Friday, June 08, 2007

The Kings of NY, The Crazy Bishop of MA

I got a chance to read Michael Weinreb's "The Kings of New York" about a month ago. The book is about the Murrow School scholastic chess dynasty and their quest for yet another US High School Chess Championship. I'm not inclined to write a full review since there already are many available in print, traditional chess websites and chess blogs. Instead, here are a few impressions and a Boylston Chess Club connection.

First, while all the reviews I've read have been glowingly positive, I must admit that the book got off to a slow start for me. Through the first seven or so chapters, I kept reading because I wanted to like this book about chess culture, but frankly I found all the pages dedicated to background stories to be a bit tedious. However, things really turned around once the boys from Murrow started participating in tournaments. Suddenly the story started to sparkle, the tension grew, and I felt like I was back in the middle of my scholastic tournament days. From that point on I was hooked and thoroughly enjoyed the read until the end.

Second, there isn't actually that much chess in the book (e.g., positions, game scores or analysis) which shouldn't come as much of a surprise since it really is a story written for a broad audience (not specifically for chess players). I found that when Michael was describing key chess concepts he almost always got them right, but sometimes stated things a bit imprecisely. Several times I felt like saying, "Well, that's technically correct, but I wouldn't exactly say it that way." My guess is that this is to be expected when a non-chess playing author is writing for a non-chess playing readership. That said, he deserves kudos for not getting it completely and utterly wrong, which can often be the case in these situations.

Next, do any of you know Sal Bercys? This poor kid comes across as a complete jerk in the book and I was wondering how much of the portrait is actually true. I bet he wasn't happy to see what was written about him, assuming he even bothered to read the book.

Finally, the BCC gets an implicit mention in Chapter 14 when one of the Murrow boys plays our very own Chris Williams. Michael's description of Chris is less than flattering, but that will come as no surprise to those of us who know him:
...Willy's playing Christopher Williams, a 2049 from Massachusetts, in Round Two. What could Willy possibly do against a 2000?

For once, Willy gets lucky. Willy happens to be playing a 2000 who allegedly lost his first-round game to a boy he hates, and because of that, this particular 2000 has allegedly ceased caring, and has figured he might as well take a dive in this game as well. So he plays fast, and shifts all his pieces to the queen's side of the board, and Willy, playing an opening called the closed Sicilian (a 2000 should know how to counter this), attacks from the king's side, and before you know it, in under an hour, the game's over. Two games, and Willy has two points. "To me," Willy says, "I think he wanted to lose."

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