On The Ground And In The Air: Fabiano The Dog Walker, Skydiving Chess
GM TImur Gareev trying to get a firm grip on his position. Screenshot: US Chess Federation video.

On The Ground And In The Air: Fabiano The Dog Walker, Skydiving Chess

| 44 | Misc

After a month dominated by the world championship, many chess stories remained on the periphery. This edition of "In Other News" tries to bring them back into the light.

Take a look below at the crazy world of GM Timur Gareev and his new stunt. Also, now that London is over, perhaps Fabiano Caruana would like to decompress by walking your dog?

Skydiving chess

In September, this column featured underwater chess, but leave it to the peripatetic GM Timur Gareev to take the game to new heights. After setting the world record for most simultaneous games played blindfolded, the American grandmaster decided to combine two of his other passions for a unique stunt.

Timur Gareev

GM Timur Gareev, the "Evel Knievel" of chess. Cover photograph courtesy Chess Life.

He'd already completed more than 150 solo jumps, but for November's Chess Life cover shoot (celebrating his U.S. Open win this year), Gareev decided to exit the plane holding a chess board. The pieces were glued in place and the board had a special aerodynamic cone below it.

Watch below as he free-falls at 120mph. Position look familiar? It's from a 1760 game between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Prince de Conti.

Rex Sinquefield stars on HBO

The HBO show Real Sports tackled chess last month with a profile on the Saint Louis Chess Club's founding patron, Rex Sinquefield, from his life in an orphanage to "incalculable wealth." He's given away a decent chunk of his wealth to single-handedly revitalizing top-tier American chess.

Soledad O'Brien

The famous interviewer Soledad O'Brien chats with Rex Sinquefield in August. | Photo: Mike Klein/

How much has he given? Interviewer Soledad O'Brien gently presses Sinquefield on his response "several millions." She ups the stakes and finally stops asking when she gets to $50 million. (Another number mentioned without clarity: Fabiano Caruana's amount that lured him back the U.S.)

The giving has worked, with St. Louis having no grandmasters a decade ago to now being home to several dozen (those will a keen eye will see a good number in the segment). The show is a "greatest hits" of chess culture in the area—the World Chess Hall of Fame, the world's largest chess piece, chess colleges, and scenes from the Sinquefield Cup.

Caruana, the guy next door?

Among the litany of world championship previews written last month, this one stood out. Although it offers mostly a general synopsis of the match to come and its historical implication, the writer tried to humanize Caruana. His Instagram feed of his "normal-dude-ness" is cast as the foil to Magnus Carlsen's "arrogance."

There's Fabiano, the dog walker. And Fabiano, the shepherd. The guy is so cool that he partially inspired WGM Jen Shahade's child's name (one syllable different at "Fabian"). The piece also posits that Fabiano wears an event's t-shirt just to avoid doing laundry (many 20-something guys can relate to this—clothes tend to be bought when the clean laundry runs out).

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War or peace?

A post shared by Fabiano Caruana (@fabianocaruana) on

Fabiano, the model? Photo: Caruana's Instagram page.

One factoid rebutted at the opening press conference in London: Fabiano is a fan of film but has not studied screenwriting, as had been reported in another pre-match preview.

The fallacy of the Fischer comparison

While nearly every world championship preview had to give at least a passing nod to Bobby Fischer, this article/podcast rebuts the "hackneyed media trope" convincingly. 

Among those compared to Fischer in the their time, only to have that comparison proved wrong today:

  • Jude Acers, who is now most famous for playing blitz for decades in New Orleans.
  • Robert LeDonne, once on the "Tonight Show" but who this writer had never heard of, probably because he quit chess at the age of eight.
  • Michael Wilder, who became a GM and U.S. champion, but who stopped competing 30 years ago.
  • Joel Benjamin and Yasser Seirawan, both who became full-time chess professionals and top-flight GMs (the latter in the top 10), but neither who seriously contended for the world championship.
  • Jon Viloria, who this writer once played at the 1987 National Elementary Championships, but who moved on to normal college life and tournament Scrabble.

Jude Acers

Jude Acers and his signature red beret teaching at the 2014 New Orleans Chess Festival. | Photo: Cecilia Tisserand/

There's plenty more, including Jorge Sammour-Hasbun, Sam Sevian, Jeff Sawyer, Steven Zierk, Ray Robson. Talented players for sure, but none of whom are approaching 2800 and Fischer's level of dominance (the still-active Hikaru Nakamura came closest of all the mentions of "the next Bobby Fischer" and indeed exceeded Fischer's peak rating).

Wilder is quoted as saying he would never put in the work that Fischer did. And besides, the comparison would not be enviable today due to Fischer's late-life devolution into paranoia and anti-semitism. 

"It would be mortifying," Wilder said.

Chess in Equatorial Guinea

Continuing the upward trend of positive chess developments in Africa in 2018 (in places like South Africa and Ivory Coast) comes this unique match played in Equatorial Guinea. The Catlin Gabel private school in Portland, Oregon is helping lead efforts to expand chess in the tiny West African country.

Equatorial Guinea chess

The beginnings of a new FIDE federation? Photo: Federico Ele.

The country plans to have a formal tournament and also meetings between the fledgling National Association of Chess in Equatorial Guinea and government officials in an attempt to become recognized as a federation by FIDE. Equatorial Guinea has no FIDE-rated players and is one of the few sovereign countries not represented in FIDE.

FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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