Sunday, July 04, 2010

GM Ken Rogoff on his chess career

In a fascinating article about GM Kenneth Rogoff's timely book on economic crises, he commented on his chess career. (Rogoff used to play at the Boylston.)

They Did Their Homework (800 Years of It)
Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff's handiwork is contained in their recent best seller,This Time Is Different,” a quantitative reconstruction of hundreds of historical episodes in which perfectly smart people made perfectly disastrous decisions. It is a panoramic opus, both geographically and temporally, covering crises from 66 countries over the last 800 years.
Photo: Mary F. Calvert for The New York Times

about chess:

"...He received a chess set for his 13th birthday, and he quickly discovered that he was something of a prodigy, a fact he decided to hide so he wouldn’t get beaten up in the lunchroom.

“I think chess may be a relatively cool thing for kids to do now, on par with soccer or other sports,” he says. “It really wasn’t then.”

Soon, he began traveling alone to competitions around the United States, paying his way with his prize winnings. He earned the rank of American “master” by the age of 14, was a New York State Open champion and soon became a “senior master,” the highest national title.

When he was 16, he left home against his parents’ wishes to become a professional chess player in Europe. He enrolled fleetingly in high schools in London and Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, but rarely attended. “I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to be doing,” he recalls.

He spent the next 18 months or so wandering to competitions around Europe, supporting himself with winnings and by participating in exhibitions in which he played dozens of opponents simultaneously, sometimes while wearing a blindfold.

Occasionally, he slept in five-star hotels, but other nights, when his prize winnings thinned, he crashed in grimy train stations. He had few friends, and spent most of his time alone, studying chess and analyzing previous games. Clean-cut and favoring a coat and tie these days, he described himself as a ragged “hippie” during his time in Europe. He also found life in Eastern Europe friendly but strained, he says, throttled by black markets, scarcity and unmet government promises.

After much hand-wringing, he decided to return to the United States to attend Yale, ...

He interrupted a brief stint in a graduate program in economics at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology to prepare for the world chess championships, which were held only every three years.

After becoming an “international grandmaster,” the highest title awarded in chess, when he was 25, he decided to quit chess entirely and to return to M.I.T. He did so because he had snared the grandmaster title and because he realized that he would probably never be ranked No. 1.

He says it took him a long time to get over the game, and the euphoric, almost omnipotent highs of his past victories.

“To this day I get letters, maybe every two years, from top players asking me: ‘How do I quit? I want to quit like you did, and I can’t figure out how to do it,’ he says. “I tell them that it’s hard to go from being at the top of a field, because you really feel that way when you’re playing chess and winning, to being at the bottom — and they need to prepare themselves for that.”

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