Jerry and Kramer discuss chess

by ChessBase
2/20/2013 – If you happen to live on this planet chances are you have seen most of the 150 episodes of the Seinfeld show, a commercial blockbuster and cultural phenomenon that aired on NBC from 1989 to 1998 – and is now in syndication world-wide. The two lead actors, Jerry Seinfeld and Michael Richards ("Kramer"), were recently in a chat video, mostly discussing – chess. Don't miss this one.

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The video can be viewed on the web site called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. You can watch the whole 17-minute episode, as Seinfeld fans will certainly do, but people with no sentimental connection can jump to the chess part, which starts at around 8:00 minutes into the video. [Click on the above image to start it].

Jerry: I was thinking this morning – I swear to god – we would be rehearsing, something dumb would happen, or wierd, you would just go: "That was interesting!" And the wheels would start to turn.

Michael: That's how you play chess. He makes a move and you go "Hmm, that's interesting." I used to play chess. When I was in the army I was unbeatable, I was very good at it. With chess there's ratings. Chess master's about 2100, and I was playing a computer on a 2100 level.

So I'd been playing that machine for weeks, and then I happened to be out on Hollywood Boulevard, and I saw this man, tattered and dirty, a street person – he had a chess set. I said "you play chess?" and he said "I do, I do."

Jerry: A homeless guy...?

Michael: A homeless guy. I said: "I'll tell you what, I'll play you a game." He said: "Okay, I'll play you two games, I'll beat you two times and you can't play me no more."

He puts out his hands, see who's going to go first, Black, White... I pick and I'm White. That means I have the first move. I already have the advantage...

Jerry: You are sitting on the sidewalk?

Michael: I'm sitting on the sidewalk, down here like this. I move my piece out, he moves his piece out, very quickly, boom. I said "Oh, he stops that move..." So I move a knight out, he moves out a pawn, he moves out a bishop and in two minutes he got me on the defensive and then it's boom, checkkmate. He checkmated me in two minutes! Nobody has ever checkmated me in two minutes! Nobody. Not even the machine can checkmate me in two minutes.

So this time I said "Okay, let's play. Let's play chess." He makes me pick, I go first again. Okay, I lean in, he move out his knight, I move my bishop, bab-pa-bap, then checkmate! Faster than the first time. So now he's putting the stuff away, and I'm going "Come on, come on, let's play again," and he's going "Naw, I beat you two time, you can't play me no more." I'm following the guy down the street, "Come on let's play" and he goes "Naw, I don't wanna play, I don't wanna play." He wouldn't play me.

At home I called a friend who is a professional chess player. I said "Leon, I played a guy on the street, who beat me twice. He goes "Yes, you played a savant. When I'm in a tournament in a city I look for those guys, to play those guys." I said "You beat them?" and he goes "Never!". I said "God, can you get one of those guys in a tournament? Imagine!" He's says "You can't hold them in play, they're crazy. But they're unbeatable."

Jerry: So he could really beat the greatest chess player in the world!

Michael: Possibly. Most likely. He told me in the beginning: "I beat you two times, that's it. We don't play anymore. You can't play me anymore."

Jerry: Why would he set a rule like that?

Michael: Because he's done it over and over again, and he doesn't have a lot of time, to be fooling around with someone he can beat, so easily. That's probably why.

Jerry: What was it that he was able to do well that he could win so fast?

Michael: He saw the moves before they took place. This is where it gets a bit metaphysical. Perhaps you have to be ultimately crazy or disavaged from the kind of reality that we are all adjusting to. There are other kinds of reality, other kinds of zones to inhabit. Great artists have inhabited zones, and then it becomes a new paradigm. People go "Wow, he hasn't thought about going there."

I invented a chess board, I want to play in a round, so you are like in the north and the south pole, so you can play in all directions. That's when I had to stop playing chess.

The chess segment on chess ends at 12:00 minutes, but we it is well worthe watching the remaining five minutes, or in fact the entire video, especially if you have gone through 150 episodes of the Seinfeld show, repeatedly, and are sentimentally attached to all the characters.

Thanks to Juhani Mykkänen of Helsinki, Finland, for pointing us to this video.


Al Smith of San Francisco, CA, believes that if Michael Richards is referring to an encounter that happened in the 70s or early 80s, then maybe he ran into Jimmy Lazos, a 2350 rated master who once won the American Open.

Kevin Cotreau of Merrimack, NH, reminds us that although Michael Richards' narrative seems genuine enough, he sounds like the typical clueless player many of us have met: he thinks he was good, but has no idea that he was really terrible, only not as terrible as the other terrible guys he used to beat. Of course, we have all seen street players who are very strong, but clearly not the best on the planet.

Shaun Graham-Bowcaster of Oklahoma City, USA tells us that Michael Richard's comment about a computer and the 2100 master rating most likely refers to one of the various tabletop computer models and softwares that used the number such as the Fidelity 2100, and Chessmaster 2100. These were once very common, and that is why Kramer would have associated the number with a master rating.

William Shea of Hawaii says that in his experience chess players on the street are probably about 1500-1900 strength. "The only thing that really impresses me is how good they are at making illegal moves when they are in a losing position. The truth is the guys on the street are best at beating hobby players and just pulling fast ones from time to time."

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