Hanken Philosophizes in his Corner
By Jerry Hanken   
August 4, 2008
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Jerry Hanken, Photo 2007
 Jerry Hanken's "corner" from the second round of the U.S. Open includes trivia and philosophizing on chess culture. Check out current standings and pairings from the U.S. Open and live games from the Denker and the Open on Monroi.com.

Being here at the US Open, with its long and colorful history and tradition, got me pondering upon a term I myself have used lately, “Chess Culture” But what does it really mean? We say that America doesn’t have it but, say, The Netherlands does. In a recent interview with 15-year-old Grand Master Parmijaran Negi from India, who played in his first U.S. tournaments in Philadelphia last month, (He won the Philly International and tied for first in the World Open), I was quite surprised to hear him say that there was about the same level of “chess culture” in India as there is in the US. I recalled reading how thousands upon thousands of people turned out to cheer the victory of Anand in a recent World Championship. I had assumed that Parmi had rock star status in his native land as one of only 19 GMs from the vast sub continent. He laughed at the suggestion and told me that, in India, only the name Vichy Anand was widely known. Most Indians would be hard pressed to name any other player. Kinda like here, where the average guy knows the name “Bobby Fischer”, or at least, “That kid from Brooklyn who beat the Russians." They are surprised when told that he died this year at 64. A lot only know the name only because of the popular “Searching for Bobby Fischer” movie, which wasn’t even really about Bobby! Another chess player? “Sorry, I don’t know” So is chess culture defined by how many players Ordinary Joe can name? It’s got to be a great deal more than that.  I am reminded of Justice Potter Stuarts’ famous remark while trying to pin down obscenity, “ I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it”. Perhaps it means the entire history, the many great players and their stories, the White library in Cleveland, and the vast number of books written about chess, a topic that they say is only second to the bible in the volume of literature commenting on it.

When a sports writer tries to talk chess and confuses a “match” with a game, or a reporter writes of the U.S. Chess Federation as a “ chess club in Crossville Tenn”, we know that they don’t have a clue as to what chess culture is. On the other hand, if you recognize the Torre-Adams back rank mate game and delight in it, you definitely have got it!

I don’t offer any easy blanket definition of chess culture here, but its something you might ponder at the board when your opponent thinks 15 minutes before making a forced recapture!

I wrote down these “profound” ramblings before the second round. 

No one even tried to get last rounds US Open quiz so its’ still in play. The current question is: How were the prizes determined at the very first US Open in 1900 at Excelsior Minnesota? Hint: This odd method had never been used before and only once since. Sorry David Kuhns and Phil Smith, you are ineligible.

I won again tonight but in an embarrassing way. I got a big edge in the opening with Black and played like an old man.



 I could have safely played 15 ….Qe4 but my timid Qf8 forced me to give up the exchange for a pawn on move 17 and my opponent, a very congenial and friendly man, Jonathan Allen from here in Texas, decided to go all out for a win. When he sacked his queen on d4, on move 25, I had a moment of panic. “Hoist on my own petard! It’s a Parting With the Lady” I thought. Then I saw that when he plays 26.Re8 check,I can return the queen and be a couple of pawns ahead in the ending which is how the game went. What NEITHER of noticed until the post game analysis, was that my bishop on a4 can move BACKWARDS and take the checking rook! A couple of strong players came up to me after the game and asked, ”why didn’t you just play …26 B takes the checking rook on e8???)  Duhhhhhh, I didn’t see it! Chessman wins again! (Apologies to John Watson for stealing his line from the late lamented “Chessman” comic book.) I blush.

 No one even tried to get last rounds US Open quiz so it's  still in play. The current question is: How were the prizes determined at the very first US Open in 1900 at Excelsior Minnesota? Hint: This odd method had never been used before and only once since. Sorry David Kuhns and Phil Smith, you are ineligible.

By the way, I am happy to be on CLO. My trivia will be forever out there in cyberspace!