Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Players wile away rain delay with chess matches



By JANE MCMANUS
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

NEW YORK - Mike and Bob Bryan took their seats early. Max Mirnyi promised to stop by. Jennifer Capriati ran to tell her father.

Chess player Dmitry Schneider spurred all this activity. An International Master, the chess player took on eight athletes at a time Monday during a rain delay in the player lounge.

"I think if we put both brains together we have a 50-50 shot," said Mike Bryan, who won the French Open doubles title with his twin brother this year.

But Monday, not even the Beast could beat the Crushin' Russian.

It took just 45 minutes for Schneider to put away the first group as a crowd gathered around to watch.

"During the rain delays there's not a lot that the players can do and a lot of athletes play chess, so they put two and two together," said Schneider, who is a part-time scholarship student at the University of Texas in Dallas.

The 18-year-old would attend full time, but after receiving the $32,000 Samford Fellowship, given to the top chess player in the country each year, Schneider travels much of the year to tournaments.

The Ukrainian-born New City resident came to the United States from Latvia when he was seven years old. His family fled for political reasons, and he was immediately ranked the No. 1 player in his age group, which he has been for 11 years. His little brother Igor, a sophomore in high school, is a chess player as well.

Now, Schneider is trying to raise his profile to gain a sponsorship, with which he would attend chess tournaments worldwide. He issued a challenge to the Dallas Mavericks, saying he'd play all 12 plus owner Mark Cuban and take them out in less than an hour.

Of the players he faced Monday, he said, "There's some potential."

But if the speed with which he went through those tennis players was any indication, the Mavs better get to work. One particularly eager opponent even asked for another shot, saying he played too much of a defensive game.

"It's hard to win when you're just defending," Schneider told him.

Schneider used to play tennis, a game he liked for the geometry of it, but then a chess tournament interfered with a few tennis matches, and chess won easily. He still plays a little tennis and basketball.

The player lounge scene was in sharp contrast to last year's rainy weekend, when players camped on chairs looking bored to tears. The chess boards stayed out even when Schneider left. Mirnyi then tried his luck against Roger Federer, but he couldn't win that one, either.

"When there's a rain delay, players are used to a lot of down time," said tournament director Jim Curley. "So we're trying to make it interesting."

In addition to chess, the U.S. Open had a three-piece acoustic set playing by the indoor putting green.

"When we were hit with the rain last year, we realized we needed to be more proactive in providing entertainment for the players," Curley said. "That's what we're trying to do."




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