- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Appropriately, there was a lot of lobbying, some politicking and a little competing at the first public meeting of the Congressional Chess Caucus last week, held in a committee room at the House Rayburn Office Building.

Assisted by former world champion Garry Kasparov, St. Louis chess patron extraordinaire Rex Sinquefield and a passel of young U.S. chess stars, the caucus got off to a nice bipartisan start as co-chairs Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay, a Democrat from St. Louis, and fellow Missouri Rep. Jason T. Smith, a Republican, lauded the role chess instruction can play in the schools as part of the national drive to promote the so-called “STEM” curriculum of science, technology, engineering and math.

The benefits of chess instruction for young minds — on logical thinking, discipline and study habits — have been amply demonstrated, and officials from the champ’s Kasparov Chess Foundation say that more than 3,500 schools in every state have requested the sample chess lesson plans it has devised.

“We hope to see this idea spread across the country,” said Mr. Smith. “The kids learn chess but end up learning so much more than just the knowledge of the game.”

Mr. Clay and Mr. Smith also made a pitch for a pet cause — proclaiming St. Louis the “chess capital of the United States.” The Senate approved that resolution in early May, but the House has yet to act.

Mr. Kasparov, perhaps the greatest player who ever lived, doesn’t compete at the board anymore, but he remains a central figure in the game. Like the lawmakers, he has his own election coming up: an August 11 contest with nemesis and longtime FIDE chief Kirsan Ilyumzhinov for the presidency of the troubled international chess federation. As the lawmakers and young stars mingled, the ever-voluble and dynamic Mr. Kasparov talked about chess education, the upcoming race and a few other topics. Some excerpts:

On chess in the schools: “It is clear that our educational system as a whole is badly in need of reform. The current classroom structure is a 19th century model trying to teach children a 21st century curriculum. So much of the STEM curriculum is about pattern recognition, logical thinking and decision-making. Learning chess can be especially important in the early grades, before the mental hardware has been set. The fact that we now have this caucus and that we’re playing on Capitol Hill is, I think, a recognition of the role of chess in the mainstream of education.”

On the FIDE election: “The game has been hijacked. The organizational structure is antiquated, and the money that could come from the corporate world and private foundations isn’t there because of the reputation of the current leadership. There is an element of politics in everything, but really, my main goal is to take the politics out of the game as much as possible. When you see what a Rex Sinquefield can do for the game with the right leadership, that’s the kind of thing that should be happening everywhere and just isn’t. The next world championship [which will be held in Sochi, Russia, after no cities came forward with bids to host the event] is a symptom of what needs to be fixed.”

Kasparov said that despite bad blood in the past, he could work with the powerful Russian Chess Federation if his slate wins. “It’s up to the Russian Federation to decide whether it wants to be a positive force in the game,” he said, but added he was backing the Ukrainian chess federation in the dispute with its Russian counterpart over canceled tournaments and other issues related to the recent annexation of Crimea.

On the keys to the upcoming title match between Norwegian champion Magnus Carlsen and Indian challenger Viswanathan Anand: “There could be many keys, but the result will be the same” — i.e. a Carlsen victory.

The competitive highlight of the event was a serial team match between Democratic and Republican lawmakers, with Mr. Sinquefield and Mr. Kasparov playing the first half-dozen moves. (White’s unconventional 5. Bb5 in this, um, Irregular Closed Sicilian drew an audible intake of breath from Mr. Kasparov.)

The quality of the subsequent play was not exactly world-class, with Mr. Clay, Mr. Smith and their colleagues relying heavily on the “coaching” of the junior stars, including 16-year-old Utah GM Kayden Troff and 13-year-old NM Ashritha Eswaran, fresh from her appearance in the U.S. Women’s National Championship. The best chess player on the Hill may just be House Chaplain Barry Black, who took over White for the Democrats around Move 15 and tried his best to resurrect a pretty ugly position.

But the pollsters said this was shaping up as a Republican year, and the GOP score was perhaps a bellwether win here, with Mr. Kasparov tag-teaming with Mr. Smith and fellow Missouri Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer for the victory.

There was even some intriguing chess to dissect. White’s pieces get bollixed up on the back rank, and Black took advantage on 14. Bd1 (not a pretty move, but the computer actually likes it) dxe5 15. Nxe5?! Nxe5 16. Qxe5 Bf6!, inviting 17. Qxc5? Nxb3! 18. cxb3 Bd4+, pinning the queen.

There followed 17. Qe3 Qe8! (My first thought watching the game was that 17 Nf3+?! 18. Bxf3 Bd4 wins again, but 19. Bxb7 Ra7 20. Bf3 Bxe3+ 21. dxe3 gives White a very playable game.) 18. Kh1! (the chaplain’s move, putting the kibosh on any pin tricks). Qc6 19. Rg1 e5!, rightly opening up the game with White so underdeveloped. Black has a big edge, but it turns out the game isn’t quite over.

After 20. fxe5 (Ne2 Nxe2 21. Qxe2 [Bxe2? exf4 22. Qxf4 Bxb2] exf4 22. Bxf6 Rxf6 is good for Black) Rae8 21. exf6!? (rolling the dice; not much better was the defensive 21. Ne2 Bxe5 22. Nxd4 Bxd4 23. Bxd4 Rxe3 24. Bxe3 Qc7) Rxe3 22. dxe3 (see diagram), Black could have clinched things with 22. Re8! 23. exd4 (f7+ Kxf7 24. Bh5+ g6 25. exd4 gxh5 26. d5 Qd6) Qxg2+! 24. Rxg2 Re1 mate. Instead, on the game’s 22, b4?!, White in turn could have obtained a puncher’s chance of surviving with 23. Nd5! Qxd5 24. exd4 cxd4 25. Bf3 Qd7 26. fxg7 Rd8 27. Bxb7 Qxb7 28. Rcd1 Qxg7.

But after the game’s 23. exd4? bxc3 24. fxg7 Re8 25. Bxc3, White’s positional problems become insurmountable on 25. Re3! 26. Bd2 Rh3! (threatening 27, Qc7 with unstoppable mate on h2) 27. Bf4 Qe4, when 28. Bg3 (Bc7 cxd4 29. c4 Qe3) loses to 28. Rxg3 29. hxg3 Qe3 30. Bh5 Qxg3. The competitive portion of the game concludes with 28. Bf3 Qxf4 29. gxh3 Bxf3!? (winning, but 29, Qxf3+ 30; Rg2 Qxg2 mate was a tad quicker). 30. Rg2 Bxg2+ (and here 30, Qxc1 mate had its points). 31. Kxg2 Qxc1, and being up a full queen gives Black a clear edge. White struggled on a few more moves before conceding.

1st Congressional Chess Tournament, June 2014

White: Sinquefield, Clay, Black, Fattah

Black: Kasparov, Smith, Lutkemeyer

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. f4 e6 4. Nf3 Nd4 5. Bb5 a6 6. Be2 Ne7 7. O-O Nec6 8. b3 Be7 9. Ba3 O-O 10. Rc1 b5 11. Bb2 Bb7 12. Qe1 f5 13. e5 d6 14. Bd1 dxe5 15. Nxe5 Nxe5 16. Qxe5 Bf6 17. Qe3 Qe8 18. Kh1 Qc6 19. Rg1 e5 20. fxe5 Rae8 21. exf6 Rxe3 22. dxe3 b4 23. exd4 bxc3 24. fxg7 Re8 25. Bxc3 Re3 26. Bd2 Rh3 27. Bf4 Qe4 28. Bf3 Qxf4 29. gxh3 Bxf3+ 30. Rg2 Bxg2+ 31. Kxg2 Qxc1 32. dxc5 Kxg7 33. c6 Qd2+ 34. Kg3 Qd6+ 35. Kf3 Qxc6+ 36. Kg3 Kg6 37. c3 Qxc3+ 38. Kf4 and White resigns

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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