To put it simply, beating Larry Christiansen at chess is very, very hard.
The three-time U.S. champion has been studying the game for his entire life, building his skills to superhuman levels and earning himself the coveted title “Grandmaster.”
But once a month, the decorated chess spokesman, self-styled historian and mentor to competitive players gives a crowd of amateurs the chance to square off with him at South Station, where he plays about two-dozen games at a time in what’s called a simultaneous exhibition, or “simul.” He wins almost always.
“I lose maybe one out of one hundred games. It does happen,” Christiansen said in an interview. “Lightning strikes and I lose.”
The Cambridge resident’s next “simul” is scheduled for Tuesday 12 p.m. – 2 p.m. It’s sponsored by the Boylston Chess Club, and winners get a small BCC gift certificate to go with their bragging rights.
So what can you do to increase your chances of beating him on Tuesday?
We asked. Here’s what he said.
You could probably get on the phone or get on the iPad and use computer-aided assistance and that I’d have big trouble with. That’s actually happened. But I’ve not called people out on that. There’s a computer engine called Fritz. I’ll say, “Send my regards to Fritz.” I’m pretty easy-going about it.
2: Don’t let him get away with mistakes
Another way might be to be very, very observant. Never take anything for granted. I can make blunders like anybody because I’m moving so fast. If you win a rook or a queen, it’s very hard for me to make a comeback. If they’re very observant they can notch a win that way. It’s rare, but that’s one way to do it.
3: Be aggressive
Do not be passive. You want to be aggressive against a strong player. A strong player’s sense for weakness is kind of like a dog’s. If you play “Mr. Passive,” we welcome that. You want to be aggressive on a chessboard. You don’t want to cower and play timidly. You want to go out there and try to mess me up a bit.
4: Skip lunch
Don’t eat or drink heavily during a game. It slows the brain down. Having a giant meal, that always slows people down. It probably lowers their strength 100 points (note from the reporter: chess players measure their skill level by using a formula that spits out a number based on how well they play. Christiansen’s is about 2670. Yours is much lower).
Also, don’t make too many visits to the bathroom – that can be distracting. Probably a couple cups of coffee, though, to be alert.
5: Sip some suds
Maybe it’s a little too early in the day, but one or two beers can lessen your anxiety level or fear level and for some people that works pretty well. If you calm down a bit the fear kind of goes away and that’s very helpful on a chessboard. On the other hand, your calculating ability will go down a bit.
5: Sleep in
The worst thing if you’re going to play chess is a sleep deficit. Being drunk would be second-worst.
6: Do some reading
They might go to a good general chess website. There are dozens. ChessClub.com (note: ChessClub.com pays him for gigs), ChessBase.com, Chess.com, ChessGames.com.
7. Suspect the worst
Never play Captain Obvious. Captain Obvious loses on the chessboard. Suspect a dirty trick. If I make a move, don’t bite. If I offer a pawn it’s usually poisoned or tainted. If it looks like I made a blunder, check or double-check. It’s usually a dirty trick. Always assume your opponent is a liar on the chessboard. But after the game you shake hands. The guy who sweeps the pieces off the board and runs away to huff and puff and call you names usually doesn’t stay with the game too long.
8. Take advantage of his kindness
I don’t know how strong [opponents] are and I play a little too free and easy. I make it pretty easy on them. I let them pass if they don’t have a move ready and wait for my next walk around the square. I play very unsound-type chess openings. I’m giving pieces away, basically, and giving them a chance to beat me. Still, it’s not too often that I lose. I’m not bringing my A game, let’s put it that way.