Loyal readers regularly report feeling stoked or geeked after reading this column, and a new scientific study may explain why.
Neatly tying together this week’s themes of chess, Valentine’s Day and the Olympics, the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences (our new favorite magazine) reports that, contrary to popular media stereotypes, chess players are a daredevil, “sensation-seeking” lot and combat over the chessboard is associated with a rise in get this testosterone, not unlike the surge felt by those Salt Lake City hot dogs doing a “dinner roll” out of a half-pipe.
After studying more than 100 chess players in action, the journal found that “winning a game of chess is associated with a rise in testosterone, especially when the game is close, suggesting that winning corresponds to an experience of excitement and dominance.”
The study found that chess players scored high for both unconventional thinking and paranoia, “both of which have been shown to relate to sensation-seeking.”
Speaking of paranoia, former world champ Bobby Fischer has surfaced to deny widespread reports that he has been playing chess over the Internet under a pseudonym.
Alongside Fischer’s usual rants against America, the Jews and match-fixing (which by now provoke more sadness than anger), comes his recent statement to an Icelandic radio interviewer that the cyber-games attributed to him, including one that ran in this column four months ago, amount to just another false charge against him.
He told the interviewer he keeps up with current players but is devoting most of his time to his version of random chess, in which the pieces are shuffled along the back row.
And speaking of resurfacing, there is a much happier report: that chess has been revived in Afghanistan.
Some 138 players far more than the organizers anticipated showed up for the first tournament to be held in Kabul since the ouster of the Taliban regime, which had declared the game illegal in 1996.
Just how chess fell afoul of the fundamentalists isn’t clear because some of the first great players of the game were medieval Islamic scholars.
Patrick Cockburn, a reporter for the London Independent, reported earlier this month that the Taliban’s feared religious police would burn pieces and sets during their reign but that a thriving underground chess culture survived.
Russian-born U.S. GMs Gregory Kaidanov and Alexander Shabalov had a pleasant homecoming last week, landing in a five-way tie for first in the powerful Aeroflot Open in Moscow.
The event, sponsored by the national airline, was particularly strong because many of the top Russian masters who don’t play the international circuit were in the field. Even in its reduced post-Cold War state, the Russian chess bench remains the deepest in the world.
At 2596, the Kentucky-based Kaidanov ranked far down the wall chart, but he ended up taking the title on tie-breaks. Against Russian WGM Ekaterin3a Kovalevskaya, Kaidanov steadily outplayed his opponent from the Black side of an unusual sideline to the Ruy Lopez and finished things off in style.
The Ruy demands that players be alert on both sides of the board, and Black here finds several nice moves (18…Ra6!, activating the queen’s rook and preparing the counterattack in the center; and 36…Qa3!, disrupting the queen-side and winning a pawn) to take control.
Desperately seeking counterplay, Kovalevskaya seals her own fate: 42. h4 Rg8 43. hxg5 Rxg5 44. Qh3 Bc7 45. Nf4 (Nd4 is tougher, but Black breaks through in lines like 45…a4 46. Rf3 Qe5 47. Ne6 Rxe6! 48. fxe6 Rh5, winning) Bxf4 46. Rxf4 d4.
The Black d-pawns, which White long has struggled to contain, now break free, and the Black bishop comes into its own. After 49. Qh2 (see diagram; Black also wins on 49. Ra1 Rf7 50. Rxa5 e2! 51. Bxe2 Qc1+ 52. Kh2 Qc7+, forking king and rook), Kaidanov snuffs out White’s last hopes with 49…Bxg2+!, when it’s over on 50. Qxg2 Qh5+ 51. Kg1 Qxd1+ 52. Bf1 Rf8 53. Qe2 Qxe2 54. Bxe2 Rxf5. Kovalevskaya resigned.
Shabalov’s win over Russian GM Andrei Rychagov was a much closer call, as the American was saddled with a blocked and isolated d-pawn for much of the middle game. White’s 18. Rfd1 Qg5 19. Qe2?! is a bit of a surprise, for a queen trade brings Rychagov that much closer to a favorable endgame.
Shabalov excels in complications and gets the sharp game he wants after 25. Nxb3 Bxb3 26. Bc2 a4!? 27. Bxb3 axb3. The advanced Black b-pawn could become a target, but White seems to obsess over the pawn, allowing his overall position to drift into inferiority.
By 34. Ne2 Red8 35. Rxd8 Rxd8 (Qxb1+ 36. Rd1 Rc1?? 37. Nxc1 bxc1=Q 38. Qxb1) 36. Qa2 Rd2, White appears to have curled into a fetal position, while Black’s pieces dominate.
The awkward placing of the White queen permits a cute finish: 38. exd4 Qf5 39. f4 (Rf1 Rxf2! 40. Rxf2 b1=Q+, winning) Qe6!. Shabalov’s simple idea is that on 40. Qxe6 (d5 Qe2, and mate to come, while 40. Rxb2 allows 40…Qe1 mate) fxe6, White can’t prevent the Black rook from sliding over to c2 and down to c1, checking the king and creating a new queen. Rychagov resigned.
Aeroflot Open, Moscow, February 2002
1. e4e526. b4Ba7
2. Nf3Nc627. Qg4Ne3
3. Bb5a628. Bxe3dxe3
4. Ba4Nf629. Ne2Ba6
5. 0-0b530. b5Bc8
6. Bb3Bb731. Qg5Rhf6
7. d3Be732. Rac1Bb7
8. c4bxc433. a4Bb6
9. Bxc40-034. Qh4h6
10. Nc3d635. Qh5Qd6
11. a3Nd436. Kh1Qa3
12. Ba2a537. Rfd1Qxa4
13. Nxd4exd438. f5Qb4
14. Ne2c539. Rf1g5
15. f4d540. Rb1Qa3
16. e5Nd741. Rbd1Qe7
17. Qe1Kh842. h4Rg8
18. Qg3Ra643. hxg5Rxg5
19. Qf3f644. Qh3Bc7
20. exf6Raxf645. Nf4Bxf4
21. Ng3c446. Rxf4d4
22. dxc4Ne547. Rg4Qg7
23. Qe2Nxc448. Rxg5Qxg5
24. Bb1Bc549. Qh2Bxg2+
25. Bd3Rh6White resigns
Aeroflot Open, Moscow, February 2002
1. d4Nf621. h4Qf6
2. c4e622. a3Ba6
3. Nc3d523. Qg4Bc4
4. Bg5Be724. b4Nb3
5. e30-025. Nxb3Bxb3
6. Nf3h626. Bc2a4
7. Bh4b627. Bxb3axb3
8. Bd3c528. Rb1b2
9. 0-0cxd429. Nxd5Qe5
10. Nxd4Bb730. Qc4Kh7
11. Bxf6Bxf631. Qb3Qe4
12. cxd5exd532. Nf4b5
13. Nce2Nd733. Rd3Rc8
14. Rc1Nc534. Ne2Red8
15. Bb1a535. Rxd8Rxd8
16. Nf4g636. Qa2Rd2
17. Qg4Bg737. Nd4Bxd4
18. Rfd1Qg538. exd4Qf5
19. Qe2Rfe839. f4Qe6
20. g3Rad8White resigns
David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at email@example.com.