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Wednesday, February 20, 2019
The New King of Chess


Article from The New Yorker


When Magnus Carlsen became the world chess champion a few days ago, I don’t think anyone in the chess world lost money. All bets were on the almost-twenty-three-year-old Norwegian’s beating the reigning grandmaster, Viswanathan Anand. With play in Chennai, India, Anand had the home-court advantage, but, at nearly forty-four, he is getting old for top-level chess, and Carlsen gained momentum as the match went on. He didn’t lose in ten games. Perhaps the biggest surprise was in the last one, when Carlsen, with the prize in his grasp, played to win rather than accepting what looked to be Anand’s offer of a draw, which would have clinched it for Carlsen anyway. He could have been the world champion a couple of hours sooner.

Or even a year earlier. Carlsen, whom I wrote about for the magazine in 2011, had skipped the previous world championship in 2012, objecting to the way in which the qualifying matches were conducted, and so, as it turns out, forewent the chance to be the youngest world champion ever.

But, in the meantime, his FIDE rating, the chess world’s mathematical system for ranking tournament players, had continued to rise, and even before he and Anand settled into their chairs, his was the highest in history, surpassing even that of Garry Kasparov, who, starting in 2009, had coached him for about a year—before Carlsen decided that the passionate Russian got him too hepped up to enjoy the game. (Kasparov, for his part, threw his hands up at Carlsen’s casual approach to training, telling me back in 2011 that he “was not in a position to make him change his personality.”) But Kasparov was always impressed by Carlsen’s intense will, and, after the Chennai match, told me that he wasn’t surprised that Carlsen went for the outright victory instead of settling for a draw in the final game: “He likes to play, he likes to win, and he had the better position. He’s a maximalist like Fischer, and he expects to fight to the death.” (In this particular game, Anand salvaged a draw.)

With the years, Carlsen’s play has increasingly seemed to defy categories. He still goes light on the sort of deep opening study that helped make Kasparov and Anand dominant. If you want to attack hard, you have to prepare hard, which Carlsen has made clear just doesn’t float his boat. But he has also eschewed the heavy focus on the computer programs that have trained his generation (and are training the grandmasters of the next). The software cuts through the millions of permutations that each chess position offers to show the player the best move. Despite his ad-hoc approach, Carlsen seems so good at so many things now, it’s not clear to chess commentators where it’s going to end. He’s like a great baseline tennis player who just keeps returning the ball deep and with power until he forces an error, but rarely makes any of his own. “He’s gotten a little older,” notes Mig Greengard, who works with Kasparov and tweets as @chessninja, “but as far as the actual games, I don’t think he’s really different now. He’s just more.” That Carlsen still hasn’t peaked he finds “frankly terrifying.”

Carlsen embodies millennial cool (well, for a chess player) with his fondness for junky food and mass media, his clothing endorsement, his toehold in the world of movie-star glamour. The day after his victory in Chennai, the Times of India reported, he went bowling. But he remains huggable; it’s not hard to imagine him making his bed because his mother tells him. His sisters and he pal around; the oldest, Ellen, was a presence in Chennai, too. He also is straightforward in a way that is at once appealingly modest and jaw-droppingly arrogant when he speaks of his talent. When I asked him how he had changed since I wrote about him, he sent back a comment to me via his manager that took me back to our time together. “The style and level of my game is about the same,” he said. “I feel I know a lot more, but it’s not easy to make that evident on the board. Fortunately it’s good enough to win most tournaments and the WC title.”

Thus passeth the crown.


D.T. Max is the author of “Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace.”

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019
Mass. girl, 9, becomes youngest US chess master and is on track to break other records
CHELMSFORD, Mass. — Only three years or so since first picking up the game of chess, 9-year-old Carissa Yip can already look down at 93 percent of the more than 51,000 players registered with the U.S. Chess Federation. She has risen so far up ... Washington Post · 7/28/2013 Enter this link in your browser to read the full article: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-07-28/national/40865016_1_u-s-chess-federation-irina-krush-expert Enjoy! :) Comments: 1    

Wednesday, February 20, 2019
New Chess Genius Discovered!
Op-Ed Columnist

China Rises, and Checkmates

If there’s a human face on Rising China, it belongs not to some Politburo chief, not to an Internet tycoon, but to a quiet, mild-mannered teenage girl named Hou Yifan.
Ms. Hou (whose name is pronounced Ho Ee-fahn) is an astonishing phenomenon: at 16, she is the new women’s world chess champion, the youngest person, male or female, ever to win a world championship. And she reflects the way China — by investing heavily in education and human capital, particularly in young women — is increasingly having an outsize impact on every aspect of the world.
Napoleon is famously said to have declared, “When China wakes, it will shake the world.” That is becoming true even in spheres that China historically has had little connection with, like chess, basketball, rare earth minerals, cyber warfare, space exploration and nuclear research.
This is a process that Miss Hou exemplifies. Only about 1 percent of Chinese play chess, and China has never been a chess power.
But since 1991, China has produced four women’s world chess champions, and Ms. Hou is the one with by far the most promise.
At this point, I have to put my sensitive male ego aside. You see, Ms. Hou gamely agreed to play me after I interviewed her. She had just flown into Beijing after winning the world championship, and she was exhausted — and she shredded me in 21 moves.
Most dispiriting, when I was teetering at the abyss near the end of the game, her coach nudged her and suggested mischievously that
we should switch sides. Ms. Hou would inherit my impossible position — and the gleam in her coach’s eye suggested that she would still win.
I protested that I could survive being beaten on the chess board by a schoolgirl. But to be toyed with, like a mouse by a cat — that would be too much. Ms. Hou nodded compassionately and checkmated me a few moves later.
At 14 she became the youngest female grandmaster ever. She’s still so young that it’s unclear just how remarkable she will become.
Women in general haven’t been nearly as good at chess as men, and the world’s top women are mostly ranked well below the top men — but Ms. Hou could be an exception. She is the only female chess player today considered to have a shot at becoming one of the top few players in the world, male or female.
Cynics sometimes suggest that China’s rise as a world power is largely a matter of government manipulation of currency rates and trade rules, and there’s no doubt that there’s plenty of rigging or cheating going on in every sphere. But China has also done an extraordinarily good job of investing in its people and in spreading opportunity across the country. Moreover, perhaps as a legacy of Confucianism, its citizens have shown a passion for education and self-improvement — along with remarkable capacity for discipline and hard work, what the Chinese call “chi ku,” or “eating bitterness.”
Ms. Hou dined on plenty of bitterness in working her way up to champion. She grew up in the boondocks, in a county town in Jiangsu Province, and her parents did not play chess. But they lavished attention on her and spoiled her, as parents of only children (“little emperors”) routinely do in China.
China used to be one of the most sexist societies in the world — with female infanticide, foot binding, and concubinage — but it turned a corner and now is remarkably good at giving opportunities to girls as well as boys. When Ms. Hou’s parents noticed her interest in a chess board at a store, they promptly bought her a chess set — and then hired a chess tutor for her.
Ye Jiangchuan, the chief coach of the national men’s and women’s teams, told me that he played Ms. Hou when she was 9 years old — and was stunned. “I saw that this kid was special,” he told me, and he invited her to move to Beijing to play with the national teams. Three years later she was the youngest girl ever to compete in the world chess championships.
It will be many, many decades before China can challenge the United States as the overall “No. 1” in the world, for we have a huge lead and China still must show that it can transition to a more open and democratic society. But already in discrete areas — its automobile market, carbon emissions and now women’s chess — China is emerging as No. 1 here and there, and that process will continue.
There’s a lesson for us as well. China’s national commitment to education, opportunity and eating bitterness — those are qualities that we in the West might emulate as well. As you know after you’ve been checkmated by Hou Yifan.
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