Chess fever in my house seems to wax and wane with the phases of the Moon. Recently, a beautiful chess player and I set down to test our wits against each other across the board. She played White and I was Black. The game began relatively well for her, but a series of blunders on both sides ultimately brought victory to my favor. Check out my amateur analysis and commentary (with assistance from Fritz 14) below:
Chess has been gaining increasing prevalence in the mainstream media for its ability to relate to the human condition. The trials and tribulations of the common man are fitting anachronisms for the movement of the pieces on the board. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the silver screen where Hollywood has brought the game to life through the eyes of the people whose lives it has changed forever. Here are five inspiring movies about people whose involvement with the game perhaps changed the world for others in ways they never could have imagined.
1. Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)
This is the primary chess film that I remember from my childhood. It is one of the reasons that I ever bothered to play the game. Based loosely on the book of the same name by Fred Waitzkin, Searching for Bobby Fischer is the story of child chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin, who rose to prominence in the chess world in the early 1990s. Much of the film centers around Josh’s relationship with his father and the effect that chess has on their family life. It details the heartache and struggle of a young boy who realizes that his father’s love is more important than his love of the game. Josh Waitzkin is currently the official spokesman for the Chessmaster video game series and has written his own book, called The Art of Learning, which integrates elements of martial arts and chess to help people enhance their learning abilities.
2. Life of a King (2013)
Life of a King is a newer chess film that I recently reviewed here on OMC. It is a semi-biopic about Eugene Brown, the founder of the Big Chair Chess Club in Washington, D.C. Brown learned chess in prison and began using the game as an analogy for the challenges of life during a brief stint at a local elementary school. After losing his job, he founded the Big Chair Chess House and began teaching the game to local kids. Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as Eugene Brown and it also includes a very interesting Magnus Carlsen lookalike in the movie’s final tournament.
3. Knights of the South Bronx (2005)
This made for TV movie stars Ted Danson as a substitute teacher at a Bronx school who uses chess to teach his students how to excel at other things in their lives. Based on the true story of chess teacher David MacEnulty, Knights of the South Bronx is as much about the journey of the Danson’s students to learn chess and apply its principles to their lives as it is about his own journey of self-transformation by his love of the game and growing love for the children he teaches. Many of the kids in his class come from broken homes with parents addicted to drugs and alcohol or serving prison time. One particularly moving scene involves a young man who visits his father in prison learns hard life lessons over the board during his visit.
4. Dangerous Moves (1984)
At first glance, it might be difficult to see how Dangerous Moves could be considered an inspirational chess film. However, there are many subtleties to this movie that make it a treat for anyone interested in chess or the drama of human competition. This is a french movie that was released in 1984 and is based loosely on the 1972 championship match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. The level of chess detail in the movie is exceptional, although it is not without its errors. The devotion to study and preparation before each match is highlighted as the young grandmaster is even filmed playing an opening position in a swimming pool! Although the movie deals heavily with Cold War politics, the politics in the film do not take away from the quality of the competition between the two men. It is more than a chess match between nations as the desire for competitive glory shines through each of them. At its core, Dangerous Moves travels to the core of the human psyche and the desire to win at all costs.
5. Queen to Play (2009)
Although this movie has been out for quite some time, I only came across it late last year and I was very surprised to see Kevin Kline performing a French-only speaking role. In Queen to Play, Sandrine Bonnaire plays a French chambermaid on the island of Corsica. She develops an interest in chess and soon links up with Kevin Kline’s character, an American doctor, to improve her game. Perhaps the most interesting and inspiring part of this movie is the multitude of reactions and especially the skepticism she receives from her family. As I am sure many chess players have experienced from time to time, her family is not entirely supportive (initially) of her pursuits. Chess is viewed as a waste of time and her husband especially begins to see chess as a way for her to become unfaithful to him. Fortunately, there is a happy ending to the story that is well worth the wait.
My wife and I took this week off to enjoy some relaxation time at home and to celebrate our third anniversary together. It was a wonderful week filled with hot tubs, movies without the kids, and chess! When we started dating, my wife won approximately 50% of the games we played together, but my studies have allowed me to move into an undefeated realm against her in recent games. Our most recent game, played last night, ended with mate in 15 moves. Her losses do not seem to bother her much as she seems to enjoy the time spent between the two of us over the board as much as I do, which is why I was pleased when my anniversary present arrived yesterday. Although it was three days late, it was completely understandable and well worth the wait.
This year, she decided to contribute to my growing collection of chess sets by buying the board pictured above: a hand-carved set made from an olive tree! I had seen a set like this one recently when I was shopping for a new set, but ultimately decided on my padauk and ebony board. Needless to say that I was thrilled when I opened the box, which indicated it came from a company called Elite Crafters in Greece. The chess pieces were the first thing I noticed as they were nestled on top of the styrofoam popcorn (boo!). As I worked through the multiple layers of packing tape and popcorn (boo!), I eventually pulled out the beautiful board and complimentary message wishing me a Happy Anniversary from my wife.
Without a doubt, the board is the most striking feature of this set. It is a composite of multiple pieces of olive tree trunk with the squares apparently burned into a separate piece of wood. The variations of tree growth adds significant individuality to the board. I would doubt that anyone else has the exact same edge configuration as my board, which makes it a nice heirloom piece. The texture of the board is fantastic. It has a grainy feeling and leaves the sensation that it is leaving oil deposits on your hands, but is not. It is a strange feeling, but adds a sense of awe to the beauty of the board.
The pieces are hand-carved as well and do take some time to get used to. Some of the pieces vary in size, such as the Bishops on this board, but the difference is not striking enough to take away from the elegance of the set. In fact, the size differential adds to the set’s rustic feel. As seen in the photos, the details of the pieces is minimal at best. Although I enjoy the minimalist appearance, I do think that some additional detail in the pieces would have complimented the intricate details of the board itself. However, the beauty of chess sets is that the pieces are not always married to the board. This is a board that I will keep for a long time, but could possibly be used with a different set of pieces sometime in the future.
Overall, this is a beautiful set that now sits in my living room so my wife and I can make moves at random times throughout the day. In my home, there is always a chess game being played. Now, we can play on a beautiful set made from an olive tree, which brings more beauty to our home, the game, and offers an additional connection between our faith and the game.
Final Verdict: ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♙
To my fellow Americans, Happy Independence Day! There is a significant amount of apathy and discontent throughout the country right now, but hopefully all of us can take the day to remember the sacrifices made by those who stood on the front lines to defend us from our enemies. May God bless us and our country for years to come. If peace does not come to pass, life has proven that even enemies can sit down to play a game of chess.
When I was heavily into amateur astronomy, one of the problems I often ran into was criticism that I too much equipment. At the peak of my hobby, I owned five telescopes, a dozen eyepieces, and a multitude of accessories weighing several hundred pounds. I was able to justify the purchases through the unique roles that each scope filled, such as the smaller scopes for traveling and the larger scopes for demonstrating astronomy to the public. As my interests have moved more heavily into chess, I have noticed that the same problem arises: owning a multitude of books and boards. I have noted that on several chess groups on Facebook where people often joke about the plethora of books and boards they own, so it is nice to know that I am not alone because the latest addition to my collection arrived late yesterday afternoon: an African padauk and ebony chess set from The Chess Store.
The Good: I would like to begin by saying that I am positively in love with this set. It is one of the most beautiful chess sets I have ever seen, which is probably why it caught my attention on the store’s website in the first place. I tried to contain my excitement after deciding on this combination of board and pieces, but it was like being bitten by the new car bug…I just had to have it! After waiting what seemed like forever (more on that later), the set arrived late Wednesday night and was immediately put to use by my wife and I. This particular set is not sold as a combo pack on The Chess Store’s website, so it was something I had to build in my shopping cart on my own. It is a combination of British Staunton African Padauk and Ebony pieces and a Bird’s-Eye Maple and Padauk board.
The striking colors of the African Padauk and the ebony is the first thing that jumps out about this set. The white pieces are a brilliant, deep red that are perfectly accented by the maple and padauk board. The solid ebony pieces are as dark and as smooth as one could expect from a high quality board. The details on the pieces are amazing. The top of the Rooks are depressed and the Knights are intricately detailed, which gives the board a significant amount of character and class. Although my wife and I chose to use the arms of couch to hold captured pieces, the deluxe maple board has margins on each side which are perfectly sized to fit captured pieces during play. The pieces are evenly weighted and were easy to move across the board. In fact, I found myself at times knocking pieces over because of how easily the pieces slide. This is great for playing speed chess or antagonizing a family member! :)
This combination set is a perfect gift for the professional in your life that loves playing chess or loves having beautiful, decorative items in their home. The combination set retails for $329 with free standard shipping or you can purchase the individual elements for $159 (pieces) and $169 (board).
The Bad: Of course, to be fair I also have to point out something that continues to disappoint me about this purchase. Since I discovered it years ago, I have had a love-hate relationship with The Chess Store because of their customer service. The chess sets they sell are some of the best in the world, but their customer service and shipping system is significantly flawed. I have, on occasion, sent questions to their customer service department and have never received a reply. Additionally, the shipping of this set was amazingly frustrating. The standard shipping took two days to process, and then an entire week to get to me! Faster shipping options were available, but the lowest available price was $70 for shipping, which was not worth paying to get the set only 3 days earlier. The Chess Store could benefit from finding a way to get its products out the door and to its customers more quickly and find a way to fix their customer service system to where its customers could actually receive responses to their questions or concerns.
Final Verdict: ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟
I am pleased to announce that the Reading List and Downloads sections of the site are now operational. Although they are still bare bones, more content will be added to the pages over the next few weeks and months.
Reading List: This is a page dedicated to my favorite chess books. I have read each book listed and provide a brief commentary as well as a pawn rating indicating the book’s worth based on applicability across a wide spectrum of chess players and general quality and usefulness of content. Instructional chess books include links to PGN and Chessbase format databases for use in chess study.
Downloads: This is the page I am most excited about! The downloads section is a repository for PGN and Chessbase files for a variety of uses. Each of these files were developed by me for inclusion on this site and will hopefully be of use to aspiring chess players around the world.
Despite all the research on tactics, strategy, openings, middle games and endgames, there really are only two kinds of moves in chess: good and bad. Most Grandmasters will tell you that chess is about finding ways to exploit the weakness of your opponent, but it is equally important to look for ways to exploit your opponent’s blunders. In the case of my game with my friend Walter, the second half of the game saw some unusual blunders on both sides and some very strange combinations leading ultimately to a checkmate in 30 moves. Here is the board after 8…♙g5.
At this point, I expected that White would most likely go 10.♙d5 and attack my Knight on c6, which would have been consistent with his playing style since the game began. However, he ignored the Knight and decided to bring his h4 Knight to the f5 square, which reinforced his Pawn position on d4, but did not stop me from trying to execute my attack plan.
10…♙cxd4 11.♙c3 ♗c5 12.♙e3 ♕d7
There were a couple of options in this position, but I decided to move the Queen to d7 in an attempt to catch White not looking at his position. He was playing somewhat recklessly and I figured that if he took my d4 pawn then I would move my Knight two positions to e5 and ultimately end up on g4 so I could position my Queen on f2#. However, as you will see, I made it close to the position, but White caught on to my plans and foiled them.
13.♘g7+ ♔f8 14.♘h5 ♘e5 15.♘xf6 ♕f5 16.♘d5 ♘g4 17.O-O
At this point, White is somewhat carelessly moving his Knight around and trying to keep my Queen busy in a series of forced moves. 16…♘g4 was the moment where I was prepared to strike his King, but White saw through the easy ruse and played 17.O-O.
17…♕xd5 18.♙xd4 ♗xd4 19.♙exd4 ♕f5 20.♙f3 ♙exf3
This move opens up the e file and allows me to prepare my Rooks for action.
21.♖xf3 ♕b5 22.♘c3 ♕b4 23.♘d5 ♕c4?? 24.♕d2??
By far, this was the deciding moment in the game. White and Black both made incredible blunders that ultimately turned the game in White’s favor. 23…♕c4?? essentially gave the Black Queen to White with 24.♙xc4!!, but White missed the move and played 24.♕d2??. This was as much a psychological defeat for White as it was a strategic defeat. White immediately realized his mistake and began to panic with quick and impulsive moves.
24…♕xd5 25.♖e1 ♕xf3 26.♖f1 ♕e4 27.♖f3
27.♖f3 is another example of White’s panic-stricken moves.
27…♕xf3 28.♙d5 ♖d8 29.♙d6 ♘e3 30.♙d7 ♕f1#
White’s psychological imbalance after 23…♕c4?? 24.♕d2?? allowed me to eventually use my Knight-Queen combination to corner his King. The game was very exciting for both of us and we are already planning to play again before I finally have to pack up and leave Ohio.
As my time in Ohio draws to a close, my friend Walter and I decided to play a friendly game of chess at work on a small travel board I keep in my office. The game is very casual and there are no standing rules other than the obvious: no cheating! As the game has progressed, I have been contemplating the difficulty with playing traditional opening lines in an amateur vs. amateur game, so I decided to live blog the game as we play it. Here we go:
To me, the biggest challenge of playing an amateur vs. amateur game like this is the uncertainty that comes with the moves. It is almost impossible to play a traditional opening line when your opponent opens with the incredibly unorthodox moves like 1.♙g3. My response was ♙d5 in an attempt to maintain some sense of a main line opening despite White’s first move.
2.♗g2 ♘f6 3.♘f3 ♗f5 4.♙b3 ♙c5 5.♗b2 ♘c6 6.♗xf6??
I marked 6.♗xf6 as a ?? because it was surprising, reckless, and gave me a significant insight into Walter’s strategic and tactical thinking: he’s a piece collector.
At this point, I began to see a slight shift in tactics. In my opinion, 7.♗d4 is a very reasonable move as it is protected in two places: by the Knight on f3 and the Queen on d3. I pondered this position for a night before deciding to press on by reinforcing my d5 pawn with 7…♗e4.
8.♘f3 was a surprise since it launches an assault on my Bishop at e4 and shows additional signs of tactical thinking in his play.
[to be continued…]
Recently, Magnus Carlsen and some of the world’s top chess players competed in the No Logo Chess Competition. Some of the games were outright “sleepers”, but others have emerged as jewels of chess instruction and analysis. I decided to take a crack at one of the games and annotate it myself. I put Carlsen and Aronian’s Round 5 game through a 24-hour analysis in Fritz 14 before setting down and removing most of the recommended variations. This is my first annotated game, so go easy on me! Some of the key moments to look for are deep in the endgame (around move 70) in which Carlsen demonstrates his incredible chess expertise to reverse his fortune and crush his opponent.
Chess is a game of redemption and nobody knows about redemption more than ex-felon Eugene Brown. After spending a significant portion of his life incarcerated in a federal prison after a botched bank robbery, Eugene learned the depths of chess philosophy behind bars. According to him, chess was a distraction from the depressing and dangerous world of prison. These days, Eugene is the founder of the Big Chair Chess Club in Washington, D.C. where he teaches critical life lessons to inner city youth using the principles of chess.
In 2013, the life of Eugene Brown hit the silver screen as the movie Life of a King starring Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Warning: Contains Movie Spoilers
I first learned about Life of a King in mid-2013 after seeing it posted in a forum on Chess.com. I was excited to see the movie and regularly reviewed local movie times to see when it was playing. Unfortunately, the movie never made it into any of our local theaters before it was released on DVD and Netflix. The promotional material for the movie contains a number of still shots that show Cuba’s character, Eugene Brown, in prison learning and playing chess. However, that sequence of the film makes up less than five minutes of the intro and only a select sequence of flashbacks. I believe that the transformation of Eugene from a gangster into a respectable chess player would have given the movie some valuable context. Life of a King is as much about a large, hand-carved chess piece (see in one of this post’s movie stills) given to Eugene at the beginning of the movie as it is about Eugene himself. The piece is given to Eugene by his prison friend and chess mentor (eloquently played by Dennis Haysbert) and serves as a symbol of hope for the rehabilitated man.
Eugene leaves prison and immediately has trouble finding work because of his scandalous past. After lying his way into a job as a janitor, he is given a unique opportunity to supervise the school’s detention room and uses the time to begin teaching the detention dwellers how to play chess. Most of the children in the class come from broken or abusive homes and have little to look forward to in their futures. Eugene uses the various elements of chess to teach basic life skills such as respect for rules and the need to be on guard against impulsivity. One unique challenge that he faces in the classroom is some of the player’s dissatisfaction with the fact that white has the first move on the chessboard. Black should always go first, replies one of the children. Eugene’s eloquence is at its best in these tense moments and he is highly effective at reshaping the way that the class views themselves and the rest of the world. One student in particular shows an exceptional gift for chess, but refuses to acknowledge his skill.
As the children progress in their chess skills, some of them begin to dream of playing competitively. Eugene teaches them the basics of time controls and tournament etiquette, which is soon put to the test in a series of local tournaments. The importance of treating life as a chess game and obeying the rules are emphasized as one child forges his name on a tournament entrance form, wins the tournament, and is subsequently disqualified. The film soon progresses from a focus on Eugene and the class as a whole to the establishment of the Chess House and the rapid development of several of the children.
Eugene and his chess crew survive the dangers of inner city life and the film’s climax brings us to a USCF tournament. This is where the game of chess as a competitive sport is presented exceptionally well by the filmmakers. The tournament is filled with advertisements for real chess websites and resources such as the USCF, Chess.com, Chesskid.com, and others. In the climax scene, Eugene’s star pupil deals swift blows to his tournament opponents and soon finds himself face to face with a Magnus Carlsen lookalike chess genius. As the two play a final-round match in front of a packed room, perhaps one of the best moments comes at the end of the match when the Carlsen-clone approaches the student and compliments his game. The student responds by telling him that he does not appreciate being patronized. With a smile worthy of Carlsen or even a smug Fischer, the genius responds by saying, “Trust me, I would never do that.”
At first glance, Life of a King may appear to be nothing more than a typical American chess movie. This is an unfair assessment as it is so much more. The struggles of Eugene Brown and his chess players is a story that continues in cafes, homes, and prisons around the world. Life of a King is a testament to the human spirit and the spirit of the 64 squares that have brought change and meaning to the lives of so many.
Life of a King is rated PG-13 for some violence and drugs. It stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and Dennis Haysbert.