Chess on Fire Print E-mail
Jennifer's Blog
By Jennifer Shahade   
February 22, 2007
On a scale from one to ten of pyrophobia/pyromania, I’m probably about a 2.5. So when I was called upon light all my chess pieces on fire and use dangling tongs to move them, I was sure that I would knock them all down and start a drop and roll frenzy. In this case, my opponent, conceptual artist Daniel J. Martinez, may have seemed like the veteran chessplayer. Despite my shaky hands, he encouraged me, saying: "You can do it." As it turned out, my usual move 1.e4 was too terrifying, since to play it, I would have to circumvent and risk knocking over the largest candles on the set, the King and the Queen. After successfully executing the “easy” first move 1.g3, I began to relax and enjoy Glenn Kaino’s February 20 Whitney Museum exhibit, "Burning Boards."

Artist Glenn Kaino participates in the fifteen board exhibition he organized. Photo Irina Krush

I first met Glenn Kaino about a year ago at his art exhibit in Chelsea. The main room of his gallery was adorned with portraits of top chess players from Kasparov to Kosteniuk. Some time later, he e-mailed me for participant suggestions for an exciting project. The basic concept was that a combined chess and art crowd would come to play on chess sets made of candles, and the burning of the pieces would create a childlike atmosphere, where discovery and beauty dominated over the competitive structure of most chess events. In this way, Glenn's "Burning Boards" reminded me of Yoko Ono's "Play it By Trust". 

Usually, a candle is just an accessory to an evening, one of many things going on. In this case, it was the main subject… and watching the chess piece candles burn out and the waxes melt together was both spectacular and sad.

Two pawns from GM Pascal Charbonneau's game, with author and art critic David Levi-Strauss. Photo J.Shahade

Chessplayers can make ordering a sandwich competitive, so Glenn did well to pair artists against chessplayers if he was going for a peaceful atmosphere. Pascal Charbonneau, Elizabeth Vicary and I were all meditating on how best to alter our regular chessplay to win at burning chess.

Chess experts Elizabeth Vicary and Paul Hoffman. Photos Irina Krush.

For instance, in my game against Daniel, I threatened checkmate on f7 by placing my Queen on b3 and my Knight on e5. Because the candles were all the same shape, just different sizes, less experienced players had trouble figuring out which one was which. Irina Krush helped Daniel find e6, defending against the mate. However, the e6 pawn soon melted down, and I swooped in with Qf7#.

Remants of the final checkmate in my game against Daniel J.Martinez. Photo J.Shahade

Imagine how much it would change the game if pawns' defensive powers were so temporary and delicate? I’d just play some combination of Qh5 and Ng5 and after h6, laugh and wait till the h-pawn melted down.

More Morelia

Tonight from 4:30 pm on, I’ll be hosting live coverage of Linares/Morelia, so tune in to hear me and commentator GM Larry Christiansen. Anand is playing smooth chess in Linares, and is now leading with 3 out of 4, including wins over Carlsen and Morozevich. In spite his loss to Anand, Carlsen is also impressing in Linares with clear second and 2.5/3.

Linares Standings after four rounds:

1. Viswanathan Anand-3/4, 2. Magnus Carlsen 2.5/4, 3-6- Levon Aronian,
Vassily Ivanchuk, Peter Leko and GM Peter Svidler 2/4, 7. Veselin Topalov –1.5/4
8. Alexander Morozevich (Russia 2741) 1/4


There is no Dr.D's Check-Up for February. I hope you didn’t miss the very informative Solutions column this month. His column will be back in March, on its regular monthly schedule after that, and for enthusiastic solvers, "Dr. D's Problem of the Week" will make its first appearance this weekend on Solutions will count towards ladder points.

Say something nice for me

I was running late in New York to meet the Italian chess publisher and organizer, Yuri Garrett when I observed a 20 something boy screaming at a weary-looking woman, "Looks like someone fell out of the ugly chair!" I was so appalled and shocked at this remark that I turned around and shouted some expletives at the guy (not normal for me!) and went on to mutter to myself in disbelief for the next few blocks. There are very few things in this world that upset me more than random, pointless acts of unkindness. So at the risk of getting all "Chicken soup for the Chessplayers' soul"… please compliment someone for me today!

When I did meet Yuri, we spoke about the art exhibit, his tournament in Sardinia, and his friend [NEWS:207]David Bronstein. (1924-2006)[/NEWS] Yuri told me that playing on the monochromatic boards of the Whitney exhibit would have pleased the legendary writer and World Championship contender. "Bronstein said to me that the best way to understand chess is on one color. 'Chessplayers tend to create systems out of black and white squares, but these systems do not exist.'"

Ciao for now,