Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Kings of New York

From Ch. 10, "The Women in the Room": The circuitous route to America took Irina Krush and her family from the Ukraine through Austria and into Italy, and while they waited in limbo for their papers to arrive, with nothing else to do, Irina's father, an accountant, taught her how to play ches. This was in 1989; Irina was four and a half. When she was six, she won twenty dollars in a tournament at the Manhattan Chess Club, playing against men six and seven times her age. When she was twelve, she became a master. by the time she was fourteen, Irina's rating had risen above 2400, and Murrow's reputation as a home to exiled Eastern european chess talent had been firmly established. If you were a competitive chess player from Brooklyn, you just knew, the way Irina did, that this was where Anna Khan had gone, and this was where you belonged. Maybe she could have taken the test and gotten into Stuyvesant, but what did she want with Stuyvesant? She had no desire to spend her formative years doing complex mat homework and competing for college admissions. to tell the truth, she'd never much liked math. This might have been due to her eyesight, which started to degenerate somewhere around the third grade; in the five years it took her to get over her pride and admit that she couldn't see the equations on the chalkboard, any passion she had for numbers died. And what did she want with numbers, anyhow? The reason her eyesight had deteriorated must have had something to do with all the reading she did in poorly lit rooms. She loved to read; she still does. If only she could have been a writen, or even a dancer - but for reasons she couldn't explain (maybe becuase she was an accountant's daughter), chess became her mode of self-expression. This has always been the way she's viewed the game, not as a clash of egos, not as osme grand metaphor for war, not like Fischer and Kasparov have characterized it, as an opportunity to emasculate another human being. The best games, like that time in Buenos Aires when she sacrificed her knight and then her rook (and still managed to win), form like pearls do, over time, over a series of moves, which is why she does her best work in games with longer time control, games that unfold in four or five glorious hours. Oh, she knows there's an inescapable logic at work here, and she doesn't deny it, and she can respect that sort of thinking as well. But this is not the essence of chess. The essence of chess is all wrapped up in beauty. Even if you lose. And maybe this is a feminine perspective, but hell, she's known plenty of men who can apreciate the beauty of the game as much as she can. Otherwise, why would they spend all those hours studying by themselves? Otherwise, what would be the point?

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