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Rookies Vs. King Kasparov

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One recent evening, in a loft in the Puck Building, a crowd waits for former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who's about to play 34 simultaneous matches. His opponents: pairs of kids, mostly boys, ages 6 to 16. The purpose: a benefit organized by Mentor USA, a group that works to prevent drug abuse among young people. Suspense is high (even if the outcome seems near-certain).

5:15 p.m.
Grown-ups balance cocktails and cameras. The kids must all be thinking the same thing: Maybe I'm the one who can beat this guy.

6:20 p.m.
Kasparov, 39, enters to applause. Mentor member David Soares explains some rules: "Make your move when Mr. Kasparov can see it -- no sneak moves! Please don't offer Mr. Kasparov a draw." Much laughter. "And if the game is lost, don't play on in the hope that Mr. Kasparov will make a mistake."

6:35 p.m.
Kasparov paces. Fingers fluttering at each board, he adjusts his pieces. Then: Pawn to king 4. Times 34.

7:02 p.m.
At Board 20, he bends over, hand on hip: long pause. "Those kids must be good," someone whispers.

7:44 p.m.
A mother walks by: "I see one table's down -- at least we're not the first!"

7:46 p.m.
"I gotta calm down," murmurs a boy. Farther along, one father confesses to another, "I said to him, 'You draw him, I give you 25 bucks. You win, 50.' "

7:54 p.m.
Kasparov looks up at another kibitzing dad: "Please, you are not playing."

9:17 p.m.
The boys at 27 lay down their king: too many advancing Kasparov pawns.

9:26 p.m.
Kasparov zigzags among the few survivors, asking other kids for strategies. "Good! Excellent!" he says.

9:58 p.m.
Kasparov sinks into a chair. He's just won 34 matches, but he looks whipped. "It's hard work," he says. "But I'm happy to do this. Maybe chess can help kids, their attention might be diverted from vices." He laughs. "Maybe chess is also a vice. But a less dangerous one."


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