Geeks, Oddballs and Geniuses

3/7/2007 – When one or America's top sports writers takes on chess, we sit up an take notice. Michael Weinreb, who writes for the New York Times and Newsday, describes a year spent with a Brooklyn High School chess team as it strives for a national championship. This description of the cultural milieu of the modern chess world makes for a fascinating read.

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Michael Weinreb

The Kings of New York: A Year Among the Geeks, Oddballs, and Genuises Who Make Up America's Top High School Chess Team

Gotham, March 1, 2007, Hardcover, 304 pages, $26.

In this thrilling, vigorously reported, deeply empathic book, Michael Weinreb, who has contributed articles about sports to The New York Times and Newsday, brings to vivid life a contemporary chess world suffused with its own updated version of nerd machismo, now wearing sweat pants and basketball sneakers and MP3 earbuds. It’s a world over which the insuperably arrogant boy-ideal of Bobby Fischer still hovers — only now there are girls.

The author has a gift for getting into the skin of his characters – moving in with them, in effect – and making them completely sympathetic. [Take] huge, monosyllabic, hip-hop-attired freshman Shawn Martinez. “Because of the way he looks, because of his sleepy visage and his slow drawl and the extra weight he carries, people have never taken Shawn to be much of an intellectual threat,” Weinreb says. “That’s why chess matters to him as much as anything else in his life.” It’s also why Martinez is frequently able to outhustle opponents in his specialty, blitz – lightning-fast chess, usually played for money.

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