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Cover Stories with Chess Life

Author: US Chess

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This monthly podcast, hosted by Chess Life and Chess Life Online Editor John Hartmann, goes in depth and behind the scenes of each month’s Chess Life cover story.
34 Episodes
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Good time of day to all of you, my friends on the Cover Stories with Chess Life podcast. There are some people who, simply by the effect of their personality or their voice, become larger than life figures in their field. Today’s guest, Grandmaster (and everyone’s favorite Uncle) Alex Yermolinsky, is one of those people. A St. Petersburg native, Alex emigrated to the United States in 1989 after nearly a decade working as a coach in the Soviet Union. Soon his rating skyrocketed, earning the GM title and reaching the 2600s (back when that meant something), and Alex was rewarded with invitations to elite events like Hastings, Tilburg, and Wijk aan Zee. He is a veteran of many US Olympiad teams, and the winner of the 1993 (shared with Shabalov) and 1996 US Championships alongside buckets of Opens over the years. But Alex was never simply a player. His entrepreneurial spirit was apparent from his earliest days in America. The Yermo Chess Academy, dating from around the turn of the century and based in Cleveland, was an early effort, paired with a must-read Internet site that still holds up when found on archive.org. Some of the fruits of that website, and certainly a lot of its spirit, can be found in his 1999 The Road to Chess Improvement, a title that was published to rapturous reviews and that remains one of my favorite books. Alex became the Grandmaster in Residence at the Mechanics Institute in 1999 and held the office through 2007. He was elected to the US Chess Hall of Fame in 2012. Currently he resides in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a relative hop, skip, and jump from my own home here in Omaha, where (as his ChessBase bio says) “between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.” Anyone who has met Alex knows that he is a man of great opinion, and that he is not afraid to share those opinions with anyone who asks. That’s why I asked him to write our February cover story on the Skilling Open, where Wesley So ruined Magnus Carlsen’s birthday by defeating him in the Finals. Alex is a great analyst, as the article reminds us, but he’s also an excellent writer, and I’m glad to bring him back to the pages of a magazine that he once (due to the influence of a previous editor, and following Bobby Fischer) called Chess Lies.
If Jazz is America’s first great cultural export to the world, hip-hop is its second, and perhaps most important. From its earliest days, emerging from DJ and MC battles in the south-south Bronx, the rise and growth of hip hop music and culture has been exponential, and today there is no corner of the globe where hip hop has not taken root, often in surprising ways. Originally born from the grinding experience of 1970s urban American life, today’s hip hop is a true creolization of cultures, mutating and transforming itself as it is constantly reinvented by its new fans and practitioners. There are few who are as important in the history of hip-hop as is Robert Diggs, known to the world as RZA from Wu-Tang Clan. The main producer for most of the Wu-Tang’s albums, RZA is also an MC, a student of world religions and meditation, a practitioner of the martial arts, and a chess player. Chess has long been intertwined with hip-hop culture and the Black American experience, from the barbershop like the one run by my friend Jerome Helm here in Omaha – check him out in the January issue of Chess Life Faces column – to the halls of academia, as shown by my old colleague Dr. Tommy J. Curry in his 2008 article “Hip Hop Tactics.” That’s in the Philosophy Looks at Chess volume edited by Ben Hale, where my “Garry Kasparov is a Cyborg” article can also be found. What becomes apparent, when reading RZA’s books like the Tao of Wu and when reading this month’s Chess Life cover story, written by our guest Adisa Banjoko, is that chess and hip-hop are tied together, and that chess can be much more than the staid enterprise we sometimes limit ourselves to in our imagination. We saw part of that in The Queen’s Gambit, a topic that Adisa talked about at length in a recent podcast episode (#141 of The Bishop’s Chronicles). We see a lot more of it in the interview, which ties chess to spirituality, the martial arts, and diet – veganism and tea. It’s a very different vision of our game than the hegemonic image would indicate, and I think a vision that we would all do well to consider these days. Adisa “The Bishop” Banjoko is an author, an educator, and the founder of the Hip Hop Chess Federation. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.
Most editions of Cover Stories with Chess Life follow the same pattern: each month we talk to the author of our cover story. This month, however, is a little different. Dan Lucas, former editor of Chess Life and now our Senior Director of Strategic Communication, got back in the saddle for his December 2020 cover story on John D Rockefeller V and his $3 million gift to US Chess. Now, Dan’s employment with US Chess wouldn’t prevent him from appearing on this podcast, which he used to host. But Dan now hosts another podcast, One Move at a Time, where this month’s guest will be none other than John Rockefeller. This left me in a bit of a quandary. Obviously I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel and drag Dan onto my show, where naturally he’d use his best material and leave nothing for his own. So who could I ask to pinch-hit? Who could be interesting enough to fill such big shoes? Ben Johnson is a national master, a chess teacher, and, in a former life, he was a poker player of some repute. Now he is best known to chess fans around the world as the host of the Perpetual Chess Podcast, a weekly show where Ben interviews chess players and personalities both famous and... well, those of the likes of me. It’s a must-listen, and it’s one of the first things I check each Tuesday when I sit down at my desk to work. Ben and his guests cover a lot of ground in their talks, ranging from improvement to books to chess culture, and in what follows, I’ll try to drag out the very best of what Ben has learned in his over 200 episodes of Perpetual Chess, and also get a deeper sense of what Ben is like when he’s not in his basement, behind his recording equipment.
Grandmaster Maurice Ashley is a man who hardly needs an introduction to the readers of Chess Life or Chess Life Online. While he is famous today for his energetic style broadcasting events for the Saint Louis Chess Club, Ashley has been a giant of American chess for many years now. He is the first Grandmaster of African descent, has been a successful scholastic coach, and he organized some of the most lucrative and interesting large Swiss tournaments in American history. Because his career has been so varied and spanned so much of recent chess history, we thought Maurice Ashley would be the perfect person to write our October cover article on International Master Abhimanyu Mishra, the youngest IM in the world. His story is utterly fascinating. Ashley knocked the assignment out of the park, putting young Abhi's story into the proper context, and painting a much fuller picture of the role played by his family in his success than has been previously shown. Our interview, recorded on September 29, 2020, tries to cover the full range of Ashley's history and accomplishments. I had a great time recording it, and I want to thank Maurice for taking an hour of his time to talk to me for this podcast.  
Michael Tisserand has written a lovely profile of 88 year old Charlie Gabriel, a long-time member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Collective in New Orleans and one of the most well-traveled musicians alive today. As it turns out, Gabriel is obsessed with chess. His instagram account, @chess_with_charlie, chronicles both his musical exploits and his chess encounters, and we borrowed heavily from it (with permission, of course) for the art for our story. Tisserand is the author of three excellent books: The Kingdom of Zydeco, a history of Zydeco music in southwest Louisiana; Sugarcane Academy, a recounting of the months after Katrina for him and his family, and how, together with others exiled by the story, the Sugarcane Academy came to anchor the lives of some New Orleans children, and Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White, a vibrant biography of one of the most creative and influential cartoonists in American history. In his journalist work Tisserand has interviewed the likes of Jude Acers, Danny Barker, John Boutte, and Big Chief Tootie Montana, and his writings are diverse. One of his most recent articles, “Letter from New Orleans” in the Washington Spectator, is a poignant reckoning with the effects of COVID-19 on New Orleans culture and our country writ large. It’s well worth your time. We spoke to Michael from his home in New Orleans, which has just survived a near miss from Hurricane Laura, days before the 15th anniversary (so to speak) of Hurricane Katrina.
A prominent streamer in his own right, International Master Eric Rosen is the author of the August 2020 Chess Life cover story, “The New Chess Boom.” The cover for the issue, created by Neil Jamison and directed by Frankie Butler, has gotten a lot of attention online – something we’ll surely talk about – but I believe that Rosen’s article will end up garnering just as much attention now that the issue is in mailboxes and online. At just 26 years of age, Eric Rosen has already carved himself out a prominent place in the modern chess ecosystem. He is prominent on Twitch and YouTube for his streaming efforts, which distinguish themselves (particularly on YouTube) for their high production values. A FIDE Master in 2011 and an International Master in 2015, Eric did not let his chess distract from his education, earning a BA from Webster University, where he was on the world-famous Webster chess team. On his website – imrosen.com – among his many other accomplishments, two stand out: in 2018 he “unknowingly defeated Magnus Carlsen in the lichess Titled Arena,” and he “appeared on the front page of Reddit.” Having seen my brother do the same thing recently, I know what a big deal that is. J Will Eric be as witty and relaxed in an audio format instead of video? Probably. But let’s find out. With that, let’s welcome Eric Rosen to the show. Hello Eric!
The July edition of “Cover Stories with Chess Life” is now live! This monthly podcast, now hosted by Chess Life and Chess Life Online Editor John Hartmann, goes in depth and behind the scenes of each month’s Chess Life cover story. Our July episode features IM Vignesh Panchanatham, who wrote the lead elements in our extensive cover story on the Amateur Team Championships. We talk about his chess career, his journalistic impulses, and what he'd bake to win the Showstopper Challenge.
The June edition of “Cover Stories with Chess Life” is now live! This monthly podcast, now hosted by Chess Life and Chess Life Online Editor John Hartmann, goes in depth and behind the scenes of each month’s Chess Life cover story. This month’s guest is GM Jesse Kraai, who wrote the cover story on "Chess & Coronavirus" for our June issue.  While the main topic of discussion is chess in the age of COVID-19, we also talk about his book Lisa: A Chess Novel, his ideas on improvement, and his work with Chess Dojo. GM Kraai also recorded an audio version of his cover story, which can be heard in this video at our YouTube channel. Congratulations to Mario García González who was the winner of the "Best Question" contest. Mario receives a $50 gift certificate from uscfsales.com for submitting his question. Keep an eye on US Chess social media at Facebook and Twitter for a chance to win next month, when we interview IM Vignesh Panchanatham for the July edition of "Cover Stories."  
The May edition of “Cover Stories with Chess Life” is now live! This monthly podcast, hosted by Senior Director of Strategic Communication Daniel Lucas, goes in depth and behind the scenes of each month’s Chess Life cover story. This month's guest is GM Francesco Rambaldi, who contributed annotations to our May Chess Life cover story on the Cairns Cup.  We talk to him about the Cairns Cup,  growing up playing chess in France and Italy, his current status as a member of the Saint Louis University chess team, and his new book, The Caro-Kann Revisited - A Dynamic Repertoire for Black.   Don’t miss your chance at winning a $50 gift certificate to USCFSales.com! Send in your question to podcast@uschess.org, and if your question is selected as the Best Question, you will win the gift certificate.  Send in your questions now about anything involving Chess Life that strikes your fancy. Make sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify!
The April edition of “Cover Stories with Chess Life” is now live! This monthly podcast, hosted by Senior Director of Strategic Communication Daniel Lucas, goes in depth and behind the scenes of each month’s Chess Life cover story. This month we talk to Tom Beckman, the impresario of the Eastern Open since 2009, who wrote our article on this perennial event. (Note: The authors of our cover story about chess on Grand Cayman Island were unavailable.) We talk to Tom about his time running the Eastern Open, how chess has enriched his life, his teaching philosophy, and why he considers himself as a "freak on openings." Don’t miss your chance at winning a $50 gift certificate to USCFSales.com! Send in your question to podcast@uschess.org, and if your question is selected as the Best Question, you will win the gift certificate.  Send in your questions now about anything involving Chess Life that strikes your fancy. Make sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify!
The March edition of “Cover Stories with Chess Life” is now live! This monthly podcast, hosted by Senior Director of Strategic Communication Daniel Lucas, goes in depth and behind the scenes of each month’s Chess Life cover story. This month we talk to Menachem Walker, who wrote about chess and autism as part of our special issue on accessibility. Wecker is not your typical chess writer; he is a freelance journalist who is a former (full-time) education reporter at U.S. News & World Report who covered arts and religion on a freelance basis for Houston Chronicle for nearly five years. His writing has appeared in Playboy, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Atlantic, Columbia Journalism Review, Chronicle of Higher Education, Art Newspaper, artnet, America, Religion News Service, Christian Science Monitor, National Catholic Reporter, Mosaic, Sojourners, Arab American News, Mormon Times, and others. Don’t miss your chance at winning a $50 gift certificate to USCFSales.com! Send in your question to podcast@uschess.org, and if your question is selected as the Best Question, you will win the gift certificate. Next month’s cover story will be on chess in the Cayman Islands.  Send in your questions now about this topic or anything about Chess Life that strikes your fancy. Make sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify!
The February edition of “Cover Stories with Chess Life” is now live! This monthly podcast, hosted by Senior Director of Strategic Communication Daniel Lucas, goes in depth and behind the scenes of each month’s Chess Life cover story. This month we talk to GM Lev Alburt and Jon Crumiller about their cover story on the history of--and the possibility of bringing back--adjournments. Don’t miss your chance at winning a $50 gift certificate to USCFSales.com! Send in your question to podcast@uschess.org, and if your question is selected as the Best Question, you will win the gift certificate. Next month’s cover story will be on the topic Chess is for All and will cover chess and accessibility.  Send in your questions now about this topic or anything about Chess Life that strikes your fancy. Make sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify!
The January edition of “Cover Stories with Chess Life” is now live! This monthly podcast, hosted by Senior Director of Strategic Communication Daniel Lucas, goes in depth and behind the scenes of each month’s Chess Life cover story. This month we talk to Jamaal Abdul-Alim about his cover story on WGM Jennifer Yu. Don’t miss your chance at winning a $50 gift certificate to USCFSales.com! Send in your question to podcast@uschess.org, and if your question is selected as the Best Question, you will win the gift certificate. Next month’s cover story will be about the possibility of bringing back adjournments to tournament chess.  Send in your questions now about this topic or anything about Chess Life that strikes your fancy. Make sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify!
The December 2019 edition of “Cover Stories with Chess Life” is now live! This monthly podcast, hosted by Senior Director of Strategic Communication Daniel Lucas, goes in depth and behind the scenes of each month’s Chess Life cover story. This month we talk to Al Lawrence (our first four-time guest!) about his cover story on the 80th anniversary of US Chess. Don’t miss your chance at winning a $50 gift certificate to USCFSales.com! Send in your question to podcast@uschess.org, and if your question is selected as the Best Question, you will win the gift certificate. Next month’s cover story will be about our U.S. Women's Champion Jennifer Yu, and our guest will be the article's author, Jamal Abdul-Alim. Send in your questions now about this topic or anything about Chess Life that strikes your fancy. Make sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify!
The November 2019 edition of “Cover Stories with Chess Life” is now live! This monthly podcast, hosted by Senior Director of Strategic Communication Daniel Lucas, goes in depth and behind the scenes of each month’s Chess Life cover story. This month we talk to GM Joel Benjamin about his remembrance of GM Pal Benko, who died in August 2019 at the age of 91. We discuss his personal memories of Pal and go into more detail about the Benko Gambit. Don’t miss your chance at winning a $50 gift certificate to USCFSales.com! Send in your question to podcast@uschess.org, and if your question is selected as the Best Question, you will win the gift certificate. Next month’s cover story will be about our 80th Anniversary of US Chess. Send in your questions now about this topic or anything about Chess Life that strikes your fancy. Make sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify!
The October 2019 edition of “Cover Stories with Chess Life” is now live! This monthly podcast, hosted by Senior Director of Strategic Communication Daniel Lucas, goes in depth and behind the scenes of each month’s Chess Life cover story. This month we talk to IM Kostya Kavutskiy about his cover story on IM Christopher Yoo, America's latest, youngest, IM. IM Kavutskiy is a professional chess author, journalist, coach, commentator, and player. He's written a number of articles for CLO, Chess Life, and other chess publications. He currently resides in Mountain View, CA, and his plans are to pursue the GM title while working actively as a coach. And don’t miss your chance at winning a $50 gift certificate to USCFSales.com! Send in your question to podcast@uschess.org, and if your question is selected as the Best Question, you will win the gift certificate. Next month’s Chess Life cover story will be our remembrance of GM Pal Benko. Send in your questions now about this topic or anything about Chess Life that strikes your fancy.
The September 2019 edition of “Cover Stories with Chess Life” is now live! This monthly podcast, hosted by Senior Director of Strategic Communication Daniel Lucas, goes in depth and behind the scenes of each month’s Chess Life cover story. This month we talk to GM Joel Benjamin about senior chess: Both his cover story on the U.S. Senior Championship and his companion piece on the World Senior Team where the U.S. players successfully defended their gold medal. Make sure to listen to Joel's quick impression of all of his fellow U.S. Senior competitors! When we hit Benjamin with the following trivia question, does he get the answer right? "You were the first person to do this in Chess Life; what was it?" And don’t miss your chance at winning a $50 gift certificate to USCFSales.com! Send in your question to podcast@uschess.org, and if your question is selected as the Best Question, you will win the gift certificate. Next month’s Chess Life cover story will be the story of Christopher Yoo, our youngest international master and we’ll be talking to IM Kostya Kavutskiy. Send in your questions now about this topic or anything about Chess Life that strikes your fancy. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or Spotify!
The August 2019 edition of “Cover Stories with Chess Life” is now live! This monthly podcast, hosted by Senior Director of Strategic Communication Daniel Lucas, goes in depth and behind the scenes of each month’s Chess Life cover story. This month, we talk to Bruce Pandolfini about the August Chess Life 2019 spring nationals cover story. Pandolfini, who has been a Chess Life columnist for over 40 years, describes this year's event, reminisces about past events, and talks about the many books he has authored. During the podcast, Pandolfini mentions a puzzle he uses: How many knights can be placed on a chessboard in such a way that none attack the other? ANSWER SPOILER ALERT: The answer is 32, since as long as all the knights are placed on all of the dark squares or all of the light squares, no other knight will be attacked by a knight. When a knight moves, it always moves to an opposite-color square.   “The Skittles Room” is our monthly segment in which we talk to people doing something interesting or of note within US Chess. This month we talk to Chief Editor Tim Just about the release of the US Chess Federation's Official Rules of Chess, 7th Edition.  And don’t miss your chance at winning a $50 gift certificate to USCFSales.com! Send in your question to podcast@uschess.org, and if your question is selected as the Best Question, you will win the gift certificate. Next month’s Chess Life cover story will be the U.S. Senior Championship and we’ll be talking to GM Joel Benjamin. Send in your questions now about this topic or anything about Chess Life that strikes your fancy. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or Spotify!
The July 2019 edition of “Cover Stories with Chess Life” is now live! This monthly podcast, hosted by Senior Director of Strategic Communication Daniel Lucas, goes in depth and behind the scenes of each month’s Chess Life cover story. This month, we talk to GM Sam Shankland about the July Chess Life 2019 U.S. Championship cover story. The defending champ penned a personal perspective of the event from Saint Louis.   “The Skittles Room” is our monthly segment in which we talk to people doing something interesting or of note within US Chess. This month we talk to Pete Karagianis, the Assistant Director of Events for US Chess and the host of our Chess Underground podcast which drops on the fourth Tuesday of each month. Pete and I discuss the upcoming U.S. Open which will be held in Orlando, Florida this August 3-11. And don’t miss your chance at winning a $50 gift certificate to USCFSales.com! Send in your question to podcast@uschess.org, and if your question is selected as the Best Question, you will win the gift certificate. Next month’s Chess Life cover story will be the spring scholastic national championships and we’ll be talking to the legendary Bruce Pandolfini. Send in your questions now about this topic or anything about Chess Life that strikes your fancy. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or Spotify!
The June 2019 edition of “Cover Stories with Chess Life” is now live! This monthly podcast, hosted by Senior Director of Strategic Communication Daniel Lucas, goes in depth and behind the scenes of each month’s Chess Life cover story. This month, we talk to Steve Doyle about the June Chess Life cover story on the USAT East by Al Lawrence. Doyle has been the long-time organizer of the most popular event on the US Chess calendar outside of our scholastic national championships. Doyle was the youngest ever president of US Chess in the 1980s and has recently retired from Aetna, now serving as the Mayor of Island Heights, New Jersey.   “The Skittles Room” is our monthly segment in which we talk to people doing something interesting or of note within US Chess. This month we talk to Ken Ballou, the chair of the US Chess Elections Committee, about our current Executive Board election.  And don’t miss your chance at winning a $50 gift certificate to USCFSales.com! Send in your question to podcast@uschess.org, and if your question is selected as the Best Question, you will win the gift certificate. Next month's Chess Life cover story will be the U.S. Championship and we'll be talking to GM Sam Shankland. Send in your questions now about this topic or anything about Chess Life that strikes your fancy. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or Spotify!
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