Shark in the Park

Although bluebottles in the surf may be more of a problem than sharks, sharks can sometimes create problems for chess players. Especially sharks in the park.

Sharks in the park come in many guises and with vastly differing talents.

During the 1980s an old Czech we called Happy played chess in Sydney's Hyde Park. He was a weak player but enjoyed the game so much that most of the regulars took turns playing him and rarely did anybody actually crush him. He always played with the big smile that had earned his nickname.

One day he was challenged to a game by a boy in his late teens who not only outplayed him, but did so with a succession of sarcastic remarks that completely humiliated the man. It was one of the rare times his smile failed him.

A handful of spectators had seen what was happening when and when the game had finished one of them, something of a tiger shark, said, “I don't play as well as Happy, but I'd like to give you a game.”

The result was embarrassing for the boy as each of his moves—not to mention his lack of good manners—was analysed and criticised by the spectators, and it wasn't long before Happy was smiling again.

At the end of the game the boy slunk away and was not seen at the park again.

Of course, sharks are not born big and mean. While they are small it's possible to forget that they have very sharp teeth. The next story, about a pretty little shark in a park, comes from Susan Polgar's biography Queen of the Kings Game by Zsuzsa Polgar & Jacob Shutzman.

“When Zsuzsa (she changed her name to Susan later) was five years old, the family went to visit Vilok, the home town of her mother, Klara, which was in the Soviet Union near the border with Hungary. At one of the neighbouring cities, they saw people sitting next to stone tables and playing chess. Little Zsuzsa got very excited and expressed her wish to play, too.

“The games were customarily played for small money bets. The players there were very sceptical of the young girl's ability, but finally one of the adults agreed to play with her for a piece of chocolate. It was a man in his early 30s. A small crowd gathered around. It was quite a sensation for them to watch the toddler moving the pieces against one of their comrades. Zsuzsa remembers the game as being very eventful. She won the game.

“When they finished, the guy started running away. Thinking he was trying to escape the bet, the little girl panicked and started chasing him. To her surprise, he ran into a nearby shop. Her worried look turned into a smile when the man emerged with the coveted chocolate.”

Roman Dzindzichashvili left the USSR in 1976 for Israel where he won the national championship and his GM title. Three years later he emigrated to the USA. He led the US Olympiad team in 1984 and won the US Chess Championship in 1983 and 1989, each time sharing it with two other players. He later produced and sold the “Roman's Lab” series of DVDs.

During the 1980s Roman hustled chess in Washington Square Park.

This was no pretty little shark playing for chocolate, nor even a vengeful tiger shark giving lessons in good manners. This was the genuine article—a Great White Shark who, for a time, earned his living playing blitz against all comers.

Of course, it wouldn't have taken long for the park regulars to learn his identity and the people who lost to him would have realised they had little chance of victory—but such is the nature of the game that they would happily have anted up for the opportunity of testing themselves against a player of his stature.

The game following is a sacrificial brevity he perpetrated on no less a player than Ljubomir Ljubojevic at the 1984 Olympiad.


  • 8 years ago


    Smile Thanks, Mr. Emu ... and that's a very Australian handle for a guy from Beantown.

  • 8 years ago


    Hey, that was a pretty fun blog to read! Thanks for the article ^_^

  • 8 years ago


    Interesting stuff and I thank you for the input.  It carries a lot more oomph than stories dredged up and second or third hand, and provides so much more about the personality of the man.

    Simuls aside I've only ever played one GM under tournament conditions (Dejan Antic) and he made short work of me;  but I was lucky enough to beat a WIM in the same tournament.  And lucky is the word.  With a 600+ gap in our ratings she played too casually and pushed the pieces around waiting for me to blunder.  I wouldn't have any expectations of beating her again.

  • 8 years ago

    NM GreenLaser

    Roman played in more venues than that park. He was known as a GM and gave odds. He often beat masters at either 5-1 money odds in 5 minute chess or 5-1 time odds. Of course, there were no time delays or increments. He used to play me 3 minute chess giving 10-1 money odds. At tournaments (between rounds), crowds gathered to see the games, which looked competitive to the average viewer. I had to be sharp to play him when he was a world class player. He actually said, at a more recent event, that I helped to sharpen him. The reason, I think, is that practice helps, and it is important to accept practice as available. Appropriate competition is not always available. Roman would not take a player seriously who was not rated 2350. It is no shame to be given 10-1 against such a shark, especially since I would come ahead. Roman enjoyed playing chess and other games and did not have to be assured of winning to play. He easily won about 8 out of 10 games against me, but couldn't win them all.

  • 8 years ago


    I'll look forward to it, Csaba.  And, it's appropriate for Ribli to play the Barcza Opening, for Barcza was another Hungarian.

    (Yasser Seirawan recommends the Barcza as an opening for people who don't have a lot of time to study chess.  It's certainly versatile.)

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