On December 18, 2015, I finally achieved the
United States National Master
chess title, at the relatively late age of 45 (I don’t have
statistics, but I suspect the vast majority of chess players who reach
National Master do so in their teens and twenties). I plan to
eventually write about how I significantly improved my chess when I
returned after a twenty-year break to start playing again ten years
ago at age 35, and how I now teach and coach chess based on my
experience in self-improvement. I will also write more about how I
continue to work on self-improvement outside of chess.
For now, below is an interview that was published in the June 2016
issue of the
Pittsburgh Chess Club publication, “En
I’m going to tell you a true story about an old man and a young boy
(age under 10) who played a game of chess in a competitive tournament
where prize money was at stake. I’d like you to think about the odd
situation that occurred, while looking at it, with empathy, from
different points of view:
Given the whole story, do you think that what happened was right?
Is there something you would have done differently if you had been one
of the actors in the story? In particular, what would you have done as
the old man?
In round 3 of the current 6-round Pittsburgh Chess Club Tuesday night
tournament, I played a very tense game that led to an unusual position
with beautiful tactical possibilities. My opponent, Melih, is a strong
player who is a winner of the 2015 Pittsburgh Chess Club Championship earlier
this year, and had won the last two tournament games we have played,
so I came into this game anxious and also thirsty for revenge.
The game proved to be very challenging for both of us. I achieved a
better position out of the opening as Black but was too cautious to
press more aggressively. After more than 3 hours (!) of play, we ended
up in a simplified late middlegame in which I had only a small but
clear advantage. We were both clearly physically and mentally
exhausted, and starting to run out of time (these tournament games
have a time control of 2 hours per person with a 5-second delay per
move). It was up to me to try to find a way to win by inducing errors
in his play.
Get ready to be quizzed!
What ended up happening was in retrospect both remarkable and
comic. To maximize your entertainment as well as challenge your
tactical skills, I recommend pausing at each diagrammed position below
in order to ask yourself what move you would play, and why, before
gradually uncovering the whole story.
Note: an interactive chess board with all variations is provided at
the end of this article.
I just saw a cute end to a top-level chess game that ended in a forced
draw because the would-be losing side managed a swindle by giving away
all his pieces by force in order to create a
stalemate. If you don’t
play chess, a stalemate is what happens when it’s your turn to move
and you have no legal moves. You can claim a draw when you are totally
trapped in this way. So one way of saving an otherwise losing game,
when you are outnumbered and about to be checkmated (losing when your
King comes under attack and it’s your move and you cannot stop the
check), is to find a brilliant way to be unable to move.
Is this a totally bizarre concept or what? Why was this rule of chess
invented anyway? Wouldn’t it make more sense if being trapped meant
losing, like it does in real life conflicts?
The Magna Carta has not been on my mind for over thirty years since I
first learned about it in a social studies class in the ninth grade high
school in the early 1980s. But when I think about it, the surprising
truth is that learning about the Magna Carta was a turning point in
my life as a new teenager (age twelve or thirteen), and the lessons I
learned have informed me throughout my life.