Chess, I compare thee to a waterfall

by admin on April 17, 2013

I have now returned from my trip to the small town of Emory, Virginia, where I gave an invited lecture at Emory and Henry College, and then to Sewanee, Tennessee, where my father lives. He just celebrated his 80th birthday, and I wanted to see how he was doing. It’s a beautiful area of the country, up in the Appalachian mountains.

People who don’t know the Appalachians sometimes think of it as a place where hicks live … but I can’t imagine a better place to grow up. Imagine being able to explore caves and hike in the woods and discover Indian arrowheads to your heart’s content. Here’s a picture I took on a hike along one of my father’s favorite trails, which has the amusing name of Fiery Gizzard. It’s recently been converted to a state park.

The water is a little bit too cold at this time of year for swimming, but it was still beautiful to look at.

Of course when you go on a hike in the woods, you need a local guide to tell you where you are. Here, my three-year-old step-grand-nephew, Aidan, looks up our location on the map.

Anyway, I’m back home now, and I guess my only chess news is that one of my lectures, called “A Yankees-Red Sox Moment,” went up at today. The lecture is about the game I played with Colin Chow (the #6-rated 12-year-old in the country) last fall.

The reason I called the game “A Yankees-Red Sox Moment” is that it reminded me of the fourth game of the 2004 playoff series between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. You might remember that the Yankees were ahead 3 games to 0 and had a one-run lead in the ninth inning of the fourth game. The Yankees had the best relief pitcher in baseball history, Mariano Rivera, on the mound. The Red Sox got a runner to first base (Dave Roberts), and then a funny thing happened. Dave Roberts stole second base.

I remember that Yankees catcher Jorge Posada got sort of a quizzical look on his face, as if to say, “That wasn’t in the script.” The Red Sox were still absolutely, completely dead. The odds against them winning the series were 1000 to 1 before Dave Roberts stole second, and still 999 to 1 after he stole second. But this trivial moment ended up changing the whole momentum of the series. Roberts eventually scored, and the Red Sox won the game in extra innings, and then they won three more games that weren’t even close. Some people (especially Red Sox fans) call it Baseball’s Greatest Miracle.

My game with Chow was so reminiscent of that. He was absolutely in control, and then a funny little thing happened, something that wasn’t in the script, and the momentum shifted. Bit by bit, step by inexorable step, everything collapsed on him, even though he didn’t make any obvious blunders. In the end, I won with a queen sacrifice, my first in a tournament game in six years. You can read about the amazing conclusion in this post. (However, to see the whole game you’ll have to watch my ChessLecture.)

When I listened again to my lecture this morning, it occurred to me that it might sound egotistical, because I kept talking about what an amazing turnaround it was, and of course I was comparing it to one of the great moments in baseball history. I wasn’t really intending to rave about my own brilliance. I completely admit that Chow outplayed and outclassed me for 27 moves and should have won the game. What I really wanted to rave about was the unbelievable richness of chess itself. I feel so privileged to play a game in which such unexpected beauty can appear at a moment’s notice. It’s like going for a walk in Fiery Gizzard, when you never know what gorgeous waterfall might lie around the next bend.

P.S. In a spooky coincidence, another historic Yankees-Red Sox moment happened yesterday. After Monday’s bomb explosions at the Boston Marathon, the Yankees played the Red Sox theme song during their baseball game on Tuesday, to show their solidarity with the victims of the terrorist attack. Thanks to ChessLecture subscriber “Davethevaliant” for pointing this out.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Johnson July 11, 2013 at 11:01 am


Is there still a Santa Cruz chess club? If so, when and where does it meet?

Tom Johnson
La Selva Beach


admin July 11, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Unfortunately, there isn’t a Santa Cruz chess club for adults any more, but I think there is a group that meets at Aegis (retirement home) in Aptos on Saturday afternoons. I don’t know the details because I’ve never gone to it.


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