Friday, February 24, 2012

What US presidents have in common (Part 1)

ASIDE from being born leaders and a strong will to excel most American presidents play chess in their spare time.

Whatever role chess may have played in their political ascendancy no one will ever really know, but from the first, George Washington, to the 44th, Barack Obama, there are stories about their indulgence in the sport with varying degrees of skill and passion.

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George Washington (1732-1799), 1st US President, played chess and owned an ivory chess set that is now housed in the US National Museum in Washington, DC When asked by an associate what entertaintment he had, George replied “I read, my lady, and write, and play chess….”

John Adams (1735-1826), 2nd US President, taught his son, John Quincy Adams, to play chess. He wrote in his autobiography that his evenings were devoted to music, cards, chess, and backgammon.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), 3rd US President, collected chess sets. Friends gave him chess sets or he gave them chess sets as presents. When he moved into Monticello, he was concerned about his ivory chess sets that had disappeared in the move.

James Madison (1751-1836), 4th US President, was a chess player who played several games against Thomas Jefferson.

James Monroe (1758-1831), 5th US President, was a chess player and purchased chess books from Thomas Jefferson. The James Monroe Museum in Virginia has a chess set that belonged to him.

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), 6th US President, was a chess player who collected chess sets. He said that chess was the best way to occupy time during long sea

Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), 7th US President, was described as an excellent chess player. He would sometimes observe his houseguests play chess and frequently directed the moves for one side or the other.

Martin Van Buren, 1782-1862), 8th US President, probably played chess, since his son was an avid player from an early age.

James K. Polk (1795-1849), 11th US President, wrote to Samuel Laughlin in 1844 : “From what Cave Johnson writes, I think the recent occurrances (sic), on the chess-board, have decidedly improved my prospects.”

Millard Fillmore (1800-1874), 13th US President, played chess but thought that chess was too sedentary and that sitting all day playing chess would make you crooked.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th US President, played an occasional game with Judge S. H. Treat, Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court in the White House.

Andrew Johnson (1808-1875), 17th US President, may have played chess and was also a checkers player.

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), 18th US President, played chess at his army outposts and sometimes traveled 10 miles from his post to find a chess player.

Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893), 19th US President, wrote about playing chess in his diary. He said “Somehow my faculties are so dull that nothing but chess seems to excite the attention…”.

James A. Garfield (1831-1881), 20th US President, was a strong chess player. An article in Chess Life in 2003 suggests that Garfield was perhaps the strongest chess player who was President.

Grover Cleveland (1837-1908), 22nd and 24th US President, was a chess player. In 1893, Cleveland consented to become a patron for the New York Chess Congress and presented to the winner of the tournament a gold medal.

Due to space limitations, I will write a concluding article on the rest of the American presidents who play(ed) chess next week.

As mentioned in my previous article on Nobel chess playing laureates, is there a correlation between great achievement and early exposure to chess?


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 24, 2012.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A timeless story of love and chess

LAST month we were treated to a spectacle of the city attempting to land in the Guinness book of world records with the world`s biggest chess tournament at the Cebu City Sports Center.

An interesting part of the event was the introduction where a chess game was played by people in full costume, the Spaniards as white pieces and the natives as black. It was awesome and spectacular and the crowd loved it.

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Also last month we had the Sinulog grand parade and street dancing, which is a sight to behold specially for first timers.

This being Valentine’s week ,we are also celebrating love.

Like coffee, this week`s article is a 3-in-1--love, love, human chess game and grand parade.

And this can only happen in Marostica, Italy.

I wrote about this story years ago: I write about it again but this time with a different twist.

The medieval town of Marostica holds a unique pageantry every even year in the second weekend of September, when a live chess game is played on a giant (20 x 20 meters) chess board at the Piazza Castello (popularly known as Piazza degli Scacchi, meaning Plaza of Chess) in front of the local castle.

This pageantry started in 1923, making it much older than our Sinulog.

About 500 residents of the town dressed in traditional 15th century costume take part in this pageant and re-enact the legend of circa 1454 when two noblemen , Rinaldo D’Angarano and Vieri da Vallonara were in love with Lionora, the elder daughter of the Lord of Marostica.

As was the custom at that time, they challenged each other to a duel to win the hand of Lionora.

The Lord of Marostica, not wanting to make an enemy of either suitor or lose them in a duel, forbade the encounter.

Instead he decreed that the two rivals would play a chess game, knowing that both suitors were avid chess players, and the winner would have the hand of Lionora. The loser of the chess game would also join the family by marrying her younger sister, Oldrada.

He ordered that the game take place on the square in front of the Lower Castle, with armed living persons carrying the ensigns of Whites and Blacks and played in the presence of the Lord, his daughters Lionora and Oldrada and the Lords of Angarano and Vallonara.

With them were noblemen and their ladies, the herald, the master of arms, falconers, pageboys, maidens, standard holders, musicians, farmers and their wives, the Whites and Blacks with their kings and queens, rooks and knights, bishops and pawns and the two suitors, who decided the moves.

There is no record to tell us how Oldrada felt about being the consolation prize but, according to legend, Lionora was in love with one of the two men.

Lionora told a servant that, if the “right” man won the game, she would place a lighted candle in her window so that the people of the town would know that she was happy.

On Sept. 12, townsfolk dressed in black or white representing the kings, queens, bishops and other pieces and real horses, magnificently appareled, represented the knights.

Eventually, Vieri da Vallonara won the game. The town celebrated with music,dancing and other entertainments and that night, a candle burned in Lionora’s window.

This event is repeated today just like the first time, in a framework of sumptuous
costumes, multi-color banners, martial parades, exquisite elegance just like our Sinulog.

It is held every second Friday, Saturday and Sunday of September of “even” years. The orders are still given to the cast today in the local dialect.

It is one of the favorite destination of chess-playing tourists visiting Italy.


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 17, 2012.

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Judit Polgar loses……….to a woman

Judit Polgár (born July 23, 1976) is by far the strongest female chess player in history. In 1991, Polgár achieved the title of Grandmaster at the age of 15 years and 4 months, the youngest person ever to do so at that time.
Judit has never played in women's tournaments and has never competed for the Women's World Championship. "I always say that women should have the self-confidence that they are as good as male players, but only if they are willing to work and take it seriously as much as male players", she said.
The 2012 Gibraltar Chess Festival took place just recently from January 24 to February 3 and is the strongest Open in history . That is probably the reason why Judit is playing an Open tournament.
"There will be an historic clash at the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Masters in Round 7," wrote a bulletin reporter with a sense of tradition ("an historic"). "Women's World Champion Yifan Hou (China), rated 2605, will play white against Judit Polgar (Hungary), 2710, the highest-ever rated woman player in the history of the game. They have never previously met, as Judit doesn't play in women only events, and it is some years since she played in an open tournament."

When Yifan defeated Judit it made headlines in most websites. To my recollection This is the 1st time that Judit has lost to another female.

Yifan had an amazing tournament enroute to a performance rating of 2892. Hou was in the lead going into the last round, but was caught in the 9th and final round by Nigel Short. They both scored 8 points in 10 games and Nigel grabbed the title in a blitz playoff. Facing six grandmasters rated above 2700 ,she scored four wins and two draws, including that historic win against Judit.

Judit and her 2 sisters, Sofia and Susan, were part of an educational experiment carried out by their father László Polgár, in an attempt to prove that children could make exceptional achievements if trained from a very early age.

"Geniuses are made, not born", was László's thesis. He and his wife Klara educated their three daughters at home mostly on chess. However, chess was not taught to the exclusion of everything else. Each of the sisters has several diplomas and speaks four to eight languages. Sofia is an International Master while Susan is also a Grandmaster.

Before age 13 Judit was already inside the top 100 players in the world and the British Chess Magazine declared, "Judit Polgár's recent results make the performances of Fischer and Kasparov at a similar age pale by comparison." Nigel Short called Judit, "one of the three or four greatest chess prodigies in history."

In 1993, Judit became the first woman to ever qualify for a Men's Interzonal tournament.
Judit has defeated nine current or former world champions in either rapid or classical chess: Anatoli Karpov, Garry Kasparov, Boris Spassky, Vasily Smyslov, Veselin Topalov, Viswanathan Anand, Ruslan Ponomariov, Alexander Khalifman, and Rustam Kasimdzhanov
In August 2000, Judit married Hungarian veterinary surgeon Gusztáv Font.They have two children, a boy named Oliver and a girl named Hanna

Since her marriage and eventually having a family,she has played on a selective basis. I think this is partly the reason why her playing skill has diminished.

Hou Yifan is herself an amazing chess prodigy.
Only 17, She is the reigning Women's World Chess Champion, the youngest ever to win the title, as well as the youngest female player ever to become GM.
At the age of 12, Hou became the youngest player ever to participate in the FIDE Women's World Championship (Yekaterinburg 2006) and the Chess Olympiad (Torino 2006),

Friday, February 3, 2012

What do Nobel prize winners have in common?

Aside from being highly intelligent and predominantly male (97.5%), you would be surprised to know that a great number of Nobel laureates play chess as their main hobby.

Baruch Aba Shalev, author of a book on the Nobel Prize, has said "the Nobel Prize has come to be regarded as the best-known and most prestigious award available in the fields of literature, medicine, physics, chemistry, peace and economics." Surprisingly, there is no award for mathematics.
The category of peace was added in 1969 and is awarded in Oslo, Norway, while the others are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden.
From the start "The Prize" (as it was sensationalized in Irving Wallace's 1960 novel) became one of the most sought-after awards in the world, and eventually the yardstick against which other prizes and recognition were to be measured.
Each recipient, or laureate, receives a gold medal, a diploma, and a sum of money which depends on the Nobel Foundation's income that year. In 2011, each prize was worth US$1.46 million
The prizes were instituted by Alfred Nobel who made a fortune when he patented his discovery of dynamite and then sold the patents .Nobel could hardly have imagined the almost mythic status that would accrue to the laureates.
You will also be surprised ,like myself, to realize that At least 185 Jews and people of half- or three-quarters-Jewish ancestry have been awarded the Nobel Prize, accounting for 22% of all individual recipients worldwide. Of organizations awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, 25% were founded principally by Jews. The percentage of the Jews in the world is less than 0.2 %.
An interesting fact is that most of the Nobel Prize winners who played chess were in the fields of physics, literature and economics.

Here are the Nobel chess-playing laureates :Albert Einstein (physics), Albert Michelson (physics), Heike Kamerlingh Onnes (physics), Max Planck (physics), Carl Wieman (physics), Zhores Alferov (physics), William Lawrence Bragg (physics), Percy Bridgman (physics), Richard Feynman (physics), Peter Kapitza (physicist), Sinclair Lewis (literature), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (literature), William Yeats (literature), Elias Canetti (literature), John Cockroft (literature), Samuel Beckett (literature), Ivo Andric (literature), Isaac Singer (literature), Henryk Sienkiewicz (literature), William Golding (literature), John Steinbeck (literature), John Nash (economics), John Harsanyi (economics), Edward Prescott (economics), Gerard Debreu (economics), James Heckman (economics), Simon Herbert (economics), Dudley Herschbach (chemistry), Sir Robert Robinson (chemistry), Herbert Sir Frederick Soddy (chemistry), John Cornforth (chemistry), Bertrand Russell (literature), Bernard Katz (medicine).

Here are a few more avid chess players: Menachim Begin (Peace), William Henry Bragg (Physics), Willy Brandt (Peace ),Jimmy Carter (Peace), Mikhail Gorbachev (Peace),Winston Churchill (Literature), Al Gore (Peace ), Andre Gide (Literature), Edward Kendall (Medicine), Henry Kissinger (Peace), Robert Mundell (Economics), Pablo Neruda ( Literature), Barack Obama (Peace), Boris Pasternak (Literature), Theodore Roosevelt (Peace), Anwar Sadat (Peace ), George Bernard Shaw ( Literature), Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (Medicine), John Vane (Medicine), Woodrow Wilson (Peace ), Muhammed Yunus (Peace ).

Research on chess in schools demonstrates that playing chess helps children improve their logical and abstract thinking, decision-making and creativity. Might there be a correlation between great achievement and early exposure to chess?,