Chess and Famous People

By Matthew Grinberg, Founder of Alamogordo Chess Club

Here is a sampling of famous people who played or influenced chess:

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) – The American founding father and Renaissance man was also an avid chess player.  He is the first American known to have written a book on chess.  “Morals on Chess” was published posthumously in 1796.  In 1999 he was inducted into the US Chess Hall of Fame.

Here’s a painting of Benjamin Franklin playing chess with Lady Caroline Howe:

 Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France (1769-1821) – Napoleon is reported to have been an enthusiastic, though weak player.  Four games allegedly played by him are known, but the authenticity of them has never been established.

 

The game was played on St. Helena, where Napoleon was exiled after the Battle of Waterloo.  His opponent, General Bertrand was another exile.

Bonaparte, Napoleon – Bertrand, Henri Gatien, 1-0  

St. Helena, 1818 (some sources give the date as 1820)  

Scotch Game

  1. Nf3 Nc6, 2. e4 e5, 3. d4 Nxd4!?, 4. Nxd4 exd4, 5. Bc4?! Bc5?, 6. c3? Qe7?!,
  2. O-O Qe5, 8. f4!? dxc3, 9. Kh1 cxb2?, 10. Bxf7? Kd8!, 11. fxe5 bxa1=Q, 12. Bxg8 Be7?, 13. Qb3 a5?? This is a complete non sequitur that gives Napoleon the winning combination.

[If he gets his queen back into the game, he is no worse than even. 13… Qxe5 14. Bb2 Qg5 Black’s lack of development is a serious problem, but with an advantage of an exchange and two pawns, he has the better game]

  1. Rf8!! Very nice! He forces mate in four moves. 14… Bxf8, 15. Bg5 Be7, 16. Bxe7 Kxe7, 17. Qf7 Kd8 18. Qf8# [1:0]

Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)The world famous French painter was also a strong chess player.  He was good enough to represent France in the Chess Olympiad of 1928.

He sometimes featured chess in his art as in this work titled, “Portrait of Chess Players”:

Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957)– The famed American actor was also a strong chess player.  He was purported to be an expert strength player, though he never played in tournaments.  He always had a chess set with him when filming.  Remember the scene in Rick’s Café  from “Casablanca“?

John Wayne (1907-1979) – Every true fan of the Hollywood actor knows that John also happened to be a huge chess lover.  In fact, according to fellow chess nuts, John was a fairly good chess player at that.  He was known to carry a miniature chess board along with him on set to play a few games with co-stars in between filming scenes.  Wayne played chess with a number of well-known celebrities including Marlene Dietrich, Rock Hudson, and Robert Mitchum.

John Wayne plays chess on set.  I don’t know who is playing White, but he was clearly intimidated since he just dropped his queen rook for nothing.

Jacqueline (1911-2012) and Gregor Piatagorski (1903-1976) – Gregor was a Russian born American cellist.  His wife, Jacqueline, was a strong chess player and regular participant in the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship.  Together they sponsored several major chess tournaments in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.  Two of the strongest tournaments ever held on American soil were the First Piatagorski Cup in 1963, where Paul Keres and Tigran Petrossian, both of the Soviet Union, tied for first and the Second Piatagorski Cup in 1966, where Boris Spassky barely beat out Bobby Fischer for first.

Here is Jacqueline Piatagorski playing in a chess tournament in 1951 in a French Defense, Tarrasch Variation:

Claude E. Shannon (1916-2001) – Shannon, an American mathematician, was one of the pioneers in the development of computer technology.  He was a code breaker during World War II.  Though he was an amateur chess player, he is best known in the chess world for coming up with the first design for a chess program.  He never wrote a chess program himself, though virtually all computer chess programs use the design he spelled out in “Programming a Computer for Playing Chess,” published in 1950, including my own program, Friedliver.

Henry Kissinger (1923-) – Kissinger, the National Security Advisor and Secretary of State in the Nixon administration is best known in the chess world for a phone call that changed chess history.  At a point in the negotiations between Fischer and Spassky for their World Championship match in 1972, when it seemed that Fischer’s demands would scuttle the match, Kissinger called Fischer and talked him into playing.  The rest is history.

Walter Tevis (1928-1984) – Was an American novelist and short story writer. His best known novels were “The Hustler,” “The Color of Money,” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” all of which were made into movies.   He was also an avid chess player and wrote the novel, “The Queen’s Gambit,” about a child prodigy.  “The Queen’s Gambit” was made into an acclaimed TV series on Netflix in 2020.

Bobby Darin (1936-1973) – The American singer and songwriter was an enthusiastic chess player.  He is best known in the chess world for something that didn’t happen.  In the wake of Bobby Fischer’s rise to World Chess Champion, Darin set out to sponsor a Grandmaster chess tournament.  Unfortunately the event was cancelled after his premature death.

Dr. Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) – If you watch Fox News, you know who Krauthammer was – a commentator and regular guest on many of their shows.  He enjoyed a good game of chess and frequently used chess analogies in his commentary.  He played in the 2002 Atlantic Open in Washington, D.C., but the only time I saw him in person was at a simultaneous exhibition, March 20, 1986, on Capitol Hill against GM Lev Alburt.  I don’t know how Charles fared, but I drew my game.

Sting (1951-)“Sting” is the stage name of Gordon Matthew Sumner, lead singer of the band, The Police.  In 2000 his interest in chess inspired him to invite Gary Kasparov to play a simultaneous exhibition against The Police.  The exhibition took place on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Needless to say, Kasparov was neither stung nor impressed.

For more celebrities that play chess, see this guest blog post by Guitar Guide CEO Mike Papapavlou.

Short Losses by World Champions, Part 5

By Matthew Grinberg, Founder of Alamogordo Chess Club

This week we finish up with World Chess Champions Gary Kasparov, Vladimir Kramnik, Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen.

Deep Blue (computer) – Kasparov, Gary, 1:0, 1997

Caro-Kann Defense

 

Perhaps it is unfair to include this game in this series since Kasparov’s opponent was a computer.  But make no mistake, Kasparov took the match against Deep Blue very seriously.  It is also one of the most famous games ever played.  It put to rest the question of whether or not a computer program could beat the best human players.  This is also one of just two cases where the shortest loss by a World Champion happened while he was World Champion.

Anand, Viswanathan – Kramnik, Vladimir, 1:0, 5/19/2005

Petroff’s Defense

The future and current World Champions face off in a mega tournament in Bulgaria.  In addition to being one of only two games in this series where the winner and loser are both World Champions, this is also one of only two games in the series where the loser is the World Champion at the time of the game.

  1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. d4 d5 6. Bd3 Nc6 7. O-O Be7 8. c4 Nb4 9. Be2 O-O 10. Nc3 Bf5 11. a3 Nxc3 12. bxc3 Nc6 13. Re1 Re8 14. cxd5 Qxd5 15. Bf4 Rac8 16. Qc1 A little off the beaten path.

[More common is 16. Bd3 Qd7 17. Rb1 Bxd3 18. Qxd3 b6  +0.16|d17 Rybka4]

Up to here this has been a solidly played game by both sides, but now Kramnik plays two bad moves in a row.

16… Na5!? How many times must it be said – even to World Champions – “Knight on the rim spells a trim.”

[16… Bf6 17. Qb2 Na5 18. Rad1 Qb3  +0.25|d18 Rybka4]

  1. c4! Anand sees that the three undefended pieces on the 5th rank are vulnerable and plays to exploit them.

17… Qe4?! Since it is so obvious that you shouldn’t put your queen on the line of attack of your opponents pieces, I can only conclude that Kramnik miscalculated.

[17… Qd8 18. Qc3  +0.53|d16 Rybka4 His position is a little disorganized, but at least it is safe.]

  1. Bd1 Qd3

[The only other move that saves the queen 18… Qc6 drops a piece for a pawn. 19. Re5 Nxc4 20. Rxf5  +2.43|d16 Rybka4]

  1. Re3! The zwischenzug that Kramnik apparently overlooked on his last three moves.

[Not 19. Re5 ? 19… Nxc4 20. Be2 Nxe5 21. Bxd3 Nxd3 22. Qd2 Nxf4 23. Qxf4  -0.37|d17 Rybka4]

19… Qxc4 20. Re5 Kramnik has to lose either the knight or the light square bishop.  He chooses to resign instead.

[20… Qxc1 21. Bxc1 g6 22. Rxa5 a6 23. Ne5 Rcd8 24. Bb3  +1.53|d5 Rybka4]

[1:0]

Zapata, Alonso – Anand, Viswanathan, 1:0, 1988

Petroff’s Defense

This game was played in a minor tournament twenty years before Anand won the World Chess Championship, but even so he was already a strong player.  His opponent is a Columbian grandmaster.

  1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nxe5 d6 4. Nf3 Nxe4 5. Nc3 Not the usual move, but perfectly good.

5… Bf5? At least Anand was aware that his knight was under attack.  Unfortunately this move falls short.

[5… Nxc3 6. dxc3 Be7 7. Bd3 Nd7 8. Be3 Nc5 9. Bxc5 dxc5 10. Qe2 O-O 11. O-O-O Bd6 12. Rhe1 Qf6 13. Kb1 Be6 14. Qe3 Rfe8 15. Qg5 Be7 16. Qg3 Bd6 17. Qg5 Be7 18. Qg3 Bd6 19. Qg5 1/2-1/2, Radjabov Teimour (AZE) 2756  – Topalov Veselin (BUL) 2813 , Nice  3/14/2009 It “Amber” (blindfold)]

 

 

  1. Qe2

[The only plausible defense to the threat to win the knight, 6… Qe7 , fails to 7. Nd5 Qd7 8. d3  +3.04|d5 Rybka4]

[1:0]

Pelletier, Yannick  – Carlsen, Magnus, 1:0, 7/24/2005

Nimzo-Indian Defense

Yes, even Carlsen has been known to have a bad day.

  1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 Classical Variation. A very solid system which is very popular these days. White avoids doubled pawns on the c-file, prepares to attack the bishop with a2-a3, and takes control over the important central e4-square. A drawback of this plan is White’s slow development.

4… d5 5. cxd5 c5 6. dxc5 Nxd5!? Certainly aggressive, but this has the drawback of leaving the queen bishop hemmed in.

[6… exd5 7. Bg5 h6 (7… Nc6 8. O-O-O Bxc3 9. Qxc3 d4 10. Qa3 h6 11. Bh4 g5 12. Bg3 Ne4 13. e3 f5 14. f3 Nxg3 15. hxg3 Be6 16. exd4 Qd5 17. Ne2 Qxa2 18. Qxa2 Bxa2 19. d5 Nb4 20. Nc3 Rc8 21. Rd4 a5 22. Rxb4 axb4 23. Nxa2 Rxc5 24. Kb1 Rxd5 25. Nxb4 Rd4 26. Nd3 Kf7 27. Kc2 Kg7 28. Be2 Re8 29. Kd2 Kf6 30. Ra1 Re7 31. Ra5 Kg6 1/2-1/2, Sumets Andrey (UKR) 2595  – Matnadze Ana (GEO) 2413 , Palma de Majorca 11/22/2009 It (open)) 8. Bh4 g5 9. Bg3 Ne4 10. e3 Qa5 11. Be5 O-O  +0.00|d16 Rybka4]

  1. Bd2 Bxc5 8. Nxd5 Qxd5 9. e4 Qd4 Again, this certainly is aggressive, but the trouble with making aggressive moves with your queen in the opening is that you leave it vulnerable to attack.

[Safer is 9… Qc6 10. Rc1 Bb6 11. Qb1 Qd7 12. Nf3 O-O 13. Be2 Nc6 14. O-O  +0.49|d13]

  1. O-O-O! White immediately takes advantage of the exposed queen.

10… Nd7 11. Bb5 O-O? Noooo!  Not only does the king need to stay on e8 to defend the knight, but the queen needs to get off of the d-file to get off the line of the rook.

[11… Qe5 12. Bc3 Qg5 13. Kb1 O-O 14. Nf3 Qe7  +0.56|d17 Rybka4]

  1. Bc3 Qxf2 13. Qxf2 Bxf2 14. Bxd7 Be3 15. Kc2 Rb8 Carlsen, down a knight for a pawn, resigned without waiting for a reply. [1:0]

Is Queen’s Gambit Worth the Hype?

By Kameron Toliver

“The Queen’s Gambit”  is worth the hype. I am usually skeptical on chess movies, but this one is so much more than chess. The movie tackles many touchy aspects of life that are relatable in these times such as:

Addiction
Loneliness
Teamwork
Friendships
Being an introvert
Dealing with death
Revisiting your past
Losing your parents or loved ones
Choosing your own path
Finding your passion

And much more.

As far as the chess goes this is without a doubt the best chess atmosphere in any mainstream chess media. I enjoyed all the small details like all the players bringing different boards, different “sections” at the tournament like open and beginner, and the fluent use of descriptive notation. All the sounds are spot on. I appreciated the audio and visual silence during the actual chess games. Cinematic action and fancy camera cuts with music really don’t fit here. The playing scenes are made perfectly, even down to the player telling a spectator to shhhh! I really miss live chess and this movie makes me even more excited to get back on the road and play. Most of the games are real games with some modification with input from real life world champion talent. For all the chess fans the chess banter is spot on. Chess players know how it is to talk all the chess lingo, slang and verbiage to each other and have non chess players be as confused as ever. Non chess players be like: What is a Najdorf? Isn’t Sicily some place in Italy? What type of dog is Caro Kann? However, the way the movie sets it up is approachable and it does not feel forced or overbearing for non players. This movie has the right amount of chess or anyone.

One thing that bothered me the first 3 episodes was her ability to not lose any games. Any chess player knows how much it sucks to lose and that losing is a huge part of the growing process. Many times i lost a tournament and had to drive home only hearing the sound of the windshield wipers… its part of the game. Personally, (and i know they have to follow a book) I would have had Beth lose the state championship one time, then come back and win after working hard. Everything felt too easy. I was happy when she got beat by Benny because that is what happens in chess, you lose. Chess is not easy even with immense talent.

On a personal note I did shed a tear when Beth found out that the person who taught her chess had passed away, and had been saving her news paper clippings and magazine articles. It shows how much of a positive impact being a mentor, teacher, coach can be towards kids (and grown ups!). Always appreciate that coach or teacher from the past because they are always rooting for you to succeed if you know it or not.

My favorite part is the ending. The scene where all her friends come back together to help her during an adjournment is a magical moment. You don’t have to go at it alone in life…nothing wrong with getting help even in your biggest individual moments.

Overall the show is a must watch for chess player and non chess players. The show is very fast paced after the middle of the first episode and is easily digestible in one sitting.

Read Premier Chess CEO National Master Evan Rabin’s review of Queen’s Gambit here.  Kameron Toliver is a member of the Detroit Chess Killers; check out our podcast episode with Dee Wildman, the founder of the team.

Queen’s Gambit: Historical Accuracy, Inspiration and Girl Power

By Premier Chess CEO National Master Evan Rabin

The “Queen’s Gambit” is one of the most common chess openings, in which white temporarily sacrifices a pawn, with the intent of building a strong center.

Along with the Ruy Lopez, the Queen’s gambit is one opening that is often played in top-level grandmaster games. However, in 2020, the terms takes a different meeting as thousands of adults around the world have been inspired to start playing the game, inspired by the Netflix web series “The Queen’s Gambit”. There has been an enormous surge in the search for chess sets. We have gotten several inquiries for lessons everyday since the series came out. This series of seven episodes has been incredible because of its historical accuracy, inspiration to succeed and demonstration of girl power

After watching two episodes of the show, I had to GoogleElizabeth Harmon” to see if she was a real chess player or not. While I am a chess master, I am not an expert in the game’s history. To learn more about that, consider reading Sunil Weeramantry, Alan Abrams and Robert Mclellan’s book “Great Moves: Learning Chess Through History”. The show’s chess advisors former World Champion Garry Kasparov and National Master Bruce Pandolfini did a great job demonstrating to Scott Frank and Allan Scott how to make the film accurate, chess-wise. The amount of chess movies that have the king and queen set up incorrectly, the board set-up sideways, etc. are crazy. Not only was the board always set up correctly, Kasparov and Pandolfini helped orchestrate some of the games and through some chess history into the mix.

 

 

 

 

Chess players will notice elements such as Chess Review, the precursor to Chess Life and the inclusion of the famous 1858 Paul Morphy vs the Duke of Brunswick/ Count Isouard game. Shelby Lohrman, Director of American Chess Equipment, thinks that one of the players portrayed at the US. Open, was inspired by 6-time U.S Champion Grandmaster Walter Browne, who unfortunately passed away in 2015. While the film series is not based on a true story per say, there is some definitely reminiscence about Bobby Fischer’s Cold War victory against the Russian Grandmaster Boris Spassky at the 1972 World Championship in Reykjavik.

Part of the reason Queen’s Gambit has been popular with chess players and non-chess players alike was the producers’ ability to put in elements of inspiration that everyone could relate to. I love attending Sir Paul McCartney shows, having now been to three of them at Citi Field, Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, partially because of his ability to arouse audience members, ranging from older adults, who enjoyed him in the Beatles‘ heyday in the 60s and 70s, to young children. While I unfortunately cannot attend concerts for a while, I can rely on the screen and provoking features like “Queen’s Gambit.”

Elizabeth Harmon grew up in the Methuen home, an orphanage in Kentucky. How many orphans/impoverished children do you know that have had rose to international fame? I personally do know a few, including our podcast guest Pastor Bill Wilson, Founder of Metro World Child, who was abandoned by his mother on a street corner at the age of 12 and has now helped 200,000+ kids around the world with food, education and much more. Many of the students Make a Difference Now sponsors, some of which we get to work with in Tanzania every summer, are starting to give back and change the world. For instance, one of their oldest students Revo Tesha recently graduated from Duke University and is now working for Thomson Reuters in Boston.

Revo and I at Duke University in March 2020, shortly before COVID-19 halted travel

Likewise, the fictional, yet realistic Elizabeth Harmon, rose through the ranks to win major tournaments, including the 1967 U.S Championship.

The film series helps revoke the stereotype that chess is a masculine game. While the truth is that the majority of chess players remains male, there are lot of great initiatives that organizations like US Chess Women’s Committee, Girls 2 Grandmasters, Philadelphia Chess Society are doing that are encouraging more female participation. For more insights into gender variance in chess, see our podcast episodes with Grandmaster Susan Polgar, Women’s Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade, Linda Diaz and Lisa Cunningham, ESQ.

Elizabeth Harmon is vocal against male/female segregation. When she plays in her first local tournament in Kentucky, she refused to play in the women section and ended up getting first place in the open section. Like many female chess players, she had the challenge of balancing her beauty and relationship desires with her chess career. At points she had every chess player’s dream, a relationship with another chess player. While critics have disdained her reliance on drugs and other realistic negatives in the movie, the statistics show how strong of an influence her character has been on chess players, both experienced ones like these who worked with Garry Kasparov and Jen Shahade last week, and new ones that are getting into the game.

All PR is good PR!

Yesterday I had a meeting with Alexandra Atkin, founder of Intention Education. Towards the end of it, I shared how was I was a Grateful Dead fan and showed her my dancing bear wallet. When she was surprised that I was into the music 20 years before my generation and said she was not a big fan, I explained to her she just did not join the bus yet! The Queens Gambit has already been the spark encouraging many people to play the game; it is now time for YOU to join the bandwagon and rise through the ranks like Elizabeth Harmon.

 

 

Chess Movie and Documentary Recommendations

By Candidate Master Danilo Cuellar, Premier Chess Rockland County Instructor and Founder of  Danilovich Chess 

Here’s the list of my recommended chess related documentaries and movies.

These films are free on Amazon Prime: 

 Magnus

This film is called “Magnus”. It came out in 2016. It’s a documentary style film about the life of child prodigy, Magnus Carlsen. He became world champion in 2013 when he was 23 years old. He’s still world champion today. I saw it a few years ago and it inspired me to get back into chess in a major way. It’s a gorgeous documentary. It’s free to watch on Amazon Prime as of now.

See the trailer here.

Endgame 

Since he was 5 yrs. old, Jose’s Abuelita taught him to play chess like his grandfather who was a champion in Mexico. Now as part of the Brownsville school team, Jose has the chance to use his skills and for once in his life, finds himself in the spotlight, as he tries to help his team make it to the Texas state finals. As their coach, Mr. Alvarado, teaches his students the meaning of perseverance and team effort in the face of adversity, Jose discovers his own strengths and uses them to bring his broken family together.

See the trailer here.

These films are currently free on YouTube:

Life of a King

Life of a King is the unlikely true story of Eugene Brown and his one-man mission to give inner-city kids of Washington D.C. something he never had – a future. He discovered a multitude of life lessons through the game of chess during his 18-year incarceration for bank robbery. After his release and reentry into the workforce, Eugene developed and founded the Big Chair Chess Club to get kids off the streets and working towards lives they never believed they were capable of due to circumstances. From his daring introductory chess lessons to group of unruly high school students in detention to the development of the Club and the teens’ first local chess competitions, this movie reveals his difficult, inspirational journey and how he changed the lives of a group of teens with no endgame.

See the trailer here.

Knights of the South Bronx

The movie is based on the true story of David MacEnulty who taught schoolchildren of the Bronx Community Elementary School 70 to play at competition level, eventually winning New York City and the New York State Chess Championships. The screenplay portrays whistle-blowing and a mid-life crisis that combine to remove Richard Mason (played by Ted Danson) from his old life. He becomes a substitute teacher and is assigned to a fourth-grade class in a South Bronx school. In the class are students with parents who are drug addicts or in jail or just scrambling to pay the bills. Few of them see a purpose in school other than meeting society’s requirements, and he struggles, mostly in vain, to reach them.

Then a student whose father is in jail sees Mason in the park playing a simultaneous exhibition, and beating fourteen opponents at once. He asks to learn the game. One thing leads to another, and soon the entire class is interested in the game. Mason convinces them that on the chessboard it doesn’t matter how much money you have or what clothes you’re wearing or where you come from, and that it’s only the moves you make, then and there. The class forms a team to compete in ever-larger tournaments.

See the trailer here.

These films are great, but are not free on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or YouTube.

Searching for Bobby Fischer

Josh Waitzkin and his family discover that he possesses a gift for chess and they seek to nurture it. They hire a strict instructor, Bruce Pandolfini, who aims to teach the boy to be as aggressive as chess legend Bobby Fischer. The title of the film is a metaphor about the character’s quest to adopt the ideal of Fischer and his determination to win at all costs. Josh is also heavily influenced by Vinnie, a speed chess hustler whom he meets in Washington Square Park. The two coaches differ greatly in their approaches to chess, and Pandolfini is upset that Josh continues to adopt the methods of Vinnie. The main conflict in the film arises when Josh refuses to accept Pandolfini’s misanthropic frame of reference. Josh then goes on to win on his own terms.

See the trailer here.

Queen of Katwe

Living in the slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle for 10-year-old Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) and her family. Her world changes one day when she meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), a missionary who teaches children how to play chess. Phiona becomes fascinated with the game and soon becomes a top player under Katende’s guidance. Her success in local competitions and tournaments opens the door to a bright future and a golden chance to escape from a life of poverty.

See the trailer here.

Pawn Sacrifice

This is a 2014 American biographical drama film about chess player Bobby Fischer. It follows Fischer’s challenge against top Soviet chess grandmasters during the Cold War and culminating in the World Chess Championship 1972 match versus Boris Spassky in Reykjavík, Iceland.

See the trailer here.

Brooklyn Castle

Brooklyn Castle is the remarkable and improbable true story of I.S. 318 in Brooklyn. The school, where 65% of students live below the federal poverty level, has the highest ranked junior high chess team in the nation. The heart of the film is the engaging young students who populate the team: Rochelle, who has the goal of becoming the first female African-American chess master; Pobo, the team’s charismatic leader; Justus, an entering student who must manage the high expectations that come with achieving master status at an early age; Alexis, who feels the pressure of his immigrant parents’ desire for him to realize the American dream; Patrick, who uses chess to help overcome his ADHD; and James, the young rapping maestro and budding chess talent; among several others. We have the honor of having some IS 318 alumni in our fall virtual classes

See the trailer here.

For some reviews on recent chess films, check out WIM Alexey Root, PhD‘s recent SparkChess article.

What is your favorite chess film?

Lessons from Jodi Samuel’s Chutzpah, Wisdom and Wine

by CEO National Master Evan Rabin 

On or off the chess board, every move must have a purpose. In September 2016, I travelled with Masa Israel to the IAC Conference in Washington DC. At the gala dinner, my friend Garrison Corben and I had trouble deciding on a table to sit at and randomly chose one that seemed to have an interesting mix of people. At the very least, I thought it was random; it turns out Hashem had other plans. Once we started introducing ourselves to the others at the table and mentioned to Alisa Adler that I recently moved back to New York, she said she would love to help me and that I had to meet her good friend Steve Eisenberg. A few minutes later Steve came by the table to say hello to Alisa and said he would take care of me moving forward. A few days later, he set me up with Shabbat plans and meals for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. I also began joining his weekly Torah classes and other Jewish International Connections in New York (JICNY) events. In 2017, I had the honor of participating in Steve’s Israel Recharge trip, which Alisa co-led. Since then, I’ve also become good friends with Steve’s co-founders of JICNY, Jodi and Gavin Samuels. Through Jodi’s recent book Chutzpah, Wisdom and Wine, which was one of the major topics of our recent podcast episode, I learned several key lessons including, one needs to always focus on the positives of every situation, the world is narrow bridge and that we all need to give back to our communities. 

Jodi has explored the world and has seen probably more than anyone I know. She grew up in South Africa, where she experienced being held up in gun point, lived under rocket attacks in Israel and has traveled to almost hundred countries and has seen some of the most bizarre situations. One fun fact about her life that was shocking to me, is despite the fact that she raised three kids, not once has she changed a diaper. I have a hard time believing that! It take’s someone like Jodi and her chutzpah to get a stranger on the plane to change her baby’s diaper.

On a more serious note, Jodi has had the challenge of raising her youngest child, her daughter Caila, who was born with Down syndrome. When she was born, several people felt bad for the family and she and Gavin thought quite the opposite. Jodi explains how they thought if they could open up their home for anyone, frequently having Shabbat meals for 40+ people, it would be impossible for them to not accept their own daughter. 

I have personally never seen a person with Down syndrome or autism be angry. While Caila and the family have had lots of challenges, they were inspirational, never letting Down syndrome stop Caila from succeeding in life. Jodi and Gavin fought tooth and nails for her to be accepted to mainstream schools in New York and Israel. She has developed friends and a strong sense of humor. For instance, one day Jodi sent her to her friend for Shabbat lunch. Caila overheard that Jodi’s friend suggested they carry a change of clothes just in case she had an accident and Jodi insisted that it wasn’t necessary. Shortly after, Caila scared the host by joking that she had an accident, when everything was clear.

Until today, Jodi always has struggled about whether or not Israel is the place for her. Yesterday, Jodi shared on Facebook how her elder daughter Temira got her papers to enroll in the army, what Jodi describes as the one piece of mail that comes in on time in Israel. She wrote, “I keep getting reminded I do live in Israel, in spite of all my protests!” On one hand Jodi has struggled living in Israel, having to deal with people shouting, lots of bureaucracy, nosiness, security concerns, etc. Furthermore, Israel did not provide nearly as many resources for Caila: “In order to match what Caila was getting- for free- in New York’s education system, we spent thousands of extra dollars a month to get tutors and therapies to get her the support she needs to be in a typical school environment” (194). 

It is Jodi’s chutzpah, shameless audacity, that has kept her to stay in Israel. Her kids and husband Gavin have adapted to Israel well. Inspired by the third weekly torah portion when God commands Abraham to leave his native homeland, Jodi’s “life motto is Lech Lecha. Go. Or just do it. And that we did, with no wavering. When I decide to do something, it’s all or nothing.” While we can all have challenges, it’s important to be persistent and always attempt to finish what we started.

When I studied for a semester at Tel Aviv University in 2011, I definitely missed home at times and experienced some of the items Jodi did on a small scale. I once lost my debit card and it took several weeks to get a replacement one from New York. Thankfully, my friends helped out and lent me some money short-term and I got by but it was definitely a little nerve wracking, being in a foreign country without any access to cash. While some day Jodi Struggles, “love is the overriding reason that compels [her] to stay… Seeing how [her] children are thriving, watching Gavin draw from the Idealism of this life, [she] is [in Israel] because of love” (267). While a chess player may be annoyed by a mistake or a loss, he needs to learn from that and maintain focus for his next move. My grandfather Jack Rabin’s first cousin Fay made Aliyah to Israel from the US. 40 years ago and her whole family followed, thanks to the Law of Return, which allows all Jews to gain Israeli citizenship without questions. While Israel has its challenges, it is astonishing to be able to go to sites of our ancestors like the Western Wall and the burial sites of our matriarchs and patriarchs in Hebron. 

If there is one thing that COVID-19 has taught us, it is how one person can create such a big impact on the world, either positively or negatively. One person consuming a bat in Wuhan, China essentially influenced the entire world to be in lockdown. However, while connectedness in this regard has been venomous, it can also be a blessing. While many of us have been Zoom fatigued, we should be grateful that this time has been an opportunity to stay connected with people around the world. For instance, I recorded my podcast episode with Jodi, while I was in New York and she was in Jerusalem. 

I have been to 24 countries and each one, I have met people through chess, Jewish and music communities. Learn more about my travel in this US Chess article. Jodi has travelled the world extensively and has hosted 10,000 members from 40 countries to JICNY events and her own Shabbat dinners. While people have come from different backgrounds, they have all got along as Jodi writes, “ Many of our deepest lifelong friendships began at our Shabbat table, stretching to our days in outback New York Zealand all the way to New YOrk. We can be very proud of the 126 married couples  as of this writing whose relationships began at one of our JIC events, the first of which were a Beligan and a Hungarian Jew who met in New York. This dear couple and their children now live in Israel and they were regulars with us for many Shabbats a year. Stories like this make the risks of hosting the masses worth it. (248). I am an active JICNY participant and perhaps will be added on to this list of 126 couples, god willing! 

The chess world is also a narrow bridge, as I have friends throughout the world from chess. When I played in the 2019 Vesuvio International, I met a guy who played a tournament in Las Vegas. It turns out his first round opponent Brian Solomon is a good friend from Boston, both from the chess and Jewish communities. 

Jodi also teaches the importance of tikkun olam, giving back and making the world a better place, as exhibited by the great success of JICNY. Unlike many other non-profits, JICNY does not have any high-paid non-profit executives on staff. At the same time, the organization  keeps busy with “two-hundred plus events.. annually with only one paid employee who works twenty hours a week”(250). In addition, the Samuels family has been involved with Shabbat of a Lifetime, “an organization that matches non-Jewish tourists  with Israeli families for a traditional Shabbat dinner…  It is a real-life example of how our connection with thousands of years of a rich and beautiful heritage enable Israel and the Jewish people to survive, even thrive “(251). Unfortunately anti-semitism and ideological warfare still exsists today; one of the best ways for us to fight both is leading be example. Rabbi Levi Welton and Rachel Farjado have taught me the importance of teaching the 7 Noahide laws, which apply to all non-Jews.

In order to build a community and prevent hate, as discussed in this podcast episode with Rabbi Levi Welton and Reverend Gregory Livingston, we need to truly live as one and teach others about our communities. For instance, non-observant Jews and gentiles alike see Shabbat as restrictive; they do not realize it is quite the opposite as observant Jews are the only ones who are not glued to their phones and restricted to technology on Shabbat and holidays.

Likewise, education can stop misconceptions about chess players. For instance, there is a rising population of women playing the game and it is not as much of a nice industry as most people think it is. When I go to networking events, people are often shocked when I state Premier Chess is one of many chess companies in New York. 

Outside of community events, Jodi and Gavin has done a lot of work as Down syndrome advocates. She has developed and maintained the Facebook page Caily’s World and writing the Metroimma blog. As marketers teach “AIDA”, awareness is essential, as it is that which leads to interest, which leads to desire, which leads to action. With that in mind, Jodi and Gavin have also spoken at many events and provided mentorship to other families with Down syndrome.

As we learn in life, it is imperative that we give back to others. Chess has been my passion since I was 7 and I made master when I was 20. While I enjoyed the first few years of my career in enterprise sales, selling technology solutions to financial institutions, retailers and state, local and education institutions for Oracle and Rapid7, I couldn’t be happier to have returned to my true passion, managing chess programs, where we teach business and life lessons to students of all ages and skill levels. Give your self a favor today and buy a copy of Chutzpah, Wisdom and Wine today so you can be motivated to make the best out of every situation, build communities and give back, utilizing your true passion

Chess and Acting

by Dylan Kaplan,  NYU Tisch School of the Arts Alumnni 
When I act, I must envision exactly what I want prior to beginning my scene. During the scene, I use tactics with the other actors onstage to achieve my desired goal or outcome. The same is true in chess. Chess requires the player to look moves ahead using complex strategies to outwit the other opponent. Life is a chess match but so is acting. That’s why both chess and acting date so far back in our history. Use “The world is a stage” quote from Shakespeare.

Chess the Musicalcenters around the tensions between the US and Soviet Union during the world Chess championship. In the original production, the stage was designed as a chess board. The characters in the play act as chess pieces with the two main chess players serving as each country’s “king”. Through a number of different strategies, each country tries to disrupt the other country’s king player. This show is just one example of how anytime actors are onstage they are chess pieces in the grand scheme of the game. The game is the production taking place on stage.

In a deeper context, there is a hierarchy to any sort of live entertainment production. There is always a director or “king” who spearheads the musical. The stage manager is interlinked with the entire creative team and serves as the production’s “queen” figure. The rest of the creative team functions as other leading figures to the show. The spectacle of the show is created by these different team members. They can be symbolized as the knight, bishop, or rooks of a production. In the end, the actors serve as pawns which is why they begin and usually end the show. In chess, the first move of the game starts a new story. It is the result of choices made by the players that determine the way the story will end. Theatre works the same way.
Seen by Dylan Kaplan at Wednesday 9:55pm

Sports and Chess Edition – Continued

By Eliana Bane, Marketing Intern

“These young guys are playing checkers. I’m out there playing chess​.” ~K​obe Bryant

Many sports players acknowledge the skill, strategy and technique that is needed to play chess. Kobe Bryant is known as one of the best players that played in the NBA. He appeared in 15 All-Star Games, won four All-Star Game MVP Awards, and two NBA Finals MVP Awards. Bryant achieved greatness. His basketball skills were spectacular and he dominated the court. Kobe Bryant parallels basketball to chess. He says, “…I’m out there playing chess”, showing that he feels he is one step ahead of his opponents. While Kobe Bryant was not a chess player, his mindset was in line with a chess game, staying ahead of your opponent and recognizing their next move.

The second athlete of this week’s Sports and Chess edition is Shaun Alexander. He is a former running back for the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins. In 2005, Alexander became the first Seahawk to win the MVP award. Along with Alexander’s football skills, he is an avid chess player. He started playing chess in junior high and in around 2005 was named to the board of America’s Foundation for Chess. Shaun Alexander donated thousands of dollars to develop a chess program for students to encourage them to stay in school and to get educated.

One day after the Hawks first Super Bowl win, Alexander went to Madrona Elementary School in Seattle to give out prizes for the winners of the chess tournament that was created by America’s Foundation for Chess. He also raffled a trip, all-expenses paid, to Hawaii, to watch him play in his 3rd Pro Bowl. Shaun Alexander says, “ ‘Chess teaches them to think ahead three or four moves. It teaches them to have a vision. They learn to say to themselves, ‘If I make this move, this will happen.’ Those are things kids don’t get on their own.’”.

A Brief History of Chess

By Shai Hecker, Operations Intern

Chess is one of the oldest games that is still around today. Although no one knows the exact location where the game came from there seems to be a consensus that the game originated in India around the 8th century. However, Persia helped shape the game as well. When you take a look at the chess board you’ll notice that each piece is a character. The Islamic world was vast, but they rejected gambling/gaming. However, when they learned of the game of chess they began playing it.

This was during what the historians call the Islamic Golden Age which began around the time of the creation of chess. During this time the Islamic Empires stretched out into Africa, Asia, and Europe. This allowed for the game of chess to spread quickly in the three continents.

By the 9th century the game came to Russia from Northern Europe. The game quickly spread across the country and people happily adopted the new past time. What was great about chess was that it could be played by anyone in any class. This allowed for the game to really grow during these times and spread throughout the world. In 2019 Russia had schools teach students chess instead of having a third period of physical education.

During the later middle ages the game became very popular in Europe, but it was not until 1851 that the first international tournament was organized.  In 1886 Wilhelm Steinitz, an Austrian-American, became the first world chess champion.

Since then the game has rapidly evolved. In 1924 a few years after the first World War France took initiative and established FIDE, The Federation Internationale des Echecs. Over the last century we have seen many great chess players: Bobby Fischer, Emanuel Lasker, Boris Spassky, Samuel Reshevsky, and many others.

It’s incredible to be able to play a game that was created over 1000 years ago. Even after all this time chess is still one of the World’s favorite past times.

Now Streaming: Premier Chess Twitch LIVE

By Premier Chess CEO National Master Evan Rabin

Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura has single-handedly made chess a main-stream activity through his Twitch stream. While Twitch is primarily used by video gamers,  due to COVID-19 and cabin fever, many chess players have started streaming. Several months ago  our Jersey City School Programs manager National Expert Sean Finn  suggested I started streaming. While I thought it would be fun, I did not the see the value in doing it. However, when Former Hong Kong Chess Champion Andrew Koenigsberg   recently told me how many players were on it and how I could build a community. With some intiial guidance from him and some more design work from Liza Orlova, I was able to launch Premier Chess stream.

Thanks to our stream, we have made friends with fellow streamers and fans all around the world. So far, we got two children, including “Ladnayana“, to attend our virtual camp through Twitch.  We would like to thank all the streamers, including FM Anna-Maja, GM Alex Lenderman, Fortuna Chess Coach and GM Benjamin Bok, who decided to become ambassadors for our camp.

Furthermore, I would like to thank these streamer friends who have joined an informal Twitch networking group and have helped one another boost our follower and viewer counts:

  1.  Andrew Koenigsberg, MadQuickChess
  2. Felix Lopez, Chesswithfelix
  3. Angel Lopez, CoachAngelNYC
  4. John Hendrick , ChessCoachJohn
  5. Todd Bryant, StrongChess
  6. William Aramil, DynamicChessInc
  7. Dustin Hopkins, KingsideCoaching

    Follow our stream and send an email to evan@premierchess.com and you can arrange for yourself a complimentary 1-hour virtual private lesson.