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Hilton on Arriving in Valley Forge Print E-mail
By Jonathan Hilton   
July 2, 2010
hilton225.jpg"The essence of chess is thinking about what chess is."-David Bronstein

On Wednesday, I arrived at the 2010 World Open in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania with the goal of exploring the duality of my relationship with chess. My eleven-month hiatus from tournament play has provided me with an abundance of time for philosophical musings on the game, most of which I have spent pondering the nature of chess and the role it will play in my life. My most pressing question: now that I am, like so many other college students, an inactive (the word "former" crops up in my day-to-day conversations) player, will chess continue to be a medium through which I interact with the world, or will it serve merely as an escape from it? In recent months, I have been surprised at how chess has served me equally well in both capacities.

Allow me to elaborate. In my previous articles concerning my excursions to Nicaragua and Mexico, I reaffirmed my belief that chess is a force that drives people together, transcending cultural barriers. I was pleased to read the recent piece "Chess Adventures in Vietnam" by Evan Rabin, which I felt carried a similar tune. Yet, since leaving my full-time involvement in the American chess scene last fall, I have felt reluctant to even once fully immerse myself in the game. Every time I set up a chess board, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was trying to run away from something. It was not just the sense that I was blowing off an important term paper or homework assignment to indulge my passion for the game. It was more that college had opened my eyes for the first time to various injustices in the world, and that devoting so much time to chess was taking away from my ability to fight them. Instead of pursuing chess, then, I was choosing to spend long hours each day researching the role of forced labor in producing raw materials for everything from the chocolate we eat to the steel in our cars. I read anthropological works attempting to explain the recent changes in immigration patterns between Mexico and the U.S., investigated refugee laws, and spent time volunteering for small-scale literacy campaigns and fretting over a decade-long era of deteriorating race relations in my home town of Cincinnati. In short, chess seemed irrelevant. I turned to it only as a way to flee, for a few hours, my growing disillusionment with the society into which I had been thrust.

It was during this period that I received an unsolicited letter from a 66-year-old Florida inmate, James R. Frankenberry, Jr. The man - who, from his writing, seemed well-educated - had taken an interest in drawing portraits and wanted to send me one that he had done of Kasparov. Since last March, I have exchanged a number of cordial letters with Mr. Frankenberry, who recounted a great deal of his life to me, including his childhood growing up around the Marshall Chess Club in New York. One of the highlights of his early days was a skittles game against a then 13-year-old Fischer, who was six months Frankenberry's senior. Although I have no way of verifying the authenticity of the move score - that is something I will leave to the chess historians, who always delight in busting Fischer hoaxes - I present it here nevertheless. In the note to White's move 17, Frankenberry deviated in a 1972 correspondence game played from prison against chess author and Chess Life columnist Andy Soltis, who at that point was just beginning his weekly column for the New York Post. Upon receiving that game score I phoned Mr. Soltis, who confirmed that the game took place.

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 d5 4.exd5 c6 5.c4!?
This rare move is one Frankenberry's pet lines. Much more common is 5.d4 Bd6 6.Nc3 Ne7 7.dxc6 Nbxc6 8.Bc4 0-0 9.0-0 and so on.
5...Nf6 6.d4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 cxd5 8.Bxf4 0-0 9.Qc2!?
White understandably wishes to avoid losing a tempo with 9.Be2 dxc4, but this was probably preferable to the text, which weakens the d4 square. For instance, 10.Bxc4 Re8+ 11.Ne5 Be6 12.0-0 Bxc4 13.Nxc4 and White's activity compensates for his isolated d-pawn.
9...Re8+ 10.Be2 Nc6 11.0-0 dxc4 12.Rad1 Bd6
12...Bxc3 13.bxc3 Bf5! would have secured Black good chances after 14.Qxf5 Rxe2 15.Rfe1 Rxe1+ 16.Rxe1 Qd5, when White does not have enough compensation for his pawn. After the text, White could regain the upper hand.
The simple 13.Bxd6 Qxd6 14.Bxc4 would have left White for choice.
13...Nxd4! 14.Qd2 Rxe5?
Returning the favor. Black would win after 14...Nxe2+ 15.Qxe2 (or 15.Nxe2 Qb6+ 16.Be3 Bc5) 15...Qb6+ 16.Be3 Bc5!.
15.Qxd4 Re8 16.Bxd6 Be6 17.Bf3
White is now winning. Frankenberry's 1972 correspondence game against Andy Soltis went 17.Rxf6!? Qxf6 18.Be5 (18.Qxf6 gxf6 19.Bf3 seems more accurate) 18...Qg6 19.Ne4 h5 20.Bxg7 Qxg7 21.Nf6+ Kf8 22.Qd6+ Re7 23.Qd8+ Re8, ½-½. White has a draw by perpetual check. Soltis went on to receive his IM title two years later and became a GM in 1980.
17...Qd7 18.Bxb7 Qxb7 19.Rxf6 gxf6 20.Ne4 Qb6 21.Bc5 Red8 22.Nxf6+ Kh8 23.Nd5+ Kg8 24.Ne7+ Kf8 25.Qh8# 1-0

While in prison, Frankenberry has pursued both chess and art. He also trains service dogs through a special program for inmates.
Kasparovdrawing.jpgIn addition to this one unexpected foray into the world of prison chess through my letters with Frankenberry, I also kept in touch with the chess world by working with a few private students in what little spare time I had and promoting my book. For the most part, however, I hoped that chess (and all the stress that comes with tournament play) would leave me in peace to pursue other interests. Before college, the chess was my life; while in college, the chess world seemed as distant as Narnia.

Whenever I felt tired of school, however, I dreamt about working on my next chess book (a sequel to the first one, Wojo's Weapons this time covering the late GM Wojtkiewicz's methods against the King's Indian Defense and other such openings) over summer break. And to no one's surprise, the day that school was out for the summer, I buried myself in my work. For the past few weeks leading up to this tournament I have been writing like a madman, getting up at 6:00 or 7:00 A.M., writing the entire day, and going to bed around 9:00 P.M. I keep my cell phone turned off and have generally tried not to keep in contact with my friends from college. I will have to return to school at some point, but for now, chess is my escape.

So what does any of this have to do with the World Open? Perhaps not much, but it certainly does have a lot to do with chess. Each player here, regardless of strength, has some type of relationship with chess. My personal project for the week will be to learn as much as I can about the people who have come to the Valley Forge Convention Center for this event and how their own relationships with the game have been redefined at different points in their lives. The late Jerry Hanken always compared chess with a greedy and demanding mistress, though I'm hoping my own relationship with the game will take a slightly different route.

Although I feel somewhat removed from the world of chess heading into the World Open, perhaps I'll find a way to reconcile my seemingly separate lives in and away from the game. But for now, I'm wrapped up in the excitement of the event. As it stands, the 27-player 7-Day Schedule of the Open Section has an astonishing eleven Grandmasters, including Vallejo Pons, Ganguly, Van Wely, Onischuk, Najer, and Gustafsson among others. The 5-Day Schedule has twenty-five GMs, including Kamsky, Smirin, Lenderman, Ehlvest, Kudrin, Shabalov, Robson, Hess, Perelshteyn, and more. The atmosphere is electric, to say the least, and I'll have my eye out for a good story for my next blog toward the middle of the event.

Watch live World Open games on Monroi.com and browse standings on the official site. Also check out the first batch of Valley Forge US Chess Scoop videos.

You can pick up the book Jonathan Hilton co-authored with IM Dean Ippolito, Wojo's Weapons: Winning with White at the USCF store.
Jonathan will also be writing an in-depth story on the World Open for Chess Life Magazine.

January - Chess Life Online 2010

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