"The Kings of New York"

This article is more than 14 years old.

Most of the stars of Michael Weinreb's book share one quality: They play chess better than they do anything else. Some of them are not especially good at making it to class on time. A couple of them seem incapable of planning anything beyond the next move on the chess board. But, wow, can they play their game.

The Kings of New York is, in part, a celebration of the success that a particular group of students who attended Murrow High School in Brooklyn had at chess tournaments during 2005 and 2006. Beyond that, it's a plea for diversity and flexibility in educational settings, because part of the reason for that success was the high school itself. Murrow was set up for students who would flourish when they were allowed to goof off. Some of the chess players spend a lot of their spare time playing cards in the cafeteria. Nobody would call many of them "well-rounded." But they are awfully good at what they care about being good at.

Where will the expertise of these chess players lead them? It's an open question, and Michael Weinreb acknowledges that it's nearly impossible for even the best players to make a living at their game. But Bruce Pandolfini, a chess teacher, doesn't worry about it. "Their lives have already been made much better," he contends. "They're better problem-solvers. They're already tougher mentally. They're already more creative...The benefit will last for the rest of their lives."

Without contradicting Pandolfini, Weinreb suggests that the truth is more complicated than that. He points out that some chess prodigies have grown weary of the game, and that others have gone nuts. He presents the young men with whom he spent more than a year in all their glory and goofiness, inviting the reader to see them as intriguing and worthy of attention, both in spite of and because of their passion for chess.

This program aired on April 5, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.