Chess champion plays 50 young people simultaneously

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Detroit — Imagine pitching to Miguel Cabrera. Or catching a pass from Matthew Stafford. Or stealing the puck from Henrik Zetterberg.

Some 50 young chess aficionados got a chance Friday night to play the best player in the U.S.: Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura.

They would likely be whupped, to be sure, and few entertained the notion of winning. After all, some of the youngsters, members of the Detroit City Chess Club, have been playing for just a few years.

Still, it was just exciting to rub shoulders with such a luminary, said the players.

“I feel great,” said Kamauri Washington. “I’m pretty happy.”

Kamauri, 13, an eighth-grader at University Prep Science and Math in Detroit, also was pretty resplendent in a purple shirt and tie and white pants and vest.

The object of his and other players’ affection, Nakamura, entered the Great Hall of the Detroit Institute of Arts to a thunderous standing ovation from the players.

The chess prodigy, 27, who is ranked fourth in the world, knows something about overachieving youngsters. At 10, he became the youngest American chess master in history and, at 15, he was the youngest American grandmaster.

Who was the youngest grandmaster before him? The fabled Bobby Fischer.

Waiting for Nakamura to arrive at the DIA, the players, sitting around a rectangular table, mulled over their opening gambits. Others, being kids, used their smartphones to play video games.

“I wonder if anyone else is like me? Can you feel the excitement?” asked Sherman Redden, the former executive director of the chess club.

Nakamura smiled and shook the hand of each player before the first move. He used two types of opening moves, alternating them with the players.

The grandmaster made every move in a split second.

The youngsters dutifully jotted down every move made by the master, and how they responded.

Redden had told them before the match that they would long treasure their yellow score sheets from Friday because Nakamura is such a luminary in their world.

The players’ cloth chess boards sat on white linen atop the table. The walls were lined with glass display cases that held suits of armor. Fittingly, a game involving knights was surrounded by knights.

As they played, a crowd of 70, mostly parents, snapped photos or took videos of the contest.

Unlike most players, Kamauri refused to concede anything to his daunting foe. Despite playing for just 2 1/2years, the youngster said he believed he could win.

“I’ve been studying for two weeks,” he said.


Twitter: @francisXdonnell