Checkmate is coming…

Posted on July 25, 2011

Game of Kings by Micheal Weinreb

Yes, another chess book. WAIT! ‘Game of Kings’ is as much about chess as ‘Hoop Dreams’ is about basketball. In that, it is by no means a technical analysis of the game. You’ll learn about the Orangutan opening, which is pretty cool, but other than that, sportswriter Michael Weinreb shows us what it’s like to be the top players at Murrow High school in Brooklyn, the closest thing we have to a high school chess dynasty.

Weinreb embeds himself with the high school chess team for the better part of the year. The one thing I truly took from this book and that I have suspected for a while is that you have to be pretty weird to get good at chess.

Because it is a battle of the minds, people assume that people who are good at chess have some sort of mental acuity. Not true. In fact, several of the seniors on the team are in danger of not graduating. Instead of studying, they play chess. Whereas the best athletes are recruited to play for powerhouse schools, these chess champions are rejected from Stanford and Princeton, instead heading to backup schools.

It’s always eye opening to read about the lives of people that are excellent in their field. Publicly, we only see a thin slice of their life. We don’t see the countless hours that they spend practising. We don’t see the toll that obsession takes on personal lives and even someone’s mental health.

Some of these kids are virtually abandoned by their parents. Others are obsessively micromanaged. And that’s kind of what this book is about. These are just some kids who happen to be really good at chess.

When they go to their first road game of the year, they lose games they shouldn’t have lost because they stay up all night eating pizza and joking around. Instead of taking quiet breaks between matches, they play card games.

At the center of this whole thing is Eliot Weiss, a math teacher who, after a practically non-existant career as a competitive chess player, set up shop at a high school in what is probably the universal center of chess, Brooklyn.

Over the years he has recruited the best chess talents in the city to create a team that has won the national championship for the past 3 years (at the time the book went to press). When you can convince a kid who skips a week of school because it is raining to spend the hours to become the best high school player in the country, you know you’re something special.

This is an extremely well told story. These are kids who have more trophies than they know what to do with. ‘Game of Kings’ is a book that could be about any high school group committed to excellence. It just happens to be about some kids who spend the better part of their time staring at a chessboard.

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