New York 2016: In the Epicenter

by Albert Silver
11/12/2016 – The first day, the first game, what did the players have in store for us? Common sense said there would be cautious play by the player as they tried to see what their opponent had in store for them for the match. To the surprise of many, Carlsen’s weapon of choice was the Trompowsky, though not much came of it as they drew in 42 moves. Many are taking advantage of the match to promote chess activities such as the 100-year-old Marshall Chess Club.

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Report and photos by Albert Silver

It was certainly The Moment, with a capital T and capital M, that everyone had been waiting for. Magnus Carlsen would have white in game one, and although he has never really had the reputation for cutting-edge killer opening novelties as Kasparov was so famous for, this doesn’t mean poor preparation. It has just run along the lines of a different philosophy: prepare in detail, mostly seeking to set up positions where he has chances to build for something, while knowing the plans and themes in the position in a depth that would naturally lead him to a lingering edge at worst.

The Trompowsky was the flavor of the day, and while not unheard of for Magnus, nor was it what the majority expected. Present at the grand opening of the match were the main sponsors, the organizer, and actor Woody Harrelson.

Whether there was a significant chess connection with the actor is unknown, but he unquestionably brought a healthy dose of star power. His career was launched as the slow-witted barkeep in the hit series Cheers from the 80s, and interestingly of the entire crew, he was the one who best penetrated the motion picture business after an unexpectedly good performance in the comedy “White Men Can’t Jump” (highly recommended) co-starred with Wesley Snipes, which led him to a role in Oliver Stone’s film “Natural Born Killers” shortly thereafter.

The first moves and it was a Trompowsky. In the background are (left to right): EG Capital Advisor CEO Michael Stanton, AGON CEO Ilya Merenzon, actor Woody Harrelson who made the symbolic opening move, and PhosAgro CEO Andrey Guryev. (photo by Vanessa Sun)

The media presence was huge, and the media room itself was packed with a magnificent view of the pier from the large windows

FIDE press officer Anastasiya Karlovich, who also conducts the press conferences with a steady hand, is seated at her computer with RCF photographer and reporter Vladimir Barsky behind her

Unfortunately, the media room was so packed that not only was I unable find a seat at a table, but there was not even room on the floor. This caused no small amount of consternation, since although there was certainly WiFi in other areas of the venue such as the Café, there are no electric plugs to power a laptop. So where did I work? From the production room with makeup! Needless to say, I was not allowed and was directed to the media area, but I explained my quandary and appealed to them. "look at how small I am! I take up no space!" --- laughter and I was made a small room at the makeup table. My warmest thanks to the producton team for being such a sport about it.

There are two spectator areas: one for normal visitors, and the other for the VIPs. They both share a space with glass panes that offer views to either side of the playing area. The space for the ‘common’ spectators is a dark black room, standing room only, with a cordon separating the viewers from the glass panes. The panes are also darkened, no doubt in such a way as to not have the players distracted by the spectators, but the side effect is also a seriously reduced visibility making it seem as if one were viewing it with strong sunglasses. As there is also a healthy distance between the panes and the playing table, it is not unfair to say it is much less than idea, especially with no chairs of any kind.

The above image might seem to show a nice intimate view of Magnus Carlsen, but bear in mind it was taken with a telezoom lens nearly glued to the glass, and then retouched in Photoshop to improve clarity

Many end up staying in the Café area where it is bright, with light, a good WiFi signal, food and drink, and tables to sit at. These are all well-populated with chess boards to enjoy, and screens with the boards and live commentary by Judit Polgar and her hosts.

There is no shortage of interesting people to encounter there, and it was with pleasure that I ran into Laszlo Polgar and his wife, the parents of the Polgar sisters. Laszlo was eager to show his creation: Polgar Superstar chess, which is a fascinating chess variant with a board in a star formation, regular chess pieces, and some original moves of course. Above he explains it to GM Darcy Lima, the VP of FIDE Americas.

He tirelessly explained the moves, and patterns as well as mate conditions. More will follow on this unusual chess variant.

After the game, Magnus Carlsen elaborated that his prepared line of the Trompowsky bore similarities to the Catalan ending, with a difference on b7. Unfortunately, he acknowledged, this difference actually made it less venomous, and not more, and it would probably not be appearing again in the match.

Sergey Karjakin was quick to interject that Magnus should not be so fast, as he might have something to say about that. This garnered laughs even from Magnus.

Inevitably there was the matter of the dumb question of the day. And for game one the question was whether the recent election had inspired his opening choice alluding to Trump… Trumpowsky. The unspoken question is what kind of reaction they are hoping for. Everyone falling on the floor laughing? A spot on TV? Go figure.

Once the main part of the press conference was over, many Russian news outlets came to ask Karjakin questions. It must be said he looked far more at ease, even though his English is quite good and clear.

Later that evening I was told about an event being held at the Marshall Chess Club by the effervescent and irrespressible Vanessa Sun. She was incredibly nice and met with me earlier to take me there and be sure I did not get lost on the way.

The Marshall Chess Club, founded by the great American player from the turn of the previous century, Frank Marshall, is now celebrating its 101st year of existence. Held in small building where it has been since the 1930s in a very posh residential area, its financial security was ensured thanks to the generosity of rich benefactors who purchased the entire building and bequeathed it to the club. As a result, the club actually rents out the top two floors of the building, where two apartments per floor are located, and thus provides a regular source of revenue. These are spacious and extremely well-placed apartments in Manhattan, and without citing numbers, go for astronomical rates, rented out to the very wealthy.

The club was running a nine-round blitz tournament that was quite packed, in tribute to the World Championship. The winner of the event was GM Maxim Dlugy.

He was hardly the only grandmaster present, and in second place was GM Aleksandr Lendermann, who played in the US Championship earlier this year.

GM Irina Krush also had a great night, doing very well, and said she had been coming to the club since she was a little girl.

Irina was hardly the only female playing there, and above is Yvette Fannell

Among the young participants was Nico, who showed himself to be a fierce competitor

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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