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Obama Plays Chess Against McCain September 23, 2008

Posted by Jennifer in : chess,politics , add a comment

Four years ago, GM Pascal Charbonneau, John Fernandez and I created a fictional chess game between John Kerry and George W. Bush. Here we go again…

September Surprise!  Instead of tonight’s scheduled debate, Barack Obama and John McCain will face off in a chess game. And what a match up it will be! Barack Obama just defeated an overly aggressive World Women’s Champion.  McCain lost his last World Championship Candidates match to a two-time champ consumed by fears of exploding rooks, but just made his comeback against a bishop-obsessed candidate. McCain’s greatest strength is fighting spirit: No one can stop talking about how he defended a pawn down rook endgame for seven years straight. Critics of Obama site his lack of experience on the international circuit, but his talent is indisputable. We have over 225 million opinions on the relative strengths of Obama and McCain, but tonight, chess seems a more appropriate decider than democrazy.

 Barack Obama- John McCain

I am Barack Obama and I am the future winner of this game. I stand on the shoulders of my great American Chess predecessors who favored 1.e4. Who would have thought that a young boy from Brooklyn, without any ties to the Russian chess elite, brought up by a single Jewish mother would one day stand in front of the American public as World Champion? And that 150 years before the levees broke, a self-taught New Orleans genius would claim the first unofficial World Championship? But on the other side of American triumph is American tragedy. Paul Morphy went crazy and died alone in his bathtub while Bobby Fischer was exiled from America for tax evasion and became a raving Anti-American and Anti-Semite. Too many on the fringes of our society, the sick and mentally ill as well as the brilliant are promoted as strong pawns on the top of their game but discarded as isolanis when past their prime. Under my presidency, no pawn will be left behind, and in contrast to my not so great predecessor, I am not talking about more standardized tests, underpaid teachers and uninsured children. I want to help pawns before they even arrive at the board. We’re not talking under-promotion, we’re talking pre-promotion. With 1.e4, I promise you  I will not let America down.

With his first move, the popular 1.e4, Obama takes immediate initiative.

1…. c6

I am John McCain, and I am the future winner of this game. I will restore economic vitality to this country so that all pawns will have a merry Christmas. Meanwhile, my opponent has made one move, but said 100 words. Typical of a man who owns all of Dvoretsky’s books but hasn’t solved any problems.  For my first move, can you expect me to play any other opening than the Maverick Variation of the Sicilian? Oops, I played the Caro. My eyesight is not what it used to be. (McCain excuses himself and returns) Gata Kamsky plays the Caro Kann, so with 1…c6 I profess my undying support for America’s troops. If you currently support Obama, I urge you to consider the Iranian Attack. Unlike my passive opponent, I have an immediate tactical refutation.

Obama: I don’t need to play with a queen. This may be the most important decision of the game, but I’m going to replace the most powerful piece on the board- with another rook, a talkative straight shooter who won’t try any sneaky moves on me after we win the game. (Barack takes his queen away, and replaces it with a rook on d1.)

In a startling move 2 play, Barack seizes the center but gives up his queen for a rook.

John McCain highlights Obama's early queen sack with a queen move of his own, Qa5 check.


McCain: The difference between pushing pawns and moving your queen is that a queen has actual responsibilities.
3. c3
McCain: Under a McCain presidency, every pawn will be powered at the rate of $2.22 a square. And not only that, the standing on a square tax will be reduced for all Americans.

Position after 3...e5

Obama: Pawns should pay no more than $2.21 to push a square, and only the king and queen should pay more for square rental. The people of America can’t afford more expenses at this time of crisis, but we do need to rollback some of the cuts that allow the top 1% gold encrusted borders.
McCain: Did you hear what he just said? Obama wants to raise taxes on  hard-working Americans!
Obama: I think you need to work on your hearing as well as your eyesight, Senator McCain.
5.Bxf4 Ke7 6.Bd6+
McCain: After abandoning your bishops and Jeremiahs, what will you do next? Pray five times a day that you’ll beat me?   

Position after 6...Kxd6

Obama: This is a tight race and I think it’s high time I follow the textbook advice, "invite everyone to the party", including my g1 knight. We once had disagreements, in fact, some said that  the king’s knight and I were dividing the party. But now, we must pull together. KNO McCain, KNO How.
7.Nf3 Na6 8.Bc4 Ne7 9.0-0 b5 10.Bb3 Nc7 
Obama:   I’d like to thank my opponent for a tough fight. Moreover, I’d like to recognize all 305 million pawns including those who are too young to vote, incarcerated or even voted against me.  Without you, I’d never be able to say this: Checkmate, John McCain.

The final position, in which McCain finds himself checkmated by a pawn.


Also see my Chess Life Online post where I solicit more fictional games, and Jonathan Rowson’s take on Elizabeth Vicary’s blog.

Atlantic City Lesson, Part II September 19, 2008

Posted by Jennifer in : poker,travel , 9 comments

My boyfriend and I arrived in Atlantic City for our post Labor Day vacation just before the height of Hanna’s aftermath rage on the Northeast. We dropped off our bags at the Borgata, took the jitney to the Boardwalk, and then sprinted through the storm to arrive at the Piers Ceaser, a ritzy new mall with floor to ceiling windows. Pockets of people watched as huge waves crashed right into the glass, scary and surreal. We sat in the AC Continental, an offshoot of a trendy Philly restaurant and ordered wasabi mashed potatoes and drinks. Our waiter gave us a pitcher of martini for the price of just one. The sloshing and the splashing was good for an apocalyptic high.


The storm however washed away just before sunset and the rest of the excitement would wait for the next morning, where I played in the Fall Borgata (NL Texas Hold Em) Ladies Poker Open. I didn’t win too many big pots, but clawed my way up close to the bubble with my usual superiority at blind and ante stealing. About seven hours in, I got a chance to use some advice from Gus Hansen’s entertaining and honest book, Every Hand Revealed, where he divulges stepping up his aggression pre-break: "Last hand before the break. Another excellent opportunity to pick up 8k! Three guys are looking for the bathroom, two guys are looking for their girlfriends, leaving just little ‘ol me to steal the blinds and antes."  In ladies events, where there’s usually many brand new players, I think there’s another reason to push harder before the break. In my first tournaments, I was very excited to get to the dinner break, as it usually meant not only a free dinner, but that I was close to being in the money and could call all my friends and tell them I was still in!  So in the hand before dinner, I had J9s with 9x the BB (plus enough antes to make my effective stack size more like 6x) Pushing there in third seat is a tad too aggressive/desperate for my normal standards, but the dinner break theory and one prefolder tipped me in favor of saying "All in."  A woman who kept complaining about how awful and boring poker tournaments were, called and beat me on the cutoff with 33. Later I saw her by the Cashier. She told me she called because she read that 33 is a good hand heads-up.   I explained that she was probably reading about battle of the blind situations. Then came a money line: "You keep talking to me like I want to get good at poker"!   I gotta tuck that quote away, because when I play in mixed tournaments, there is always at least one guy at my table ready to break out a mini-blackboard and chalk.

In the second Borgata Fall poker Open event I played in, the professor du jour was a quiet suited man to my left, who didn’t speak or look up for two hours….until he won a race against me! I was two off the button and raised with AK, he re-raised on the CO and I re-raised him all in. I don’t remember the exact stack sizes, but it was a trivially obvious play on my part unless he’s the tightest player ever- he obviously wasn’t since he had 99. Someone else at the table asked why I went all in, and I muttered something vague, "I don’t mind gambling." My opponent from the hand said,  "That’s not the right way to think about it. The correct way to think about it is to put me on a range of hands."  He continued to talk about pot-odds, pokerbots, bubble play, etc, etc. It was as if he didn’t feel he had a license to speak with a short stack but after doubling up, the words overflowed. It was funny and he was a nice guy so I forgave him for assuming I was unaware of the concept of "range of hands." But next time I’ll know what to say: "You’re talking to me like I want to get good at poker!"

My dad at the nature(!) trail outside the Borgata

The most dramatic scene of my fall AC trip was in a "Survivor tournament" in which the top 15 get $1500 each, creating one of the ugliest bubble spots I’ve ever encountered. I was not playing but had 20% of my dad, who is a beast in live poker.  When it got to 16, most people wanted to make a deal and split the pot evenly, with everyone getting $1400. One woman refused despite the fact that one of the players offered to pay her $100 out of his pocket, which would have guaranteed her the max prize, $1500, anyway. Normally I’m an all for poker deal refusals- my strongest area in poker is in the endgame, so I am often annoyed by premature pressure to chop. But this was silly, cause there was no value in her continuing to play. Her explanation for refusal, ""No one was ever there for me on the bubble." The quote depressed me cause it could be applied to so  many more important things than poker. Just because no one was there for you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be there for your beautiful human beings trying to grind out a cash in the Survivor tournament! In the end, the deal was forced through but not without much screaming, stacks being shoved blind, and hundred dollar bills thrown across the table. If someone’s going to attack me, I hope it’s with a hundred dollar bill too.

Atlantic City Lesson September 14, 2008

Posted by Jennifer in : poker , 5 comments

My most interesting hand from the three Borgata Fall Open events I played was sadly, one that I lost. I was 45 minutes into a $400 buy-in with a relatively deep, no ante structure, and I woke up with a pair of kings. I’d already increased my stack from 7000 to 8500 so I was feeling good.  A dude in early position raised to 150: he had been very aggressive and involved in a lot of huge pots, especially considering this was just the first level with 25 50 blinds. I re-raised to 500 and he called. The flop came out 669 with two spades and one club. He checked, which immediately caught me off guard because I hadn’t seen him check any flops up to that point. I bet 700, he insta-called. The turn was annoying, an 8 of clubs.  He fired out with 1500. I had a bad feeling but decided there was a high % chance he had nothing, so I called, figuring I’d go to the river unless something disgusting popped up. Also maybe he would just give up and check the river. The river was an icky 7 of spades. He bet 2500 instantly: definitely not what I wanted to see, So  many things beat me. 99,88,77, AA any ten, any six, any two spades, any 5. Pretty much the only two reasonable hands I can beat are JJ or QQ so without too much thought, I threw away my cowboys. He then gleefully turned over AK…of HEARTS. Stone cold bluff. I was even more upset at myself when he barely played a hand for the next two hours.

 If I’d known he was a tight player who just happened to play the first 30 minutes like a  maniac, I probably would have called the river or even better, I would have pushed the turn.  If you’re not really into poker, you might be wondering: Why would you be MORE likely to think a tight player was bluffing than a loose player? Well no one is as tight as you think they are, first of all. More importantly, in that spot, a crazy player could potentially have hands as weak as A6s or A5s or ATo – they all beat me, but a tight player would almost certainly throw them away based on the preflop action. So I folded because I thought he was loose….seems counterintuive but actually makes a lot of sense. Of course I was disgusted at being bluffed like that, but also grateful he had shown me the hand so I could better analyze it. After losing this demoralizing hand, I lost two races with AK vs. pairs and was out in a flash in the second chance. Not my lucky day in AC!

Chocolate Chess Boxing September 4, 2008

Posted by Jennifer in : art,chess , 3 comments

As a present for my brother Greg for his work on chessvideos.com, an artist from Denmark, Carina Jørgensen created this web illustration of a game between my brother and me. Some of the details from the photo come from a match that I played against Greg three years ago, in a psycho-geography event organized by an artist I met in Brooklyn, Sharilyn Neidhardt. Greg and I played a normal game (a draw), while our moves were transmitted via cell-phone to 32 adults and children who stood on a grid of street corners, waiting to be told where to move.  

Check out Carina’s website: In addition to chess and art, she also trains in martial arts, and is pictured in boxing gloves on her bio page.

Many of my hybrid chess and promotional ideas like chess-spinning (integrated chess/music competitions), chess gambling and marathon chess, have yet to happen. Meanwhile, the chessboxing people truly have their act together- there is a World Chess Boxing Organization based in Berlin and a chessboxing newswire.  I’m shocked they haven’t contacted me yet- I am from Philly like Rocky, I wrote Chess Bitch, and the only reason I ever won two U.S. women’s titles is because my fighting spirit trumped my  poor calculating skills. Isn’t it obvious that I’d be a great chess-boxer with practice on quick mates and how to protect myself from blows to the brain? I’m going to start training soon– I’ll see you on the steps.