Chess notes
By Harold Dondis and Patrick Wolff
February 14, 2011

The movie was a tale of two young chess prodigies, one fighting to prevail against opponents while retaining a normal temperament, the other essentially an unknown rival or even a villain, a victim of parental domination. The movie of course was “Searching for Bobby Fischer.’’ The book of the same name, written by Fred Waitzkin, depicted his son’s struggles to win the 1986 National Primary Chess Championship.

As explained in the book, Josh Waitzkin, the 9-year-old, drew his last game with Jeffrey Sarwer, a 7-year-old Canadian boy, thus sharing the championship. At that time, Sarwer was thought by many to be a potential world champion. In fact, he won the World Youth Under-10 Chess Championship the same year. However, in the movie, Waitzkin is the winner in a dramatic finish. Sarwer appears in the book as an unfortunate twig virtually squashed by his father and soon to disappear from the game.

But no, it appears that you can’t keep prodigies down. They are not necessarily flashes in the pan; they have some God-given talent. Josh Waitzkin finally decided that he was weary of competing against grandmasters on the chess circuit, quit chess, and became a champion at Tai Chi and wrote a book “The Art of Learning’’ about his achievements.

Did Jeffrey Sarwer, the poor little tyke, disappear? No, not finally. His father did remove him from chess. In Ontario, Canada, authorities took him and his sister, Julia, away from their father, claiming abuse of the kids, but the two escaped and returned home. Their father then took them to Europe where they traveled in vagabond style and just disappeared. Lo and behold, a picture of a smiling and handsome Jeffrey Sarwer has recently appeared on the US site.

It turns out that this particular prodigy has also had a career of note. He resurfaced in chess in September 2009, to play in a tournament at Malbork Castle in Poland without an active chess rating and finished in third place. Beginning in December 2008, Jeff joined the European Poker Tour and earned about a half-million dollars. He claims he could be a chess grandmaster with a couple of years of study.

So, this tale of two tykes is a sequel to “Searching for Bobby Fischer.’’ It again raises the question of why prodigies are so mysteriously talented. Here were two who left chess and seem to have successfully planted their colors atop new domains.


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