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December 27, 2004

Nakamura Victorious

I used to play a lot of chess back in high school. I never really had the mind for it, honestly - never was able to see the board the way people on their way up the ranks could, or maintain enough concentration to memorize some mammoth book of endgames. Today, it's just a very occasional hobby, and something I still like reading about.

I did play in a bunch of tournaments, though. And one day, as I sat down in the conference room of one hotel or another to play in the third round of a large competition, I was surprised to find a small eight year old boy sitting in front of me, eating a worryingly full bowl of cheese puffs. He smiled, licked all his fingers, one by slobbery one, and responded quickly to my opening 1.d4. Three hours later, I was hopelessly out of position, down multiple pawns, and facing an appalling King side attack. I stared down at the kid, who had continued eating cheese puffs for the entire match, supplemented at intervals by his mother, and stopped the clock to resign. He kind of snorted, I remember, as if he was thinking "it's about time", and got up on his knees to shake my hand. I still remember his parting shot - "You should not have played the Najdorf variation against me, you know." I think that game was the last straw in the decline of my naescent chess career.

Anyway, I later found out that the annoying little boy I had played was named Hikaru Nakamura, and that I had been the subject of some hilarity during my match. It only makes me feel a little better to have heard just yesterday that he recently won the US Chess Championship, at the ripe old age of 16. I just hope he hasn't given up on the cheese puffs.

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Amid all the Jeremy inspired excitement, let me jump in here with a quick idea for using up the bone from your Christmas ham. Once you clean off the remaining meat, remembering that the stuff closest to the bone is by far the best, just drop it into a good deal of clear, cold, water, with some herbs and onion, and boil for two or three hours. By the end, you'll have a tasty ham stock, which can be profitably used not only in the usual lentil soup, but with just plain old green peas, roasted garlic, and generous shavings of parmesan for a spectacular pureed soup.

I liked my family's Christmas Eve dinner well enough, I have to admit. But, to follow Nigella Lawson in her book How to Eat, sitting lazily about on Christmas day, watching football, and eating great spoonfulls of bright green soup with one hand while alternating bites of a thick English mustard slathered ham sandwich in the other presents its own pleasures. Merry Christmas!

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