- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

He has taught at Harvard and Princeton, co-authored a standard textbook on international macroeconomics and, as chief economist for the International Monetary Fund, holds what may be his profession's ultimate plum job. His growing backlist of pathbreaking research papers may even win him a Nobel Prize someday.
Yet all a chess player can think to ask is: Whatever happened to Ken Rogoff?
"I keep up with the major tournaments and a few old chess friends like Kim Commons and Andy Soltis, but my interaction with the game these days is pretty limited," says the man who was the brightest American chess star to emerge in the generation following Bobby Fischer. "Since I came to Washington with the IMF six months ago, it's been really thin."
The Rochester, N.Y., native says he has to limit his exposure to the game because he still loves it not wisely, but too well.
"I think part of me will always be hard-wired for chess. In time, I just found it so addictive that I had to get away if there's going to be any room in my brain for other creative work. If I went up to Dupont Circle for a quick game, even a not very good game, my mind would be going over the moves for hours afterward."
When he walked away from chess for good after the 1980 IBM tournament in Amsterdam, Rogoff was one of the game's elite, a three-time U.S. junior champion, winner of several strong international events and, at 22, the youngest participant at the 1976 world championship interzonals in Biel, Switzerland. (He finished in a tie for 13th, behind winner Bent Larsen of Denmark.)
He finished as high as second in the U.S. championships and received his grandmaster title in 1978. When he left the game to focus on his academic work, he was rated 40th in the world with no younger player ahead of him in the standings.
Rogoff says another reason he has largely stayed away from the game for more than two decades is that chess and academic research demand very different skills.
The road to academic success "is to write maybe nine papers that no one pays any attention to. Then you write one that everyone says is crazy, but after the years pass, everyone eventually agrees you were right. The idea is to really think outside the box.
"In top-level chess, however, if you play nine bad games and one great one, you may win the brilliancy prize, but you're also in last place," he says. "In chess, there's a great premium on steadiness and control."
The grandmaster says he looks forward to working with school chess clubs someday for his two young children, Gabriel and Juliana, but doesn't foresee a return to top-level competition. Like a savvy policy-maker, though, he won't close off the option. "Never say never," he notes.
To get a sense of the chess world's loss, we have two Rogoff games to offer. The first was the title-clinching game from the 1969 U.S. Junior Championship and actually was analyzed by Bobby Fischer for his old Boys' Life chess column. (This was a very long time ago.) The second was featured in "American Chess Masters," a 1974 book by Arthur Bisguier and Andrew Soltis that hailed Rogoff as "the most promising young American since Fischer roamed the Manhattan Chess Club in sneakers."
Rogoff describes himself as an "active positional player," but Fischer praised his "self-assured style and his knowing exactly what he wanted over the chessboard."
Against Californian Steve Spencer, the 16-year-old Rogoff punishes Black's time-wasting 11…b6 12. Bg5 b5?! in impressive fashion, building up a big space advantage before smashing through: 16. Qe5 Qxe5? (the losing move; Fischer says Black may hold on with 16…Nd5, but White retains a marked edge) 17. Nxe5 (threatening both the c-pawn and 18. Bxf6 Bxf6 19. Nd7, winning the exchange) Rfc8 (see diagram) 18. Nxf7!.
The White bishops spring to life, and Black folds quickly: 18…Kxf7 19. Rxe6! Ne8 (Nd5 20. Rxc6! Rxc6 21. Bxd5+ Re6 22. Bxa8 leaves White three pawns up) 20. Rf6+. The mate was a trifle quicker on 20. Re1+ Kf8 21. Be7 mate, but White's move is also fatal: 20…Ke7 21. Rf7+ Kd6 22. Bf4+ Be5 23. Bxe5 mate. Spencer resigned.
Against Scotland's David Levy (a future IM and computer chess pioneer) in a game from the 1970 World Student Olympiad, Rogoff shows himself equally at home in more irrational positions, exploiting the impertinent Black queen's invasion for his own purposes.
A Black inaccuracy opens the way for a powerful White counterstroke: 22. Qf1 Nb3?! (Bh6!, trading bishops, was distinctly preferable) 23. Bf4 Qa1 24. Rc2 e6 25. Bd6!.
White threatens mate on the spot (26. Nc7 mate) and 25…exd5 opens the e-file to lethal effect. Rogoff runs the Black queen to ground after 28. Bd3 Qc6 29. Rc2 Qxc2 (Qb7 30. Ba6; or 29…Qa8 30. Rxc8+ Qxc8 31. Nc7+ Kd8 32. Ba6 Qb8 33. Nxe6+, winning the queen) 30. Bxc2 Rxc2, but White also had to have 31. Qa6! in reserve to ensure a clear material edge.
With mate on c8 threatened, Levy can't save his bishop. In the final position, 33…Rc8 34. Qb7 Rd8 35. Qxd5 Nd4 36. Qg5! is one way to bring home the point. Levy gave up.

U.S. Junior Championship, New York, 1969
1. e4g611. Qe2b6
2. d4Bg712. Bg5b5
3. Nc3c613. Bb3a5
4. Nf3d514. a3Ba6
5. h3dxe415. Rfe1e6
6. Nxe4Nd716. Qe5Qxe5
7. Bc4Ngf617. Nxe5Rfc8
8. Nxf6+Nxf618. Nxf7Kxf7
9. 0-00-019. Rxe6Ne8
10. c3Qc720. Rf6+Black

Student Olympiad, Haifa, Israel, 1970
Rogoff Levy
1. Nf3c518. Bb1Rd8
2. c4g619. Qe2g4
3. d4cxd420. Bd2Ba4
4. Nxd4Bg721. Re1Nd4
5. e4Nc622. Qf1Nb3
6. Be3Nf623. Bf4Qa1
7. Nc3Ng424. Rc2e6
8. Qxg4Nxd425. Bd6Rc8
9. Qd1Ne626. Ra2Qd4
10. Qd2Qa527. Rd1Qxc4
11. Rc1b628. Bd3Qc6
12. Bd3Bb729. Rc2Qxc2
13. 0-0g530. Bxc2Rxc2
14. a3Qe531. Qa6exd5
15. b4Rc832. Qxa4Rc3
16. Nd5Bc633. Qxa7Black
17. Rfd1h5resigns

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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