In 1990, when he was twenty years old, Stuart Rachels won the greatest upset in the history of the US Chess Championships. Prior to that, he’d been the youngest master in American history, earning the title as an eleven year old. By 1993 he was permanently retired from tournament chess. What happened? He’s visiting our club on April 11th, so we can ask him!
After a 30 year absence, Rachels wrote a fascinating memoir about his chess career, The Best I Saw in Chess. It won the kinds of awards a chess book can win. It traces his entire chess career from his first tournament through his greatest triumph, and is jammed with stories, memories, and, of course, chess. When he visits, Rachels will teach us his best win, which propelled him to that incredible upset at the US Championship, and then answer our students’ questions.
He includes things that are usually left out, for example in this position, as a master, he spent 5 minutes thinking about playing Ba6 as black:
That would have been a bad move, losing his queen after white responds with Bxf7+, and then queen takes queen. He eventually found the winning move, Be6. He has an entire section on blunders, and includes an unusual number of his own losses. Most “memorable game” books include a lot of wins, some draws and a very rare loss. He also talks about his own psychology in interesting ways. During the US Championships he won, he constantly tells himself that he’ll lose a game at some point, and when that happens, he needs to continue playing his best chess.
It’s not a kids book. The content isn’t objectionable necessarily, it just might not make sense. For example, in 1992, before meeting Bobby Fischer who was the only American world champion but never defended his title after 1972, was (probably) mentally ill, and was (definitely) deeply anti-semitic, Rachels received the following advice from his friend Yasser Seirwan:
Bobby is completely sane… so long as you avoid four topics. You must avoid these topics with Bobby; avoid them, and he’s completely sane. First, the Russians. He hates the Russians. Second, the Jews. He hates the Jews. Third, the World Championship. He thinks he’s still World Champion, and he can get very angry about it. Fourth, Time-Warner Cable.
Funny! But not necessarily easy to explain to a nine year old why it’s funny that Time-Warner is on the list.
Even though not every piece of his book is meant for kids, he’s going to be a great guest. He has lots of great stories that will translate, like riding on a train with future world champion Viswanathan Anand, and playing his hero, former world champion Boris Spassky. He also talks at length about how to think when you’re playing chess, about the pain of losing, and the importance of learning from mistakes, in a raw, honest way.