Photo: Gus Lubin
“What do chess players do while they wait? They play chess,” joked Attorney Lawrence Leonard as we waited for the best chess player in the world, who was running late.Suddenly everyone in the Marshall Chess Club was playing or kibitzing. Near me a boy in a blue polo shirt, who I learned was national second grade champion 8-year-old Daniel Levkov, faced an adult opponent.
The boy twirled a captured white pawn while his opponent thought. When his opponent finally moved, the boy responded without hesitation. There was a quick exchange of moves, and then the man was thinking again, while the boy twirled his pawn.
Daniel and his father Dmitri are both rated in the 1700s. They’re good, though not even close to Magnus Carlsen, the guy we’re all waiting for, who is rated 2843.
It’s been said that chess players peak at age 37, but many of the best don’t make it that far.
Nineteenth century American prodigy Paul Morphy retired at the age of 22 after defeating every serious chess player in the world. Modern prodigy Bobby Fischer was the best in the world in 1972 when he effectively disappeared. And anyone who’s seen the movie Searching For Bobby Fischer knows how chess prodigies can crack under the pressure.
I ask Dmitri what will keep his 8-year-old son or indeed 21-year-old Carlsen from burning out.
He isn’t worried: “It’s easier now. Chess has become popular. Chess stars are making money, treated like real celebrities. Social media helps too. It gives them another perspective on life.“
Later in the evening, Daniel Levkov was one of 10 people chosen at random to play simultaneously against the Norwegian grandmaster.
Carlsen walked up and down the line of tables, often playing without hesitation.
He checkmated his first opponent in around 15 moves, with a surprising move that left the man dumbfounded. Some players kept playing when they had no chance of winning. But not Levkov, who stayed near equal in piece count until the end game.
After nearly an hour, Levkov was the only one left.
Carlsen towered over the boy. Now with his full attention on one board, the grandmaster finished things off in a matter of minutes.
Still, not bad for an eight-year-old.
The Magnus Carlsen event was sponsored by Chess NYC and 1000 Passions. Check out our video interview with the grandmaster below:
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