Napoleon Bonaparte, said to be the greatest general of all time, must have mentally recoiled when he was forced to yield victory to The Turk in a high profile chess game.

The French General had already marched his victorious legions and cavalries across Europe, and had won over the hearts and minds of many nations. The conqueror was yet to experience the Russian defeat in 1812 and Battle of Waterloo against the Duke of Wellington in 1815. But now Bonaparte tasted bitter defeat against The Turk, perhaps a prelude of what was yet to come.1-0.The_Turk.Granger_Collection_0059574_H.L02645400

So, with his multitudinous battles won, intricate warfare tactics memorized to perfection and the world’s veneration as the greatest military strategist who ever lived, Commander Napoleon presumed he could outplay The Turk at a game of chess. Poised to win, he mentally strategized to his endgame, but it was The Turk who checkmated him and took the glory on that memorable day in 1809.

It may not have been so devastating to Napoleon’s ego that the general had forfeited a sure win to a chess grandmaster, but the superb military strategist had lost the game to an automaton—a mechanical machine!

The automaton known as The Turk, debuted in 1770; the brainchild of an Austrian inventor named Wolfgang von Kempelen. He designed and created the mechanical device on to impress the empress of Austria-Hungary, Maria Theresa, and her Royal Court. The automaton was in the form of pipe-smoking man, dressed in a robe and turban, seated behind a credenza on which sat a chessboard. Inside the credenza was a series of intricate clockwork gears, cogs, rods, magnets, pantographs and peg boards.

The Turk, as it became known, made brilliant chess moves against all challengers, including Bonaparte, and won nearly every game it played, leaving onlookers and challengers alike, awe-struck. While Kempelen declined to allow anyone to physically touch or examine the automaton to discover whatever secret might exist as to how it worked, he went to great lengths to “show” that the device was, indeed, a true automaton, acting “independently of outside manipulation.” He would open two front and two rear doors, first one side and then the other, exposing the inner workings of the device, and would illuminate those workings by holding a lighted candle behind them in order to prove that it was, in fact, a machine.

The Turk attracted attention throughout Europe and even in the new nation of the United States of America, as even Benjamin Franklin, a known chess devotee, reportedly played The Turk (and lost the game) in about 1783. The Turk, the mechanical automated chess player, continued to challenge world class chess masters and notable world figures, for over eight decades in salons and on stages of two continents, until the machine was lost to a fire in a dark corner of the Philadelphia Museum.*


It would not be until over a century later when a Man vs Machine game would again gain attention. The Soviet grandmaster, Garry Kasparov, lost to a chess-playing machine in 1997.

IBM built a mainframe computer named “Deep Blue” that played a series of tournament games with grandmasters. When the world champion Kasparov eventually yielded defeat to Deep Blue, it was rumored that the moves may have been manipulated off-site by Bobby Fischer. It was not true.


Circa the 6th century AD, the board game ‘Chaturanga’ emerged in India. It is thought that the game of chess, that required moves on alphanumerical positions, with 64 squares of alternating tones, evolved therefrom. The revolutionary board game was perfected by Indian mathematicians, and a fable tells that one such man Sessa, challenged the mighty king.20131024_7HR

When the ruler of the kingdom asked how he could repay the mathematician, he answered. “Lord, place one single grain of rice on the first square, and double the quantity of each square as you proceed to the final 64th square, continue to double the rice kernels as you go.” Fair enough, thought the king.

The king of the vast domain was no match for the shrewd mathematician, Sessa, who understood the incremental succession as each square doubled the amount of rice through exponential sequences. Halfway through the process of counting the grains of rice in the kingdom’s massive granary, the grain master realized there was no more rice.

By the time the 64th square of the chess board would have been virtually heaped with rice, it would have been two billion times as much as on the first square. If half the board of only 32 squares, half of the total 64, was completed by doubling the amount of rice on each of the squares, it would exceed today’s estimated annual global rice production.

The moral fable of the king’s rice granary tells of exponential progression problems with the use of a commodity, such as rice or wheat, and a chess board, and how the Indian mathematician, rich with the rice, became the new ruler of the entire kingdom.

The earliest game boards would have been red and black, and the chess pieces were carved of ivory; elephants, chariots, horsemen and foot soldiers. Chess would have been played as a game of military strategy in simulated battle, with intricate field maneuvers that may have foreseen disaster.

Some evidence points that the game may be thousands of years old. It is thought that small carved objects, found at Indus Valley archaeological sites in India, may be circa BC 2000. Silk Road Traders carried the chess game to Persia, Mongolia, Siberia, Byzantium Turkey, and Ethiopia; later Muslim invaders introduced it to Iberia.

The lead chess piece ‘Raja’ changed to ‘Shah’ in Persia, meaning king. In the Middle Ages the board pieces evolved to King, Queen, Bishop, Knight. The Knights Templar played chess, and every good knight was expected to know how to play. By the 13th century chess was played for money; the gambling lasting for days.

In the 17th century, Giochino Greco was the first professional chess player. He wrote the book on tactical traps, checkmating patterns, and is said to have perfected the endgame. When tournament games required time limits, the hourglass was used. In the 1980s, when a player contemplated one move for nearly three hours, games were timed with digital clocks.lewis-chess-set1

In Marostica, a medieval town in Italy’s Veneto, a human chess game is played in September of every even-numbered year in the middle of the piazza. Human chess pieces, dressed in full medieval regalia, with caparisoned horses, move on the marble board in the town square as plays are called.

And, chess boards can be some of the highest priced luxury items; made of precious metals and imbedded with diamonds, emeralds, rubies and pearls. Two such chess sets sold; one for half a million dollars, the other for more than $9 million.

In the 1970s, chess championships were heralded as international events. One such tournament propelled the ancient game of chess to the world stage; grandmaster of the West, Bobby Fischer, crushed the Soviet Bloc grandmaster Boris Spassky during the Cold War.


Bobby Fischer, one of the world’s greatest chess players, was a child prodigy; said to have had an IQ of 187, head and shoulders above Einstein’s 160. He joined the Manhattan Chess Club at 12, was champion by 13, and grandmaster before 15. He learned by playing games against himself.

At 16 Bobby Fischer published his first book on chess. At 20, he won 63-64 championships; the only player to achieve a perfect score of 11/11 in the history of tournament play. From the age of 23, Bobby Fischer won every chess tournament for the rest of his life.

The undefeated boyishly handsome grandmaster was a rock star. The grandmaster was enormously rich. The grandmaster challenged the world’s greatest chess players, but the grandmaster was becoming eccentric, cynical, rude, hateful, demanding, bad-tempered, socially inept, and ferociously Un-American. He joined a religious cult.

Fischer, even though his parents were Jewish, became a raging anti-Semite, spewing hatred against Jews and America at news conferences; his vile remarks stunning listeners over international airwaves. After 9/11, he praised the terrorists, and even wrote a letter to Osama Bin Laden calling for the destruction of the United States. Fischer had dipped into moral oblivion.

But the Golden Boy was once great; the masterful maverick’s name was on the lips of every American and Russian alike, when he flew to Reykjavik, Iceland in 1972 for a veritable chess mano-a-mano in the much-publicized “Cold War Confrontation.” It was the nail-biting event of the century; Fischer versus the Soviet Boris Spassky, the undefeated grandmaster. Fischer won.

Years later in 1992, grandmaster Bobby Fischer accepted a rematch invitation to compete in the former Yugoslavia, then under U.N. embargo. The State Department warned him not to go. He earned a huge purse of which the IRS wanted a large chunk. Fischer refused to pay up, and chose not to return to the States. The State Department revoked his passport for tax evasion and he became a fugitive. He lived in Hungary, Germany, Iceland and the Far East.bobby7

Fischer’s hatred and anti-Semitism may be explained because Bobby Fischer’s physician mother conceived him out-of-wedlock; a social stigma at that time. In the 1950s, an FBI probe revealed Regina Fischer’s anti-American and Communist activism. Another probe by journalists in 2002 revealed that Bobby Fischer’s putative birth father was Hungarian physicist Paul Nemeny, not the man to whom his mother was married.

Fischer’s rabid anti-Semitism is inexplicable as both his parents were Jewish. His mother was a Swiss-born wartime refugee, and avowed Communist who lived in Russia before New York. Bobby’s birth father occasionally visited his son, but never admitted paternity, and sent periodic child support payments.

Bobby was an introverted lonely child, spending much time alone with his sister in their Brooklyn apartment. The boy discovered the challenge of chess when he bought a set at the drug store under his apartment building. His mother placed an ad in a newspaper seeking “someone to play chess with her son.” The man who taught the boy wonder the game, mentored him to success, and became his only father figure was later publicly maligned by Fischer “as a Jew snake.”

After winning the world title as grandmaster, the once-unstoppable chess prodigy slid into the depths of self-destruction and obscurity when the egomaniacal fugitive spewed unbridled hate for Jews and Israel, and denying the Holocaust. He ranted at a news conference in Iceland when seeking asylum. While belittling his former tutor and mentor with anti-Semitic vile comments, reporters walked away disgusted.

Even though the once- brilliant Bobby Fischer was grandmaster of strategy, and able to foresee results of his endgame, his last days on earth, and post death events, could not have been planned worse.

Bobby Fischer died of renal failure in January 2008 as a lonely, bitter man. His estate was valued at $2 million. His nephews, the executors, paid the owed taxes to the IRS. A bitter fight ensued as to who would inherit the remaining money.

A young girl in Japan, claiming to be his daughter, won the right to have Bobby Fischer’s body exhumed. DNA testing proved she was not his child. His Japanese wife claimed the rest of the money and sued the estate.

Officials returned the once-heralded grandmaster’s body to the ice-covered ground in a remote graveyard on the shadow less island overlooking the vast barren Icelandic tundra. The near-forgotten grandmaster genius, who had taken the chess world by storm, now rests in an Artic windswept treeless place, under a lone stone grave marker incised with the once-iconic name; Robert James Fischer—1943-2008.31420095

*You can learn more about The Turk in the book, The Turk, by Tom Standage



Chess is Joy

I started playing chess when I was 12 years old. I remember my brother teaching me all of the basic rules and I also remember thinking that it was the most complex game on Earth. Ok, not really, but it was pretty difficult at first. It took a while for me to understand how all of the pieces moved, especially the knight. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that it could only move in an “L” shape, and that it was the only piece that could jump over other pieces on the board. But my brother (who is quite patient), endured my endless questions, and somehow taught me the rest of the rules. After he showed me how to set up the board, we finally began to play.84304636

That first game of chess was so much fun! It was completely different from every other game I had played at the time. It was so challenging and exciting. I never knew what was going to happen next, and it took so much thought and patience. I couldn’t just rush through it like I did with other games—I really had to take my time and try my best to think several moves ahead. I made a lot of mistakes, but as we played more and more games together, I finally got the hang of it, and that’s when I really started to love chess.

My brother and I played almost every day when we were kids, and we always had a blast, but as we both got older and found new hobbies, chess kind of got lost. I didn’t really play again until last year. It was the beginning of summer and my niece and I were doing a lot of volunteer work at our local library. It was very fun and rewarding to be able to help out with the special events and programs that they had every week. One of the programs that I participated in and really enjoyed was the weekly chess event. It was free to the public, and kids and adults could come to learn the rules or just play for fun. I only played in a few games, but that was all it took to rekindle my interest in chess.

So, a few days later, I started playing chess against a computer, but that just wasn’t the same. I wanted to play against real people that I could talk to and learn from. So I looked for an alternative, and that’s when I discovered online chess, which turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. I thought it was amazing to be able to pick up a game of chess and play whenever I wanted to, and it was great meeting so many other people who shared my love for the game. But I have to admit, even though I loved playing chess, I didn’t really know that much about it. I still only knew the very basic rules that I learned when I was a kid, so I lost quite a few games at first.

I didn’t improve until I met a really talented player online named Eric, who just so happens to be the editor of this magazine. Playing against him completely changed the way I approached the game. He taught me so many things about chess that I just didn’t know before, and he encouraged me to study books about chess, which is something I never did. With his help, I became a more confident and competent player, and I finally started to win. He’s been a wonderful chess tutor, and a great friend as well.

To me, chess is so much more than an amazing game, it’s something that I could never stop learning about or get bored of, and it’s something that truly makes me happy.AnnHeadshot

 Felicity Ann Smith was born and raised in Southern California. She is a part-time seamstress and a full-time bookworm. In addition to chess, she enjoys volunteering at the library, and playing the ukulele. This is her first published article.






Chess vs. Checkers: A Contrast of Sorts

While the games of Chess and Checkers are both played on a game board with 64 squares, arranged in an eight-by-eight grid, and are enjoyed by millions of people worldwide, the similarities stop there.

Chess is the ultimate game of military strategy. To play chess effectively, it requires a well thought out and precisely executed plan to attack and defend. A top tier player can, at times, be passive and at other times aggressive. To conquer your opponent, you often must anticipate their next move before they do. Checkers, on the other hand, is more like a street fight. It has been described as “the lazy man’s chess.” It’s something to do when you have nothing to do. Either side can win with a little luck and patience. Needless to say, checkers is right up my alley due to its simplistic form of entertainment.178633294

Allow me to compare and contrast the fundamental differences between these two games.

Conception. Chess is believed to have originated in Eastern India during the Gupta Empire of the 6th century where it was known as Chaturanga. The game reached Western Europe and Russia in the 9th century as trade routes were opened. I once traded six pawns and a Bishop for a handful of football action figures. The result made for a very confusing version of full contact “Chessball.”

Checkers is derived from the game of Draughts which is played in England. A similar game has been played for thousands of years and a board resembling draughts was found in Ur from 3000 BC. Ancient Egyptian checkerboards were found in sacred burial chambers. It is uncertain whether or not checkers was the cause of death.

Playing Conditions. Chess is ideally played in a mahogany trimmed game room or den in front of a roaring fire while sipping Cognac on a cold winter afternoon. The scent of a prime rib wafting through the house creates a cornucopia of sensations in the ideal chess venue. Conversely, the perfect checkers arena is a screened-in front porch while chugging moonshine on a hot summer night. Fireflies or June bugs only add to the ambiance of a checkers coliseum. The aroma of BBQ squirrel does grab the attention of players and dogs alike.89207103

Attire. A tweed sport coat looks devilishly cool when sweeping someone’s Rook with your Knight on the chess battlefield. Horned-rimmed glasses and a non-functioning pipe add to the drama of saying, “Checkmate.” At the same time, overalls or cut-offs are mandatory when executing a double king jump from deep in enemy territory on the checkerboard. Chewing tobacco is optional when yelling, “King Me Bitch!” at the top of your lungs.

Competition. The game of chess is most exciting when two evenly matched opponents, of equal intellect and intelligence square off against one another. The most famous competition was perhaps the epic battle between Mr. Bobby Fisher and Comrade Boris Spassky for the title of World Chess Champion in 1972. “The Match”, held in Reykjavík, Iceland, attracted more worldwide interest and publicity than any chess match before or since.

On the other hand, some of the best checkers games are between prison cellies, shut-in couples (aka agoraphobics) and dim-witted cousins. Sadly, none of these potentially life altering duals will ever be televised.

Marketing. Wikipedia lists over 30 movies with chess as the central theme. The most notable, Searching for Bobby Fisher, was released in 1993 and stared Ben Kingsley, Joan Allen, Laurence Fishburne and Joe Mantegna. It was a delightfully entertaining story of a prepubescent chess prodigy who refuses to harden himself in order to become a champion like the famous but unlikable Bobby Fischer. As for checkers, I could only find an adult film (aka porn) entitled Checker Double-Decker staring Jenna Jamison. After watching it several times, I found the story line confusing, the plot unrealistic and it lacked adequate character development.

Culture. Chess is often perceived as highly tactical game for nerds and brainiacs. Let’s be honest, it is a thinking game that does usually attract the uber-intelligent segment of the gene pool. My Neanderthal football buddies used to make fun of the lunch time chess playing “mathaletes” in high school. Now those same gridiron jocks are filling out job applications to work in the warehouse for chess playing captains of industry. The glamorous cheerleaders who once undoubtedly teased the “fembot” female members of the college chess club now approach those same academic driven chess-playing coeds for plastic surgery consultation and divorce representation.

If the truth-be-told, Checkers is a game for slackers. Crack a beer, fill your prescription using the MMIC (Medical Marijuana Identification Card) and you’re ready to play. Nobody teases people who play checkers, (unless of course you’re a lonely and desperate humor lifestyle columnist for a high-profile local magazine) because we’ve all played checkers. Checkers is good for the soul.

There will be those of you that bring up the world of “speed chess” which is played throughout inner city parks by many of our nation’s homeless population for money, cigarettes or other forms of currency. Yes, it’s a deviation from the normal chess culture, but I dare you to watch one of these games without seeing the poetic beauty of each move. It’s like a symphony that has been placed on mute. The clock is their metronome. Using another music analogy, checkers in the park can best be described as a one man band played by someone who is out of tune and tone deaf.

As our magazine celebrates all things chess, I would like to tell you that I am a card carrying member of the chess nation, but that would be a lie. I have played the game but it destroyed me. I am confident that I will one day, in the not too distant future, take it up again, but for now I’m a checkers man. I’m King of the “King Me” population!


More Than a Game

It is just past 5:15 A.M. as I make my way into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. I walk to my desk to boot-up my desktop and glance at my iPad as I’m waiting. An internal conversation begins: “Okay, one brief look at my games won’t hurt. I’ll just check to see where things stand. I will hold fast to the rules I’ve set for myself: No moves before I’m fully awake—well past my first cup of hot caffeine and thinking clearly. Yeah, no problem. Everything looks good in all… wait… wait… did he really move there? Let’s see, this guy is in Spain, right? What’s his rating again? Oh, yeah, he’s a “1323.” Ahh, yes, he doesn’t see what’s coming over here… I’ll just move her (my Queen) up here…”

As soon as my finger leaves the screen, I see…the mistake. Now the thought is, “Oh, no, this blunder will cost me.” I have work to do so I leave the board as it is, but in the back of my mind throughout the day, the thought creeps into my consciousness: What can I do to fend off what looks to be certain defeat?

And so it goes when you’ve been infected with a virus more virulent than the swine flu—of course, I am referring to the game of chess, and the symptoms I describe are not the least bit uncommon for those who love to play.


Now please understand, the severity of my ailment is mild. I don’t check my games in the middle of the night, and never play—okay, not really never, but rarely—during the day when I am working. (The exception being, perhaps, while waiting for a large file to upload or download).

The term “obsession” is sometimes used when referring to chess, and for some, this is a self-confessed truth. For example, the well know, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, syndicated columnist and psychiatrist, Charles Krauthammer, gave up the game all together because he realized he had developed a bona fide addiction, finding himself at the board in he middle of the night.

I don’t have one iota of statistical evidence to suggest that OCD is more prevalent amongst chess players than anyone else, but I suspect this may be true. As online chess has opened a doorway into the habits of scores of players, with their record of wins, losses and draws revealed, the staggering numbers of played games suggests that chess may well be the grand daddy of “harmless” addictions.

First Moves

My older cousin, Jim, taught me the game of chess when I was ten. For the longest time, I was sure he was one of the world’s top players, as he could always beat me handily. The chess pieces of his set were the same ones used in the original Star Trek television series,* which somehow confirmed that he really was as smart as Mr. Spock—same chess pieces, he beat me all the time, and he often uttered phrases like, “that’s logical,” or, “fascinating,” or, “how illogical.” And come to think of it…his ears were sort of “pointy!”

I liked playing chess, and I’d played whenever we visited my aunt and uncle’s house. I was soon playing well enough to teach my father the basic moves, and for a while we played pretty often. Once he had the moves down, he usually won, but I was still able to win a fair share of games, too. That is when I realized that, unlike sports, age and physical characteristics had nothing to do with one’s ability to play well. The only thing that mattered was the ability to concentrate and think.

In the eighth grade, I joined the school chess club, and while it wasn’t a chess “team,” with formal competitions, per se, I was able to experience playing chess with a number of other kids my own age. It was here that I discovered that psychology was sometimes a part of the game—something which I really didn’t really care for because to me it seemed to pollute or tarnish what I thought to be a “pure,” clean game. You should be able to win because you play chess better than your opponent, not because you evoke fear in him. (I later learned that there is really no way to separate the two—chess from personality.)

Throughout high school, I played chess off and on with my dad and a few friends, and followed daily chess problems, authored by International Master, George Koltanowski*, in the San Francisco Chronicle, but outside of this and schoolwork, ninety-nine percent of my attention was focused on a few other things—those being my 68 VW bug, Friday nights at Pinky’s Pizza and “cruisin’ the creek,” and cheerleaders. That is, until my junior year…

 1972: The World is Changed

People often credit (rightly so) President Ronald Reagan’s SDI—the Strategic Defense Initiative, aka, “Star Wars”—as a primary catalyst for the collapse of the Soviet Union. But there were other, less recognized factors that also played a significant role in scuttling the juggernaut of global communist influence.

Long before SDI, a crushing blow to the Soviet psyche came on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong’s boots kicked-up dust on the lunar Sea of Tranquility. America’s “Cold War” with the Soviets that had simmered for nearly 30 years, was beginning to turn in favor of the West. Three years later, in July and August 1972, in the windswept city of Reykjavik, Iceland, a twenty-nine year old American named Robert James Fischer, single handedly inflicted a gaping wound into the façade of  “Russian superiority.”bobby03

To fully appreciate the significance of Fischer’s triumph, it is important to understand that the Soviet Union had been an overwhelmingly dominant force in chess since 1948.

Much like Soviet participants in Olympic events, chess players in Russia were encouraged and supported by the state. Chess was used as a propaganda tool; the idea being that the game served as the “demonstration sport” of mental superiority and intelligence. All elementary and secondary school children learned chess as part of their regular curriculum, and promising players were treated to weeks-long chess summer camps and chess-centered boarding schools. The state rewarded strong, competitive players, and afforded them, by Russian standards, a “celebrity lifestyle.” Soviet society was encouraged and culture molded to value chess, elevating it into a vehicle for the attainment of a revered social status. Since 1948, until a young prodigy named Bobby Fischer faced off against the then current world champion, Boris Spassky, every other world champion had also been Russian.

Unlike in Russia, prior to this landmark championship match, chess was of little interest to most people in the United States.  But Bobby Fischer changed that. His brilliance and mastery at the board was undeniable. In 1956, at the age of 13, we won the U.S. Junior Championship and placed 4th in the overall U.S. Open Tournament in Oklahoma. At age 14, he won the U.S. Championship, beating the Russian, Samuael Reshevsky, becoming the youngest U.S. Champion in history. In 1958, at just 15, he became the youngest grandmaster in history. At 19 he was undefeated and won first prize in the 1962 Stockholm Interzonal Tournament. In 1970 he crushed Soviet ex-world champion Tigran Petrosian in the “USSR vs the Rest–of-the-World” Tournament, and in 1971 he demolished the three top grandmasters in the Candidates Matches. There was only one title that remained unclaimed by Fischer, and he wanted it badly—the world chess championship.

In 1972, the stakes could not have been higher as the political implications for a face to face showdown with the Soviets was undeniable. The back-and-forth posturing and rhetoric between the communist USSR and capitalist USA, while not as high as during the Kennedy—Khrushchev years, was still the dominant global rivalry.

Fischer hated the Soviets and had openly accused them of systematic cheating over the years to retain their dominance in chess. In a BBC interview, he said, “It is really the free world against the lying, cheating, hypocritical Russians—this little thing between me and Spassky. It’s a microcosm of the whole world political situation.”

The Russian government desperately wanted Fischer stopped once and for all, and the U.S., while to a lesser degree, also realized that a Fischer win have some significance. The Fischer-Spassky match would be the intellectual prize fight of the century, leaving the winning competitor, along with his nation and ideology, with major bragging rights.

Posturing, psychological warfare, and all manner of shenanigans preceded the match, particularly from Fischer, but it finally got underway on July 11, 1972. Fischer had been holding out for more money, but a telephone call from then Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger convinced Bobby that fate of Western prestige rested upon his willingness to play and his ability to beat the Russians.

The final game was played on August 31st. The two titans played a total of 21 games. Fischer lost the first two games after making incredible, severe blunders. But in game three, the “Deadly Gamesman,” as he had been called on the cover of Life Magazine prior to the match, emerged. In the next 19 games, Fischer won seven and drew eleven. He lost only one.bobbyfischer02

While chess had been of major interest for many years in the Soviet Union, for the first time, during and after the match, chess became hugely popular in the United States. Chess suddenly became “cool” in the states, as the nation rallied behind Bobby Fischer. The chess match was so popular that by the 13th game, in August 1972, according to news reports at the time, in Manhattan, 18 of 21 bars had their TV sets tuned, not to the New York Mets game, but to channel 13, the New York public television station, with live coverage of the Fischer-Spassky match from Reykjavik. News reports from the democratic Presidential Convention were postponed so that the chess match could be broadcast. This particular show gained the largest rating ever recorded for any public television broadcast.

In the end, it was a conclusive victory for Bobby Fischer, for the West, and for chess itself. The news agencies that had converged on Reykjavik had played up the “David vs Goliath” scenario perfectly, and Bobby came home a bona fide hero. He was featured in Time, Newsweek, Life and Sports Illustrated, and was a frequent guest on the major talk shows of the day.

On a personal level, after so many years of seeing chess relegated to a backseat behind more “macho” pursuits, like baseball and basketball, it was gratifying to see chess emerge to a front and center position of not only acceptance, but outright popularity in the United States. After the “match of the century,” the sale of chess sets and chess books skyrocketed, and to this day, more books have been published about chess than about all other games, combined.

Other than Bobby Fischer, no other American has held the world title in chess, and outside of the chess playing community, his name is recognized and associated with the game above all others.

Sadly, the story of Bobby Fischer’s life did not end well. He failed to show up to defend his title a few years later and essentially became a recluse. He returned briefly in 1992 for the “Revenge match of the Century,” with Spassky, only to win again with 10 wins, 15 draws and five losses. The match was played in Yugoslavia however, and Bobby’s travel there then was in violation of United States law. Fischer had called a news conference before the match, and in front of the press, spat on the U.S. order forbidding him to play, proclaiming, “This is my reply.” An arrest warrant for Fischer was issued by the United States, and he became a fugitive from his home country for the rest of his life.Bobby-Fischer-match-siglo-ruso-Boris-Spassky-salio-campeon-mundo-ajedrez-1972

Fischer became increasingly paranoid, bitter and unhinged, living the remaining years of his life in exile, in the only country that would grant him asylum—Iceland. He died of renal failure on January 7, 2008, because he refused medical treatment, and was buried near a small church in the same city, Reykjavik, where he had experienced the pinnacle achievement of his life.

Because of the “Match of the Century,” like other chess players around the world, my interest in and appreciation for the game of chess, grew. The fact that Bobby Fischer eventually went mad was a profound loss to the game of chess and to the world. When I heard of his passing 2008, it seemed like such a waste.

Bobby Fischer’s only passion in life was chess, and his need to beat the Russians was inexorably woven into the fabric of his identity. In his mind and in truth, from July 1972 and beyond, the world had cast him as the central figure in an event that changed the world. It was a role not even the greatest grandmaster of all time could bear.


Were the Russians really smarter than everyone else? The fact is, there were simply lots more chess players in the Soviet Union than anywhere else in the world, and they all started playing at a very early age. For example at the peak of Soviet chess domination in 1980, there were over 4 million members of the Russian Chess Federation, while there were fewer than 200,000 members of the US Chess Federation. With that many players, you’re bound to have at least a few that are really, really good!

*The chess set shown in the original Star Trek episodes is a Peter Ganine Classic Set, produced in 1961. These sets are now quite rare. The only one I have ever seen since my cousin’s set is one on ebay, listed at $1,500.00.

*George Koltanowski (1903-2000) is the world record holder in “Blindfold Chess.” In 1937 he made headlines by playing 34 games simultaneously while blindfolded. In 1960, in a demonstration exhibition, he played 56 consecutive games while blindfolded, winning fifty, drawing six, and losing none!

For more information about chess, visit the United States Chess Federation website at

For information and links to local chess clubs, visit the USCF Northern California Affiliate, at    

To play chess online, visit and on ipad or iphone, download the Social Chess app.








































Where’s Your Grandma Today?

Assistance League® of Diablo Valley is a nonprofit, member volunteer organization dedicated to improving lives in the Contra Costa community through hands-on programs. Since 2003, R.E.A.D., one of eight philanthropic programs whose letters stand for Read, Enrich, Achieve, and Discover, has staffed local elementary schools with member volunteers who share their love of reading with young, lifelong learners. As in previous years, all of the books donated in 2012-2013, (1,988 to be exact), boast a sticker that states, “I LOVE TO READ!”—a group cheer that sometimes launches the monthly session.

Over the years, this program’s success hinged on carefully selecting books that appeal to all recipient students, while accommodating diverse learning styles and various levels of English Language acquisition. The task proved labor-intensive but gratifying. In 2012, then Assistance League of Diablo Valley President-Elect and R.E.A.D. committee member Margie Basile voiced a concern, “Now that I’m a grandmother,” I asked myself, “books for children cover almost every topic imaginable, so why can’t I find one about the concept and act of volunteering?  Everyone has something to give to improve our community, children included.”

Inspiration resulted when Margie and fellow children’s literature enthusiasts collectively “took pen in hand” to relate a story—actually a poem—sprinkled with alliteration and an intuitive rhyme scheme, that would prove timeless and universal. Enhanced by award winning painter Stephen Osborn’s colorful and masterful illustrations, the inspiration catapulted a creativity and relevance, entitled, Where’s Your Grandma Today? OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As Grandma Appreciation Day approached, Ms. Mead posed this question to her elementary school students, “What do your grandmas do all day?”  Each one realized that grandmas seemed busy with various activities, yet, no one could readily provide an answer. Consequently, Ms. Mead’s question became the theme for Grandma Appreciation Day.

After days of preparation, the guests of honor arrived and happily related how they made a difference by volunteering in their communities. Nancy’s Nonna helped prepare hearty and nutritious food, while Jose’s Abuela served as a guide at an old ranch to share our nation’s history. Freddy’s Oma biked daily to an animal shelter to care for and help place furry creatures in deserving homes. Bubbe described how she taught math and reading in a children’s ward, where bedridden students wear a mask. Ms. Mead’s students heard similar accounts from Henry’s Nana, Leo’s Babka, and Freddy’s Oma.

One grandma mesmerized the students by describing her experiences as a thrift shop volunteer. She had spent many a day arranging such donated items as clothes, toys, plates and candles attractively on shelves, all of which quickly emptied, the minute that bargain hunters whisked through the thrift shop door.  The proceeds provided clothes, books, and educational puppet shows for elementary school children, as well as food for families.

While the names for “Grandma” varied, their message focused on the importance of giving back to the community by volunteering. Ms. Meads’ students did not receive merely good examples, they received a wealth of tradition. It is doubtful that any of the students could define the term “Social Responsibility,” but they could live it by contributing to their homes, neighbors, and school communities; they could, thereby, turn a tradition into a legacy. For if the grandmas amplified that we are never too old to help our community, it follows that we are never too young to do the same.

At this writing, the R.E.A.D. committee has purchased copies of Where’s Your GrandmaToday? for 54 classrooms in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District and four classrooms in Walnut Creek schools. A joint effort with Assistance League of Diablo Valley’s Buena Vista Auxiliary, known for funding an after school reading tutorial program in the Mt. Diablo School District, accounts for an additional donation of books to be shared in 13 school libraries.

Everyone—grandmas and grandchildren alike—who believe in community service can purchase Where’s Your Grandma Today? by contacting Assistance League of Diablo Valley, 2711 Buena Vista Avenue, Walnut Creek, CA 94597-2503,, 925-934-0901.

To learn more about Assistance League of Diablo Valley’s eight philanthropic programs, as well as its primary fundraiser Assistance League Way Side Inn Thrift Shop, please visit this website:













The Gift of ~ LOVE ~ From the Inside Out

Becoming deeply acquainted with one’s self is no small task. And the truth is, connecting to one’s inner workings is an ongoing, lifelong process. What makes this endeavor a slow but rich experience is that the “inner gold” is often buried under many layers of personality.  So, getting past the encrusted layers to connect with the precious, authentic core can be a process of “excavation.”  stk97449cor

Similar to geological excavation, chipping away at our outer hardened, rock-like formations to get to the gold beneath takes perseverance and patience. In my book, Stress Reduction Journal, I share that for me, letting go of harsh judgments toward some of the vulnerable, “less-than-perfect” parts of myself is an ongoing process, requiring periodic updates. To see myself through compassionate, loving eyes, I find that I first need to identify, and then remove, my judgmental glasses.

In my early excavation work, I began to see that the prescription glasses through which I harshly viewed myself, dated back to early childhood. These distorted lenses belonged to family members who were projecting their pain and frustrations onto me. Bless their hearts, they too inherited the “distorted lenses” that they wore and then unconsciously passed the glasses on to me. It was painful to one day realize that I had been, inadvertently, “renewing the prescription” for these glasses, year after year.

By no coincidence, a rich experience came my way that increased my ability to look upon all of myself more compassionately. It happened while I was attending a daylong workshop about speaking from the “Authentic Self.” The purpose of this seminar was to create a safe container from which to access one’s authentic voice and share it with others.

In preparation for the first exercise, the workshop facilitator paired us up with someone we didn’t know. We were asked to face each other and then take turns speaking from our hearts. As you might imagine, this was initially quite scary. However, as the day went on, defenses melted and many people began to truly enjoy the experience. Many of the participants discovered that hearing others and being heard by soulful, safe strangers could feel wonderful.

For the final exercise of the day, our facilitator asked us not to speak at all, but just hold a partner’s hands and experience being authentic without words. “Let the body and the eyes do the speaking this time,” he suggested.

I was paired with a fellow in his mid-forties named Anthony. His arms and hands appeared severely deformed. I nervously began thinking about how Anthony must be struggling with this new version of the exercise. A heavy sadness filled my chest as I looked at his hands and connected with parts of myself that sometimes feel different from, and less than, others. Shame began bubbling up from the center of my being. Thank God this painful spiral was interrupted when the facilitator signaled for us to begin.

Anthony reached toward me first and offered his warm, misshapen fingers. As I reached back and looked into his eyes, I saw a loving, compassionate confidence I had never seen before—from anyone. He extended his fingers with such exquisite grace that I, too, was able to experience and feel their beauty. Clearly, Anthony was much more at peace in his own skin, than I was in mine.

This realization sent a wave of sadness through me. I breathed into my vulnerability while continuing to look into Anthony’s gentle blue eyes. The pale blue reminded me of a quiet pool of water—a still and smooth surface, yet deep. As I continued gazing, my sad feelings began to melt and the muscles around my eyes started to soften. Anthony and I smiled at one another. It was then, in that sacred moment, that I joined him in the precious silence of simply being.

Graciously, Anthony shared his authentic core with me. He turned his flashlight in my direction and modeled compassionate, confident, self-love. Anthony was a fellow excavator offering me a priceless gift. What a blessing I received that day.

Finally, if you carry harsh judgments toward yourself, then consider peering below your topsoil to unearth the roots. Mindfully learning to look at ourselves (and the world) through more compassionate eyes is a gift of LOVE…from the inside out.

Join Trina and attend her upcoming Walnut Creek workshop for women and men: Managing Emotional and Compulsive EatingJohn Muir Women’s Health Center: Tuesday, February 18, 6:30-8:30 pm. Cost: $40 (Includes Weight Loss: 2-CD set). Seats are limited—register today for this inspiring workshop: (925) 941-7900 option 3. For more info, go to & click on “Private Sessions & Workshops.”

Trina Swerdlow, BFA, CCHT, is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, an artist, and the author and illustrator of Stress Reduction Journal: Meditate and Journal Your Way to Better Health. Trina has a private practice in downtown Danville. You can reach her at: (925) 285.5759, or

Certified Clinical Hypnotherapy services in California can be alternative or complementary to licensed healing arts, such as psychotherapy.




He Said/She Said with Robin and Shawn

Dear Robin and Shawn,

I’m a 35-year-old guy who’s been dating a woman for a few weeks, and I’m not sure what to do about Valentine’s Day. I don’t want to make too big a deal of it, but I don’t want to blow it either. How important is it at this point? ~ Brian in Danville

He Said: Ahhh, the dreaded “Valentine’s Day dilemma.”  Many a man before you has asked this question at some point in their dating lives. If you come on too strong, you look desperate. If you play it too cool and don’t do anything, you look insensitive and aloof. Here’s a simple rule: Most women love a little extra attention on this day whether they admit to it or not. You definitely haven’t been dating long enough to go all out with expensive dinner reservations and a big gift, but if you’re serious about her and want to keep her in the picture, you can’t go wrong with a simple token of your appreciation. By now you should know the type of things she likes but some good examples are a single rose, a nice box of chocolate, some higher-end take-out dinner brought to her house, etc. You can pair ONE of these with a funny but not too romantic V-day card, and arrange to spend part or most of the evening with her. Make plans to do this a week beforehand so she knows your intentions. Women always like to know in advance that they have plans on Valentine’s Day, but go above and beyond a simple gesture and you risk scaring her away.

She Said: Not bad, Shawn. People who say they don’t care about Valentine’s Day are usually not in a relationship! This is still pretty early in the game, Brian, but I can assure you, she’s wondering if you’re going to do something, and this could be a test. “It’s the thought that counts,” could not be more true in this case, so ignore the ads for big ticket items. Flowers are lovely but some florists take advantage of the holiday and jack up the price, so my suggestion is to go to your supermarket floral department, pick out a lovely bouquet, but then go to the floral counter and have them re-wrap the flowers for you. Do not present her with a bouquet in the plastic wrap with the purple price-tag still on it!  Conversely, if your lady friend is reading this, I’m hoping she’ll also want to get in on the appropriate level of V-Day celebrating. One year, I got a heart-shaped pan, made a heart-shaped meatloaf, added a little red food coloring to the mashed potatoes and prepared a salad including hearts of palm and artichoke hearts. He’s still talking about it!  Don’t overlook Valentine’s Day, but keep it simple this time around.

Robin Fahr and Shawn Alikian host Conversations and He Said/She Said seen daily on Tri-Valley TV, Channel 30. Send your questions to

Chess: The Royal Game

“Chess is a sea where a gnat may drink and an elephant may bathe.”     

Old (Asian) Indian proverb

Chess is usually described as a “game,” and as a general description, especially for those who don’t play, this is accurate. But for those who play, it is nearly always described as something more—a science, or more commonly, an art. Competitive chess at more advanced levels is even considered a sport, as the physical demands required to maintain extreme concentration for long hours over many days are tremendous.

Not long after I first learned to play chess, I knew there was something special about the game. It was not at all like other games. Luck had no place in chess, unless you were counting on your opponent to make mistakes—a sure way not to win many games. To be sure, while it required a level of mental focus, it always seemed simple and straightforward somehow. It seemed clean, and concise.IMG_5843

On a rare occasion, I’ve heard people remark that “chess is boring.” I can’t help but think that they have never really played. During a game, the number of possible moves for one player at any point could be as many as 218, but averages about forty. This means, when it’s your turn to move, you usually have about forty possible options to consider, and you may have as many as 218 possible moves. How could you be bored when you’re trying to decide which move is best out of 218? The overall complexity of the game is nothing short of mind boggling. There are 988 million positions that can be reached after just four moves each for white and black. It has been calculated that there are more—many more—possible moves in a typical chess game, than there are atoms in the known universe. Think about that one for a minute! More potential in a 64 square board with 32 playing pieces than all of the matter in universe!

Chess is the world’s oldest game, and more books have been written about it than about all other games combined. Even so, new books are released about chess every year. The reason is simple—there is no end to what can be discovered in chess. New tactics; new strategies; new principles discovered.

Chess is just plain “fun” at first, and if your attitude is right, it remains fun forever. And as you play and learn and change, the game changes with you. You explore ideas and try new moves. You dig deeper and gain a fuller appreciation of the game’s elegance and richness, and move ever closer, but never reaching, the fullness of its essence.

If you’re a person who loves learning, and you’ve never tried chess, you’re missing out. It’s always new. Every game, with every opponent holds new surprises and adventures.

I am happy to say that this issue of ALIVE was, in large measure, inspired by a young lady, Ann (The Commander) Smith. Ann is a model of what a good chess player should be—smart, eager to learn and ever-improving in skill; polite, sportsmanlike and always gracious in both winning and losing. Ann has the potential and attitude, not only to be good, but great at chess. You can read about Ann’s chess playing experience on page 23.          

Searching for Bobby Fischer: A Movie Review

I don’t play Chess. I’ve never played Chess. I’m not sure why, I just never knew anyone willing to teach me. I’ve never really felt like I had this huge void in my life, until maybe now. I’m sure the feeling will go away after a few days.

There are so many different vantage points from which I could approach this film, but maybe I’ll stick with what I know. I have raised two awesome children and now I have the privilege of participating in the lives of my four amazing grandchildren. All four of them have vastly different personalities, strengths, weaknesses and yet the potential I see in each of them is unlimited. My kids still get a kick out of teasing me about how I used to tell them they could do and be whatever they chose. My son even reminds me occasionally that he was full grown before he realized he was not tall enough to dunk a basketball.movies

Back to Searching for Bobby Fischer…for those of you who do not know, Bobby Fischer was a world champion chess player who one day just walked away. Many said he was ultimately consumed with madness. Our film today was inspired by the life of chess prodigy, Josh Waitzkin and written by his father, Fred Waitzkin. Josh (Max Pomeranc) is just a typical American boy interested in baseball when one day he challenges his father (Joe Mantegna) at chess and wins. Showing unusual talent at the outdoor matches at Washington Square in New York City, he quickly makes friends with a hustler named Vinnie who teaches him speed chess. Josh’s parents hire a renowned chess coach, Bruce Pandolfini (Ben Kingsley) who teaches Josh the usefulness of measured planning. Along the way, Josh becomes tired of Bruce’s system and chess in general and throws a match, leaving the prospect of winning a national championship in serious jeopardy.

Chess is a lot like life. At one point Josh tells his father that he’s afraid of losing, “Maybe it’s better not to be the best, then you can lose and it’s okay.”  His friend, Vinnie tells him you have to risk everything, always going to the edge of defeat. During one day of lessons, Bruce tells Josh you have to hate your opponents because they hate you. Josh’s mother, Bonnie (Joan Allen) throws Bruce out and he tells her to put a child in a position to care about winning and not prepare him in wrong. Hmmm, where is the balance?

Later in life, Josh Waitzkin went on to apply his focus in other areas besides chess, also becoming a champion in martial arts. A champion at whatever he chooses!

Everyone I asked about Searching for Bobby Fischer absolutely loved it!  Great family movie, great moral values. I will just tell you up front: If you want to see this movie, you might as well go online and buy it. Shop around because it is priced all over the place. Netflix has it but it says ‘very long wait’ next to the title. I am going to leave it in my queue just to see how long, “very long” really is. One thing I can tell you is that it is worth whatever you have to do to get it. As always, I welcome your comments at

Czech Mate: Trivia of the 64 Squares

Alex Trebek says “Prague Pal.” What is the question?  “What is a Czech Mate?” How better to get into a discussion of the venerable game of chess. Apparently invented centuries ago by the Chinese or Indians, it continues to challenge, perplex and enslave millions. My grand kids beat me without mercy, so I am hardly an expert. Even so, here goes?

1. The most famous chess player in US history was the controversial genius, Bobby Fischer. The most famous chess match in history occurred in 1972, when Fischer met the Russian champion. What was the Russian’s name?

2. The match was televised worldwide. In which city and country was the match held?

3. A couple decades back, the Musical “Chess” had a short run in England and on Broadway. The composers were Tim Rice, of “Evita” fame, and a couple of rock musicians from a famous rock group. What rock group did they represent?

4. “Searching for Bobby Fischer” was a fine movie of a few years back. Who played the father of the child prodigy chess player in the movie?

5. In the opening scene of this movie, consistently ranked among the five best American movies of the past century, our hero is shown for the first time in the movie playing chess against an unknown opponent. Who is the actor and what is the movie?

6. Everyone protects the king in chess, so he has to be pretty important. In the late 1930s, a movie magazine had a contest to select the King of Hollywood. From this point on, the star was referred to as “The King.” Who was he?