Chess grandmaster faces 30 players simultaneously at ‘The Boro’s Gambit’

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'The Boro's Gambit' (Part 1)

Have you been practicing your chess skills since watching “The Queen’s Gambit?”

Do you have what it takes to challenge one of the best chess players in the world?

Sign up for “The Boro’s Gambit” in Tysons, Virginia on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“We are inviting everyone, players and also spectators, to come and watch this very interesting show — it’s a chess show,” chess grandmaster Rashad Babaev told WTOP. “Simultaneous is a very specific part of chess when a chess grandmaster or someone who is really advanced can play [against] many people. In our event, it is 30 but sometimes it can go up to 100 or 200 people.”

Babaev will make the rounds from board to board to face 30 different players.

“The grandmaster is moving between the boards and making rounds,” Babaev said. “Every time he approaches to the board, a player plays his move and the grandmaster also plays his move. He can play all of these games at the same time, which is not an easy thing to do, which is why you need to be very experienced in order to keep track of all the games and where all the pieces are.”

The outdoor event is free for spectators and $20 for contestants.

“It takes a long time to play,” Babaev said. “Grandmasters get quite tired, therefore, everyone has a chance to even beat a grandmaster. It’s possible. When I was a young boy learning to play chess, I had a very nice experience playing against grandmasters and I even won myself.”

He grew up in the small Eastern European country of Azerbaijan.

“Azerbaijan is ranked one of the top countries among other chess countries,” Babaev said. “We have won European championships, we’ve placed in the Chess Olympics, so there are big traditions in Azerbaijan. I grew up in that region and I was very lucky I had great coaches.”

His passion began at age 4 when his father brought home a wooden chess set.

“My father introduced me to the game of chess and I started playing it as a hobby until I won the city championship when I was 6 years old,” Babaev said. “After that achievement, my father took me to the chess club to learn from good chess teachers. … Little by little I started getting other titles in chess, first I started with the local fourth category player, then third, second, first.”

In 2007, he was crowned grandmaster, the highest title a chess player can achieve.

“In order to become a grandmaster you have to win certain tournaments and earn rating points,” Babaev said. “All those points are being calculated by the World Chess Federation. Every time you play a chess tournament, the organizers are sending the results to FIDE [International Chess Federation] and they’re calculating all the points. You have to achieve 2,500 points in order to qualify to get a grandmaster title.”

Proceeds of Saturday’s event will benefit the United Charities of Azerbaijan, where Babaev lived before moving to the United States in 2009. He bounced around from New York to Utah before settling in Virginia in 2016. He currently lives in McLean, Virginia right near The Boro.

“I love this beautiful community,” Babaev said. “It’s very nice, walkable, a lot of nice restaurants, parks, grocery stores, I love this area.”

It was here during the pandemic that he streamed Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit.”

“I liked it,” Babaev said. “It’s a great movie that makes chess more exciting for people who have never heard about chess and it boosted the popularity of chess, which is why we are very thankful for this very interesting movie. After the movie, I saw that the interest of people started rising and people who would never think of chess are coming to chess, trying to learn — even adults.”

What is his favorite chess piece to attack his opponents?

“It really depends on what kind of position you have on the board,” Babaev said. “Sometimes you will like a pawn better than a queen, even though the queen is the most powerful piece. … In general, I would say I like bishops. … Bishop can do many things, bishop can attack from long distances, it’s a very accurate piece and you have to be really smart in using your bishop.”

You hear that? Watch out for the bishop. It’s coming for ya.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'The Boro's Gambit' (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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