The Kings of New York: A Year Among the Geeks, Oddballs, and Genuises Who Make Up America's Top High School Chess Team

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An award-winning sportswriter takes you inside a year with the nation's top high school chess team.

With strict admission standards and a progressive curriculum, Brooklyn's Edward R. Murrow High School has long been one of New York's public-education success stories, serving a diverse neighborhood of immigrants and minorities and ranking among the nation's best high schools. At Murrow, there are no sports teams, and the closest thing to jocks ...

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Overview

An award-winning sportswriter takes you inside a year with the nation's top high school chess team.

With strict admission standards and a progressive curriculum, Brooklyn's Edward R. Murrow High School has long been one of New York's public-education success stories, serving a diverse neighborhood of immigrants and minorities and ranking among the nation's best high schools. At Murrow, there are no sports teams, and the closest thing to jocks are found on the school's powerhouse chess team, which annually competes for the national championship.

In The Kings of New York sportswriter Michael Weinreb follows the members of the Murrow chess team through an entire season, from cash games in Washington Square Park to city and state tournaments to the SuperNationals in Nashville, where this eclectic bunch competes against private schoolers and suburbanites. Along the way, Weinreb brings to life a number of colorful characters: the Yale-educated calculus teacher (and former semipro hockey player) who guides the savants while struggling to find funding for his team; an aspiring rapper and tournament hustler who plays with cutthroat instinct; the team's lone girl, a shy Ukrainian immigrant; the Puerto Rican teen from the rough neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant who plays an ingenious opening gambit named the Orangutan; and the Lithuanian immigrant and team star whose chess rating is climbing toward grandmaster status.

In the bestselling tradition of such books as Word Freak and Friday Night Lights, The Kings of New York is a riveting look inside the world of competitive chess and an inspiring profile of young genius.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Brooklyn's Edward R. Murrow High School is decisively different: It has no sports teams and boasts a less-restrictive grading system and more free time than other high schools in the system. This permissive environment seems to breed genius: The school has produced an enviable roster of national honors including a truly awesome array of chess championships. Michael Weinreb's The Kings of New York tracks the week-by-week crusade of Murrow's chess team as they endeavor to win their sixth consecutive state championship and their second consecutive national.
James Kaplan
In this thrilling, vigorously reported, deeply empathic book, Michael Weinreb, who has contributed articles about sports to The New York Times and Newsday, brings to vivid life a contemporary chess world suffused with its own updated version of nerd machismo, now wearing sweat pants and basketball sneakers and MP3 earbuds. It’s a world over which the insuperably arrogant boy-ideal of Bobby Fischer still hovers - only now there are girls.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Weinreb, whose work has appeared three times in The Best American Sports Writing, offers the story of a year spent with Brooklyn's Edward R. Murrow High School chess team as it strives for a national championship. Weinreb makes several choices that work well for a year-in-the-life account. For one, he eschews unnecessary speculation about the teen chess prodigies' psychology, a strategy that taken with his deft reporting of how they view themselves and one another renders them more accessible, more natural and consequently more interesting. Weinreb also expands his arena by investigating the cultural milieu of the modern chess world. He describes what it takes to be a successful high-level chess player, the difficulties women have in this world, the very nature of the game and the phenomenon of the chess prodigy, using the experience of Josh Waitzkin, who has now retired from competitive chess and was the subject of the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer.All this is supported by well-chosen detail, intelligence and terrific writing. Weinreb clearly develops an affection for the eclectic members of the team, and because of the skill he brings to his project, so will his readers. B&w illus. (Mar. 1)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Minority chess jocks dominate the game, but social realities prove tougher opponents. Sportswriter Weinreb documents a year with Brooklyn's Edward R. Murrow High School chess team-a dynastic powerhouse that has come to dominate the sport (yes, sport) since its formation two decades ago. Murrow's success is made particularly noteworthy by the makeup of the team; these young geniuses are not the product of privilege and private education, but inner-city youths from low-income immigrant families. Weinreb deftly explores the quirky personalities of the team's stars: wry, mordant Sal, a Lithuanian prodigy approaching grand-master status; intense and self-punishing Ilya, the team's under-confident Russian captain; irrepressible Oscar, a genial and unpredictable gambler who's family hails from Puerto Rico; and the worrisome Shawn, also Puerto Rican, a hulking, unmotivated talent who employs chess as a method for avoiding school work and hustling extra cash in the park. The set-up seems ripe for a standard inspirational Stand and Deliver narrative, but the book is compelling in its ambivalent view of the role of chess in these young students' lives-their brilliance does not translate into stellar grades, and the future educational and professional prospects of the Murrow team are anything but secure, an irony driven home when the championship team, diffident, distracted and directionless, are congratulated in a photo-op by George Bush. Weinreb paces the action expertly-the individual chess matches are rendered as exciting as any NCAA nail-biter-and the season's ebbs and flows intermingle with the prosaic details of inner-city adolescence to singularly lyrical effect. Weinreb gives much attentionto the academic culture of the "alternative" public Murrow school, where individuality and personal responsibility for one's education are emphasized; a double-edged sword for these gifted but at-risk students, who all too often abuse the school's laissez-fare policies. Accounts of Murrow's recent trend toward more conventional operations yield only more ambivalence: Fewer children are "left behind," but the cost may be an end to the nurturing environment that has brought forth such frustrating, eccentric genius. A fascinating subculture sensitively brought to light, along with some troubling questions. Agent: Jane Dystel/Dystel & Goderich Literary Management
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592402618
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/1/2007
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Weinreb’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and The Dallas Morning News. In his career as a journalist, he has been named best sportswriter in Ohio by the Associated Press, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and has been cited three times in The Best American Sports Writing anthology.
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Table of Contents


Prologue     1
Opening
Do the Math     11
Bruckner's Gambit     21
Freedom of Choice     29
An Academic Challenge     43
A Game Unlike Any Other     37
The Orangutan     75
Chess and the City     89
All the President's Men     101
Middle Game
The Thirty-ninth Annual Greater New York Scholastic Team and Individual Chess Championships     119
The Women in the Room     137
Tiresome Days and Sleepless Nights     159
The 2005 New York State Scholastic Championships     169
It's Impossible to Change Your Destiny     195
Endgame
Supernationals III     213
Summertime     251
Epilogue     271
Acknowledgments     279
Glossary     283
Bibliography     287
Web Sites     289
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2008

    A reviewer

    When a writer can make high school chess engrossing and enthralling you are reading something remarkable. That is what Michael Weinberg has done with this book. Having played chess exactly once in my life 'and losing in a very, quick and efficient way', I believed it to be a sport for the geniuses. Smart people play chess. After reading this book that sentence has an asterisk. The kids who play chess and succeed all of the way to the top are smart, but smart at only one or two things. Smart at memorizing successful strategies or smart at quickly calculating their opponents moves 8 plays from now. Smart at chess. These kids are also strange, quirky, lazy, uninterested in much beyond chess and sometimes not even in chess. These kids barely pass any other subject and some tend to skip school as often as possible. This book would have been compelling reading just for the stories of these kids 'with immigrant parents from the former USSR countries or not-affluent African American parents' alone. However, there is also an over-arching story. That of Brooklyn¿s Edward R Murrow High School, one of the first experimental charter schools and its eventual denigration into this one-note achievement of churning out the annual National High School Chess Championship. This book is about so much more than chess that chess is merely the playing field on which these real life characters navigate.

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