Did You Hear The One About The Blindfolded, Freezing, Incarcerated, Female Chess Player?

Did You Hear The One About The Blindfolded, Freezing, Incarcerated, Female Chess Player?

The title of part two of "In Other News" isn't a joke. Instead it encapsulates pretty much all the leftover news for this edition!

By now you've surely read part one of March's column, but in this one women rule the day.

First the newly-crowned women's world champion did a "Carlsen" and proved that cold-weather training can help one's title preparation. Then we have the most famous female player of all time entering the pop-culture lexicon at a TED Talk, and finally a chess museum celebrating all women across the lineage of chess greats.

Also, below is an update on one man's multi-year training to break the blindfold record. We close with a chess piece used in an attack that won't quite make it into the next edition of ECO, but might instead introduce a new time control (of three to five years!).

Hou Yifan's Antartic Training

GM Magnus Carlsen trained in Norway before winning the world title in 2013, but even that wasn't as polar as GM Hou Yifan's preparation for this year's women's world championship.

She traveled to Punta Arenas in Southern Chile in February for a four-game match with IM Cristobal Henriquez. She wanted to go farther -- the match was set to take place half in Antarctica -- but the famously ferocious weather in the Drake Passage prevented the intercontinental crossing. All that water from the Pacific Ocean has to squeeze through the narrow chute to get to the Atlantic Ocean, making the seas some of the most treacherous in the world.

GM Hou Yifan and IM Cristobal Henriquez at the end of the world. Luckily it was still summer in Southern Chile. (Photo: Fide.com)

Hou won the match 2.5-1.5 (with three games being decisive), and as we now know, she had plenty of time to recover for her match with GM Mariya Muzychuk. Hou won resoundingly to retake the title. Here's here first win from Chile, a crush in only 25 moves (maybe she was trying to stay ahead of the weather?).


Did the Chinese woman travel as far as she possibly could for her training? Nearly! From her home in Beijing, China to Punta Arenas is about 18,500km. The furthest city from Beijing is Bahia Blanca, Argentina, only 1300km farther. (In case you're wondering, the farthest city from Lviv, Ukraine is Wellington, New Zealand.)

The only black and white games being played on Antarctica were the penguins laughing at the boats. (Antarctica photos courtesy Ken Baxter)

GM Judit Polgar's TED Talk

Before there was Hou, there was Judit, and after retirement in 2014 she's made good on her promise to become an ambassador for chess. Her latest endeavor was a TED Talk in February in Vancouver. (She must have flown there immediately after the Zurich Chess Festival, where she watched most of the action.)

No video seems to exist yet from her talk, but the topic was chess education and how chess can help with problem solving. Luckily this wasn't her first rodeo -- Polgar gave another TED Talk last year in her native Magyar. If you speak Hungarian and care to hear about Kasparov, here you go (and let us know in the comments if she discusses that time he may have changed his move in 1994!).

GM Judit Polgar discusses being a woman in the chess world, and talks about Kasparov. (We think! Hungarian speakers can give a synopsis in the comments.)

Also on the docket for Polgar: captaining the Hungarian team for the first time at an Olympiad in Azerbaijan in September.

Her Turn: Revolutionary Women Of Chess

How did the above two women become the best two female players of all time? Their road was paved with predecessors, and the World Chess Hall of Fame's latest exhibit seeks to show off historic women in chess.

In addition to many American women in the exhibit, six of the players featured are in the hall of fame already: Vera Menchik, Nona Gaprindashvili, Maya Chiburdanidze, Elisaveta Bykova, Olga Rubtsova, and Ludmila Rudenko. Don't know all six? The exhibit runs until September 4, 2016, so you have a chance to learn more.

This crosstable from the 1967 U.S. Women's Championship shows Gisela Gresser's eighth of her nine titles, a mark that GM Irina Krush (seven) has said she wants to break. (Document courtesy World Chess Hall of Fame)

"Through sharing the inspiring stories of these women, we hope to encourage more girls to take up the game and share this sometimes overlooked history with our visitors," Assistant Curator Emily Allred said in a press release.

Prisoner Assaulted With Chess Piece

As any scholastic chess teacher will tell you, young kids will occasionally throw pieces. But this assault in prison over a few candy bars was of a completely different nature.

Be warned before you click to read about it, the details are slightly graphic and are not suitable for all audiences. Let's just say here that the designation of which kind of chess piece, which is not delineated in the article, mattered greatly to the victim.

Two Uplifiting Stories About Prison Chess

While our last story showed the depravity of life behind bars, we can luckily offset that with two more positive stories of the game's influence on prisoners.

First up is a facility in New Hampshire very close to the Canadian border. Every Wednesday for five weeks they winnowed down to one champion in their annual chess tournament, facilitated by local 1900-rated Albert French, a volunteer.

Officials said that the game shows the men that the game is governed by rules, and success is based on foreseeing consequences of actions. In short, chess teaches two areas of rehabilitation that are needed with law breakers.

Next up is a vignette of convicted drug dealer Robert Booker, who is two-thirds of the way through a 30-year sentence in Michigan. After getting locked up he read many books on chess and now excels to the point where he won't accept a challenge without his opponent first beating a player of his choosing.

“In prison it’s just recreation to pass the time, but in life, every move is calculated," Booker said in the article. "And if you play the game of life in the streets, you make it a long way, sometimes you have to sacrifice something or someone to move forward. But in the streets, there are no stalemates.”

One of two million prisoners in the U.S., Booker is seeking a pardon from President Barack Obama, although thus far he's been relucatant to use that power often.

Never A Dull Moment For GM Timur Gareev

Since moving to the U.S. several years ago, "Blindfold King" Gareev has publicly courted the "most simultaneous blindfold games" record. In 2011, German FM Marc Lang broke Miguel Najdorf's record by playing 46 games.

Gareev's not there yet, and in between training he's bounced between Texas, Las Vegas, Kansas, and Hawaii, surfing and motorcycling.

We've also chronicled him on this column when he was assaulted after winning a tournament in Portugal.

GM Timur Gareev, about to play a "traditional" game compared to his recent escapades.

So what's he up to now? Recently he played a 35-board blindfold simul in Santa Clara, California, still not record-breaking but eclipsing his own personal best (by two) that he set in St. Louis in 2013.

As if that wasn't enough, in this training exhibition of 12 games he exercised on a stationary bike for five hours!

According to his web site, his record-breaking attempt will finally come this August in Prague.

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