The Barack Shock

As a little background, my first book Elements of Positional Evaluation, was written (with my typewriter!) in 1974 but not published til 1990. One of the reasons it was initially rejected was that a GM, who represented a chess publishing house, downplayed the manuscript primarily because he felt that my original observations about doubled pawns was "naive", and "I would learn better as I became a stronger player". However, in the late 1990's, when IM John Watson wrote the advanced positional text Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy, his work contained almost the identical insight about doubled pawns (among many other observations, of course), and it deserved won Book of the Year. This compatibility between our texts was noticed by by a reader in Scotland who contacted John and I, and we started to correspond and occasionally kept in touch. All ended well as my book eventually was published, sold out its first three editions, and is now on its (greatly expanded) fourth edition.

A couple of years ago John was hosting a radio show which interviewed chess personalities. One day I was a guest on his show and John began the show by introducing me, and then asked the first question:

"How does it feel to be the chess instructor for famous personalities like...?"

Of course, I thought he was going to say Howard Stern, since it had become well-known in the chess community that I had been teaching Howard (Howard quit chess "cold turkey" in Feb 2011).

Imagine my shock when John continued,

" Barack Obama?" !?!

Well, as you might know, I am not often speechless, but I did not know how to respond. Was this a joke? If so, I was going to take it in good humor, so I tried...

"Well, uh, John... I have been teaching Howard Stern, as you probably know, but I have never met the President, much less given him any chess lessons..."

I think John was almost as shocked as I was at this point, since the snappy start of his show had not turned out as expected. He ventured the gambit:

"Well, that's what it says on your Wikipedia page."

I don't exactly dwell on my Wikipedia page, but we all know that helpful website is not exactly researched like the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Happily, the rest of the interview with John went really well...

After the show , John and I took a visit to Wikipedia and, sure enough, where it had previously just stated that I coached Howard Stern, some wise person had convinced Wiki to add both Barack Obama and some super-model (whom I had to admit I had never heard of) as a mischievous prank.

So I duly informed Wiki that yes, I was Dan Heisman and no, I had never taught the President or the super-model, so could they please correct my entry...

Hmm. Do you think the White House is in need of some strategy game advice...?


  • 4 years ago


    Too funny! They fixed the wikipedia page, but anybody could change it back.

  • 4 years ago


    I wish I was cool enough to have a Wiki entry...

  • 4 years ago


    I would like to see a picture of the super-model..

  • 4 years ago


    Why did Howard Stern abandon chess? I heard he was doing pretty good, improved quickly..."Cold turkey"...I always wondered how could enthusiasm vanish so quickly...(especially if he was not a patzer like most of us).

  • 4 years ago


    I wish someone would correct my entry on Wikipedia...

  • 4 years ago


    Hello Dan!

    Good column, I enjoyed reading it. Especially your comment about the WhiteHouse, i did find that to be pretty humorus. Keep up the good, honest hard work that you put in. Thank you on behalf of everybody

    Michael Ridge.

    Tucson, AZ

  • 4 years ago


    Yes, Wiki is open to edits so pranks might happen... Of course sir you can always take a little time to learn how to edit Wiki yourself and monitor your own pageSmile

  • 4 years ago


    Uh, yes, I think the white house MAY be in need of some strategy game advice.   I see that many of the talk shows often use chess terms to describe what is going on politically.   Pretty amusing story though.... I can just see it.   Your jaw dropping at the "Barak Obama" comment.  Too bad Howard quit "cold turkey".  Maybe he'll come back one day.  Seems to me a lot of people do that.   They love it and just can't stay away.   I always think I'm going to quit out of disgust when I screw up... but the truth is, I love it too even if it hurts like a ******beeeeeeeep******* when I lose!

  • 4 years ago


    That's a pretty great story!  All my high school teachers were correct in advising me to not use Wikipedia for anything important!

  • 4 years ago


    Dan, that's hilarious!

    As a professional author, I can't believe that John Watson didn't know the first rule of internet research -- Never, NEVER trust Wikipedia as a primary source.  Always verify the source and even then, be suspicious Cool

    Any editor worth his salt will tell you that the first day on the job.

Back to Top

Post your reply: