“I just had to share this story of my grandson Malcolm…… (Marilynn Levin) This happened the weekend of No. 24th in Philadelphia. Lots to be learned from this kid - And I know this too: I'm just in awe of the kid and terribly, terribly proud of him.” The following story is told by my son David.
Reference Notes: Malcolm turned 10 in August, PS139 is his elementary school in Brooklyn, NY
Malcolm is officially the highest-rated player in P.S. 139 history.
If you want the short form of this story, know this. This was a big goal of Malcolm's and we all feel really great about it. If you want the, long (and possibly insufferable) version, keep reading. Either way is truly ok. You've been warned.
When Malcolm set this goal, it seemed impossible. Coming into the fall it started to seem inevitable. But then, Malcolm's rating actually started to sink, and his confidence was shaken.
At the low point, Malcolm decided he only wanted to play much higher rated competition. Part of this was tactical, if you lose to a higher rated player then your rating doesn't fall much. But part of Malcolm's decision was that he felt he would perform better if he took on a bigger challenge. Having a hard time with a big goal? Take on a tougher challenge. Ok. His call. And one backed up by Mr. West his chess coach. But I had my doubts.
So Malcolm entered the Under 1800 section at the National Chess Congress this weekend. His official ranking for the purposes of the tournament was 1400. He was far and away the lowest rated person in the section. (He would have been in the middle of the pack at best in the Under 1600 section.)
Malcolm lost his first two games and took the losses hard. I felt bad for him, gave him lots of hugs, and worried that we were in for a very long weekend. In the very next match, Malcolm went out and took down the number 2 seed! He gave away a knight in exchange for two pawns and then exploited the absence of those two pawns to methodically grind out a win over the course of the next sixty to ninety minutes. People kept coming around the board to watch. A small crowd of admirers gathered. Malcolm's opponent hunched over the board, breathing heavily, grunting occasionally and gamely maneuvered, trying to save the position. The pressure mounted. He and Malcolm were locked in a tight, tight grip like two sumo wrestlers. Each move countered by the other. Then it was Malcolm's turn and he did...nothing.Well not exactly nothing. But instead of attacking his opponent, he stepped back. And all of a sudden, Malcolm's opponent had nothing to hold on to. I was stunned with how calm Malcolm was and how flexible the maneuver was.
The game lasted a couple more moves, but it was all but over. And then it was all over. The lowest rated player in the section (who had no business in the section) had beaten a player (rated 1789) who fell just under the top ceiling for the section. Malcolm went on to another draw and in his final match he stunned a much higher rated player with a move that looked like it gave away a piece but actually won the game. I happened to visit Malcolm's board at the decisive moment. He made the move and his opponent stared down at the pieces: 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes passed. Then he hung his head, turned off the clock and said, "you win." Then he looked at me and said: "He is very, very good."
Malcolm and I sat down and analyzed the game. It's up there with the most spectacular things I've ever seen on a chess board. In some tournaments, they have a prize for what's called a "Chess Brilliancy." I have no doubt this would qualify. Well, I know this: It is a strange feeling to be so surpassed at something by your ten year old. And I know this too: I'm just in awe of the kid and terribly, terribly proud of him.