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On chess: Confessions of a Grandmaster

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 26, 2011 - The world did not end Saturday, but maybe those who were making predictions were just a little off. Perhaps their lines got crossed, and instead of "the end of the world will occur on May 21" they meant "Ben Finegold will lose his match on May 22."

When I lost to America's youngest-ever grandmaster, 16-year-old Ray Robson, in this week's international match, it made me think of one of my son's favorite laments: "What world do we live in?" I have decided to stop idly wondering and take some steps to proactively make it a world that works better for me.

I have a lot of bad habits (who doesn't?), and I decided Sunday night - after losing the last slow chess game in my match with young Robson - that I was going to make some changes in my life. What specifically?

  • Spend more time studying/working on my chess game
  • Lose weight (eat less of the wrong stuff and enjoy more of the right stuff and go to the gym more)
  • Keep my home clean and my thoughts more clear

The most important decision was No. 2 on that list. I have had trouble with my weight, and this became more obvious during my chess match. My esteemed opponent is a tall, thin 16 year old. He is probably 5 foot 11 inches and 110-120 pounds. Conversely, I am 5 foot 8 and 315 pounds. Looking at the webcam and pictures from the match was quite disturbing, to say the least.
Now, I'm not making such rash life changes because it is the best thing for me. That would make too much sense. I decided to improve my life simply due to my suffering chess game. Chess is what I do best, and lately I have been playing poorly. About five years ago, I lost 100 pounds, and my chess rating soared. I went from about twenty-fifth rated in the U.S. to the top 10. I was playing and feeling great! Since then, I have gained all the weight back, and my chess has suffered. Now I am barely in the top 30. Enough is enough.

My birthday is Sept. 6. I will lose 50 pounds by then, and another 50 by the year's end. And that is just the beginning. Why all the fuss? Let's have a look at the sixth match game played Sunday.

I played reasonably well, and Robson surprised me early with 10.h4 instead of 10.Qd2, which he played in game four. Robson had a slight advantage throughout, then, in time trouble (he had less than three minutes on his clock to get to move 40), he played a bad move (26.g5). Now I had a winning position, but not as winning as I had hoped! Thinking I had forced checkmate after 27...Re2, I was confident of victory. My hopes were dashed, as Robson played the crushing 29.Qxg7+! This queen sacrifice wins immediately, as 29...Kxg7 gets mated by 30.Bxf6+ and 31.Rh8 checkmate. Instead, I should have played 27...Re5 with a winning position.

Will my chess improve as my health gets better and my weight decreases? Only time will tell.

Ben Finegold is resident Grandmaster at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.

Ben Finegold
Grandmaster Ben Finegold learned the rules of chess at age 5 and was dubbed “The 40-year-old GM” after receiving the title in 2009. In between, Finegold was a U.S. Junior champion in 1989, a recipient of the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship in 1993 and a competitor in nine U.S. Championships. He is a popular scholastic coach and commentator for elite events.