Play Chess, Win Wine, And 9 Other Stories You Missed

Play Chess, Win Wine, And 9 Other Stories You Missed

| 21 | Chess Event Coverage

Summer is not the time for pros to take a vacation. With tournaments in Paris, Leuven, Biel, St. Louis, Dortmund, Danzhou, Geneva, Khanty-Mansiysk, and many others, the news section has been crowded with tales of 2700s and 2800s plying their trade.

That's left a lot of other chess news stories in the file cabinet, and this edition of in other news is the largest yet. Here are 10 topics from the last month that you may have missed.

1) Chess Tournament Where Prizes Are Paid In Wine

Finally, an event that rewards both good chess play and overeating. The 20th "Wine Open" in Hourtin, France pays out its prizes in vino -- you win what you weigh in wine from the Médoc region.


WFM Eva Maria Zickelbein (seated, right) finished fourth and now knows how many cases of she can "balance" at once. She said her friend, organizer Rike Armas (far right, on stage), was "helping" by pushing down on the scale! Photo: Eva Maria Zickelbein.

It's hard to say how much the "earnings" are worth. As a chess expert and the former managing editor for wine critic James Suckling, Evan Mah said wines from Médoc could be in a wide range of values.

"That could mean they got $800 a bottle first growth wine or middling $10 wine," he said. "The Médoc is home to the world's most famous and sought-after wines. Left Bank Bordeaux remains the gold standard for excellence, and has been that way ever since Napoleon ordered that region's best chateaux be ranked."

Fourth-place finisher WFM Eva Maria Zickelbein called it "the best red wine in the world." She won one-quarter her weight, which was 14 bottles, but could only consume a fraction since she had to fly home.

In the end, French FM Pablo Ollier won with 8.5/9, and his 60 bottles of wine reportedly fit nicely in his compact car. According to industry averages of 2.85 pounds per bottle, that puts Ollier at a trim 171 pounds, though perhaps not after consuming his prize. 

The lesson seems to be: Drive to the event if you plan to win big! Want to go? Next year the event will be June 30-July 7, 2018.

2) FIDE Hosts World Junior Championship For Disabled

There's already a FIDE World Chess Championship for Disabled (this year it will be in Dresden, Germany), but FIDE vice president Beatriz Marinello wanted younger players to be included, too. Along with the FIDE Chess for Disabled Commission, Marinello helped organize the first-ever World Junior Championship for Disabled in June outside Orlando, Florida.


Participants in the first world championship of its kind. Photo: Dora Martinez.

Players from seven countries competed.

"This event does not aim to segregate players with disabilities; its aim is to build bridges that will even the playing field," Thomas Luther wrote in a press release.

3) Football Player And Personality Quits Football

Frequent presenter John Urschel must really like chess, or he must hate head injuries, or both. Just days after a scathing report that 110 out of 111 National Football League (NFL) players had the degenerative brain disease C.T.E., Urschel quit his day job as a lineman for the Baltimore Ravens.


John Urschel (right) is now retired in his 20s, like Jay Wiliams (left) had to. Urschel's departure was more voluntary; Williams never fully recovered from a motorcycle accident.

Several media outlets, including ESPN and The New York Times, linked Urschel's retirement to the study. In the past, Urschel has admitted that concussions have affected his cognitive skills.

The aspiring 26-year-old chess player, who said he plans to keep pursuing his PhD in math from MIT, did not have any public press conference to confirm or deny that the study's results affected his decision. He also did not address the possible linkage on his lone Twitter announcement.

Only a few weeks before the announcement, Urschel, who is rated around 1600 USCF, was one half of the winning team at a chess pro-am. wishes Urschel well in his new career path and his announcement that he will be a father soon. ChessKid, little Urschel?

4) New Movie Ride Rails Of Chess Train

We've covered the famous chess train on this column before. So what's new this time about the six-year-old Prague-based chess tournament on rails? A documentarian has released a short movie about the annual October event.

The film focuses on two GMs (Lars Karlsson and Julio Sadorra) and one amateur and premiered at the last "chess trophy" match, which always features top Czech GM David Navara.

Here's Estonian-born and London-based Maris Flabba's film about the intimate event:

You can read more about the film on Flabba's blog.

5) In-Depth Focus On American Chess, FIDE Transfers

The web site got its name from the number of members of the electoral college. The site began with prognostications on elections but they've moved on from there to many statistics-laden areas, including chess. They also sent a reporter to the last world championship match in New York.

The genesis of their site also helps explain the title in this long-form piece by Oliver Roeder, which is well worth your time. Among other things, chess fans learn of what a chaste life GM Wesley So leads: "I don’t drink alcohol, use drugs or eat junk food. I don’t even have a cell phone."

The website is always on the cutting edge of interesting graphics, so you will surely enjoy examining the many they've created, including this one that examines all FIDE transfers since the turn of the century. Note that not all who've transferred to the U.S. reside in St. Louis -- it just feels that way!


Graphic courtesy; data from FIDE.

6) Why Are Political Leaders Fearful Of Chess?

You likely heard in 2016 about a cleric in Saudi Arabia calling for the abolition of chess, but the historical legacy of this sentiment is at least several centuries old.

"Chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character," Scientific American wrote in 1859. A broad swaths of efforts to ban chess is examined in the "Pessimists Archive" podcast. Glass-half-empty readers, enjoy! Or don't.

7) Chess Culture Meets Horticulture

Residents of Kendenup, Western Australia really love their chess team. How much? The tiny town of 1,000 honored their well-decorated kids with what you could say are the world's largest chess trophies.


An old jarrah tree that once adorned the town's main street appears destined for a second life as a knight. Photo: Mark Bennett, ABC News.

A local wood carver is turning old tress into chess pieces. One faux pas in the article: the queen is set to stand four meters tall, whereas the king will be only three meters. Somebody get them a FIDE Handbook!

If those measurements are accurate, it appears that the giant king in St. Louis is still the record-holder for world's largest chess piece. Their king stands 14 feet, six inches while a four-meter Australian queen would be "only" 13 feet, 1.5 inches.


GM Irina Krush sits on the world's largest chess piece, which is clad in what might be the world's largest baseball jersey.

8) What Happens When A GM With A PhD Answers An Online Question?

The question-and-answer website "Quora" gets chess-related questions reasonably often. But what happens when a grandmaster takes time out to answer a seemingly simple query?

Well, if the question involves game theory and the respondent has a PhD in economics, you can bet it the answer will be well thought out. Read on to see how GM David Smerdon treated a question about a one-time option to switch sides in a chess game.


A man of the people: GM David Smerdon, left, is strong enough to draw GM Magnus Carlsen (at the 2016 Olympiad) but well spoken enough to craft a detailed response.

If you really love the collision of chess players and game theory, this author wrote 4000+ words on the subject for the September, 2010 issue of Chess Life.

9) Aronian Featured In The New Yorker

In another great long-form chess piece in a mainstream publication, an article in The New Yorker examines the chess culture in Armenia and how it produced its greatest current star, GM Levon Aronian.

Of the many choice quotes culled by writer Sean Williams was this one, where Aronian describes his scholastic career mindset when playing against more upper-class opponents: "They look in your eyes and they understand that you are a barbarian, and the kids generally fear the ones who are savages."


GM Levon Aronian: chess savage.

10) Podcast Discusses Craft Of Chess Journalism

Did you enjoy the piece by Williams? Then you may be interested to hear how it all came about. If so, check out the newest installment of The Perpetual Chess Podcast, where host NM Ben Johnson chats with Williams.


Besides chess feature writer Sean Williams, recent episodes of The Perpetual Chess Podcast have included guests GM Hikaru Nakamura and Rex Sinquefield.

Eagle-eared readers may also note that Johnson is heard speaking in the other podcast in this article, the Pessimists Archive.

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