Garry Kasparov Plays in Harlem

10/7/2008 – Recently, the gaze that used to make top grandmasters shake was focused on grade-school kids. The Harlem Children's Zone and the Kasparov Chess Foundation brought the best local players and the former world champion together in an unforgettable event. Hundreds of people came to watch Kasparov's simul and to participate in the First Harlem Children's Zone Chess Festival.

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Garry Kasparov at the Harlem Children's Zone

Just because Garry Kasparov is retired from chess doesn't mean he doesn't still enjoy pushing a few pawns now and then. While the super-GMs battling to succeed him as the world's dominant player were fighting it out Bilbao, Kasparov was headed to New York City for a very different challenge. His Kasparov Chess Foundation has teamed up with the revolutionary Harlem Children's Zone, a remarkable anti-poverty and education initiative. The Zone was recently visited by Barack Obama, who praised the program and its president Geoffrey Canada in a speech last year.


Garry Kasparov and HCZ President Geoffrey Canada.


Click image for a larger version of this panoramic photo.

The First Harlem Children's Zone Chess Festival on September 28 featured free chess lessons, a free drawing for 300 chess sets and T-shirts, problem-solving contests, and a free kids blitz tournament. The Kasparov Chess Federation is a non-profit educational organization that works with schools and communities across the United States to promote chess as a cognitive learning tool. For the past six years, the Foundation has been working with the Harlem Children's Zone, which has included its chess-teaching methods in several of its afterschool programs, including those of its HCZ Promise Academy charter schools.

According to Michael Khodarkovsky, President of the Kasparov Chess Foundation, "The Harlem Children's Zone Chess Festival recognizes the importance of chess, and through cooperation between KCF and Harlem Children's Zone, is making it easily accessible to the entire community."

"Boys and girls in our chess program have been placing at the top of city, state and national tournaments," said Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone. "But more importantly, these kids are giving their minds an incredible workout, developing important analytical and organizational skills."

Kasparov was on the scene to give a 20-board simul against the areas top young players, including US Girls' National Champion Medina Parrilla, who was on board one. Kasparov also handed out the trophies for a tournament that took place on the same day. The turnout at the 125th St. site was amazing, with well over 500 people coming to see their local chess heroes take on the legend. After the scheduled festivities Kasparov spent another 40 minutes signing autographs, which were applied to boards, books, clocks, scoresheets, and just about anything some of the unprepared visitors could find.


J'adoube like a world champion! Girls' national champ Medina Parrilla waits.

If the simul games themselves weren't a challenge you couldn't tell by looking at Kasparov. It's been a long time since we saw all of his trademark grimaces and the looks of deep concentration he used to employ against Anand and Kramnik. The kids would all walk away knowing what it was like to face one of the greatest ever. Kasparov used a little over three hours to reach the perfect 19-0 score (one no-show) he always wants no matter the opposition.

Some champions of the past enjoyed playing wild, speculative chess in their simultaneous exhibitions, including Kasparov's childhood hero Alexander Alekhine. But Kasparov considers such behavior borderline unprofessional, even though he has now been retired from chess for three and a half years. He considers it his duty to his opponents and the audience to play his best and to try to put up a perfect score, so solid play is usually the order of the day on every board.

Of course there are always opportunities for the occasional flourish. On several occasions Kasparov stood facing a mystified opponent for as long as three or four minutes, contemplating deep sequences few others on the planet would even notice. More often then not he rejected these flights of fancy, but these long pauses certainly caused the crowd to buzz! (Reminding us of a similar moment in Kasparov's 1999 AltaVista television commercial. Ironically, you can watch it at the Google video site.) Board two finished abruptly.

Kasparov,Garry - Jonathan [B50]
Harlem Children's Zone Simul, 28.09.2008
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.c3 Nf6 4.Bd3 g6 5.Bc2 Bg7 6.d4 cxd4 7.cxd4 Nc6 8.h3 0-0 9.0-0 Qc7 10.Nc3 a6 11.Be3 b5 12.Rc1 Bb7 13.d5 Na5 14.Bd4 Nd7 15.Bb1 Rfc8 16.Bxg7 Kxg7 17.b3 Qb6 18.Qd2 Rc7 19.Ne2 Rac8 20.Rxc7 Rxc7 21.Ng3 Ne5 22.Kh2

22...Bc8? 22...Nxf3+ 23.gxf3 Nf5+ and Nh5+ are strong threats. 23.Nxe5 dxe5 24.f4 f6. 24...exf4 25.Qxf4 f6 26.e5 f5 27.d6. 25.fxe5 fxe5 26.Nh5+ and because of 26...gxh5 27.Qg5+ Qg6 28.Qxe5+ Kg8 29.Qxc7 Qd6+ 30.Qxd6 exd6 1-0. [Click to replay]

Kasparov didn't hesitate when asked afterwards which game had been the toughest. Rochelle Ballantyne had maintained the balance with solid play until finally being blitzed off the board when there were only three opponents remaining. (The other two survivors, fellow girls Medina Parrilla and Darrian Robinson, had been in trouble for quite a while.) It's almost unfair for the poor simul participants as their neighbors get knocked off and the master starts coming around faster and faster. Instead of having 5-6 minutes to think you find yourself blitzing against Garry Kasparov just when the position is at its most complicated! But congratulations to Rochelle and to all the players for putting up a good fight.


Rochelle Ballantyne getting a lonely feeling

Kasparov,Garry - Ballantyne,Rochelle [D11]
Harlem Children's Zone Simul, 09.12.2008

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.Qc2 Bg4 5.Ne5 Bh5 6.cxd5 Qxd5 7.e3 Nbd7 8.Nc3 Qa5 9.Nc4 Qc7 10.e4 e5 11.Be3 exd4 12.Bxd4 Bc5 13.Bxc5 Nxc5 14.f3 0-0 15.Qf2 Qe7 16.Be2 b5 17.Na5 Rac8 18.a3 Rfd8 19.0-0 Ne6 20.Rfd1 Qc7 21.Nb3 Nf4 22.Bf1 a5 23.Nc5 Ng6?!

24.Rac1. 24.g4 was just the sort of move to avoid in a simul. White wins a piece but has an open king. 24...Bxg4 (24...Nxg4 25.fxg4 Bxg4 26.Be2) 25.fxg4 Nxg4 26.Qg3 N4e5. 24...Ne5 25.Be2 Qe7 26.h3 h6 27.a4 b4 28.Nb1 Rxd1+ 29.Rxd1 Rd8 30.Nd2 Nfd7 31.Nb7 Ra8 32.Nb3 Qe6 33.Qe3 f5 34.N3c5 Nxc5 35.Nxc5 Qa2 36.Qd4 Re8 37.exf5 Bf7 38.f4 Nc4 39.Ne6 Bxe6 40.fxe6 Nxb2 41.Rd2 Qb1+ 42.Kh2 Nxa4 43.Bh5 g6 44.Qf6 1-0. [Click to replay]


Kasparov during the simul in Harlem


Geoffrey Canada and KCF president Michael Khodarkovsky.


Joshua Colas was one of the youngest participants but far from the lowest-rated.


Rochelle Ballantyne and Nigel and Jehron Bryant. Or Jehron and Nigel?


Malachi Myers and family


Terrell Roberts with a souvenir


Darrian Robinson held out till the end


2008 US Girls' Champion Medina Parrilla


Rochelle Ballantyne with her score and a Kasparov signature


Jerald Times coordinates the KCF program at the HCZ. You may remember him.

Harlem Children's Zone, Inc., is an internationally renown not-for-profit, offering education, social-service and community-building services to children and families in Central Harlem. Founded in 1970 as Rheedlen, the agency began the innovative, holistic Harlem Children's Zone Project in 2000, aiming to serve 10,000 children within a 100-block area of Central Harlem by 2011. The HCZ Project was called "one of the most ambitious social-policy experiments of out time," by The New York Times Magazine. Canada and the organization have received numerous awards and attention in the media. The organizations work has been profiled by The New York Times, 60 Minutes, The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, the Associated Press and The Charlie Rose Show, among others.

Photos and report by Mig Greengard


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