The Doo-Wop Gambit

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During an all-night meeting with poet/rock musician Patti Smith, chess champion Bobby Fischer alarmed a bodyguard waiting outside by singing the falsetto chorus from “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”

               The Wall Street Journal

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“Down dooby-do down-down, comma comma down dooby-do down-down.”


1997 was the year, and Garry Kasparov was the hope of humankind as he took on IBM “supercomputer” Deep Blue.  Many American humans decided to abandon their national rooting interests and instead take the side of Kasparov, a Russian, against the local box of wires and solder.  Species sympathy apparently ran deeper than patriotism.

Kasparov had bested the computer in their 1996 match by a score of 4-2, but after four games the re-match was tied.  Kasparov used the Caro-Kann defense, but Deep Blue made a daring sacrifice of a knight and sat back smugly, humming on all circuits.

“Your move, dissident-boy,” the Machine said to the Man.

Kasparov, who had accused the computer of cheating in Game 2, lowered his head to concentrate.  He had used only twenty moves so far–how had things come to this apparent impasse so quickly?  He rubbed his eyes in disbelief, and reviewed the thousands of games he had memorized since he first played the game as a boy.  He felt an insight coming, but it disappeared like a bunny into the underbrush of his mind without a trace, leaving not even a glimpse of a cottontail butt in his frazzled synapses.  He was having a hard time thinking.  Why, he asked himself, couldn’t he focus?  And then, as if waking from an annoying dream, he realized what the problem was.

“You!” he snapped at Deep Blue.

“What, human?”

“Would you please stop humming the chorus to Da Doo Ron Ron by The Crystals?

Grandmaster Marc Esserman was reminiscing at Greenwich Village’s Marshall Chess Club and, as is common among men who’ve had a drink or two, he began to brag–just a little.

“You guys think you’re sooooo smart,” he said as he sipped at his vodka, which had been distilled from seed potatoes that were direct descendants of tubers from the garden of 19th century Russian chess master Ivan Butrimov.  “I once played–and defeated!–thirty-five ranked players in a simultaneous chess match.”

From across the table, one could detect his long-time rival Anatoly Karpov fuming with indignation.  As the former droned on and on about the high quality of his numerous opponents, one could see the ear hairs of the latter waving like a field of wheat in the wind; the force of his anger was so strong steam was coursing out of his head!

“Marc,” Karpov finally said with a tone of repressed fury varnished with a thin veneer of civility.

“Yes Anatoly?”

“Your humble accomplishment pales next to a simultaneous match I once played in Barysaw, Belarus.”

“Oh, really?” Esserman replied coolly, lifting an eyebrow in disdain.  “And why was your match more of an accomplishment than mine?”

“Because I was matched against players who were whistling the Top 40 Doo-Wop Hits of All Time, which as you may know–are available only on cable TV–not in stores!”

I have accompanied sixteen-year old U.S. Junior Chess Champ Aleksandra Nebolsina to the World Chess Championships to see if you can make the jump–in one fell swoop, as it were–from the Little Leagues of chess to the Big Show, as dumb people who play baseball call the major leagues.

I have prepped her over a long summer of Spartan training:  playing games behind her back, using a mirror, using a magnetic chess board in the shower–I feel confident she can overcome any obstacle!

But as we are about to walk into the grand auditorium where she will play her first match against reigning Indian Women’s champion Harika Swaminathan, I see a look of insecurity pass over her face like a summer thundercloud scudding across a hayfield.  I know that look–it’s the look that first marred her pretty face when I challenged her to play on a magnetic board while waterskiing across New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee.  I must do something quickly, something that will restore her sense of confidence before she blows her opening by moving pawn to king three rather than pawn to king four!

“Aleksandra!” I whisper forcefully so that she will hear me over the crowd’s roar.

“What?” she asks, her eyes beseeching me to give her some talisman by which she can recover her former state of grace.

“Do you know Lesley Gore’s It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To?”

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