If there is such a thing as a chess traveler or chess nomad, then FIDE Master Mike Klein is one of them. He is also a popular chess writer, coach and journalist, and for Klein chess is a pleasant way to make his way through life. Here at Chess.com you have probably seen him commenting big tournaments live, seen his videos or read his artcles, and he is responsible for keeping ChessKid.com running smoothly.
Name: Mike Klein aka "Bugs" and "FunMasterMike" on ChessKid.com.
Title: FIDE Master (FM)
Date of birth: 10/15/79
Fide rating: 2326
Chess.com username: MikeKlein
How are you?
Freezing. This "Arctic Vortex" is sapping my desire to play in the Reykjavik Open.
What, if push comes to shove, is your all-time favorite movie?
Don't people usually break the rules in your interviews and name about ten movies? It's really hard to beat Ghostbusters. I also travel a lot, so I identified a lot with Lost in Translation. Guess I just picked two Bill Murray movies. I wonder what that means?
And your favorite TV Series?
Seinfeld. Seems like that show set the bar so high for sit-coms that very few have piqued my interest in the last 15 years. I also have a guilty-pleasure answer. My girlfriend and I love Come Dine With Me. So much so that we may or may not but definitely did find a way to watch British Channel 4 despite it usually being blocked in the U.S.
Chillin’ with a game of chess in the baths of Budapest.
What kind of food and drink do you prefer?
Thai food and craft beer. It's funny that when I travel to Europe these days, I generally agree with most of their critiques of America. But they almost universally have one thing wrong - we make better beer than they do (thanks to the resurgance of local, craft and microbrewing). It's excusable - ten years ago that stereotype that we all drank Budweiser had some truth.
What is your favorite book?
I like Paul Theroux’s travelogues. But Tony Horwitz got me into the genre after college, and his Blue Latitudes represents the perfect marriage of history and modern adventure.
What music are you currently grooving to?
I just downloaded (legally) the new album from The Head and the Heart. My last concert was The XX and I'm really eagerly awaiting the next offering from Of Monsters and Men. I've realized that somehow I like bands with both a male and female vocalist. Makes each song different and exciting.
Tell me a chess secret?
I'm not sure if this is a secret, but more of a funny story that only a few people know. When I was about ten, I liked to play Dungeons and Dragons, and most of my chess friends played in our group. I was playing in a local chess tournament one weekend, and my opponent, a friend named Kevin who also played D&D, got up from the board because he was getting sick. The tournament director was also our group's Dungeon Master (the guy who controls the action), and I asked him if I should stop the clock. He said, "It depends on if you are lawful/good or chaotic/evil." My character in D&D was a lawful/good wizard, so I stopped the clock.
What is your best chess memory?
In 1988 I won first place in the K-3 Nationals in Springfield, Michigan. That was back before computer tiebreaks. I tied with one other boy at 6.5/7 and my coach kept checking and rechecking the calculations by hand. I think I won the first place trophy on the third or fourth tiebreak.
I don't remember it all that well, so recently I would say that playing chess around the world would be a good adult memory. You can read about it here and watch my (non chess-themed) video recap here.
What chess hero had the most influence on your chess development?
I don't remember admiring many top players. I think I played a lot of openings that John Nunn wrote about, but maybe that's because he's so prolific.
I had a small fascination with the line in the King's Indian Sämisch where you sacrifice your queen for two bishops, so I liked reviewing Jeroen Piket's usage of the line. My coach, Will Wharton, had a big influence on my development as a player and a person. After working with him for ten years, I remember asking him on the way to a tournament what he thought the best part of my game was. I was fishing for a compliment and eager to hear him praise me in some facet of the game. He thought for a second and said, "Mike, you get in a lot of really rotten positions...But you always find the best way out of them." He was right.
How old were you when you began to play chess?
A precocious four.
Is the Internet a big part of your life?
Now that I work for Chess.com, it IS my life.
What was your childhood like?
Chess was definitely the dominant activity. I competed probably two weekends each month. Other than that it was fairly normal - growing up in the suburbs, doing reasonably well in school, and having my rating plateau once I got to college and met girls.
There seems to been an obscure connection between chess, the element of water and FM Mike Klein...
What was the most important advice your parents gave you?
Hmm. I'm sure there was something more important than this, but since my mom is a nurse and my father is a radiation therapy engineer, they gave me a lot of freedom as long as I didn't ride motorcycles or smoke.
They traveled internationally with me when I was only a boy, and I think this more than anything helped shape my love for seeing new places.
What is your favorite chess game?
This is a game I played in the final round of the Land of the Sky Tournament in 2003, the largest in North Carolina. I was on 4/4 and Alex on 3.5/4, so I only needed a draw. My idea of 10...Nb6 is just bad, and I missed this maneuver with 15. Ndb5. After about 30 minutes of thinking, I decided upon the practical chances with 15...Rxe3.
Alex should have not tried to win my d-pawn so soon, and he would have won without issue. But my exchange sacrifice was based on not wishing to get crushed with a white knight landing on d6, and the grandmaster being overly confident. Sure enough, he played 17. Nxd5 after about 15 seconds of thought, which is where his troubles began. I could have pushed for the win at the end with 27...Rd2+, but only needed a draw to collect first place outright. I guess you could say this game is pretty indicative of what my coach said about my style - my position was pretty rotten!
Draw agreed, since perpetual is coming unless White wants a much worse endgame.
If we're talking about a GM vs. GM game, I have some of the usual favorites like Beliavsky-Nunn, Wijk aan Zee 1985 and Ivanchuk-Yusupov, Brussels 1991. But I always wondered why more people don't remember this gem?
What is chess to you – a game of combat or of art?
When I'm perusing books or the internet, I love solving studies, so art (I was once on a beach in Fiji playing through the studies in Grandmaster Chess: Move By Move by Nunn). When I'm playing in tournaments, it's combat. I was never studious about the game, but sit me down at the board, and I was not going to be outworked.
My longest game ever was when I was eight years old. That was during the adjournments phase of chess, but since it was the last round, they couldn't adjourn my game (the final time control was 15/30, repeating indefinitely). I didn't know the winning technique, so it took me forever to win - nearly eight hours. I split the $20 junior prize.
If you could live in any city in the world, what would it be? Why?
This is a really tough one. In my travels, I've never heard an ill word about three cities: Barcelona, Budapest and Cape Town. I've been to all three, and I don't have anything negative to say either.
If we're talking about living for a year, I'd choose Cape Town. If we're talking about a summer, I'd go somewhere on the Croatian Coast. If we're talking about indefinitely, I'd go with Bangkok. For all its traffic and noise and current political upheaval, the people are so friendly, the culture is interesting and the food is nonpareil. Plus, I've already been a part of one of their "riots," which most Americans, myself included, would mistake for a parade. They disable a tank with bamboo in the treads, stand on top with Thai flags, and get really excited when foreigners join in! This picture made Yahoo news. I'm at least 80 percent sure the gun didn't have ammo in it:
Mike Klein, renegade. How to dismantle a tank with bamboo.
What is the moment in history that you would like to witness?
If we're talking about any feel-good moment, then being at the old Fulton County Stadium on October 14 1992. For the vast majority of Chess.com members that either don't follow baseball or don't know what happened on that night, the Atlanta Braves won the game in storybook fashion - deciding game, down 2-0 in the bottom of the last inning, a no-name guy at bat, and a guy on second base who is even slower than he looks. Then this happened.
If we're talking about events with more historical significance, that's a really tough one. I'd like to have been present for things like the discovery of new lands, but that would've probably entailed things like months at sea and scurvy - two things that I can only surmise I wouldn't enjoy.
Is it possible to pick anything other than Buzz Aldrin's vantage point while his colleague took the first steps on the moon? I wasn't alive then, and so I'm really disappointed that our space agency, NASA, has had it's funding cut in recent years. I hope I'm alive to see the day that someone walks on Mars. It may have to be a private agency that gets there.
What is your inner being?
Probably too metaphysical of a question for me. I lean more toward Vonnegut - "We're just here to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different." Chess seems a pleasant way to make our way through life.
What is the one thing you’d most like to change about the chess world?
Every chess organization, from FIDE down to local affiliates, seems to have some sort of petty struggle. For all the cunning and tactics that chess players have learned, you'd think they would take the long view and realize this does not help make the "chess pie" bigger (pie being players, money, exposure).
If you could give a beginner in chess only one piece of advice, what would it be?
GM-elect Daniel Ludwig said this once at a chess camp we taught together. Paraphrasing: "Weak players look at a move and they try to convince themselves why their move is strong. Strong players look at a move and try to convince themselves why their move is weak."
Who is your most difficult opponent?
IM Jonathan Schroer, the strongest player in North Carolina for many years. I think I'm 0-4 against him.
Is there any chess book that has had a deep and lasting influence on you?
My copy of Practical Chess Endings by Paul Keres is falling apart I use it so much. I really enjoy the endgame.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in chess?
Individual responsibility. There's this theory about soccer in America. It's probably the biggest sport for kids, but not popular that much at the adult level (and only recently has our national team made waves). The thinking is that parents who want their kids to compete put them on a soccer field, because a lack of physical or technical acumen can be "hidden" more on a crowded soccer pitch than a baseball field or basketball court. In a chess tournament, any weaknesses or lack of preparation can't be hidden, so it makes for a more resilient child in my opinion.
How would you describe yourself to an alien from another planet?
I don't take myself seriously, I don't eat meat, and I have a preternatural love for MINI Coopers.
Mike Klein when he was six years old. The tournament is somewhat famous. It was the real life tournament that was featured at the end of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. The movie claims that it was in Chicago, but in fact it was in Mike’s hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. Mike actually played Josh Waitzkin in the tournament.
Do you think the future belongs to rapid chess and blitz?
I really, really, really hope not. They have their place in the chess world, but I'm old school.
Do you have any thoughts on how Chess.com can get even better?
Yes, and I put those thoughts to use every day since I work here! The list of things we'd like to do is unbelievably long. Some of the ideas are really outstanding. Of course many of the ideas are reasonable and grounded, but I want to Chess.com to sponsor the first weightless game of chess. You know, those plane flights where they drop 10,000 ft. in one minute to simulate zero-gravity...