There's a very nice teenager living in Foster City who likes to beat people's brains out. This he does across a chessboard, moving pieces in a way that few 14-year-old kids move them. The brutal dismemberment he administers to foes is the real deal. The absence of actual spilled blood seems a technicality.
"It's not 64 squares," said Daniel Naroditsky, who speaks softly but doesn't play softly. "It's a battlefield. There's no luck, there's no dice. It's just you and your opponent."
In the whacked-out history of the world's greatest board game, there have always been prodigies - youngsters with the eerie gift to see instantly where the pieces ought to be going and what they can do when they get there, while ordinary mortals are merely shifting the wooden statuettes around. But hardly anyone has climbed so far, so fast and with such poise as Daniel. And no 14-year-old kid ever published a textbook about the game, as Daniel just did.
It's a thick book, and it costs $24. So far, not a lot of people have bought it, because only an experienced chess player can understand it. Daniel doesn't mind. He's patient - something that 14-year-old boys are not supposed to be. But patience turns out to be what the book is all about.
"When your opponent is tied up, always be patient and search for the simplest option," advises Daniel on Page 206, before explaining that the simplest option in this particular case involves moving a knight from square f3 to square d2 and then to square b3, a5 and b6.
"Time and again, players lose because they make rash decisions. Therefore, you always have to remind yourself - don't hurry. Embarking on a risky combination that cannot be calculated to the end is certainly not the right thing to do."
Daniel, a chess master at 11 and the junior world champion at 12, is patiently waiting for the world to catch up to him. He's an eighth-grader at Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough and he lives in a Foster City townhouse with father Vladimir, a college math professor, and mother Lena, a concert pianist.
Vladimir taught Daniel the game eight years ago and stopped playing games against him three years later, after finding that the tables had turned once and for all. No father wants to get horsewhipped endlessly by his own kid.
"There wasn't much point for us to keep playing," Vladimir Naroditsky said, with a grim little smile that was part pride and part something else.
Daniel's bedroom looks ordinary enough - a bunch of stuffed animals, a swimming trophy, some Lego airplanes - but then there's the scores of chess volumes, thick as phone books, which suggest something else is going on. And downstairs, the entire living room has been given over to a giant display case holding dozens of Daniel's tall, stately chess trophies. The family had to move its collection of Russian literature into the garage to make room.
"He's an absolutely normal child who is absolutely not intimidated by anything," said his mother, who had encouraged her son to play the piano but who stepped back when she saw his passion.
"We're not pushing him to do anything," she said. "He's pulling us."
The other day, the world's youngest chess author pulled his parents to the Mechanics' Institute, home of one of the world's oldest chess clubs, in downtown San Francisco, for an event that can only be called otherworldly.
Daniel was the lecturer and, arrayed in rows of seats before him, were players half a century older. A giant chess diagram hung on the wall in the front of the room. Daniel, obliged to stand on tiptoes to reach the top row of squares, replayed the moves of a couple of tournament games, moving pieces around and calmly explaining where the masters went wrong. In the audience, some folks understood what Daniel was saying and some folks tried to look like they did.
"After every move," said the teenager to the septuagenarians, "ask yourself what does my opponent want to do to me, and how can I prevent it?"
The rest of the lecture was full of hard-to-fathom chess stuff, with queens moving to square c5 and rooks moving to f2 and bishops slithering over to h7. But the games were anything but flashy bloodbaths, because Daniel prides himself on subtle, positional moves, the kind that build pressure. His style of conquest is more like the squeezing of an anaconda than the slashing of a velociraptor. And the title of his book, "Mastering Positional Chess," speaks of still, deep waters.
"It's more important to learn to appreciate the subtle maneuvers than the flashy queen sacrifices," Daniel said, and then the room burst into applause and Daniel sat at a table and began autographing copies of his book while his father rang up the sales.
Afterward, chess club director John Donaldson said Daniel was the sensation of the club and his frighteningly swift rise through the ranks reflected his dedication as much as his gift.
"A lot of young players pride themselves on never opening a chess book," said Donaldson. "Not Daniel. He studies and studies. He's amazing. He needs to be cloned and his DNA distributed to the youth of America."
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This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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