s visits to their home. He wouldn’t “because it was so emotionally laden.” 

There were discussions about whether to give the set to Zach as a bar mitzvah gift. It could just as easily have gone to a member of the younger generation of Mr. Bomze’s family. 

“He was touching it with such sensitivity,” Ms. Bomze recalled of Zach and the hand-carved pieces. “Caressing it actually. Herman and his sister agreed Zach would be the most appropriate recipient of this precious heirloom.” 

Ms. Bomze tried to ask her father a question regarding the chess set. “I’m in the middle of chess,” he told her. 

He was simultaneously eating a piece of cake. 

I should mention this was the last session of the school year; to celebrate the occasion, a chess-themed cake was rolled out. Between the cake and the chess, Mr. Bomze had little bandwidth for extraneous conversation with his daughter or with me. 

“It takes precedence, I guess,” his daughter said. 

She went on to explain that her father, a retired structural engineer —“I still am a structural engineer,” he stated briefly, correcting us—had suffered a near fatal heart attack in December. 

“So this whole relationship is amazing,” she said of the program in general and her father’s relationship with Zach, in particular. “When he’s playing chess, he’s at his best.” 

“He won,” Mason announced. 

“It was a big struggle, though,” Mr. Bomze admitted. 

Zach dropped by after his game, or more accurately after the free lesson he gave to Ms. Chasen. 

“Do you want to play?” he asked Mr. Bomze. 

The question wasn’t a difficult one: “I’ll play again,” Mr. Bomze said.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

"Pawn Sacrifice" Poster

On the board he fought the Cold War. In his mind he fought his madness.

Take a look at the poster for the film Pawn Sacrifice.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Chess Class at Hudson Montessori School

For the next two Wednesday afternoons, I will be the substitute teacher for the chess class, conducted by 101 Discoveries, at the Hudson Montessori School in Jersey City.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Fries-Nielsen - Carstensen at "Inside Jersey"

A new move 6.Qd2 against the Sicilian Najdorf, from a game between IM Jens Ove Fries-Nielsen [pictured, top left] and IM Jacob Carstensen [pictured, bottom right], is analyzed at Inside Jersey.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ultimate War Game: Bridge (Not Chess)

[photo by Getty Images]

According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, the ultimate war game is (chess) bridge.

By MICHAEL LEDEEN May 17, 2015 5:54 p.m. ET 

On the night of Nov. 7, 1942, as allied forces in Operation Torch headed for the North African coast, commanding Gen. Dwight Eisenhower waited anxiously. It was foggy, and news of the invasion was slow to arrive. To pass the time, Ike and three associates played bridge. 

The game was an important part of Ike’s life—throughout the war, in the White House and in retirement. In those years many American leaders were passionate bridge players: One of the men at Eisenhower’s table that night was Gen. Alfred Gruenther, later NATO Commander and for many years president of the World Bridge Federation. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles bragged about his mastery of the game, and his department long conducted a world-wide bridge tournament in embassies and consulates. 

You’ll often hear that chess is the ultimate model for geopolitics, indeed for war itself. In the 1963 hit movie “From Russia With Love,” James Bond is menaced by the brilliant Soviet chess master Tov Kronsteen (clearly modeled on Boris Spassky). 

But Eisenhower knew better. No board game can replicate the conditions of the battlefield or the maneuvers of geostrategy, for one simple reason: All of the pieces are visible on the table. Card games are better models because vital information is always concealed by the “fog of war” and the deception of opponents. Most of the time a bridge player sees only one-quarter of the cards, and some of the information he might gather from them is false. 

Bridge is largely about communication, and every message a player sends—by bidding or playing a significant card—is broadcast to the player’s partner and his opponents. Frequently a player will have to decide whether he would rather tell the truth to his partner (thereby informing his opponents) or deceive the enemy (thus running the risk of seriously fooling his ally across the table). 

Nothing like this exists in even the greatest board games. They permit some feints, to be sure, but not outright lies. Great bridge players are great liars—as are brilliant military leaders and diplomats and politicians. To take the most celebrated recent example, Deng Xiaoping, the man who transformed modern China, was an avid bridge player who had a private railroad car for his games. 

The difficulty of weighing truth and lies is one reason that computers don’t win at bridge, whereas at the highest level of chess they do very well. IBM’s Deep Blue defeated grandmaster Garry Kasparov in a six-game match in 1997, but bridge is simply too tough for the machines. 

Bridge may also be too tough for contemporary Americans. The bridge-playing population is shrinking and aging. In Eisenhower’s time, close to half of American families had at least one active bridge player; as of 10 years ago, a mere three million played at least once a week, and their average age was 51. Kibitz at a national bridge championship or a local club game and you’ll be impressed by the white hair and the number of wheel chairs and oxygen tanks. 

Another measure: When Operation Torch landed, there were several bridge books on the best-seller list. Nowadays bridge books are printed in small numbers by specialized publishers. Poker books do somewhat better, but no writer’s celebrity approaches that of Ely Culbertson or Charles Goren, the high-profile bridge authors in the past century. 

The shrinking population of American bridge players goes hand in hand with other evidence of declining mental discipline, including shortening attention spans and decreases in book readership. You can’t be a winning card player unless you can concentrate for several hours, and mastery of the game takes years. Neither is bridge a solo activity; you need a partner with whom you must reach very detailed agreements about myriad situations. All this is good for the mind: Bridge provides stimulation that can help players retain their mental toughness and stave off dementia. 

Eisenhower and Gruenther would be disturbed by the declining popularity of bridge, knowing that it is a quintessential American game, developed in its modern form in the 1920s largely on board the Vagrant, Harold Vanderbilt’s yacht. American players continue to win in international competition, but they are mostly professionals. Insofar as they have day jobs, they are often stock or options traders, not business leaders, diplomats or military officers. 

It might be helpful to introduce bridge instruction and competition to high schools and colleges, as has been done with chess. Bridge lovers like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett would surely approve and could sponsor programs and tournaments for young players, with suitable rewards. 

It’s no accident that the greatest thinker of modern times, Niccolò Machiavelli, was a card player, nor that his masterpiece, “The Prince,” remains essential reading for our special forces officers. A prince, Machiavelli wrote, should be “faithful to his word, guileless” but “his disposition should be such that, if he needs to be the opposite, he knows how.” That’s a lesson you can only learn from kings and jacks, not kings and rooks. 

Mr. Ledeen, a freedom scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, is a bridge life master and the former coach of the Israeli national bridge team.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Marshall May Under 2300 5/17/2015

On Sunday, I drew this game in the tournament at the Marshall Chess Club.

Round Four: King's Indian Attack

Jim West (USCF 2206) - Wesley Wang (USCF 2113), Marshall Chess Club 5/17/2015

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.g3 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.Bg2 O-O 6.O-O d6 7.Nbd2 Be6 8.c3 a6 9.a4 Qd7 10.b4 Bb6 11.Qc2 Bh3

12.Nc4 Bxg2 13.Kxg2 h6 14.Be3 Bxe3 15.Nxe3 Ne7 16.Nh4 Ng4 17.Qe2 Nxe3 18.Qxe3 g5 19.Nf3 Qc6 20.c4 f5 21.b5 Qe8 22.exf5 Rxf5 23.Qe4 Qf7 24.Nd2 Rf8 25.f3 c6 26.bxa6 bxa6 27.Rab1 d5 28.Qe2 Ng6

29.Kh1 g4 30.fxg4 Rf2 31.Rxf2 Qxf2 32.Qxf2 Rxf2 33.Rd1 Re2 34.cxd5 cxd5 35.a5 Kf7 36.Nb3 e4 37.Nd4 Ra2 38.dxe4 dxe4 39.Rf1+ Ke7 40.Re1 Kd6 41.Nf5+ Kd5 42.Rd1+ Ke5 43.Ne3 Ke6 44.Rd4 Rxa5 45.Rxe4+ Re5

46.Ra4 Rxe3 47.Rxa6+ Kf7 48.Kg2 Re2+ 49.Kh3 Kg7 50.Ra7+ Kf6 51.Ra1 Ne5 52.Rf1+ Kg6 53.Rf4 Nf7 54.Rf5 Kg7 55.Ra5 Ne5 56.Ra7+ Kf8 57.Ra6 Kg7 58.Ra7+ Kg8 59.Ra8+ Kf7 60.Ra7+ Ke8 61.Ra8+ Kd7

62.Ra7+ Kc8 63.Ra8+ Kb7 64.Rf8 Kc6 65.Rf5 Kd6 66.Rf6+ Ke7 67.Rxh6 Rxh2+ 68.Kxh2 Nxg4+ 69.Kh3, draw.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Marshall May Under 2300 5/16/2015

On Saturday, I won this game in the tournament at the Marshall Chess Club.

Round Three: King's Indian Defense, Fianchetto Variation

Lawrence Dirks (USCF 1640) - Jim West (USCF 2206), Marshall Chess Club 5/16/2015

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 O-O 5.c4 d6 6.O-O Nbd7 7.Nc3 e5 8.Bg5 h6 9.Bxf6 Bxf6 10.Nd5 Bg7 11.dxe5 dxe5 12.e4 c6 13.Ne3 Qc7 14.Qc2 a5

15.c5 Re8 16.Rad1 Bf8 17.Bh3 Nxc5 18.Ng4 Bxg4 19.Bxg4 Rad8 20.Rd2 Rxd2 21.Nxd2 Ne6 22.Bxe6 Rxe6 23.f4 exf4 24.gxf4 Bg7 25.e5 g5 26.Nc4 gxf4 27.Rxf4 Rg6+ 28.Kf1 Bxe5 29.Nxe5 Qxe5

30.Qe4 Qxe4 31.Rxe4 Rf6+ 32.Ke2 Re6 33.Ke3 Rxe4+ 34.Kxe4 f6 35.a3 Kf7 36.h4 Ke6 37.h5 a4 38.Kf4 b5 39.Ke4 f5+ 40.Kd4 Kd6 41.b4 axb3 42.Kc3 f4 43.Kxb3 f3, White resigns.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Michael O'Connor Lecture on Smith-Morra


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Pix from Sunday Game/60 5/10/2015

On Sunday, I snapped these photos during the tournament at the Marshall Chess Club.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Pix from "Chess Mates" 5/9/2015

At the Chess Mates blog, I have posted pictures from the Dr. Luzviminda Machan Open.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

From "Chess Mates" with Lev

From the First Saturday Quads at Chess Mates, Michael O'Connor [pictured, top left] is defeated by Lev Zilbermintz [pictured, bottom right].

Round Two: Philidor Counter Gambit

Michael O'Connor (USCF 1917) - Lev Zilbermintz (USCF 2060), Rahway NJ 5/2/2015

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 f5 4.Nc3 fxe4 5.Nxe4 Nf6 6.Nxf6 gxf6 7.dxe5 dxe5 8.Qxd8+ Kxd8 9.Be3 Be6 10.O-O-O+ Ke8 11.Kb1 Nd7 12.Be2 a6 13.Nd2 Bc5 14.Bh5+ Ke7

15.Bxc5 Nxc5 16.Rhe1 Bf7 17.Bf3 c6 18.Ne4 Nxe4 19.Bxe4 Rad8 20.b3 Rxd1+ 21.Rxd1 Bg6 22.Bf3 Rd8 23.Rxd8 Kxd8 24.Kb2 Ke7 25.a4 a5 26.c3 Kd6 27.b4 b6 28.h4 e4 29.Be2 f5 30.Kc1 f4 31.Kd2 Ke5

32.Bg4 Bf7 33.Bd1 Bd5 34.g4 h6 35.Be2 f3 36.c4 fxe2 37.cxd5 cxd5 38.bxa5 bxa5 39.Kxe2 Kf4 40.g5 hxg5 41.h5 Kf5 42.Ke3 g4 43.Kd4 Kg5 44.Kxd5 g3 45.fxg3 e3, White resigns.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Legalized Caruana

At the USATE 2015, the Best Name prize was awarded to Legalized Caruana.

Yesterday the USCF announced that grandmaster Fabiano Caruana [pictured] has applied to change chess federations in order to play for the United States.