By Zenya Molnar, Contributing Writer
Southborough – James Rizzitano's interest in chess started one summer when he was around 11 years old. After he was stung by a bee and had a very allergic reaction, he was cautious for the rest of the summer playing board games and reading. He first read about how to play chess in a book, and since then, Rizzitano, a Southborough resident, has played 2,500 games in tournaments, become an International Master, and written five books on the game of chess.
Rizzitano won the U.S. National Junior High School Championship in 1976, and in 1979 he won the U.S. National High School Championship.
“When I first started, the idea was to get as strong as possible,” he said. “I didn's know quite where that would lead. But like anything else, if you'se good at something and you keep improving, [it] becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where you'se going to keep getting better hopefully.”
Rizzitano, who currently works in information technology as a manager of database solutions, became an International Master in 1985 after having won three title norms, or high performance level requirements of FIDE (Féderation Internationale des Échecs), in international competition.
The International Master level is the second highest level in chess with the Grand Master being the highest achievement.
After taking a 15-year break from chess while he attended graduate school and started a family, Rizzitano wrote his first book, “Understanding Your Chess,” to prepare himself to play again. He analyzed his own games to see how he had improved and what he had learned from his previous tournaments. Playing chess, which Rizzitano described as a “combination of accurate calculation and accurate assessment,” is a hobby that involves practice to maintain one's skill.
“You have to solve combinations to keep sharp,” Rizzitano said.
According to Rizzitano, the game of chess has changed significantly since the early 2000s.
“Playing originally, there were no computers and no analytical engines that could play chess very well at all,” he said. But that changed when the 2000 World Champion lost the first chess match to a computer. Although computers are able to beat the strongest chess players, chess has not yet been solved by the computer: the number of possible moves is too great to be determined by a machine. In comparison, games like checkers and backgammon have been solved by computers.
In tournaments in the United States, rules have changed to reflect the growing presence of technology. For instance, players are not allowed to bring their cellphones into the bathroom during tournaments. This is to ensure that players do not access chess analytical engines on their phone, which have the capability to determine moves based on a player's position.
During Memorial Day weekend, Rizzitano competed in his latest tournament at the five-day Chicago Open where he won five rounds and lost four. Chess tournaments, which consist of nine rounds, can last up to six hours.
“[The] challenge for me is that I's playing against people that are full-time players or competing against players in their 20s with a lot of energy,” he said, adding that the entire game is “concentrated thinking.”
In his 27 years of active chess playing, Rizzitano cited his biggest accomplishment as when he won first place at an international championship in 1982 in front of several famous grand masters. He enjoys being able to play in tournaments in many different countries.
“It's truly an international game and you can meet people from all over the world,” Rizzitano said.
He believes that players share a common language of playing chess. Additionally, Rizzitano said that chess players are “very sociable” and that even though the atmosphere is quiet during a tournament, afterwards “the chess players are an interesting crowd.”
Rizzitano's peak ranking in the U.S. was 12th in 1985, and in the following few years he ranked around 30. After starting to play again in 2004, his rank has fluctuated from 100-120. Along with his achievement of International Master, Rizzitano is a four-time Massachusetts Open Champion and a two-time New England Open Champion.
His other books on chess opening sequences, which are published through the leading chess publisher Gambit Publications, are: “Play the Najdorf Sicilian,” “Chess Explained: The Queen's Gambit Declined,” “Chess Explained: The Taimonov Sicilian,” and “How to beat 1 d4.”
Rizzitano suggested visiting the U.S. Chess Federation's website at www.uschess.org for those interested in learning how to play chess and www.chessclub.org for those interested in playing chess online with players from all over the world.