Posts Tagged ‘Ju Wenjun’

I once worked at an ad agency with an artistic gentleman who brought more flair to his life than everyone working for Paper Mate. J5 was never at a loss for something to say. If he was at a loss, he would fall back on a Swiss army knife catchphrase, good for the office, the opera, the 50-yard line, or a chess match:

WHAT the FUCK is UP with THAT?!

Today, in the final round of regulation chess, Magnus Carlsen, playing black, built up an enormous advantage against Fabiano Caruana — and then offered the challenger a draw.

WHAT the FUCK is UP with THAT?!

I’ll tell you what the fuck is up with that. Carlsen, the world champion of tournament chess, rapid chess, and blitz chess, decided ahead of time that he would bluff. He would force a draw and take his chances in the playoffs, where he and Caruana will decide the title by playing rapid and, if necessary, blitz.

Caruana, looking down the barrel of an attack that even I might have been able to bring home, was surprised. He accepted the offer.

Hungarian Grandmaster Judit Polgár, the World Chess commentator for the games, the former #1 woman chess player in the world and the only woman to defeat a ruling men’s world champion, had a different explanation for the draw offer: “Carlsen was afraid.”

Garry Kasparov, the world champion Polgár defeated and the man who once compared women chess players unfavorably to “circus puppets,” agreed with her:

In light of this shocking draw offer from Magnus in a superior position with more time, I reconsider my evaluation of him being the favorite in rapids. Tiebreaks require tremendous nerves and he seems to be losing his.

This result makes this championship the first championship in the history of chess where every game was tied. This result lowers chess to the level of checkers, where the 1863 world checkers championship ended with all 40 games drawn. Most games of checkers at the master level are drawn because CHECKERS IS A SOLVED GAME, like Tic-Tac-Toe. This result makes chess look STUPID and BORING. And possibly FIXED, as the players make more money if the match goes into tie-breaks.

At the postgame press conference, a writer from ChessBase asked about that difference, “more money than a journalist makes in a year,” he added, to laughter. Mag Wheels, who looked grumpy and defensive, deflected the question. Fabio said, quietly, “I don’t care about the money.” You tell me who really wants this title.

On Wednesday, Carlsen and Caruana will play four games of rapid chess, with 25 minutes per side per game. If that doesn’t produce a winner, they’ll play two games of blitz, 5 minutes each.

If they still haven’t gotten anywhere after all that, they’ll go to something called Armageddon.

When I first heard about Armageddon, I imagined the players fighting with meat cleavers in scuba gear. Nope. It’s one game, no weapons or costumes. Mag Wheels, playing white, would get 5 minutes. Fabio would get 4, but he would only have to draw to win. The odds of the match going to Armageddon, as calculated by Oliver Roeder, chess correspondent for, are about the same as the soundproof booth where they play being invaded by a sharknado.

If I had known how this match was going to go, I would’ve written about the women’s world chess championship, a knock-out tournament that began earlier this month with 64 circus puppets and ended in an exciting four-game match with the reigning champ, Ju Wenjun of China, defeating Kateryna Lagno of the Ukraine. But I thought Carlsen-Caruana was where the action was. I fucked up. I trusted them.

Even if Carlsen wins, his reputation will be forever tarnished. He’ll be the champion who was too afraid of losing his celebrity and his clothing line to fight like a champion. You think Ju Wenjun would pull a stunt like this? How about hell no?

Enough grumbling. Let’s look at two chess players who aren’t afraid of whaling on each other. R. Praggnanandhaa is 13. He was a grandmaster before he was a teenager. Here he plays blitz against former world champion Viswanathan Anand. Pragg and Vishy fight like they’re on a tightrope, with both sides ready to topple on every move.

I have never seen such composure from a boy this age.

See you Wednesday. Watch out for sharks.




When I was starting out in chess, when Victoria was on the throne and Britannia ruled the waves, the U.S. Chess Federation had a simple philosophy: Chess is for old white males.

This wasn’t the USCF’s mission statement, but it might as well have been, because in 1967, when I played in my first tournament, everybody behind a board was old, white, and male. The tournament was a knock-out type. My friend Jeff and I lost to old white males in our first round and were knocked out. I had to call my Dad to come pick us up, and he’d only dropped us off 20 minutes before. He had just settled in for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. None of the old white males seemed unhappy to see us leave.

Somewhere in the late 1970s, the USCF’s leaders must’ve realized that if you don’t develop chess players when they’re young, who will play chess in the future? And how will you keep your jobs? Suddenly there were tournaments for children, and that meant tournaments for all children, regardless of gender, race, creed, or national origin.

One of the early financial backers of this work was Yoko Ono. Ono loves chess and even created a chess set in 1966, called Play It By Trust. Other distinguished 20th-century artists who played chess: The American Man Ray, who could take it or leave it, and the Frenchman Marcel Duchamp, whose career in art was derailed by the game. “I am still a victim of chess,” he wrote to a friend in the 1930s. He was speaking for millions of people over the past 1,500 years.

In the 1990s, while living in Seattle, I coached an elementary school chess club for Chess Mates. (Here in Portland, Oregon, I volunteer with Chess for Success.) We distributed buttons to our students that said CHESS MAKES YOU SMART. Everybody likes a good button. You feel like you’re on a cool team. But does chess actually increase your intelligence? I suppose there’s research to back this claim, but as a lifelong player and teacher and a person who vividly remembers his childhood, here’s what I believe are the reasons kids should play chess:

Chess teaches you to sit still, shut up, and think. This gets you ready to do your homework, do more reading, and do what you need to do to hold a job.

Chess gives you a way to interact with adults you’re not related to. You’ll meet them on a playing field where all that counts is how good you are. You’ll learn how to look an adult in the eye and carry on a conversation. (To any child reading this: Are you regularly beating adults? Don’t get cocky, kid.)

Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana were already grandmasters by the time they got to 14, and that’s something you do with immense natural talent and private coaches, not with 20 kids from eight different grades in an after-school program. But they didn’t look particularly smart today. After yesterday’s draw, which was as multifaceted and arresting as the Orion Nebula, today’s draw was more of a moth-eaten red dwarf. Maybe Mag Wheels and Fabio left everything on the road in the last game. In chess, moving first gives you a solid advantage, but I’ve never seen so many games where that advantage was null and void almost as soon as it happened.

To end on a more upbeat note, here’s the cover of a European magazine, New in Chess, from last May. The Women’s World Championship has an even more byzantine structure than I knew, as the current tournament is the second women’s world go-around of the year. No matter. I’m showing you this cover because I love it:


And I’ll bet that Yoko loves it, too.