Chess In The Big Leagues, Chessboxing And Other News

Chess In The Big Leagues, Chessboxing And Other News

Have you ever played against a major league player? You may have, without even knowing it.

St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny plays on Chess.com, and now he can contest any one of his players in the clubhouse, too.

In this month's "In Other News" we feature this unique cross-sport integration, as well as the chance for you to be an integral part of another nascent sport. For those not inclined to physical exertion, we also have holograms, yet another chess movie, and the return of an ancient chess variant to a country on the mend.

St. Louis Chess Club Gives Chess Set To Cardinals Locker Room

Want more playing time? Beat the manager! While that may be a novel idea, that's of course not the use of the finely-crafted wooden chess table that the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis gave to the home team's locker room at Busch Stadium. (The locally-made table is the same as the ones in use at the club.)

Instead, Manager Mike Matheny said the main utilities of the table are for team cohesiveness and to allow them to decompress from the pressure of the big league. Pretty soon after the installation, and following our first mention of this in news, the chess table proved so popular that two vinyl boards were added to triple the capacity.

Mike Matheny played chess with the world's best and held a Q&A during last year's Sinquefield Cup.

The players on the major league roster have worked hard to get to where they are, and some are naturally not fancy-free about the game. Relief Pitcher Seth Maness echoed his manager in admitting that the game keeps him awake at night.

"I find myself laying in bed looking at my phone at two in the morning...I don't like losing," he said. 

He's not the only chess insomniac. Matheny told Chess.com last year, "I have truly enjoyed the Chess.com app, and typically use the tactics almost every night."

Matheny also cited studies showing that chess can help with problem solving. That's important, especially with fan sites like this analyzing pretty much his every move. This "check in" with the Cardinals since we first reported the story shows that the Cards are 11-5 since our first posting, including winners of five straight. Two more and it's a Caruana.

The article doesn't state with certainty who's the best chess player on the roster, but we suspect it has to be Grichuk. That's #15 Randal Grichuk who also patrols the outfield when he's not playing in the GM Blitz Battle.

Gri(s)chuk has a .780 career OPS and a a 2747 Elo.

Caruana Takes On His Largest Opponent

Switching to American football, a unique pairing took place late last month when Fabiano Caruana took on Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urschel. The tale of the tape showed that Urschel was giving away 1200 rating points (2800 vs. 1600) while Caruana was spotting Urschel more than 180 pounds (308 vs. 125).

Not quite the size difference of "Little Mac" vs "Mr. Sandman" but close! (Photo Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Liberty Science Center.)

Since they only played chess and didn't have a deadlift competition, Caruana spotted Urschel (another regular Chess.com player) one minute in the Liberty Science Center's World Title Bout. As you might guess, that wasn't enough, and Caruana won the three-minutes to two-minutes game.

Here's the video of the game. The voice announcing the moves is GM Pascal Charbonneau.

The match was part of the 700-person Genius Gala, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg. Other award winners included architect Frank Gehry and Caltech Astrophysicist Kip Thorne, prover of Einstein's gravitational waves 100 years after the prediction.

Urschel's bone fides didn't just include his decent chess rating and athletic career; he's also currently working toward his PhD in mathematics from MIT.

Your Chance To Own A Chess League

Finishing up the sports theme of this column...Have you ever wanted to own part of the U.S. Chess League or the Bundesliga? Those aren't for sale, but another chess outfit is. The Global Professional Chessboxing League is more than just an intellectual fight club, and they're seeking equity investors for the league: Click here to support!

CEO lepe Rubingh is ramping up efforts in anticipation of the upcoming world championships in November in Berlin (not those world championships; as far we know those are still in New York). His current valuation is 3.5 million Euros, so 35,000 gets you about one percent.

Don't have the money to invest? That's OK. If you beat Rubingh himself in a chessboxing match (three minutes of chess followed by three minutes of boxing, for a total of 11 rounds), then you get one percent for free. But if you get checkmated or knocked out, you have to pony up the dough:

'Queen Of Katwe' Trailer Premier

Sure, there have been copious chess movies to come out in the last year, but this may be the first to feature an Oscar winner. Yes, we know that Sir Ben Kingsley was Best Actor for "Gandhi" before becoming Bruce Pandolfini in "Search for Bobby Fischer," but that was 23 years ago! 'Queen of Katwe' is slated to come out in September and is based on the book of the same name by Tim Crothers.

Phiona Mutesi talks with her coach Robert Katende at the Queen City Classic Chess Tournament in Cincinnati, Ohio in March. 

The real-life story follows WCM Phiona Mutesi in her rise out of the Ugandan slums via the game of chess, all the way to the Olympiad. Mother Harriet Mutesi is played by Lupita Nyong'o, winner of the 2013 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in "12 Years a Slave."

Here's a peek at the feel-good movie:

On a personal note, I've walked around some of the poorer districts of Kampala, near where Mutesi grew up, and while her rating might "only" be 1600, her story is more compelling and hard-earned than many other players. During public appearances and interviews, she remains humble and shy, and has stated that her much of her earnings will go toward a community center in Uganda.

A Good 'War' Breaks Out in Myanmar

You've likely heard of nationalistic versions of chess like Chinese Chess or Korean Chess, but did you know that there's also "Sittuyin" (roughly: Myanmar Chess). "Sitt" means "war" in Burmese and now that the country is on the slow path to peace after the Saffron Revolution in 2007, the arts have become the focus for some.

Only about 100 Sittuyin players compete in tournaments and the article states the desire to resurrect interest in the game.

In 2015, this reporter saw only Western Chess played on the sidewalks of Myanmar's capital, Yangon. But it was being played in 40°C temperatures.

Revitalizing this 1000-year-old chess variant is the work of national champion Thein Zaw, who must focus more on Sittuyin than Western Chess as he has no FIDE rating. The game is more anthropomorphic than our game, with elephants rampaging, active kings, and the queen replaced by a general.

Importantly, there is no set starting position, except for the pawns. The game is more like Chess960 mixed with Battleship -- the players begin by placing their armies wherever they'd like behind their (advanced) pawns.

A sample starting position, using Western symbols for the pieces, after the alternation of placing one's army. (Image: Wikipedia.)

Chess Marathon Supporting Refugees

Can chess help with the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees? One Icelandic player made that his mission last month when Hrafn Jökulsson collected money for UNICEF while playing chess for 30 hours straight.

The event was at the Harpa Concert Hall, usual site of the Reykjavik Open.

The Harpa Concert Hall -- a long way from Syria. (Photo: Peter Doggers.)

In 2015 Jökulsson raised more than $16,000 USD for UNICEF during last year's marathon.

Chess Game Better Than The Movie?

For those disappointed at the reinvigoration of the "Star Wars" franchise, perhaps this will assuage your feelings toward Episode 7. A holographic chess game is in the works, similar to the one featured in Episode 1 and more elaborately continued in the recent iteration "The Force Awakens."

Here's old friends Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO playing "holochess" on its circular board:

The creators of the movie sequence now have also launched a campaign to bring these apparitions off the silver screen and into your home. "Hologrid" seeks to use virtual reality to allow gamers to play in much the same way as the movie (Luddites will also be able to play with a physical board).

'Just Like Fire' On Board

No, Alexei Shirov didn't release part two of his best games. Wait, actually he did. In any case this is not part three of his best games. Instead, it's a chess/pop music crossover writeup in the one of the world's most-known music publications.

The singer Pink released a chess-themed video for "Just Like Fire," written for the current Disney movie, "Alice Through the Looking Glass," which is based on a book laced with chess overtones. "Through the Looking Glass," the sequel to "Alice in Wonderland," was written by Lewis Carroll, a noted chess fanatic.

Watch and see what more than 30 million others have: Pink doing aerial yoga amidst operatic chess pieces vibrating about the board. Now you've seen it all:

Gaprindashvili Latest To Win State Award

Following recent Ukrainian honorees GM Mariya Muzychuk and GM Natalia Zhukova, Georgian GM Nona Gaprindashvili is the newest woman to be recognized by her government.

The first woman to receive the full grandmasters title, the legend Gaprindashvili was awarded the Cavalier of Sports of Georgia state title to coincide with her 75th birthday. She also got a star bearing her name at the Nona Gaprindashvili Chess Palace in Tbilisi.

A young Nona Gaprindashvili. She was one of the first to cross over into men's tournaments. (Photo courtesy Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs in Georgia.)

Gaprindashvili was women's world champion from 1962-1978, won the Women's Soviet Championship five times, the World Senior Championship three times, and won copious Olympiad medals. In her 12 appearances for USSR/Georgia, she won 11 team golds and one silver, and as an individual won eight golds, two silvers and one bronze.

Karjakin's Training Methods

In this enlightening interview, world championship challenger GM Sergey Karjakin revealed some aspects of his preparation for his successful Candidates' Tournament, and what he likes to do in his down time.

Among other things, we learn:

  • He works with GMs Yury Dohkoian, Alexander Motylev, and Vladimir Potkin, but also was helped by Shakhriyar Mamedyarov for the Candidates'.
  • Karjakin likes training at the beach, like Egypt. Before Moscow, he chose Dubai for his training.
  • When not preparing, he enjoys swimming or beach volleyball.

If he's looking for sand near New York City in anticipation of the world championship, he has many choices. Sergey, if you're reading this, you can take the subway to Coney Island, Jones Beach, or Rockaway, the Long Island Railroad to Montauk, or a ferry to Fire Island.

Sergey Karjakin, perhaps agreeing with Vladimir Potkin's suggestion that the "F" train will be faster than the "Q" to Coney Island. (Photo: Lennart Ootes.)

Three Masters Joins Forces In College

A trio of America's top African-American masters will team up together for the next four years. All three chose the powerhouse Webster University in St. Louis for the their studies next year. 

The move by Joshua Colas, James Black and Justus Williams, who all became masters before they became teenagers, is reminiscent of the Fab Five recruiting class in college basketball in the early 1990s.

The three young men all attended a U.S. Chess School camp in Charlotte, NC in 2011, taught by GM Gregory Kaidanov and IM Greg Shahade. Bottom right is Josh Colas, middle right is Justus Williams, and sixth from left is James Black.

They will all get full or partial scholarships. 

"We all grew up playing chess together at a young age and going to tournaments and making good friends with one another," Colas said in the article. All three are from the Tri-State area.

Williams, a national high school champion, star of the documentary "Brooklyn Castle," and new Cadillac pitchman, noted the uniqueness of his scholarship.

"It doesn't have to be basketball or music," he said. "That's not the only way that us Black people find a way to make something better of ourselves."

Webster is the reigning and four-time champions of the Final Four of College Chess. Coach GM Susan Polgar said that these three are not guaranteed a spot on the A, B, or C teams, but she hopes they all get their IM and GM titles during their time in St. Louis.

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