October 11, 2008

The BanzayFish scandal - Scene III (The avatars of the tortoise)

I borrowed the title after a short essay by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges about the Zeno’s paradox Achilles and the tortoise. Here in Playchess.de we observe a different kind of paradox that requires our attention. There are handles supposed to belong to strong female Dutch players who show a bad attitude against their opponents. Many years ago these handles belonged to different persons. So they say in their comments that accompany moves played. It is simple logic for me to conclude that some of their confessions are true, some are not, OR all of their confessions are lies. It is not logical to conclude that they always speak the truth. The truth is some times blinding. There are two methods to face a situation like this. Either one tries to figure out what is true and what is a lie, or believes (make-believe) what one likes as true. In other words “So it is (if you think so)” Così è (Se Vi Pare), Luigi Pirandello

If the script is recited in chronological order then Scene III should not follow Scene II. I want to provide some answers following the Blindness test of the previous article. I do not give the links to all of the games, but all underlined text opens a new window with the games's history.

Scene III

You still play the leading role, you play chess in Playchess.de and you read your opponent’s comments. You make a detailed investigation in the games' history of the handles anne_t, BanzayFish and ZorMaster.


This handle was created in March 2001 and joined an A class tournament. Its owner called herself Anne, preferred the French flag instead of the Dutch and gave a lot of information about herself to her opponents.
By September 2001, she moved from Delft to Leiden for medical studies. She wanted to become an orthopedic. From A class, Ann was soon denoted to C class. Suddenly her chess skills improved radically and a speedy race to the top of the charts begun.
Autumn 2002, one of her opponents knew that her real name is Arline.
Spring 2004, the young Ann or Arline, or Arline-Michelle was a 3rd year student in the above university. She informed an opponent that her father was an IM and she is of Russian origin.
January 2005, she said that she is the sister of BanzayFish.
Spring of 2005 a big change occured: Language became aggressive against opponents and identity details were confusing until they finally became clear: The handle user claimed a female FIDE title but you don’t know yet who she is. She preferred to refer to her national rating instead the ELO rating (given here approximately). You think that is logical for young players who play locally but very strange for a supposed WIM. Her name is still Anne but look at this e-mail address! Split personality? I don't think so!
By the end of 2006, there is a game where she claimed to be WIM Elisabeth (this is not the real name of course). The game is heavily commented and to your surprise it has a strange mistake. A part of this game took place during the Hoogeveen Essent open tournament of 2006. WIM Elisabeth (I mean anne_t, sorry) said that she had 1.5 points in 4 games (which is the correct score as of 23Oct2006) and later mentioned that her final score was 6/9 which is not correct. 4/9 is the correct score. Such a bad memory is not a characteristic for WIMs.
BTW, WIM Elisabeth was born in 1984. anne_t repeats so many times (of course before spring 2005) that she was born in 1982.


This handle was created in October 2001. BanzayFish is a killer fish who attacks his opponent and does not care if he dies by this attack. Its owner didn’t like to chat but always replied politely. Here he says that he is “brandnew” in chess. You check the ranking lists of 2001 and discover that WIM Marta (the player that BanzayFish is supposed to be today) had ELO 2193. You quickly discover that this user’s name is Maarten and leaves in Delft or Oegstgeest or Tilburg, but he is a student in Delft University! Airplane constructions!
May 2005, you discover a very instructive game. A member of Playchess.de suspected that BanzayFish, zmaster and anne_t have something in common! October 2005, an opponent complained for being accused for computer usage and mentioned that aadje also accused him.
June 2006, this is the first time that you observe a reference to WIM Marta. But this player here had played before with BanzayFish and remembered Maarten. He was surprised that his old pal is transformed to a WIM. Notice that BanzayFish does not react when called Ma(r)arten, and the opponent checks personal info after move 19!
You ask yourself why a strong chess player use a second hand nickname. Would you accept to play another person's handle. Of course not! She should have created a new account on her own. It’s free anyway! Then you understand that this was the old pal Maarten (if it was Maarten in the first place) who pretended to be WIM Marta.


This handle was created also in October 2001. The user’s name was also Anne.
Six months later, the user’s name was Marlieke.
October 2002, ZorMaster told her opponent that she is “in the Medical faculcy now and in time a Mdr.” You think that the user of this handle has a lot of common things with the user anne_t. But it is no way the well known Dutch player Kerstine who was 13 years old in 2002.
January 2003, you find another game with a lot of information. This time the ZorMaster had not finished school yet (last year though) and expected her university studies next year. You also discover that ZorMaster’s dad was an IM(2312 ELO), zor was a Turkish chess site and she played chess there. Two months later she defined herself among the Dutch top female juniors with 2135 ELO. A month later she became a WIM.
May 2003. She claims 2403 ELO. What a progress indeed! In this game you discover her titles. You check this information with your ChessBase software and you find that the championship references fits to WIM Elisabeth’s junior achievements.
October 2006, this is the first time that ZorMaster uses the real name of Kerstine. She gives a lot of information about herself to her opponents and talks a lot, in contrast of the character of the handle the previous years.
April 2007, and another player confesses to ZorMaster that zmaster accused him of cheating. ZorMaster defends zmaster. (Of course!)
ZorMaster knows everything about Kerstine. Suddenly you discover that she explains how information about Kerstine can be easily found: “google Kerstine and all the info u want to know is there.”

A final comment. There is another member who faced anne_t and suspected that he knows her with another chessname. Bravo PLUTARCO! With a handle like this you sure know all about Vitae Parallelae.

Posted by Michalis Kaloumenos at 12:03 AM | Comments (9)

October 04, 2008

The BanzayFish scandal - Scene II (Blindness)

You probably know that the final edition of a movie that reaches the theatres has nothing to do with the original script. There are always new ideas from the writer, the director and sometimes the actors that alter the content, the scene sequence and the characters. In our case, I must add Scene-II in the middle of Scene-I, after the end of the Internet game between you and BanzayFish and before the local club simul with Marta. There is no variation this time. You (only you) play the leading role.

Scene II

When the Internet game was over you were very angry, but your conscience instructed you to try and forget the incident, as if BanzayFish never addressed insults against you. But BanzayFish did not forget. She was angrier than you, insisted that you cheated her with computers, and decided to act further. She sent a message to you, using the messaging system of playchess.de, did not hesitate to append her e-mail address (very irritating, don't you think?), with a content of only two words: "pathetic guy". Then she made an Internet search and found your name as a member of your local chess club and posted a comment to your chess club web site, repeating her accusations. She signed the post as WIM Marta (full name of course).
You discovered the post a week later after a phone call from one of your friends. You reacted with honor. You knew that playchess.de games in pgn format include the comments that accompany players' moves and uploaded a collection of BanzayFish games to your own web site, so that anybody can see that BanzayFish (or WIM Marta as you believed) has a very dirty mouth. You posted the link answering Marta's accusations. Another week passed and Marta, still angry against you, posted another message, this time threatening that she is going to denounce your bad sportsmanship to the National Chess Federation of your country. An official complaint is really frightening, isn't it?
And you, my friend, instead of asking yourself why a strong and well known chess player pays so much attention to an Internet game, you bonded the handle BanzayFish and the real player WIM Marta. You never thought of the possibility that BanzayFish and the real WIM Marta are two totally different persons in no way connected to each other.


Allow me to start with the final conclusion. Our little virtual chess club is blind (totally blind, unforgivably blind) compared to the real world of OTB chess, where real chess players meet in open tournaments and play each other on real chessboards with real pieces, real clocks and real score sheets. They have the chance to meet, talk, have fun and drink a couple of beers together. What do we have? The distance that separates us is a thick dark colored curtain that does not allow us to have real contact with each other. Technology offers e-mail, instant messaging system and video conference but all these cannot be compared even with a simple handshake.
FM Sotiris Logothetis who more than his title is a GFM (this means Great Friend of Mine) doubted in the first place that WIM Marta uses the handle BanzayFish. This piece of information (with details that are not mentioned here) was the key that unlocked Thomas's own doubts and started a week long Internet research that has just ended.
I asked Sotiris what are the differences between Internet and OTB chess. He said that apart of game psychology (click for the must-read Anand’s interview) and a chance of post-analyzing a game together, the most important difference is responsibility. When you play OTB you are responsible of yourself. I don't need to explain that, right? Responsibility is not required to play chess from home. You may pretend to be your wildest fantasy and even make believe all opponents that you are somebody else.
When I realized what was going on in our site, I asked myself what kind of person could do such a thing. Suddenly I remembered what IM Nikos Kalesis told me one night: "I don’t believe that chess isolates people. On the contrary, chess attracts lonely people and offers them a chance of socialization!" (By the way, Nikos is the trainer of the Greek National chess team of blind people).
What kind of person is this BanzayFish? How many cues are left behind that may lead to a character profile? Fortunately too many. But when we played against BanzayFish and ZorMaster and other handles as well, we never considered the possibility that something goes wrong, because of this thick dark colored curtain that separates us. We must admit that we are blind. We don't remember what we can't see! Take the blindness test and then check your game history. Perhaps you can find some cues…

So, a cheater accused many players for cheating. Some of these players could be real cheaters and they really used computers. There are many cheaters out there, isn't it? Who cheated whom with a cheat-cheat here and a cheat-cheat there? Here a cheat, there a cheat, everywhere a cheat-cheat. Who deserves the best cheater Academy award? "And cheaters, wherever you are out there…" I hail you with the same three little English words that Al Pacino used in the crowded Baird school auditorium, in the final scene of the film "Scent of a woman". (Remember that the hero Frank Slade was a blind person)

Blindness test

Memory may cure blindness. One of those handles was “anne_t”. I remembered that I played against her 5 years ago and I annotated our game. Click here for the annotation. What do you observe? What goes wrong here? You don’t have to read the whole annotation. You don’t even have to scroll down the page. The critical information lies in the comment after 2.Nc3

Well, any comments? Please, no sharp language, no real Dutch names.

Posted by Michalis Kaloumenos at 06:12 PM | Comments (13)

October 01, 2008

The BanzayFish scandal - Scene I (Introduction)

I like fiction and drama, I enjoy a good thriller movie (especially when gun fighting is limited), I have spent a lot of hours playing Sherlock Holmes last week, I got inspired from your comments to the previous article I wrote and I decided to recite you the story of BanzayFish as if it is a movie script. My files are overloaded with e-mails and links and all little things that I discovered and my mind is full of emotions and ideas mixed with sarcasm (?!). I am not going to reveal everything I know right from the beginning. Be patient. You waited for 12 years before you see another World Championship Match; I am not going to torture you for such a long time.
Here we go!

The storyboard

We have a correspondence chess site where players use nicknames to login. Users have a choice either to keep their personal data hidden or to show to the other members their name and chess title, if any. Now this handle, BanzayFish as well as another handle, ZorMaster, do not hide their data. The first one belongs to a strong titled woman player, who for the purposes of the script has the name Marta, the other one belongs to a young lady, numero uno in her category whom we may call Kerstine.
It is important to distinguish between the handles and real persons. We all know that, don’t we? The parents who have young children and believe that their children are mature enough to use Internet without supervision, always instruct them not to trust their e-friends, because these virtual friends might not be what they say they are. You get the picture, right? Why do you neglect to follow this advice when you play chess here in Playchess.de, huh?
This is the reason why I have reserved the leading role of my scenario for you, pour vous, für Sie, per voi, para usted, para você, voor joo …

Scene I

You played an Internet game against BanzayFish, you knew that Marta was a very strong player, it is a challenge to play known and strong players, you read theory and game bases again and again so that you get out of the opening phase with an equal position. Then in move 23, she accompanied her move with an insult and an accusation that you cheat with a computer. Her words were so sharp that you got angry, you sent a complaint to Thomas but you received no reply (you should know that Thomas works eight days a week, because he has a family to feed and a greedy server that sucks all his money). You were angry for a week, then you calmed down and then…
Your local chess club invited Marta for a theory seminar and a simul with all club members. (I am going to read your thoughts in the comment section, so I jump directly to the big event.)
You meet Marta for the first time. After the appropriate introduction of the special guest the seminar begins. You are impressed. She speaks slowly, she expresses with clarity and you didn’t miss her thoughts even when she dived deeply into a position without moving the pieces on the big chessboard behind her. She was gentle and answered all the questions from the audience, even the more stupid ones.
During the simul you can’t take your eyes off her. As she walks from board to board you observe her pose, her face, her look, and at the same time you think of the insults she addressed to you during your Internet game. You followed the same opening but she chose a different variation. You wanted to remind her of your virtual match but you didn’t try. When the simul was over, you had a chance to speak to her, but in the end you hesitated. You returned home with doubts and questions left unanswered.

Scene I – variation

Now the leading character is not you, but him. (I prefer a male character for the purpose of the variation) He is a young man, his parents were divorced when he was fourteen, he recently failed a university exam or his employer asked him impolitely to be more productive, he is eager to conquer the world and feels cheated because the struggle is harder than he thought. Well, this lad is a very good chess player although not in a national level. He always returns to chess and finds happiness, because chess is the only activity that keeps his mind in discipline and harmony, so he played chess almost everywhere, (the park, local club, Internet) and anytime (work breaks, afternoon, before he goes to bed). Now he is the one who played a game against BanzayFish and faced the sharp insults, he also played against Marta at the local club’s simul exhibition. He made the same observation as you did, but he could not control his anger during the game. Perhaps earlier he visited a coffee shop (sorry, in my mind the story takes place somewhere in the Netherlands) and that was the main reason for his confusion. When everything was over he approached her and then…
You understand that he need not do something crazy to get busted and find himself in an uncomfortable situation in front of an impatient police officer who asks and asks and asks. Just addressing to her the same insults that he read one night on his computer screen is enough to get him into trouble.
Ask yourselves what happened when Marta denied that she plays Internet chess, that she ever e-met him, that she wrote such dirty words to him?

Do you get the picture?

This is the beginning of “the BanzayFish scandal”. Just the beginning…

Many thanks to the playchess.de member who inspired Scene I :-)

Posted by Michalis Kaloumenos at 11:04 PM | Comments (3)

September 29, 2008

Do these Dutch ladies know everything? (final cut)

Dear friends, this is the final cut of the very popular blog article of your beloved chess site. I have edited all of your comments, made sure that all references to real persons are removed, and I am proud to anounce the sequel! As soon as investigations come to an end, get prepared to welcome the new thriller story with the dramatic title: "The BanzayFish scandal" or "ZorMaster-gate" :-)

I have just discovered that two handles, supposed to belong to two ladies from the Netherlands, two respectable strong women chess players, have crossed the line of politeness and decided to play the role of cheater police investigators. These handles have finally decided to drop out of PlayChess.de (together with a team of other 6 players from the Netherlands) they have not logged in since August 28th, but they have left behind them a lot of written comments which are public available for anybody. The big questions are these: Who cheated whom? and Who has the right to file a good case in normal courts?
(The old entry here also mentioned FIDE. Well, this is probably out of question.)

As you know the comments we write to each other can be still accessed through the history link of a game page. So you should be very careful and write politely to your opponent. These Dutch handles showed the bad habit of accusing their opponents of cheating and connected this accusation with the fact that their opponent has no FIDE Elo or is not a registered chess player.
There are 11 examples of sharp language in the latest 80 games of ZorMaster and 13 examples for BanzayFish.

Here is a brief collection. Sit back and enjoy or click the links to get the full image. Let's start with BanzayFish who has a problem with players that don't show up OTB.
Example 1: no chess history? Just engine play? Pity
Example 2: the whole dialogue...
B: strong engine use german
Op: Is not true. I could also say. Logical sequence
B: You cannot because i am a well know chess player and who the hell are you? Pastye gameload from you gives 60 games not lost, lol.Cheating feels better?
Example 3: another chess engine user. U sux in real chess, shame on you arse
Example 4: hear hear, mr nobody in chess, get a life kiddy.
Example 5: sitting every sunday in front of al the other church people? And in the usual days cheating all who stands in your way, jerk. Tipical yankee doodle jerk who loves to manupulate people, you must be bush twin bro.

The other handle supposed to belong to a younger lady uses even sharper language.
Example 6: and your sore attitude bigger then Brasilian maintown.And your bloody engines are just garbage as u are
Example 7: rotten cheater. Lets hope you get an accident
Example 8: you f bastrerd a win by a wrong interface,my queen was on anther place, yoy ARSE HOLE.rotten cheater.go to hell where u belon.
Indeed this handle had a problem with her opponent being impolite:
Example 9: This poor fellow never replied to the initial "gl & gg". By her second move she replied "sure, being polite never heard off i suppose."
Example 10: Bloody cheap engine player.You suck at real chess and want to be a GM in cheating? I checked 80 games and none lost yet. Time to inform the web owner.Idiot.

Yes ZorMaster and BanzayFish as well. It is time to inform all members of this site and the rest of the world about your bad sportsmanship.

But ZorMaster and BanzayFish, please, let's make this clear:

I don't hope that you get an accident.

I only wish that you understand that Internet is a place that some rodents pretend they are lions and it is possible that there are rodents who are real lions and for some private reasons do not like to be socially involved in OTB chess. All of them hide behind handles and they should be equally respectable, they don't deserve in any case the language you used against them.

Please come back to the site both of you and make a public statement, an apology for your sharp language.

This last part of the article seems very silly to me right now. The comments that all of you have posted are divided. Some of you believe that cheating is more important, some of you believe that more important is using sharp language. I am going to examine all of your comments. But this is not the point right now. Here, in this case it seems that we've all been cheated guys.

From now on this article is closed for comments. Sorry, for cutting the dialogue in the middle of the heat. But don't worry. Soon enough a new blog entry is going to present details of "The BanzayFish scandal" or "ZorMaster-gate".

Posted by Michalis Kaloumenos at 10:40 PM | Comments (25)

March 05, 2004

To the last pawn - the end!

A maelstrom of fists and elbows swirled across the ring for the next thee minutes. The surge of punches was stopped when Favreau was caught by a left uppercut on the chin. The crowd gasped as he went down for the count. After recovering, he managed to punish Dominguez with a straight right to the face, for another count. ‘Ijo de puta’, muttered the Mexican, as he got up on his feet and attacked the Canadian again.


a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 black King on f8 g8 h88
a7 b7 c7 d7 e7 f7 black Pawn on g7 h77
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 black Pawn on f6 white Pawn on g6 h66
a5 b5 c5 d5 e5 white Knight on f5 g5 h55
a4 b4 black Rook on c4 d4 e4 f4 g4 white Pawn on h44
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 f3 white King on g3 h33
a2 b2 c2 d2 e2 f2 g2 h22
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 f1 g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

Dominguez-Favreau, after 49.Kg3

Bloodied and exhausted, Enrique and Vince sat by the chessboard for the last time. The noise was unbearable, with the entire crowd cheering and stomping their feet. Favreau thought for a minute or so, or rather attempted to think – because under the conditions this feat would be impossible, and decided on the first of the two plans pointed out by the commentator – he’d place his rook on d7 and walk the king around it. Yeah, that should be the ticket. Play continued 49…Rc7 50.h5 Rd7 51.Kg4 Ke8 52.Kf4 Kd8 53.Kg4 Kc7

White was reduced to passive waiting moves as black executed his plan … or was he? With the second hand of his clock about to start its final round, Dominguez played 54.Nxg7. Shell-shocked, Favreau tried to gather his composure. He had only slightly more time on the clock than his opponent – less than two minutes. And his rook was about to lose to white’s pair of passed pawns. Oh well, there’s nothing better, he thought and played 54…Rxg7, and then just tried to waste as much time as possible from Dominguez’s clock with a few pointless rook moves, 55.Kf5 Rd7 56.h6 Rd5+ 57.Ke4 Re5+ 58.Kf4 Rg5 59.h7 Rh5 60.g7 Rxh7.

a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 f8 g8 h88
a7 b7 black King on c7 d7 e7 f7 white Pawn on g7 black Rook on h77
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 black Pawn on f6 g6 h66
a5 b5 c5 d5 e5 f5 g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 white King on f4 g4 h44
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 h33
a2 b2 c2 d2 e2 f2 g2 h22
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 f1 g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

Dominguez-Favreau, after 60...Rxh7

Dominguez pushed the g-pawn to the eighth row, screaming ‘Queen’ hoarsely as droplets of blood trickled from his mouth. O’Mally quickly replaced the pawn with a white Queen, and after 61.g8=Q Re7 62.Kf5 Kd7 63.Kxf6 Enrique’s win was only a matter of time – literally, since he was down to his last thirty seconds. Favreau didn’t have much more, but this small difference allowed him to hope for a win as well.

The players banged out the moves 63…Re8 64.Qd5+ Kc8 65.Kf7 Rd8 66.Qc6+ Kb8 67.Ke7 Rc8 68.Qb6+ Ka8.

black King on a8 b8 black Rook on c8 d8 e8 f8 g8 h88
a7 b7 c7 d7 white King on e7 f7 g7 h77
a6 white Queen on b6 c6 d6 e6 f6 g6 h66
a5 b5 c5 d5 e5 f5 g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 f4 g4 h44
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 h33
a2 b2 c2 d2 e2 f2 g2 h22
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 f1 g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

Dominguez-Favreau, after 68...Ka8

Favreau’s king, like a battered boxer, was pushed with its back against the ropes, and the noose was tightening. Confident of his win, Dominguez brought his king forward, 69.Kd7, but Favreau had one last surprise in stock for him. After spending twenty of his last forty seconds, he played 69…Rc7+, and the crowd groaned along with Dominguez, when they all saw that capturing the rook leads to stalemate, and if the white king retreats anywhere, black simply keeps checking on the seventh row. The broadcasters’ booth was shrouded in silence, with Manetta and Jensen wordless for maybe the first time in their careers. His last seconds winding down, Dominguez tried 70.Kd6 Rd7+ 71.Kc5 Rc7+. He thought of Kb5, but no, that wasn’t of any help; black has Rb7. Three seconds on his clock… two… one… Dominguez took the rook, 72.Qxc7.


“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a stalemate! The match Dominguez-Favreau ends in a draw!”
“And what a match it was! Advantage swinging from side to side, wild punches, enterprising moves, and above all – fighting spirit and heart, Bob.”
“Yes, those two sure proved us today that spirit is one thing they have in abundance, Jimmy. Just look at this capacity crowd cheering them!”
“It’s hard to win the heart of this Palace crowd, Bob, as many great players learned before, but these two did it. They’re both winners in my book.”

Too exhausted to walk on their own, the players were practically carried away from the ring by their cutmen and trainers. Behind them, arena crews already began to clean the ring and prepare it for the main event.


“Fighting draw,” Markov said, as he and Leone laid Favreau on the massage table. “But big mistake in endgame, moving king to c7. Rook maneuver to g5 win. Zugzwang.”
Favreau spat some blood on the concrete floor. “I think my front teeth are gonners.”
“And of course,” Markov continued, “Bad blunder with c4. But very enterprising play, nothing to say.”

There was a knock on the door. “Reporters already?” wondered Leone, as he went to open it.
“How you feeling, man?” Dominguez stood behind the door, supported by his cornermen.
“I envy you, man. You can stand.”
“Just wanted to drop by and say it was a good game.”
“Yeah, a good game. But only a draw, so no Interzonal invite.”
“Santoro promised you the Interzonal too? What a rat …”
“You know what Rico?” With great effort, Favreau rose into a sitting position, “I bet there never was any Interzonal slot. I bet he never intended to give any of us anything. He just said that to motivate us.”

“Let me though! Let me through, you bastards!” Evading a host of security personnel, Debbie managed to slip into the corridor, and from there into the dressing room.
“Vince, honey, are you alright?” She asked, running to him and holding his bloodied cheeks in her hands. “I was so worried, I thought you weren’t gonna make it through this fight, and …”
“Debbie? What are you doing here?”
“I heard about the fight, and an hour later I was on a jet from New-York.”
“But how did you know I was going to be in the fight? It was supposed to be … someone else, I was announced in the last minute.”
Debbie smiled, “Let’s just say I got a good tip. Thanks, Enrique.”
“You’re welcome, Deb. Seems like you two have a lot of catching up to do. I’ll be off.”
“So, Rico,” Favreau got up and swayed on his feet, “What are you going to do now?”
“I don’t know. Go back to Mexico City, I guess. Maybe open a chess-boxing school. Or a liquor store. No more B-tournaments for me, I had enough of that.”

As Dominguez turned around and approached the door, it opened again, and the stout form of Todd Santoro burst through.
“Mr. Santoro, what a surprise. Aren’t you upstairs watching the big match?”
“What match?! It was a travesty, not a match. The Russian leveled my guy one minute and twenty seconds into the first round, that’s it, first round knockout. Just listen to them,” he pointed his finger up in the direction of the ceiling, from where a muffled booing sound emanated. “I am finished now, finished! Jensen and Manetta just said on national TV that my player was ‘poorly prepared’, and that it was all my fault! Who’s going to want to work with me after this?”
“I can think of someone who will.” Debbie said.
“Yes.” Favreau and Dominguez answered at the same time.
“Really? You know what, guys,” Santoro put his hands on Favreau and Dominguez’s shoulders, “I have an idea. The Interzonal is in Manila, right? And I only have one invitation. But I can pull some strings with the Philippine president, who’s a good friend … of a friend of mine, and create another invite for … let’s say, an ‘audience favorite’ – how’s that?”
“Sounds great,” Dominguez said.
“But …” Favreau passed his eyes from Debbie to the fat man and back.
“But what, Vincent?”
“Excuse us for a moment, please.” Debbie pulled him by the hand into the shower stall. “Look, Vince, you’ll be thirty-five soon. This could be your last chance. Better not waste it.”
“But you…”
“I’ll wait for you. I have my New-York office to keep me busy. Those stocks won’t sell and buy themselves, you know,” She smiled.
“So it’s settled then!” Santoro beamed. “You get the best suites at the Palace tonight, courtesy of Santoro Enterprises. We’ll discuss your contracts tomorrow.”


Outside on the Strip, Lisa was standing on the sidewalk, brandishing a newly made cardboard sign with the letters ’CHICAGO’ painted on it. A gray minivan pulled over next to her. Inside was a family of four, fresh out of losing their vacation money at the casino.
“You going to Chicago?” The driver asked.
“Yes sir, if you’d be so kind to give me a ride...”
“Sure, hop on in.”
Lisa squeezed on the back seat, together with two kids, a twelve-year-old girl swaying to the beat of some unheard music in the earphones of her MPEG player, and a thin dark-haired boy of Lisa’s age.
“What’s in Chicago for you?” asked the kid, raising his eyes from his Gameboy.
“US featherweight championship.”
“You like chess-boxing?” the boy’s eyes opened wide, “Wow, that’s cool! I love chess-boxing. I’m going to try out for our high school team next month, and …”


As Vincent and Enrique walked through the lobby after receiving their room keys, they came under assault from dozens of autograph-seeking fans. And although the two of them didn’t admit it, not to Debbie and certainly not to each other, the sight of pens and papers shoved in their faces reminded them of days of old, and actually made them feel good. Having withstood the first wave of attack, they escaped into the elevator. Debbie pushed the button for the top floor.

“So tell me just one thing,” Dominguez turned to his friend, “Which one of us is the ‘audience favorite’?”
“Santoro said one of us would make the Interzonal as ‘audience favorite’.”
“You want to be the favorite, that’s it? Fine, you be the favorite.”
“That’s very generous of you, Vince,” Dominguez contemplated, “But I’m afraid I can’t accept this gesture. You see, I am reading you like an open book.”
“If I qualify as the ‘audience favorite’, then it means in a way, that you are qualified as the player who have won this match. And I cannot have this. If there was anyone who should have won this match, that’s me.”
“So you want the match win? Fine, I’ll be the favorite then. Settled?”
“Oh, I see. So you want to steal all the glory to yourself? You want to be the favorite player? I’m afraid I cannot have this, Vince.”
“Oh my god, they’re at it again,” muttered Debbie as she plugged her ears.


PS: for your reference, here is the full game in PGN. Just cut and paste it into your chess program, if you are so inclined.

[Event "Undercard match"]
[Site "Caesar’s Palace Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas"]
[Date "2017.8.29"]
[White "Dominguez,Enrique"]
[Black "Favreau,Vincent"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "B91"]
[PlyCount "143"]

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. g3 e5 7. Nde2 Be6 8. Bg2
Nbd7 9. O-O b5 10. a3 Nb6 11. f4 Qc8 12. Kh1 Be7 13. b3 Qc5 14. Qd3 O-O 15. Be3 Qc7 16. h3 Rfd8 17. f5 Bc8 18. g4 Bb7 19. g5 Nfd7 20. Nd5 Nxd5 21. exd5 f6 22. h4 Rac8 23. c3 Nc5 24. Qd1 a5 25. Rb1 a4 26. Bxc5 dxc5 27. bxa4 bxa4 28. Qxa4 c4 29. Rxb7 Qxb7 30. d6 Qb3 31. Qxb3 cxb3 32. dxe7 Rd2 33. Bf3 Kf7 34. Rb1 b2 35. Kg1 e4 36. g6+ hxg6 37. fxg6+ Kxe7 38. Bg4 Ra8 39. Kf2 Rxa3 40. Bf5 Ra1 41. Bxe4 Rxb1 42. Bxb1 Rd1 43. Bf5 b1=Q 44. Bxb1 Rxb1 45. Nd4 Rc1 46. Nf5+ Kf8 47. Kg3 Rxc3+ 48. Kf4 Rc4+ 49. Kg3 Rc7 50. h5 Rd7 51. Kg4 Ke8 52. Kf4 Kd8 53. Kg4 Kc7 54. Nxg7 Rxg7 55. Kf5 Rd7 56. h6 Rd5+ 57. Ke4 Re5+ 58. Kf4 Rg5 59. h7 Rh5 60.g7 Rxh7 61. g8=Q Re7 62. Kf5 Kd7 63. Kxf6 Re8 64. Qd5+ Kc8 65. Kf7 Rd8 66. Qc6+ Kb8 67. Ke7 Rc8 68. Qb6+ Ka8 69. Kd7 Rc7+ 70. Kd6 Rd7+ 71. Kc5 Rc7+ 72. Qxc7 1/2-1/2

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 10:12 PM | Comments (9)

March 04, 2004

To the last pawn - Part VII

As soon as the ‘box’ command was sounded by the referee, Favreau pounced on his opponent, throwing punches like a madman, forgetting about his own safety. He knew he had to get something going in the ring, if not on the board. Dominguez, on his part, fought fire with fire. For a few moments, it seemed the scythe had met a rock, as the Mexican threw back two punches for each one thrown at him. But lady luck smiled at the Canadian again – one of his punches, and not a particularly powerful one at that, caught Dominguez above the left eye, gushing blood all over his face. The contest was stopped as Enrique was taken to his corner for a brief laser-stitching.
“Peripheral vision fine?” Favreau inquired when they met again at the middle of the ring, before throwing another punch at the same eye.
“Go to hell.”
The fight raged on.


The barman got the bright idea to turn the TV’s volume all the way up, in spite of multiple protests from the yuppies.
“Shut up, I want to hear the commentary!” he waved them off, “Just cause I’m at work here doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the game like a normal human being!”
The familiar voices of Bob Jensen and Jimmy Manetta surrounded Lisa again.

a8 b8 black Rook on c8 black Rook on d8 e8 f8 black King on g8 h88
a7 black Bishop on b7 black Queen on c7 d7 black Bishop on e7 f7 black Pawn on g7 black Pawn on h77
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 black Pawn on f6 g6 h66
a5 b5 black Pawn on c5 white Pawn on d5 black Pawn on e5 white Pawn on f5 black Pawn on g5 h55
white Queen on a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 f4 g4 white Pawn on h44
white Pawn on a3 b3 white Pawn on c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 h33
a2 b2 c2 d2 white Knight on e2 f2 white Bishop on g2 h22
a1 white Rook on b1 c1 d1 e1 white Rook on f1 g1 white King on h11
a b c d e f g h  

Dominguez-Favreau, after 28.Qxa4

“Wow, what a boxing round, Jimmy! Applause from the capacity crowd here at the Palace, as the players head back to the board. And now, is physical condition going to be a factor?”
“Yes, Bob, it will be. Dominguez is hurt above the eye, he’s lost some blood, Favreau took some body punches and a hard one to the chin, it’s all beginning to accumulate. A great match so far, let’s see what happens next.”
“Favreau is thinking.”
“And he has a lot to think about, Bob. White has an extra pawn, and black must seek some compensation. Maybe 28…Ra8, badgering the white queen … no, wait, it’s no good, white responds 29.Qb3 with the dual threats of Qxb7 and d6+. Maybe he should just play it safe and block the passed pawn. Rd6 or Bd6, yeah, that’s what I would do.”
“Oh, here’s a move, 28…c4.”
“Interesting. He wants to stop white from playing c4 himself and strengthening d5.”
“And 29.Rxb7 by Dominguez! Look at that, did he sacrifice an exchange?”
“Wow, Favreau sure messed it up tactically with his last move. White wins material.”
“But … oh, I see it now, 29…Qxb7 30.d6 played. White wins two bishops for a rook.”
“Yes, Bob, he does. The first move after the boxing round is always the toughest, that’s what they teach you at beginner’s class, and that is apparently also true at Grandmaster level. Both sides took quite a beating in this fantastic third round, Favreau comes out of the blocks with a poor move, loses further material.”
“Would you say Dominguez is winning now? Is it over?”
“Well, after 30…e4 31.dxe7 Qxe7 white is up two pieces for a rook, but we have three more boxing rounds, don’t forget that, Bob. Anything can happen.”
“Yeah, those have always been the great equalizer. So we’re not going to page the fat lady yet, folks at home, her time has not yet come! Favreau makes a move … with his queen … it’s 30…Qb3”
“An enterprising decision by the Canadian! He’s willing to leave white with a pawn on e7 just to get his own passed pawn on b3.”
“A fighting choice. He’d rather go down swinging, folks. Queens exchanged, bishop taken, 31.Qxb3 cxb3 32.dxe7, and now 32…Rd2 from Favreau.”
“Penetrating with the rook to the seventh row. Although black’s passed pawn is not as advanced as white’s, I would say it’s at least as dangerous, if not more. But white’s still up on material.”
“Dominguez contemplating. Will he try to postpone his decision until after the fourth round, Jimmy?”
“He would like to, Bob, but the time on his clock says otherwise. I think he’ll have to move now.”
“33.Bf3 from Dominguez.”
“Okay, he’s guarding the knight and threatening 34.Bh5. Another idea would have been 33.Ng3, followed by 34.Ne4. Yeah, Ng3 was definitely the way to go. Now black has a potential e5-e4 shot, deflecting the bishop.”
“He can go e4 now?”
“Well, not now, Bob, because of Bh5, but it’s an option to keep in mind for the future.”
“And we have the gong for the fourth boxing round out of the scheduled six. Gloves are on again.”

a8 b8 black Rook on c8 d8 e8 f8 black King on g8 h88
a7 b7 c7 d7 white Pawn on e7 f7 black Pawn on g7 black Pawn on h77
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 black Pawn on f6 g6 h66
a5 b5 c5 d5 black Pawn on e5 white Pawn on f5 white Pawn on g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 f4 g4 white Pawn on h44
white Pawn on a3 black Pawn on b3 white Pawn on c3 d3 e3 white Bishop on f3 g3 h33
a2 b2 c2 black Rook on d2 white Knight on e2 f2 g2 h22
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 white Rook on f1 g1 white King on h11
a b c d e f g h  

Dominguez-Favreau, after 33.Bf3


The fourth boxing round far more relentless than the ones that preceded it, with the violence steadily escalating to match the proceedings on the board. The crowd was bored no more – expecting a sleepy undercard fight as a prelude to the real thing, they got a bloody carnage. When the gong sounded three minutes later, and contestants staggered to their chairs, they were rewarded with a standing ovation.


With only two rounds left in the undercard fight, most of the bar’s patrons left to their arena seats, not only to watch Klichkovsky in action, but also to catch the conclusion of this exciting match live.
“Would you need anything else, ladies?” The bartended approached their table.
“No, thanks, we’re good.”
The man passed his eyes between the TV screen and the wooden door, which connected the bar to the arena.
“Oh, just go,” Debbie was quick to resolve his doubts. We won’t steal any tequila bottles.”

After the door closed behind him, she and Lisa turned to the screen.
“What do you think?” Lisa asked.
“Messy.” Was the laconic reply, as Favreau played 33...Kf7, keeping the white passed pawn in check.
After 34.Rb1 b2 it became clear even to Lisa that Jimmy Manetta was right on one account – the black passed pawn was indeed more dangerous. Dominguez held his bruised head between his equally battered hands and took a long think before playing 35.Kg1, and Favreau pushed the central pawn – 35…e4.
“Bishop to h5, only move to hold.” Debbie whispered, then turned to Lisa and smiled, “But easy for me to say, I haven’t been beaten up for four rounds.”
Dominguez, as his opponent, was beaten for four rounds, with two yet to come. His vision slightly blurred and his mind dazed, he played 36.g6+ with an unsure hand.
“Wow,” Debbie said, “Believe it or not, he’s actually winning now.”

36…hxg6 37.fxg6+ Kxe7 were played, and Dominguez saved his bishop with 38.Bg4, attacking the black rook at the same time. But after Favreau’s 38…Ra8 he plunged into thought, trying to figure out how exactly to stop the penetration of the black rook. From this contemplation he was awakened only by the fifth round gong.

black Rook on a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 f8 g8 h88
a7 b7 c7 d7 black King on e7 f7 black Pawn on g7 h77
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 black Pawn on f6 white Pawn on g6 h66
a5 b5 c5 d5 e5 f5 g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 d4 black Pawn on e4 f4 white Bishop on g4 white Pawn on h44
white Pawn on a3 b3 white Pawn on c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 h33
a2 black Pawn on b2 c2 black Rook on d2 white Knight on e2 f2 g2 h22
a1 white Rook on b1 c1 d1 e1 f1 white King on g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

Dominguez-Favreau, after 38...Ra8

After the fifth round, the arena crowd was getting truly excited. None of them expected this to happen. They came to see a world championship match, and here were two underdogs, giving them an amazing show in the preliminary fight. Not a single spectator remained seated when Favreau and Dominguez limped heavily to their chairs.

“What a match, what a match we are seeing here so far, ladies and gentlemen! Advantage passes from side to side, hard punches thrown all around, these two fighters are really giving it all they’ve got!”
“Yes Bob, this is one for the record books.”
“So, Dominguez starts this round with 39.Kf2, Jimmy. Bringing his king closer to the action?”
“Yes Bob, the king is a fighting piece in the endgame. He must do something about that b-pawn.”
“Favreau picks up another pawn, 39…Rxa3.”
“Tough times for white. After Rook to a1, the pawn will crash through.”
“Okay, we have 40.Bf5 Ra1 41.Bxe4 Rxb1 42.Bxb1 Rd1 43.Bf5, all played very quickly.”
“The pawn will cost white a piece, but can black win this endgame? I’m not hundred percent sure, Bob.”
“Not to forget, Jimmy, that we still have one more boxing round to go. And here we go, Favreau made a queen, and Dominguez has to give the Bishop. 43...b1=Q 44.Bxb1 Rxb1, and now a quick 45.Nd4 by Dominguez.”
“Oh, a great move, Bob! He’s not clinging to the c3 pawn, instead seeking to check on f5 with the knight, trying to keep the white king pinned down to defend g7.”
“Look at this crowd, Jimmy! Twenty thousand people, absolutely breathless! What a game! 45…Rc1 46.Nf5+ Kf8 played.”
“See, that’s what I was talking about. Had he tried to defend passively with 46.Ne2, black would get his king in the open, but now it’s stuck on the back row.”
“47.Kg3 Rxc3+ now.”
“Oh my, a mutual blunder by both sides, did you see it, Bob?”
“Actually no, Jimmy. You tell me.”
“White wanted to bring his king up, but he should have done it through f3, not g3.”
“What’s the difference?”
“The difference is that now black had 47…Rg1+, Bob, winning g6 and releasing his king. But who can blame these guys for missing an itsy-bitsy check, after all the punishment they took in the ring?”
“Well, Favreau snatched the c-pawn, and now 48.Kf4 Rc4+ 49.Kg3, and this brings us to the final round! This one is for all the marbles! Your evaluation of the endgame, Jimmy?”
“White should be winning, but I’m not sure how … maybe put the rook on the seventh, relieve the king of the need to guard g7 … or maneuver the rook to g5 through g1 and try to put white in zugzwang, those could be the two plans. But, with the time on their clocks winding down, and the contestants’ physical condition, anything can happen.”
“Well, they’ll have plenty of time to think of plans later … and now, it’s Punchtime! Don’t go anywhere, ladies and gentlemen! Forget Klichkovsky and McKenna, these two forgotten fighters, these two glorious gladiators, are the real deal here at the Palace!”

a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 black King on f8 g8 h88
a7 b7 c7 d7 e7 f7 black Pawn on g7 h77
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 black Pawn on f6 white Pawn on g6 h66
a5 b5 c5 d5 e5 white Knight on f5 g5 h55
a4 b4 black Rook on c4 d4 e4 f4 g4 white Pawn on h44
a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 f3 white King on g3 h33
a2 b2 c2 d2 e2 f2 g2 h22
a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 f1 g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

Dominguez-Favreau, after 49...Kg3

To be continued ...

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 03:33 PM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2004

To the last pawn - Part VI

Lisa was bored with the incessant banter of the broadcasters, as well as frustrated with her inability to see the board. Grasping the crumpled ticket, she remembered the old adage - ‘things that are given for free are usually worth their cost’. She got up from her seat and carried herself to the bar, where a big-screen TV was hanging over the champagne-glasses rack.

Several other people were gathered there, a mix of yuppies and rich businessman, whose interest in the match was marginal. They couldn’t be bothered to mingle with the arena crowd, or maybe they were just waiting for the main event to begin. There was only one free place at the bar, next to a dark-haired woman in a red satin dress. Unlike other denizens of the bar, she was totally absorbed in the match, her margarita forgotten. Lisa immediately sensed a soul mate, and she quickly slipped onto the barstool.

black Rook on a8 b8 black Queen on c8 d8 black King on e8 f8 g8 black Rook on h88
a7 b7 c7 d7 black Bishop on e7 black Pawn on f7 black Pawn on g7 black Pawn on h77
black Pawn on a6 black Knight on b6 c6 black Pawn on d6 black Bishop on e6 black Knight on f6 g6 h66
a5 black Pawn on b5 c5 d5 black Pawn on e5 f5 g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 d4 white Pawn on e4 white Pawn on f4 g4 h44
white Pawn on a3 b3 white Knight on c3 d3 e3 f3 white Pawn on g3 h33
a2 white Pawn on b2 white Pawn on c2 d2 white Knight on e2 f2 white Bishop on g2 white Pawn on h22
white Rook on a1 b1 white Bishop on c1 white Queen on d1 e1 white Rook on f1 g1 white King on h11
a b c d e f g h  

Dominguez-Favreau, after 12...Be7

Glancing on the screen, she realized she didn’t miss much since the start of the round - only one move was made by each side, 13.b3 by white and 13…Qc5 by black.
“He’s out of shape,” said the woman in red to no one in particular.
“You mean white?” Lisa was never slow to join a conversation, “b3 looks very weakening.”
The woman glared at her with surprise, “You know something about chess?”
“Well, I play sometimes.”
“But not enough, apparently. b3 is an excellent move, to keep the black pieces out of c4. It’s not weakening, because Ne2 supports its friend on c3.”
“Anyway, I meant Qc5,” Lisa’s newfound friend lectured on, “It’s a pointless move, and the queen will be kicked away soon.”
“Wow, how do you know so much about this stuff?”
“Let’s just say I’ve been around, girl.”

Together, they watched in silence as white played 14.Qd3 and black, after a long deliberation, castled.
“He wanted to go Ng4, but realized too late white has simply Qf3. Like I said, out of shape,” commented the woman, then after 15.Be3 Qc7, gave Lisa the ‘I told you’ look.
Afterwards, 16.h3 Rfd8 17.f5 were played, and the woman shook her head.
“White’s clearly better now,” she said. “All those queen moves lost time. White’s about to storm the kingside.”
On the screen, Favreau, clearly unhappy with his position, thought for quite a long time before playing the only move 17…Bc8. Then followed 18.g4 Bb7 19.g5. As the second hand on the top-right part of the screen neared the end of its path, Favreau picked the knight from f6 in his hand. The woman leaned forward and whispered, “Don’t do it.”
“Don’t do what?” asked Lisa, not understanding.
“Don’t do it. Wait.” The woman spoke not to her, but to the screen. Favreau played 19…Nfd7, and at that very second the gong for the start of the second boxing round sounded.
“What an idiot,” the woman in red muttered.
“But why? Nfd7 seems a good move, or isn’t it?”
“Yes, but he should’ve waited with it. Now white has extra three minutes for thought. He should have stalled and made the move after the boxing round.”
“Oh. You sure know a lot about strategy and stuff. I’m Lisa.” She extended her palm for a handshake.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Debbie. Let’s move over there.” She pointed in the direction of a small corner table.
“But we won’t see the screen from there.”
“Suits me fine. Can’t stand this brutal pummeling.”
“Really? You know what?” Lisa asked in conspiratory whisper once they have settled at their new location, “I hate boxing too. I’m only in it for the chess. But don’t tell anyone, because Tommy DeMarco thinks I am…”
“Don’t worry, I’m taking your secret to the grave, girl.”
“Thanks. Do you know,” Lisa figured it would be a good time to impress Debbie, “That I’m with them?”
“With whom?”
“With them. Vincent Favreau and Enrique Dominguez. We came to Vegas together.”
“Really?” Debbie suddenly seemed interested.
“Yes. We met at this diner, and they gave me endgame lessons. And they were so nice and friendly. Much friendlier than Klichkovsky, who doesn’t even answer my emails.”
“That’s nice. So … ” she hesitated only slightly, “How did Vince … Vincent behave along the way?”
“Like a perfect gentleman!”
“Oh, I don’t mean that. Did he seem focused, concentrated?”
“Well, to tell you honestly, not really. We mostly had fun and talked about stuff.”
“Fun and stuff. That figures. Come on, they’re taking the gloves off again.”

black Rook on a8 b8 c8 black Rook on d8 e8 f8 black King on g8 h88
a7 black Bishop on b7 black Queen on c7 black Knight on d7 black Bishop on e7 black Pawn on f7 black Pawn on g7 black Pawn on h77
black Pawn on a6 black Knight on b6 c6 black Pawn on d6 e6 f6 g6 h66
a5 black Pawn on b5 c5 d5 black Pawn on e5 white Pawn on f5 white Pawn on g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 d4 white Pawn on e4 f4 g4 h44
white Pawn on a3 white Pawn on b3 white Knight on c3 white Queen on d3 white Bishop on e3 f3 g3 white Pawn on h33
a2 b2 white Pawn on c2 d2 white Knight on e2 f2 white Bishop on g2 h22
white Rook on a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 white Rook on f1 g1 white King on h11
a b c d e f g h  

Dominguez-Favreau, after 19...Nfd7


Bruised and battered, the players sat at the chess table again. Dominguez was slightly dizzy, as he took one in the chin toward the end of the round, and Favreau’s kidneys didn’t feel to well either. Sitting at the board, Dominguez mechanically raised his hand to make the planned move – then suddenly realized he forgot what it was. He has such a perfect plan worked out. A very clever piece regrouping, he remembered, followed by an unstoppable kingside attack. But what was it exactly? Seconds passed, time ticked away. Finally, Enrique conceded defeat. He won’t be able to reconstruct his plan. That’s how it is in chess boxing, sometimes you just have to go with what you have, he thought and played 20.Nd5. Favreau was glad to exchange knights and relieve some of the pressure. After 20…Nxd5 21.exd5 he played 21…f6, safeguarding his kingside.

As Dominguez considered his next move, Favreau, for the first time tonight, allowed himself to lean back in his chair, raise his head off the chessboard and smile at the cameras. He knew his opening problems were finally over. Furthermore, black was on the verge of grabbing the initiative. After a long think, Dominguez played 22.h4, not really with the goal of pursuing the kingside storm, but rather safeguarding the g5 pawn. Play continued with 22…Rac8 23.c3 Nc5, and it was white’s turn to retreat with 24.Qd1. Things looked bright for Favreau indeed. After taking a few minutes, he decided the best way for him to develop his initiative was 24…a5, and Dominguez made the ‘mysterious rook move’ 25.Rb1. Well, not so mysterious, since both players knew there was a chance for the b-file to be pried open.

Favreau buried his head in his hands and thought … and thought and thought … so many good options. What should he do? The pain in his abdomen bothered him. I need to get something going on the chessboard, he thought and pushed the a-pawn, 25…a4, and immediately became covered in cold sweat as he realized just how bad this move was. What have I done, he cursed himself. I played directly into white’s hands. Dominguez also understood black’s mistake in no time, and pounced on the black knight with 26.Bxc5.

Favreau slumped down in his chair. His moment of triumph was brief, and he was relegated to defending a bad position once more. At first, he thought of 26…Qxc5 27.axb4 Qxa3, but no, after 28.Rxb5 white’s advantage is too great, and 28.Rxb5 also comes in response to 27…fxg5. He decided to bite the bullet and recapture with the pawn. After 26…dxc5 27.bxa4 bxa4 28.Qxa4, white entered the third boxing round having an extra pawn.

a8 b8 black Rook on c8 black Rook on d8 e8 f8 black King on g8 h88
a7 black Bishop on b7 black Queen on c7 d7 black Bishop on e7 f7 black Pawn on g7 black Pawn on h77
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 black Pawn on f6 g6 h66
a5 b5 black Pawn on c5 white Pawn on d5 black Pawn on e5 white Pawn on f5 black Pawn on g5 h55
white Queen on a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 f4 g4 white Pawn on h44
white Pawn on a3 b3 white Pawn on c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 h33
a2 b2 c2 d2 white Knight on e2 f2 white Bishop on g2 h22
a1 white Rook on b1 c1 d1 e1 white Rook on f1 g1 white King on h11
a b c d e f g h  

Dominguez-Favreau, after 28.Qxa4

To be continued …

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 02:52 PM | Comments (5)

February 27, 2004

To the last pawn - Part IV

“’Saved by the bell’ rule will be in effect in all rounds. A player saved by the bell will be penalized by deducting one minute off his clock.”
- World Chess Boxing Association (WCBA) rules, article 12.3.f

An hour later, Favreau steered the red convertible to the parking lot of the Caesar’s Palace Hotel and Casino.
“Can I help you please?” The parking valet approached the dusty car, wearing an expression of snobbishness and disgust to match his white suit and blue tie.
“You can help yourself to keep your job by parking this baby without scratching it,” Dominguez said.
The valet didn’t budge. “Do you have a reservation sir?”
“Come on, man, don’t you recognize them?” Lisa was unable to take this travesty anymore, “Those are Vince ‘Vindicator’ Favreau and Enrique ‘Endgame’ Dominguez!”
“Ah, I see. Well, Mr. Santoro reserved your parking. And now, if you will let me have the keys please … thank you … Have a great time at the Caesar’s Palace Hotel and Casino!”
“Let’s go,” Favreau nudged Dominguez as the convertible disappeared between the rows of parked cars, “it’s six o’clock already.”

“Where do we go from here?” Dominguez wondered as they entered the luxurious lobby. His doubts were immediately dispersed by a young man wearing a black suit that fit him so well that it seemed surgically grafted onto his skin. The suit approached them confidently and said, “Mr. Dominguez, Mr. Favreau? I am Martin Bentley, Mr. Santoro’s aide. You’re late. Let’s go, your cornermen are already waiting.”
“What about me?” whined Lisa.
“Who is this young lady?” asked the suit.
“She’s …” Dominguez started.
“She’s my niece. My wife’s niece. My wife’s ex-niece. I mean, my ex-wife’s niece.”
“Ah, how nice. You see, that’s exactly what we are trying to promote, the image of chess-boxing as a family sport. There you go, young miss.” The suit reached into its pocked and produced a small rectangular piece of paper. “A ticket for the match. And now, say goodbye to your uncle, and enjoy yourself at the Caesar’s Palace Hotel and Casino!”
The three ran off, leaving the dumb-founded Lisa gazing at the yellow ticket as if it fell into her arms from the moon.

The suit raced them through a maze of corridors so complex as to prohibit all possibility of an escape in case either of them changed his mind. Finally, after rounding a corner, they ran into a group of four men waiting for them in front of two locked doors.
“Gentlemen, allow me to introduce everyone,” the suit said, “Mr. Favreau and Mr. Dominguez are our fighters. And these are Mr. Kalugin and Mr. Markov, the trainers, and Mr. Leone and Mr. Vega, the cutmen.”
“I believe we know each other,” said Markov with contempt. He and Dominguez avoided each other’s gaze.
“Fine, that settles it then,” the suit beamed, “Mr. Markov, Mr. Vega, you are in Mr. Dominguez’s corner, please go through here to the White Dressing Room,” he swiped a magnetic card and unlocked one of the doors, “Mr. Kalugin, Mr. Leone, Black Dressing Room please, with Mr. Favreau.”

Markov refused to follow, and instead whispered something in Kalugin’s ear. The two trainers started a loud debate in Russian, in which the others could only understand “Garden”, “d6” and “Checkmate”. Finally they managed to resolve their disagreement. Markov went with Favreau, while Kalugin passed over to Dominguez’s side.
“Ah, so you want to change trainers.” The suit was still smiling, ”Fine. I’ll let Mr. Santoro know. Go to your dressing rooms now, and good luck.”

The dressing room was very spacious, but barren on the inside. Only a massage table, a locker, a chess table, and a shower stall violated the monotony of the brick walls. Dominguez lay down and allowed himself to close his eyes while Vega was massaging his shoulders.
“What opening you play?” Kalugin’s voice awakened him from his catnap.
“Not now. We just drove three hundred miles.”
“Yes now. Chess boxing all about discipline and work. No discipline, no results. What opening you play?”
“Always been an e4 guy.”
“Good. Solid move, e4. Let me look up this … what his name, Vincent Favreau, in my database… Strange, no games in last year,” he said, frantically pushing the buttons of his palmtop.
“Don’t bother. He’ll play the Sicilian Najdorf.”
“How you know?”
“I prepared him.”
“You what!?”
“Prepared him. Look coach, I’m going to be fine with the chess part. My body just needs some rest now, ok? Let me rest.”
“Fine. Have it your way.” Kalugin, insulted, sat at the chess table and started playing blitz against his palmtop to pass the time.

Meanwhile, in the other room, Markov desperately tried to convince Favreau to play the French Defense.
“See, it is best defense to equalize! Botvinnik, Korchnoi, everyone play it when need to equalize! After 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2, black plays 3…c5 and is equal already! And after 3.Nc3 Bb4, it’s all strategic game, no tactics. Why bother with unclear Sicilian positions if you can …”
“Sorry, Mr. Markov, but I’ll stick to Sicilian...”
“Fine. So we can try the Sveshnikov. Kramnik played it a lot when…”
“…Najdorf, if you don’t mind.”
“Najdorf? Are you crazy? The hardest tactical opening of all, and you want to play it after being out of business for a year? Of course I do mind, it’s like digging own grave!”
“I’ll play the Najdorf. That’s it, coach.”
“Fine. Have it your way.”

“So, how’s my man Vince doing?” Santoro stood in the doorway, radiating smiles in all directions.
Vince jumped up from the massage table, wearing only a towel. Santoro’s female ‘administrative assistant’ giggled slightly behind her boss’s back.
“Fine, Sir, thank you, Sir.”
“Getting ready to give a good fight, Vince?”
“Yes sir. At this opportunity, I’d like to thank you for believing in me and …”
“No problem son, Todd Santoro always has room for one more good player. Just go out there and give those people a thrill, ok?”
“Yes Sir.”
“Good, good.” Santoro patted Favreau on the shoulder and turned to leave, “And one more thing, Vince. I have one automatic qualification slot for the next year’s Interzonal. Do you see what I’m getting at?”
“Well, sir…”
“What’s your rating?”
“2705, Sir, but haven’t played a year.”
“Now listen to me, Vince.” The fat promoter stepped so close that Favreau could see every crevice and pore on his face. “Win this match. Bury that Mexican punk. Put him in the hospital. Can you do this for me?”
“Yes sir.”
“Good. Bury him, and you’ll play the Interzonal. Understood? Now sign here for the contact, and we’re ready to rumble.”

A minute later, Todd Santoro paid a visit to Dominguez’s dressing room.
“Mr. Santoro, thank you for giving me this chance to …”
“Shut your trap, Dominguez.”
“Yes Sir.”
“Now listen, you worthless piece of nothing. The odds at you going down before the gong were 1,000-to-1, do you realize that?”
“Yes sir.”
“Shut up. Don’t ‘yes sir’ me. You cost me two million dollars of hard earned cash that day. Not to mention the blow that my reputation took. You think it’s easy to be known as a crooked fighter’s agent?”
“No Sir…”
“Shut up. What’s your rating?”
“2565, Sir, but it was 2710 before…”
“Shut up. Fate smiled at you, you scum. You don’t deserve this chance, but you got it. Now that Alfredsson is in hospital and Thompson in rehab, this is your one and only chance to redeem yourself for the Garden. I want you to bury that Canadian, do you hear me? I want you to destroy him. Grind him to dust, and you’ll be able to work with me again. Can you do this?”
“Yes sir.”
“Good. Sign here. Great. And, Rico, one more thing. No more checkmates on move eleven. I buried your career when you did it once, and I swear I’ll bury you if you do it twice. I want this match to go to the last pawn.”


“Kicking the opponent is strictly forbidden, both during the chess and the boxing rounds.”
- World Chess Boxing Association (WCBA) rules, article 12.3.g

The capacity crowd of the Palace roared like a hurricane when Favreau and Dominguez entered the hall from opposite direction. Each was accompanied by their trainer and cutman. Reporters snapped their pictures and fans high-fived them as they made their way to the ring.

They stood there, face to face, like gladiators of ancient times, muscular and beautiful, their skin gleaming in the floodlights.
“Introducing now the preliminary fight,” the announcer was also in the ring, microphone in hand, “In the black corner, hailing from Montreal, Quebec, Canada, weighing 83 kilograms, V-I-N-C-E-N-T ‘V-I-N-D-I-C-A-T-O-R’ F-A-A-A-A-V-R-E-A-A-A-U-U-U!!”

He took a breath and then continued, “And in the white corner, from Mexico City, Mexico, weighing 81 kilograms, E-N-R-I-Q-U-E ‘E-N-D-G-A-M-E’ D-O-O-O-O-O-M-I-N-G-U-E-E-E-E-Z!! And now, your ring judge, Martin O’Mally.”
“Ok, listen to me, guys. I want a clean match. No j’adoubes, no illegal moves, no low punches, no biting. Obey my instructions at all times. And now, shake hands and let’s start!”

As they shook hands, a chess table and a pair of chairs were lowered into the ring on cables. The players sat down and O’Mally started white’s clock. “Good luck, gentlemen.”

Without thinking even a second, Enrique started with 1.e4 and punched the clock. The following moves were played quickly: 1…c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6, and at that point Dominguez plunged into contemplation.

To be continued …

And at this point I, the author, would like to ask you, the readers, a question: who are you rooting for to win? No, the results of this small poll will not change the outcome of the story (the story is already written), but I'm just interested to know with which player you sympathize more. Let me know.

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 05:03 AM | Comments (2)

February 25, 2004

To the last pawn - Part III

If you missed the previous installments of "To the last pawn", check under
Community-->General Chess-->Stories.

“After each boxing round, gloves must be removed. A player failing to remove his gloves shall forfeit his right to j’adoube.”
- World Chess Boxing Association (WCBA) rules, article 12.3.d

For almost ten miles, they drove through the desert landscape in silence. Favreau was the first to break the ice.
“I guess I should still thank you for remembering me when you got that call.”
“Uhm, you’re welcome, I guess.”
“But don’t expect me to hold back any punches, because –“
“Sorry I didn’t ask before, but –“ Favreau was interrupted in mid-sentence by a female voice from the back seat.
“What the hell?” exclaimed Dominguez, as he turned his head in the direction of the voice. Unfortunately, his torso and hands followed suit, thus causing the car to veer wildly off its lane to the left, onto the median.
“Look where you’re going!” Favreau yelled as he lunged to grab the wheel and steered the convertible away from the path of an oncoming truck. The car lost traction, spun wildly out of control and jumped off the highway into the desert sands, where it stopped twenty yards later, its nose half-buried in a sand dune.
“– is it alright if I hitch a ride to Vegas with you?” The redheaded teenage girl blinked her eyes behind her coke-bottle glasses as she finally got to finish her question.

Dominguez got out of the car and surveyed the damage. His face, pale after the near-death experience, began to change colors rapidly, as if intent on covering the entire visible spectrum in record time. Finally it settled on ‘blood red’. Walking around the car, he yanked the left rear door open and faced the girl.
“Who are you?” he barked, “What are you doing in my car? And do you have any idea how much is it going to cost to fix this?”
“I’m sorry,” the girl lowered her head, “I’m Lisa. I was hitchhiking my way from Burbank to Vegas and got stuck in this diner. I saw you coming on the interstate and figured you’ll continue after you’re done with your lunch. So I sat in the car to wait for you. I was going to ask you if it’s ok to ride with you once you were out, I really was, but…”
“But what?”
“But I fell asleep.”
“You what!?”
“It’s this heat … I’m so sorry,” she sobbed.
“I don’t believe this,” said Dominguez, “Hours away from the defining moment of my career, I’m denied by Frankenstein’s Prom Date.”
“You mean, hours away from the defining moment of my career.” Vince corrected him.
“Whatever. We have to get the car back on the road. Help me push.”
“Can I help?” asked Lisa.

An hour later, two very sweaty, dirty and tired men were standing at the edge of the I-15 next to a dusty and once-red car with a slightly dented hood and one broken headlight.
“Let’s go. We still have some time to spare.” Dominguez said.
“What about her?” Favreau asked.
“Yes, what about me?” Lisa perked up as soon as she noticed someone thinking about her.
“Hmm. Let me think,” Dominguez twiddled his thumbs. “Ok, girl. Consider this your lucky day. I won’t press charges. Bye.”
“But… You can’t just leave me here all alone! I’ll die!”
The two men looked at Lisa, then at the endless stream of cars hammering down the interstate. “You know what,” Favreau finally said, “She’s probably right. Given her abysmal hitchhiking skills, leaving her here is as good as killing her.”
“I don’t believe it. So now we have to haul her with us?”
“Thank you!” Lisa ran up to Enrique and kissed him on both cheeks, then inflicted the same punishment on Favreau. “You guys are the best!” She said, as she jumped into the back seat again.
“One more word, chiquita, and I’ll throw you out of the car at 70 MPH.”
“Sorry. Silent as a grave from now, I swear. Girl scout honor.”


“If a player promotes a pawn to a queen and already has a queen on the board, he may use his mouthpiece instead of a second queen. For that purpose, players will be issued mouthpieces to match the color of their pieces.”
- World Chess Boxing Association (WCBA) rules, article 12.3.e

“So, what are you guys going to do in Vegas?” Lisa took about ten minutes to break her oath. Vince and Enrique didn’t respond, so she tried another approach. “You know anyone in Vegas?”
“No one.” Enrique said.
“Except for Todd Santoro.” Vince elaborated.
“You guys know Todd Santoro, the Chess-Boxing promoter? Wow, this is like, so cool! I love chess! I mean, chess-boxing.”
“Yes. We have a team at school, and, well, I can’t participate, being a girl and all, but I go to all the practices, and sometimes they let me make a few moves, but I can’t play an entire game, because, like, my endgame is so bad. And once, when nobody was there, Tommy DeMarco let me wear his gloves and took a picture of me. It was, like, so cool! And I read all the books and watch all the tournaments on the Internet. It’s too intense for words!”
“Santa Maria, help me…” Enrique moaned.
“Are you two into Chess Boxing? I’d like to go see the big match, but I have no tickets. You heard about the big match? It’s that Russian heavyweight, he’s like undefeated, you think McKenna can take him?”
“Well, given McKenna’s reach, weight, and his extensive theoretical knowledge of the King’s Indian,“ Favreau said thoughtfully, “I’d say Klichkovsky by knockout, round three at the most.”
“Wow, you sound like you really know this stuff! Did you ever played in a tournament? I think you should, because you have…” And at that moment the flow of words pouring out of Lisa’s mouth was cut off, when Favreau removed his sunglasses and turned to face her.

“Whoa! I know you, you are Vincent ‘Vindicator’ Fay-vro.”
“It’s F-a-v-r-e-a-u, girl. Rhymes with Thoreau.”
“Right, right. I have like all your games on DVD. That Best Game of the Year from 2014 is my favorite.”
“Yeah, I sure nailed that Russian with Rook to d7.”
“Wow, I’m in the same car with the Vindicator! Eat your heart out, Tommy DeMarco! So, are you going to see the big match too?”
“Well,” Dominguez joined the conversation, “He’s most likely to be unconscious by the time the big match will start, but yes, we’re going to the match. We’re the undercard.”
“Hey, I know you too, you’re Enrique ‘Endgame’ Dominguez! This is like a dream!”
“Or a nightmare….”
“Hey, if that’s not too much to ask, can you guys, like, help me with my endgame? Whoa, silly me, why am I even asking. Here’s ‘Endgame’ Dominguez, and I’m asking him if he can help little silly me. I didn’t mean to offend you, Mr. Dominguez.”
“None taken. But I don’t think –”
“Great! So tell me, a rook and pawn against a rook – is it a win or a draw?”
“Well,” Dominguez was now in his element, “it all depends on the position. The weak side should seek the Philidor position, which is the clearest drawing technique. King on the last row in front of the pawn, rook on the sixth, cutting off the enemy king. If the pawn ever goes to the sixth row, bounce the rook to the first row at once, and give checks from behind.”
“Wow. That is so cool. Can I take a moment to write it down?”
“Sure. Take as long as you like.”

Lisa fished a notepad and a pencil out of her jacket’s pocket and meticulously wrote down every word, then asked, “So how does the side with the pawn win?”
“Well, the clearest win is the Lucena position. If the other king was pushed away from the pawn’s queening square, occupy it with your king and drive the pawn to the seventh row. The defender meanwhile will try to trap your king there using his own king and rook. Kick his king away with a rook check, and then, and this is the important part, bring the rook up to the fifth row. This creates a shelter from checks. Take your king out, hide it behind the rook. Simple, really.”
“As long as you don’t have to do it with two broken ribs, a black eye and a concussion,” Favreau said, “Like I did in Moscow a few years ago.”

A few more minutes passed in silence, except for the howling of the wind, the roar of the engine and the scribbling of Lisa’s pencil. Then she put the notepad aside and said, “You know, Mr. Dominguez, I really liked your style. Too bad about what happened in Madison Square Garden.”
“He doesn’t like to talk about it, girl.”
“Will you two stop it about the Garden? That’s all I hear about since we started this trip. Garden, Garden, Garden. You’re like a pair of old ladies. You’re getting on my nerves.”
“Well, we would gladly stop asking if you’d just tell us.”
Suddenly Dominguez slammed on the breaks and parked the car at the side of the road. “Ok, I’ll tell. But you drive now.”
“Because it’s an emotional issue for me. I can’t drive and … you know.”

“So,” he continued after he and Vince changed places and the convertible merged into the highway traffic again, “I’m up against this guy from Congo, Charles Kabeela. It’s a big match; winner advances to the Candidates tournament, right? And my trainer, Markov, you remember Markov, right, Vince? He says to me with this horrible Russian accent – ‘You take care from this guy. Some say he plays like a girl, but you watch your step, because one move and it can be over’. So we sit down, I have black, no big deal, and we start with the Sveshnikov Sicilian – 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd5 4.Nxd4 Nf3 5.Nc3 e5 6.Nb5 d6 – so far so good, right? And then he goes 7.Nd5 on me. And I think to myself oh my god; this guy really plays like a girl. I mean, I exchange on d5, and black’s main weakness in the Sveshnikov, the backward pawn on the open d-file, is gone.”
“So you exchange knights, and then?”
“I exchange, 7…Nxd5 8.exd5 Ne7 9.c4 and now I’m thinking a6 is the thematic move here, chasing away the knight and then continuing development. So I go 9…a6. And he doesn’t even look at the knight, and goes 10.Qa4.”
“And then?”
“And I’m thinking, this is too much. Ok, so he pins my a-pawn to my rook so I can’t take his knight at once, but two can play the pinning game. So I pin his knight to his queen with 10…Bd7, and I’m thinking wow, I’m about to enter the first boxing round a piece ahead, and that’s it – the guy goes 11.Nxd6# on me! That’s it, mate on move 11, before the first gong. I mean, if I could at least hang in there for one round of boxing, I’d have a chance to knock him out or something, but checkmate – this is it.”
“So this was it?” Lisa asked, wide eyed.
“This was it. And apparently, Todd Santoro and his partners had a lot of money riding on this match, so he was understandably pissed off. They spread the word that I sold the match. Plus, Markov stopped coaching me. He said I never listen to him anyway.”
“Hey, look,” Vince said, “We passed the Nevada state line and didn’t even notice it. One more hour, Vegas baby!”
“Yeah, time sure flies when you’re having fun!” Lisa exclaimed.

To be continued …

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 03:04 PM | Comments (1)

February 24, 2004

To the last pawn - Part II

If you missed the first installment of "To the last pawn", check under
Community-->General Chess-->Stories.

To the last pawn - Part II

“Thumbing and head-butting are strictly forbidden, and will be punished by deducting five minutes off the offending player’s clock.”
- World Chess Boxing Association (WCBA) rules, article 12.3.c

By the time they passed San Bernardino, Enrique tried the Caro-Cann, the French, and the Petroff. Favreau’s knowledge fell short in all of them. He was perplexed by the Panov, bewildered by the Winaver and vexed by the Exchange variation. He was falling into every cheap trap in the book, losing the thread of theory after 5-6 moves already. Enrique began to worry – maybe it was a mistake to bring this drunkard along for the ride? But no, it was too late to change anything, he had to try and hope for the best. This was his last chance.

Finally, as the red car turned onto the interstate, Enrique tried the Sicilian, and this time he struck gold. Vince was a natural Sicilian player, and there are some things one just doesn’t forget. They went through the Classical, the Najdorf, the Sveshnikov, the Dragon, and even the mind-bogglingly complicated Ponomariov and Karjakin variations. Favreau aced all of them, reciting theoretical lines till move 15 in all main lines as well as major theoretical deviations.

“Well,” Dominguez said with relief, “I think we have at least the opening problem solved.”
“I’m not sure,” Favreau stretched and yawned, “We’ve only covered the e4 openings for black. What if Santoro says I’m white? And even if I am black, how do we know the other guy will open 1.e4?”
“Santoro’s office said you got black in the game. As for 1.e4, I’m pretty sure he’ll play that.”
“They told you I got black?” Favreau eyed him suspiciously.
“I thought they only told you to find me for the match. They also told you I’ve got black?”
“Not in those exact words, but it was implied, yes.”
“How can it be implied? They either said I’ve got black or not. Did they?”
“Ok. But wait a minute…” Favreau’s eyes opened wide, “You still haven’t told me who am I up against.”
“Is it important? Vince, you were always a ‘play the board, not the opponent’ type of player. Remember London 2013?”
“Yeah, I sure got him good that time….”

The convertible sped along the I-15 interstate, leaving the pleasant warmth of the Valley behind, heading into the scorching heat of the desert. Even the names on the road signs were becoming less friendly. Cheerful, feel-good, names like Palmdale and Riverside were replaced with more down-to-earth, working-class names such as Alray and Barstow.

“Where are we?” Vince said, awakening of a short slumber.
“Hundred miles to Nevada state line. We’re doing good time.”
“How about grabbing something to eat? I haven’t eaten since morning … wait, was it this morning or yesterday’s morning? Anyway, haven’t eaten for a while.”
“Ok, let’s eat.” Enrique turned the steering wheel, guiding the convertible into the parking lot of a roadside truck diner.


“So,” said Enrique as they were waiting for their order of waffles, “We have the opening covered. Let’s talk middle game.”
“Oh man, look at that waitress,” said Favreau, “I would sure love to check and mate her, if you know what I mean. Hey, baby,” he exclaimed as the apron-wearing blonde passed by their table, “Want to come to my place and see my Bad Bishop?” The waitress didn’t break her stride.
Dominguez shook his head. “And it’s such a mystery why Debbie left you.”

“So,” he continued after the same waitress tossed the plates of waffles on their table, while doing her best to avoid eye contact, “What are the major middle game guidelines? Let’s say we… you and your opponent castled on opposite sides. What’s your game plan?”
“To throw everything including the kitchen sink at the opposing king’s position,” Vince smiled, “pawns lead the way, pieces behind, like Philli said.”
“You mean, Philidor? You studied Philidor’s teachings? Wow, I thought you don’t have any respect for a chess player who didn’t knock anyone out.”
“Who said anything about Philidor? I meant Philli Jones. You know, Steve Jones, the GM from Philadelphia.”
“Aha. Ok, what other guidelines are there?”
“Opening lines to the enemy king is good. Blockading lines to your own king is even better. Pawn weaknesses are meaningless, unless those are the pawns that shield the king. When behind on the attack, exchange queens. How am I doing?”
“Great. Now, middle games with closed center.”
“Attack where the pawn chains are pointing.”
“And what does that mean?”
“If there are white pawns on d4 and e5 and black pawns on d5 and e6, the white pawn chain is pointing to the kingside, and that’s where white should go to work, and black’s chain is pointing to the queenside.”
“Excellent. See, you still have it in you! Middle games with open center and same-side castling?”
“Think ahead to the endgame, beware of weak pawns. Tactics rule.”
“Ok. And speaking of tactics, let’s see what you can do with this position,” Enrique produced a palmtop chess computer out of his pocket and quickly made the following moves on the touch-screen:
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 b5 6.Bb3 Bb7 7.Re1 Bc5 8.c3 d6 9.d4 Bb6 10.a4 0-0 11.axb5 axb5 12.Rxa8 Qxa8 13.Bg5.
“Ok, what would you do as black?”

black Queen on a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 black Rook on f8 black King on g8 h88
a7 black Bishop on b7 black Pawn on c7 d7 e7 black Pawn on f7 black Pawn on g7 black Pawn on h77
a6 black Bishop on b6 black Knight on c6 black Pawn on d6 e6 black Knight on f6 g6 h66
a5 black Pawn on b5 c5 d5 black Pawn on e5 f5 white Bishop on g5 h55
a4 b4 c4 white Pawn on d4 white Pawn on e4 f4 g4 h44
a3 white Bishop on b3 white Pawn on c3 d3 e3 white Knight on f3 g3 h33
a2 white Pawn on b2 c2 d2 e2 white Pawn on f2 white Pawn on g2 white Pawn on h22
a1 white Knight on b1 c1 white Queen on d1 white Rook on e1 f1 white King on g1 h11
a b c d e f g h  

“Hmm,” Favreau leaned over the screen and chewed on his waffle, “Let’s see. Black has his bishops and queen pointing at the center … a lot of tactical motives. Of course I can just retreat with Nd7, but the position calls for more … I know! I’d play 13…Nxe4, and if 14.Rxe4 then 14…Nxd4. Now, retreating the rook clearly loses, and after 15.Rxd4 or 15.cxd4 the endgame is in black’s favor.”
“Nice. For someone who’s been out of the loop for a year, you calculate well. But we must take into account all possible variations. What if white doesn’t retreat, but attacks with the rook?” Dominguez touched the screen and made the move 15.Rg4.
“Well, I just take on f3 and win.”
“Go ahead. Win.”
The moves 15…Nxf3+ 16.gxf3 Bxf3 flashed, and then Dominguez quickly responded with 17.Bf6. “Not so simple now?” he smirked.
“Let me see,” Vince scratched his head, “No, black still wins with 17…g6 18.Qd2 Bxg4 19.Qh6 Bxf2+ and it’s over.”
“17…g6 18.Qd2 Bxg4 is fine, but now white plays not 19.Qh6 but 19.Bd5.”
“Aha. Chasing the queen away from the long diagonal. That could be a problem. No, wait, black’s still winning after 19…Qa4.”

Dominguez leaned back in his chair and breathed a sigh of relief. His friend is going to be ok after all. He looked outside the diner toward his car. Nobody got around to stealing it yet.
“Hey, nice license plate, man,” Favreau followed his gaze, “Didn’t notice it before. E2E4-WINS. Cool. Did you get it custom made?”
“Yes, Vince, I did.”
“I like it. Wish I had a custom license plate. Wish I had a car.”
“You can buy a car with the match’s earnings. Hundred thousand dollars, sixty percent to the winner, forty to the loser.”
“That’s nice, but I still don’t know who am I up against. Is it that Italian, Paretti?”

“Shut up, they’re talking about the fight!” The big truck driver at the next table pointed in the direction of the TV set. Enrique and Vince stopped talking and watched Andrey Klichkovsky giving a press conference at the Caesar’s Palace hotel, surrounded by media persons, bodyguards and fans.

“Americans! I will smack that contender of yours so hard he will not know what hit him! I will break his head, take out his brains and eat them for lunch! And that’s only the chess part I am talking about! Once we put the boxing gloves on, he is going to really feel the pain! Yes! I am Andrey Klichkovsky, undisputed World Heavyweight Champion! Remember this name, because it will be the last sound you will hear! Yes!”

“Well, the guy sure doesn’t lack confidence,” said Enrique.
“Hey, look,” said Vince, “There’s Todd Santoro.”

“Mr. Santoro,” asked a TV reporter, “Is it true that you had difficulties assembling a lineup for the preliminary match, the undercard?”
“Let me tell you this, son,” the fat dark haired promoter turned directly to the camera, “We have a special treat for you viewers in the undercard match. We all know Magnus Alfredsson broke his arm skiing in Norway and LaShawn Thompson failed a drug test. These things happen. But still, the two fighters we have in store for you are exceptional ones. Their names are legend, and I will say no more.”

“Whoa, wait a minute, Rico. So they are having not one, but two replacement players for the preliminary match?”
“And you said you were pretty sure the other guy will open 1.e4?”
Vince glanced at his friend’s face, then at the red convertible, then at his friend again.
“Why you lying cheating vermin of a rat. You are my opponent. You!”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because you wouldn’t have come with me if I did! Look man, I need this! After what happened back then at the Garden, Santoro blacklisted me and nobody would work with me any more. No trainer, no endorsements, no tournament invitations. I was scrounging for cash in B-tournaments and my rating dropped 150 points. And then I suddenly get this call, and I can be center-stage again, but they are still one opponent short, so I remembered you live in L.A. and suggested you, and they said ‘bring him along’. I need this match to jump back on the gravy train, Vince. I’m thirty-four, man, this is my last chance.”
“So why are you coaching me?”
“Because, man, I need you to be good. If you show up at the Palace in bad shape, nobody’s going to believe it was for real. They’ll just say ‘Dominguez is a cheat. First he sold the Garden, now he bought the Palace.’”
“So it’s my job to play well so you can beat me convincingly and fix your life?”
“It sounds very negative when you put it this way, but basically, yes.”
“And the reason you know I’m black is because you asked to be white?”
“Something like that.”
“Damn you, Rico, I’m not letting you get away with this. Have it occurred to you that I might have a life to fix too? Did you consider that this might be my last chance too?”

“Would you like a refill?” The waitress stood above them with a pot of coffee in her hand. “No!” They both waved her away.
“Vince, be realistic. I was playing B-tournaments, but at least I was playing. You haven’t touched a chessboard and haven’t worn gloves for a year,” Dominguez leaned forward and drilled Favreau with his black eyes, “You cannot win this match.”
“Damn right I can and I will,” Favreau screamed as he jumped on his feet, “I’ll show you ‘E2E4-WINS’, Mister. I’ll drive that e2-e4 down your throat, you maggot.” He swept his unfinished waffles off the table and stormed out of the diner.
“Sorry about that….” Enrique said to no one in particular as he tossed some bills on the table, picked up the palmtop and followed Vince to the car.

To be continued ...

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 02:25 AM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2004

To the last pawn - Part I

To the last pawn

“Before the start of a chess round, the referee will make sure there are no loose chess pieces on the canvas”
- World Chess Boxing Association (WCBA) rules, article 12.3.a

In the early morning hours of the 26th of August 2017, a red convertible car stopped in front of a small run-down house in Inglewood, California.
A man in an adjacent coffee shop tapped his friend on the shoulder and said, “Check the nice set of wheels.”
“Neat,” answered the friend. “Got a custom license plate too. Can you read it from here?”
“Yeah,” said the first man, “E2E4-WINS. Dunno what that means.”

As they were talking, a man in his thirties, well dressed, well built and well tanned, exited the car and walked up to the front porch, where he checked the name on the doorbell. ‘Vincent & Deborah Favreau’. Yes, this was the house. He rang the bell, but there was no sound. He tried to knock. No response.

The hours were actually not so early for most of the inhabitants of this Los-Angeles suburb, who were busy selling crack and violating parole from dawn to dusk and beyond. But Vince Favreau should still be in bed at that time. The man knocked again, harder this time. And again. After the fourth time, there was finally some movement behind the door.

“What is it? I’m only one month behind on my rent, you fat …” A hoarse voice called, and the door flung open. “Rico Dominguez, is that you?”
“In person. Man, you look awful. What have you been drinking?” asked Enrique, trying to look behind Vince’s muscular shoulder. The living room was a jumble of dirty clothing, old food and empty bottles.
“Nothing since last night,” said Vince. “That’s the problem. Can’t even afford a morning drink these days. But what are we doing here at the door? Come in, come in, before you get mugged.”

Inside, Favreau pointed in the direction of a flea-infested couch, as he himself collapsed into a rust-colored armchair. Enrique declined to seat, and instead began walking around the room.
“So, Rico, what brings you here? And it better be good, for getting me out of bed so early and ruining a perfectly good hangover.”
“I got a call from Todd Santoro,” said Enrique quietly, enjoying the sudden sobering effect this name had on his friend. He stopped by a trophy shelf and passed his finger in the thick layer of dust that covered it.
“No way. Todd Santoro called you? He wouldn’t touch you with a stick after what happened at Madison Square Garden.”
“Well, it wasn’t him in person, but his office.”
“What did they want?” Favreau moved in his armchair slightly.
“Actually,” Enrique was ready to drop the bomb now, “They wanted me to find you. You haven’t been checking your messages lately, haven’t you?”
“My phone’s disconnected. What does Santoro want of me anyway?”
“Let me guess, your cable TV is disconnected too?” Enrique smirked.
“So let me bring you up to speed real quick. Klichkovsky came to USA two days ago. Some big-time promoters offered him a busload of money, and he will play McKenna for the title a year earlier than expected. The game is in Las-Vegas, tonight.”
“And Todd wants to send me board-side tickets? Wow, that’s really a kind gesture of him. Some people still got respect for old-timers like me!”
“Well, before we get all huggy-kissy and drown in nostalgia,” said Dominguez, “Let me tell you that’s not what Santoro had in mind for you. He wants you to play the undercard.”
“Me? Play the undercard for Klichkovsky-McKenna?” Favreau jumped on his feet and began pacing nervously, and now it was Dominguez’s turn to sit down, “But I haven’t played in a year. I barely remember the main line of the Ruy-Lopez.”
“Don’t worry. It’s like riding a bicycle. It’ll all come back to you, man.”
“Well, maybe I don’t want it to come back to me, did you think about that? When is this game anyway?”
“Tonight, eight.”
“But I don’t have no money for a plane ticket. I haven’t prepared. I reek of booze.” Vince shook his head, “No way, this can’t work.”
“Well, allow me to address your concerns one by one. First, I will drive you. Second, we’ll prepare along the way. Third, we’ll drive with the top down and the wind will blow that smell out of you long before we reach Nevada. It’s eleven now, if we hurry we can be in Vegas in five hours. This still leaves us four for sightseeing.”

Enrique started walking to the door, but to his surprise Vince refused to follow.
“What’s the matter?”
“I can’t do it. My reflexes are all messed up.”
With slow measured steps, Dominguez walked back to the trophy shelf. He stood with his back to Favreau, and picked up one of the trophies. “What’s this?”
“Madrid Interzonal.”
“Catch.” Without looking, Enrique tossed the silver cup in Favreau’s general direction.
“What are you doing?” Vince shrieked with horror as he dove to catch it.
“And what’s this?” continued Enrique, “North American welterweight champion 2011. Nice. Catch! Ooh, Canadian Open Champion 2010. Catch. ‘With recognition, to the first Canadian WBCA Grandmaster. Neat. They didn’t give me any of those for being the first Mexican GM. Catch. Best Game of the Year, 2014? I remember, you sure nailed that Russian with Rook to d7. Catch.”
“Please, stop!” Favreau pleaded, but Dominguez was unrelenting. Pieces of silverware kept flying around the room as Vincent desperately scrambled not to let them hit the floor.
“Hmm, what’s this?” Enrique got to the last plaque, “‘Third place, Jack’s minigolf weekend bonanza’?”
“It’s Debbie’s,” Vince said embarrassingly. “She forgot it when she moved out.”
“Anyway,” Dominguez spun around to see Favreau standing before him, clutching ten trophies in his grasp, “Your reflexes seem fine. Pack your things, let’s go.”


“If bleeding occurs during a chess round, the referee will stop the contest and wipe the blood from the board and pieces. The offending player’s clock will keep running during that time.”
- World Chess Boxing Association (WCBA) rules, article 12.3.a

It all began over a dozen years ago in Ukraine, as a joke between two college students, both avid amateur chess players and boxers. Their friends, who came to watch the bout, returned home stunned, telling tales of the best entertainment they ever had. Rumors of the new exciting sport spread across the world like wildfire. Soon its governing body, WCBA, became the most powerful sports organization in the world, uniting under its wing all the squabbling boxing federations, as well as FIDE.

A bout of Chess-Boxing would start as a normal-looking game of chess, except the board was set in the middle of a roped boxing ring, and the players wore boxing trunks. Between eight and fifteen times during the game, at steady intervals, a gong would ring and the chess table was carried away, as the players put on their gloves and engaged in a round of boxing.

It was, still, all about chess. The game of chess was the bottom line. Whoever won the chess game, won the bout. The boxing rounds had only one effect on the game – to weaken a player. A player that was knocked out would forfeit on time; if his brains were beaten into a mush, he would make a bad move and lose. If his eyes were bloody and swelled, he wasn’t able to see the board and would lose. There was only one ring referee – scoring referees were not needed.

Advertisement blurbs called Chess-Boxing ‘The Ultimate Sport’, and they weren’t far off. To be successful in this most popular sport in the world, one needed the cranial capacity of a professor, and the strength and stamina of a lumberjack. Chess-Boxers were revered like Gods, wooed by young girls, and sought as companions by rich ladies. After all, how often do you get a consort who can recite the Theory of Relativity and bench-press 300 pounds?


Down on the street, a twelve-year-old punk was trying to steal the convertible, but couldn’t get past the electric force field. Seeing Vince and Enrique closing on him, he turned away and ran, leaving a string of curses at his wake. Enrique took the remote out of his pocket and clicked the force field off.
“Hop right in.”
“Nice set of wheels, man.”
The convertible sped away with Dominguez at the wheel and Favreau slouched in the front passenger seat.

“So tell me,” asked Favreau as they were cruising alongside the L.A. River, “What really happened at the Garden?”
“Oooh, it was something.”
“It was nothing. Look, I was checkmated, it happens, ok?”
“Checkmated before the first gong? Never happened before, Rico.”
“Shut up. We have a game to prepare to. Now tell me the main line of the Ruy Lopez.”
“1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1…” Favreau recited mechanically.
“Wait. What do you play if he takes on e4 on move 5?”
“If 5…Nxe4 then 6.d4, the open Ruy.”
“Good. Go on with the main line.”
“6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0”
“And what if 7…0-0 instead of 7…d6?”
“What difference does it make? Black can play d6 first and castle later, or the other way round. And then –“
“No, stop! It makes all the difference in the world, because after 7…0-0 8.c3 he can go 8…d5, the Marshall attack.”
“Oh, right I remember the Marshall. This Polish guy tried it against me in the New York Open. I knocked him out in the second round,” said Favreau.
“Yes, yes, very nice. But we can’t quite rely on a second round knockout here, given your physical form, can we? White can go for the anti-Marshall with 8.a4, Kasparov used to play it, you know.”
“Kasparov is ancient history, man. I don’t recall him knocking anyone out.”
Dominguez grabbed the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles became white and took a deep breath. “Ok. Maybe the Ruy-Lopez shouldn’t be your defense of choice.”

To be continued ....

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 03:34 AM | Comments (2)

December 31, 2003

The Pawns - The End

© Alex Shternshain 2003

Click here if you missed the beginning of "The Pawns".

Part VI - Epilogue (not really)

The crowd went wild at the win of the local boy. For a moment, one could think that the playing board reverted to its normal role as a football field! The volume of the clapping and cheering was way over field-goal-levels. It was more suitable for touchdown-with-extra-point. Mr. McKinley took the microphone again, and began to sing praise to the "great intellectual battle" we have just been the witnesses (or participants!) of. But all I could think of was one thing.

"Pizza or movie?" I asked, turning to Libby with a triumphant smile.
"Why not both?" She responded with laughter in her eyes.
"You very nice," a gruff voice interfered with our jubilation.
We turned to see Denisov, who, for some reason, decided to drop by with a visit to the field. A general giving pep talk to the foot soldiers? Isn't it a bit too late for that? Isn't the game, like, over? The stands and the playing board were emptying quickly. The survivors of the pitched battle were heading to the showers, and in matter of seconds the three of us were alone.

"You very nice," he repeated with his horrible Russian accent, struggling to find the suitable English word, "Pair. Couple. Yes. Couple. I watch you from there. Not want ... separat?"
"Separate?" I helped him out.
"Yes. Not want separate you. It just game of chess, yes? Win, lose, not matter, yes? For nice couple, worth to lose." After taking another moment to find something suitable to say, he could only repeat: "You very nice couple," and left.

Libby was the first to regain her speech.
"What did you say his name was?" she asked.
"Leonid Denisov."
"Ok, I'll keep that in mind. Let me just apologize to Will, and then we can go have some pizza. And a movie."

Part VII - Epilogue (this time, really)

That was fifteen years ago. And today, I decided to wake up early to make some finishing touches to this story. As I was busy typing on the clunky keyboard of my ancient PC, I didn't hear the door opening behind me, or the sound of the approaching footsteps. Only when my wife's hand landed gently on my shoulder, did I leave my trance-like concentration and became aware of her presence in the room.

"Hi honey, working already?" she said, leaning to kiss me on the cheek.
"Just a few refinements, sweetheart. Almost done. Be with you in a moment." I replied, and she turned to leave, as I noticed a small icon flashing at the bottom corner of the computer screen.

"Libby, wait!" I called and beckoned her to return to the study. There's an email here for you. From work, probably."
"The heck with them, I'm not going to read email on a Sunday morning," she replied with the same open smile that I remembered so well from that day on the football field, and turned to leave yet again - this time also without success, because at that moment our children burst into the room. The studio I built in my narrow basement was clearly too small to contain the volume of sound and kinetic energy created by two children and two adults, so I had to acknowledge defeat. There will be no more work this morning. So be it.

"Come on, come on out. Back up we all go," I ushered my family into the living room, where we began planning our next move. Libby suggested the zoo, while I was not impartial to a drive to the nearby lake. But the children were not to be swayed.
"We want to go to the park!" announced Leo, seven years of age, setting his little foot down to mark the issue closed.
"But honey, we went to the park last time," in spite of all her good measures, my wife sometimes just didn't know when a battle was lost. Has something to do with the red hair, I guess.
"Park, park!" the five-years-old Dennis joined his brother, "We want to go to the big chess game, with the big knights and..." I exchanged amused looks with the love of my life.

"Ok rascals!" I said authoritatively, doing my best to feign dissatisfaction, "to the park we go. But next time...!"
"Park, park! We're going to the big chess game!" Leo and Dennis ran around the room excitedly, bumping into large objects and knocking down smaller ones, as their mother tried to restore order in vain.

After a very short while (which, as you remember, is about fifteen minutes in Thomas Jefferson Junior High-School time) we were all set to go.
"Leo, Dennis, you take the center! Forward, my brave pawns!" I ordered, and the kids were glad to comply and dash ahead.
I extended my hand, "Shall we follow them, my Queen?"
Libby took my hand and cradled it inside a warm pocket made of her own gentle palms and laughed, "Yes, my King."

The End

Did you enjoy this story? The best way to thank Alex (aka AlexSh) for his work is by giving him some feedback...

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 12:00 AM | Comments (5)

December 30, 2003

The Pawns - Part 5

© Alex Shternshain 2003

Click here if you missed the beginning of "The Pawns".

Part V - Endgame

For a while, Denisov's King (Mr. Finley, the math teacher) was courting danger as an army of the white pawns and pieces drew closer, using the f5 outpost as a pivotal point. However the Russian player proved that even though he was over the hill, a Grandmaster remains Grandmaster. It will take a heck of a lot more than a "promising American junior" to crush this somber representative of the best chess school on the planet.

Even for a non-expert, this was riveting to watch. His pieces cooperated from the strangest and most unexpected locations, combining kingside defense and queenside action at the same time. He parried Hoang's large offensive motions with small moves, shifting a Bishop here, a Queen there - usually only for one square at a time, and it was enough.

Of course I should be wishing for Hoang's victory - he was the local boy, not to mention the fact that a quick win by him would assure me of a chance to spend the evening with my sweetheart - but found myself rooting more and more for the bearded Russian. What can I say, I liked his style. And apparently so did Libby. With each move, she became more and more drawn into the game, wincing at each Knight move, sympathizing with each fallen pawn.

And soon enough, like a flatlined patient after CPR, Denisov's position started showing outbursts of life. Did Hoang make some mistake pursuing his initiative? Probably he did, but it was too subtle for me to catch. Queens were exchanged, allowing Mrs. Harris to step out of her heavy costume - oh boy, did she look sweaty and filthy - and the game headed for the endgame, in which black seemed to even have some advantage.

Less than half of the original number of pieces remained on the board now. The white ones were pressed back as the black Rook penetrated into the heart of the white position. This endgame was clearly going black's way, and white should be happy with a draw here. Libby's brother on b3 seemed to play a pivotal role in the game - black was attempting to advance him towards the queening square, and white was desperately trying to set roadblocks on his way.

Suddenly, a black Rook executed a deft maneuver, landing behind me, on e3. Hoang plunged into though. After a while, I realized the source of his predicament. He clearly had no plausible way to defend me! So that's it, not only is the bearded Russian going to fell the home-town-boy, but also I am going to miss out on the date of my dreams. Maybe I can just ask Libby to withdraw the clause she put to our meeting? Seeing the tense look in her eyes (she clearly also appreciated the gravity of the situation) I could see that she also regretted this stipulation. But no... you do not tout destiny. After all, we are all but pawns in the big game of life, right? We're all dependant on the will of the great Chess Player up there - so might as well to submit to it.

Hoang made his move. No, he did not find a way to defend me. I was hanging out to dry, and the black Rook (Mr. Nakamura, gym teacher) was eyeing me evilly. But ... Denisov did not capture. Non-challant as always, he moved a knight somewhere else. Did he think that the pawn capture could wait for later? If he did, Hoang showed him the error of his ways. Immediately, he moved a bishop to d3, thus not only defending me, but also cutting Mr. Nakamura's path to safety. What a turnaround, instead of winning a Pawn black had to lose a Rook for a Bishop.

A hush went through the crowd as they sensed the possibility of a home-team victory. The Rook was gone, and with it's demise the black position collapsed to shambles. Three more moves by each side, and Will-the-b3-pawn, the pride and splendor of black's position, also fell to Big Steven the white Rook, who now was on the rampage, having no suitable opponent to stop him. With the grace of a seasoned professional, who was no doubt as used to losing as he was to winning, Denisov extended his hand to his young opponent. "Black resigns!" Mr. McKinley's voice almost oozed with delight.

Please return tomorrow for the end of the story (parts 6 and 7).

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 12:00 AM | Comments (1)

December 29, 2003

The Pawns - Part 4

© Alex Shternshain 2003

Click here if you missed the beginning of "The Pawns".

Part IV - Attack and counterattack

Josh was lying flat on his back, gasping for breath. Around him, everyone tried in vain to do ten different things at once in order to revive him. I pushed aside the pawns and the pieces and knelt besides my friend. I felt remorse at not listening to him. Damn, baseball was a better idea. "Man, are you alright?" I asked, expecting the worst. "I think I need to be replaced," he whispered in my ear, raising his head off the turf, "And I think I know who wants to replace me". After uttering those words, he theatrically dropped his head back and closed his eyes. I suppressed a smile. Good old Josh. He's rough and ignorant, and can be a real ass sometimes - but I could always count on him to help out in a time of need. Not to mention the fact that he helped himself along the way: chess was clearly not up his alley, and when the paramedics carried his "dehydrated" and "heat-stricken" limp body away, he seemed pleased.

"You're back," Libby said reflectively and for the first time I sensed that she was not an indifferent party to our relationship.
"Fate, I guess," I replied, trying to impart a humorous mood. This time I learned my lesson, and was wary of peril from all sides. I surveyed the field, checking for danger from any black Knight, Bishop or Rook. At the time, it all seemed safe. At least for the next couple of moves, nobody shall threaten the pair of pawns locking the e-file.
"Would you like to go somewhere after this?" I asked, amazed at my own boldness.
"You mean, like a date?" replied Libby.
"Yeah? I guess, a date. Pizza, or movie, or?"
"You know what? Since you say it was fate that brought you back, I'd like to test your luck further. If we both stay on the board till the end of the game, I'll go out with you. Ok?"

What choice I had? One doesn't look a gift horse in the mouth, and if the girl of your dreams offers you a date, even a highly conditional one, you better accept! But the tension was killing me. Bishops, Rooks and other pieces swarmed around us, doing an intricate dance comprehendible only to an expert-or-higher-rater-player. I regretted quitting the chess club after only one lesson. But then again, what good would it do to me to know my chances of survival? Whatever happens, I'll await my destiny.

Denisov was developing some kind of action of the Queenside, with the help of Will, who already advanced twice, and Hoang decided to retaliate on the other wing. A white pawn appeared next to me on f4. This can't be good. Of course black will have use Libby to capture f4, and she'll immediately lose her life to the white rook standing on f1. Truly a fate worse than death, having your sweetheart being replaced with Big Steven! Denisov surveyed the wooden board, then the football field, and made up his mind. I could clearly see his hand moving a small piece on the board. Libby was blissfully unaware of what was about to happen. I was ready to give her the cue.

"Black Pawn to Queen's Knight six!" announced the Game Master. What was that? Even the crowd, who so far remained ignorant to the meaning of the moves so far, made a faint gasp. Pawn to Queen's Knight six was a bad move. That was obvious. Admittedly, advancing Will yet another time, to b3, grabbed black some space on the queenside, but how could a Grandmaster ignore the danger of white's counter attack, which immediately followed? "White Pawn to King's Bishop five!" the pawn to my right walked one more step ahead, not threatening Libby anymore. Hoang's attack on the black kingside was getting serious.

Please return tomorrow for part 5: "End game".

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 12:21 PM | Comments (5)

December 28, 2003

The Pawns - Part 3

© Alex Shternshain 2003

Click here if you missed the beginning of "The Pawns".

Part III - Middle game

The opening stage of the game was over now and play had slowed down, with the contestants taking minutes instead of seconds for each move. We had some time to talk about non-chess stuff and get to know each other better. She was from out of town, living most of the time with her divorced mother in California. This was her annual weeklong visit to meet with her father, who managed a hardware store on Ridge Street, and her brother. We both loved the same movies, the same literature genres, and most important, Rock-n-Roll. She even made a positive comment about my T-shirt, which flashed for a moment through a gap in my white robe as I waved my hands to denote just how great, in my opinion, The Boss was. She was also interested in odds and bits about life in our town, and I told her about our favorite pastimes and even pointed out some of my friends to her. ("Hi, nice to meet you, Josh" - another mind-blowing smile, another glimpse of those impeccable ivory-white teeth).

"What do you think of the game? Who's winning?" She asked, turning her mind to more current matters. "Hard to say for now" I replied, while trying to figure out what was happening on the board from my not-exactly-vantage spot. Behind Libby and her colleague, a small armada of black pieces was assembling, preparing to break through at the first opportunity. The white pieces took a somewhat more defensive stance, ready to fend off the impending invasion. Some distance away, a white bishop and a black knight were heading for the showers, having just been exchanged. "What do I know about those Grandmaster games," I summarized the results of my examination. "Could go either way".

Mrs. Harris passed next to me, walking diagonally from d1 to h5. Denisov's reaction to this move was interesting. For the first time, his attention left the confines of the small rectangular board, which served as a smaller, wooden replica of our huge battlefield. He examined the larger, real board and its players. For a moment, the piercing gaze of his black eyes rested on my brow, before sliding onward to survey the rest of the field. Clearly, he saw an opportunity here. Maybe Hoang's last move has been a mistake? I remembered the simple rhyme I learned from my sole visit to the chess club: "Queen on the rim, your future is grim". Or was it a Knight? Anyway, it was not good to put your pieces at the edge of the board, and Hoang just did. Denisov was probably considering what would be the most horrible and cruel way to punish him.

"Why is he taking so long?" asked Libby. "I think he wants to calculate ahead," I responded. "I think it's what they call 'A critical position'". "Oh. So, you were telling me about your Springsteen collection?" Bringing up my favorite topic made me lose my alertness at the worst possible time. As I was extolling the virtues of 'Born in the USA' in Dolby Stereo, disaster struck. "Move away, man". "What?!?!" - my brain did a summersault. "Move or be moved. I just captured you, man," Libby's fellow-black-pawn, the one from d5, was unrelenting in his attempt to set foot on my square. "Queen's Pawn takes King's Pawn" - repeated Mr. McKinley into the microphone again, just so there was no doubt. I didn't even get a chance to say goodbye properly.

Dejected, I walked away from the board, throwing a dirty look at Mrs. Harris along the away. Why you ... this is entirely your fault, I thought. Did you have to move to the edge of the board? And you call yourself a Queen? You are a harlot, a wench, a courtesan! Fuming with righteous indignation, I passed near the players' table as Hoang picked up the pawn that represented Josh, and recaptured with it. "Queen's pawn takes King's pawn," I heard the announcement on the loudspeaker, and saw Josh avenging my demise and forcing that horrible black pawn off the board.

I don't know why, but unlike all previously removed pieces, I didn't go to wash myself up from the sweat and return my costume. For some reason, I preferred to stay at the table and observe, as it was Denisov's turn again. The recently deceased black pawn passed me by, and tapped me on the shoulder "Come on man, let's get out of those dresses", but I waved him off. He turned to go, but then stopped hesitantly. "Look man ... I didn't mean to?." he muttered, "I mean, I know you, like, had a good thing going there, but I, like, had my orders, and ..." "It's ok, man. No hard feelings," I replied, while trying to avoid looking directly at him - which turned out to be a bad idea, because instead I locked eyes with the bearded Siberian, who was examining me as if I was still relevant to his position.

"Don't disturb the players, please. Go chat elsewhere!" Mr. McKinley swooped on us like a vulture, much to the relief of the black-pawn-boy, who was adversely affected by my depressed state of mind, and was glad to stop apologizing and get out of there. Before following him, I gave Libby one last long look. She was truly majestic. In the middle of all this storm of captures and recaptures, she stood like a bastion of safety. One last gaze into those wonderful eyes, and forever our ways shall part?

"Help, someone!" "Give him some air!" "It's a heat stroke!" "Water!" - Half-dozen voices were screaming at once. It was not immediately clear to me what happened, but I saw all the pieces leaving their squares as a small human maelstrom was forming in the center of the board. Mr. McKinley threw away his microphone and dived into it, and I followed.

Please return tomorrow for part 4: "Attack and counterattack".

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 11:31 PM | Comments (0)

December 27, 2003

The Pawns - Part 2

© Alex Shternshain 2003

Part II - Dynamic tension

Click here if you missed the beginning of "The Pawns".

Standing there in the center of the board, I couldn't help but feeling a little exposed under the watchful eyes of the two-hundred-strong audience, who were now beginning to show interest in the game. Yes, I wasn't really exposed - I was wearing my normal clothes - baggy jeans and a "Satan Rules" T-shirt, and above them a white robe, and a small white cap identifying me as a Pawn. But I wasn't used to being in the limelight, and now suddenly all the attention was focused on me - a lonely pawn out there in the open. The little pawn that could, that's me - I chuckled. But my loneliness was short-lived. Already Denisov's massive paw was stretched in the direction of the board; already Mr. McKinley's voice was booming in the speakers again. And before I had any time to even start enjoying my famous solitude, a slim dark figure separated itself from the wall of black Pawns and began walking in my direction, stopping only when she reached e5.

"Hi, I'm Libby" the black-pawn-girl introduced herself with a candid smile that sent my heart to do the hoola-hoop. If it was a cartoon, I would be howling like a wolf and my eyes would pop out of my skull like the cork of a champagne bottle. But since it was not, and people were watching, I limited myself to the polite, if somewhat bland "Hi Libby, I'm Martin", and we exchanged courteous nods. A handshake somehow seemed inappropriate - after all, she was the enemy.

She was in that delicate age in which the first rosebuds of a girl's womanhood start to open - the springtime of life. In other words, she was in the ninth grade. Her straight sun-colored hair was simply done, and adorned with only a thin bow, whose edges were visible from under her black cap. Her face was not the kind that would inspire a Renaissance artist - the cheekbones were probably too round and the chin was a bit too small. But what drew me to her were her eyes. To say that she had big blue eyes would mean nothing. It would be like saying that Bill Gates is rich or the Everest is tall. Red hair and blue eyes, this combination should be outlawed before it kills someone. Probably me. All my fifteen-year-old boyish soul yearned for her.

As I was busy feasting my eyes on my vis-à-vis, more moves were made - a pair of knights came out into the third row, and a bishop followed suit. Both sides were experts of the game, and they made the opening moves very quickly. Libby was looking around with a curios expression in those clear bottomless lakes she had for eyes, and I realized I had to act soon. A pawn's life on the chessboard is a short one, and every minute now, at the whim of Patrick Hoang or his overseas adversary, one of us could be sacrificed or exchanged - and for all I know I may never see her again. As I was suffering from extreme time pressure, plus an acute case of infatuation, I hope the reader will forgive me that all I could come up with was the corniest phrase to ever escape the lips of a man and enter the ears of a woman.

"So, what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" oh oh. Did I say that? "My brother Will brought me here. There he is," she pointed towards a nerdy-looking kid who was acting the part of a black b-pawn, still on its original square. "He's always trying to convince me chess is fun, but I just don't get it" she sighed. Was she sad at her brother's obstinacy or at her own incompetence? I was just happy that my hackneyed pick-up line didn't draw out any negative response from her. Suddenly I felt invincible. If I got away with this cliché, I can do anything.

"Are you any good at chess?" Libby asked, "Will is on the school's team, you know". I admitted that, no, I was not on the team, and could not hold a candle to her brother's chess-playing ability (let alone the ability of the two intellectual giants on the podium), but I could play, and was good at explaining stuff, and does she mind if I enlighten her a bit about what's going on. She didn't mind. In fact, as she admitted later, she was terrified to miss her cue to move, and was glad to find an ally who could, in a moment of need, to whisper "Psst - it's you - go over there". Little did she know that when I wasn't talking, I was praying to God that her and I would be forgotten on our squares, just left standing there on e4 and e5 for the rest of the game. Actually, God, make it the rest of our lives, will'ya?

My prayers were cut short with a punch to the left side of my back. Sure, everything has been too perfect. The powers that be (in the shape of Patrick Hoang) decided to mess up with my mind a bit and placed Josh within fist-range, on d3. "I got your back covered, buddy!" he beamed, "If anyone dares to capture you - bam, they'll have to deal with me"
"Thank you, Josh. You still owe me that dollar, by the way," we have been best friends for years, and I knew exactly which button I had to push to make him shut up.

I turned forward again, only to discover to my horror that a black pawn appeared out of nowhere on d5, within my striking range. And of course, I was within his. My soul, which was until now playing a heavenly symphony, broke a string. I believe it was Lasker who wrote something about the "dynamic tension" that exists between two central pawns attacking each other, although I don't think it was this kind of tension he meant. If you have a weak heart, don't try this at home. Courting someone whom you just met, and already knowing she is the girl of your dreams, making your best effort to be witty and charming, not to mention charismatic - all that while knowing that your relationship could be broken asunder at the whim of a pawn exchange. That's dynamic tension for you. And it was a very small consolation to know that Josh "had my back covered".

Please return tomorrow for part 3: "Middle game".

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 11:10 PM | Comments (1)

The Pawns - Part 1

© Alex Shternshain 2003

Part I - Opening move

"These costumes must weigh a ton!" complained Josh as he was struggling to keep pace with me. "I told you we should have gone to play baseball instead".
"Stop whining, man, and think just think how bad they must feel" I waved my hand towards the group of darkly-clad figures at the opposite end of the field. Having to wear all black on such a hot day cannot be good.
"You have the nerve to complain?" chimed in Big Steven, "You guys are just pawns. I have to stand with this thing on my head" from behind his back, he produced a crude paper-and-plastic construction, which resembled a fortified tower only after a thorough examination.
"To your places, everyone!" Mrs. Harris' sharp voice cut through our argument like a pair of scissors. "Josh and Martin, take the center. No, not over there, Steven, you're the Queen's Rook".
Josh and I took our spots on d2 and e2 respectively, while Big Steven gloomily shuffled towards his place of exile on a1. All the other kids were assigned to pawn duty, but Steven's size worked against him - he was standing in the first row, along with the mind-numbingly boring adults.
Behind us, Mrs. Harris, the vice-principal, was taking her place as the white Queen, while keeping a watchful eye on her minions - and also on Mr. Harris, who volunteered for the occasion to serve as his spouse's King (or, as Josh sarcastically put it: "he was volunteered").

After a very short while (which, in Thomas Jefferson Junior High-School time meant about 15 minutes), all thirty-two participants seemed safely rooted on their squares. A small commotion delayed the start of the match even further, as it was discovered that the black Bishop and Knight switched places, and Mrs. Harris had to race to the other side of the field to restore their rightful order. Upon return, she waved her hands to the Master of Ceremonies, i.e. William H. McKinley, Principal (what a coincidence, the principal of a school named after a dead American president is himself named after another dead president), to indicate that all was ready for the grand opening.

McKinley mounted the wooden podium and grabbed a hold of the microphone. He was in his familiar element.
"Dear students, teachers and visitors! We gathered here today to celebrate the blah blah blah of the yadda yadda!"

At that point, I stopped listening, partly because I already knew why we gathered here today, and partly because Josh punched me in the ribs, which was his usual method to indicate that he had important information to convey.
"I bet a dollar that I'll move off my square before you," he said.
"What makes you so sure?" I asked.
"Grandmasters always move the Queen's pawn first."
"That's bollocks. And besides, ours isn't a Grandmaster."

This was true. "Ours" was a thin oriental teenager, barely our age, wearing miniature round glasses, a checkered shirt and a pair of tattered blue jeans. His name was Patrick Hoang, International Master, and Junior Chess Champion of the United States. Two years ago, his parents had the misfortune of working in our small Midwest town for a few months, and he attended Thomas Jefferson Junior High, apparently not long enough to leave any major scars in his psyche, but long enough to be remembered by Mr. McKinley.

And it was only natural for the latter, when he heard that a major chess tournament would be played here, to invite Hoang together with one of the visiting chess professionals, to hold a "live" exhibition game in our school. His opponent was Leonid Denisov, Grandmaster, who, with his 200-pound figure and his long black beard resembled a Siberian Ranger more than a chess player. This was a battle of generations, a battle of East vs. West, and there was also a spicy aspect to it: twenty-some years ago, when he was in Hoang's age, Denisov was the Junior Chess Champion of Soviet Union. In his prime, he was considered a contender for the World Championship, but now he was merely one of the few dozens chess-knights-for-hire, mercenaries of the rook and bishop, content with making a living on the slopes of the chess Olympus, without any hope to scale its topmost peak.

If you've never been in an audience of a live chess game, I can't tell you, unfortunately, how it looks from the viewers' perspective. Probably should be an impressive sight from the stands, but here below on the playing board, carefully drawn on the school's football field, it was far less of a spectacle. I passed my eyes from Josh, who was still bemoaning the fact that he allowed me to drag him into this, to the Black armies across the board, to the somewhat disinterested crowd, and finally to the two contestants, on an elevated stage to my left, with a real chessboard between them. Everything was ready.

The voice on the loudspeakers refused at first to enter my brain, and only after an additional punch to my kidneys courtesy of Josh, I realized that Hoang made his first move, prompting Mr. McKinley to yell "Pawn to King Four!" into the microphone. Whoa, that's me. "You owe me a buck" I told Josh with a wry smile as a made my way two squares ahead, without much hope that my friend will pay up the bet.

Got curious? Don't worry: the complete story - all 7 parts - will be published here.
Please return tomorrow for part 2: "Dynamic tension".

Posted by Alex Shternshain at 01:18 AM | Comments (2)

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