The New York Times
Have you heard this story before? Girl has rough start in life, discovers chess. She becomes a United States champion. She studies Russian. And now she needs to find a way to get to Russia to play chess, because she can’t afford it.No, I’m not talking about Beth Harmon, the fictional hero of the Netflix megahit “The Queen’s Gambit.” Meet Jessica Lauser, the reigning three-time U.S. Blind chess champion. You can call her Chessica — the nickname her math teacher gave her in eighth grade.Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York TimesLauser, now 40, was born 16 weeks prematurely. Like many infants born that early, she needed oxygen, which damaged her eyes, a condition called retinopathy of prematurity. One eye is completely blind; in the other she has 20/480 eyesight. Her visual field is limited, and the chess pieces appear blurred and distorted. She can tell when a square on the board is occupied, but she can’t always tell which piece it is.When she’s playing against a sighted player in a tournament, she will explain all of this. The biggest problem is the touch-move rule in chess, which says that if you touch a piece, you have to move it.”If I need to identify a piece during a game, I will lightly touch the top of it and say ‘identify,’ not grasping the piece, but just brushing it,” she says. Aside from that, says Michael Aigner, who was recently her teammate in the first Online Olympiad for People with Disabilities, “Nobody can tell that Jessica is blind.” Blind chess players often use a tactile set, a special board with pegs that allows them to feel the pieces without knocking them over. She does not. But she does have to remind herself of where the pieces are (unlike Beth Harmon, she doesn’t have a photographic memory, but she does have strong pattern recognition abilities), so identifying them by touch is sometimes useful.Chess has been Lauser’s refuge for a very long time. She learned the game at age 7, when she transferred from the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind to a mainstream school. At that age, she says, “it was just a game like Monopoly or Parcheesi.” But by seventh grade, when she started at a new school in California, she had begun to take the game more seriously.”When I walked into class on the first day, the first thing I saw at the back of the room were waist-high cabinets with chess sets on top,” Lauser says. “I knew that the kids were going to call me ‘Four-Eyes,’ and I said, ‘Hey, maybe if I beat them, then they will finally shut up.'”Lauser, who now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, and works for the Internal Revenue Service, has lived in a staggering number of places, as her blindness has made it difficult to secure a steady job. She has been homeless within the past year. It’s a very sore subject with her. “What frustrates me most is not getting a fair shot at life, because of how I was born,” she says. In order to maintain her eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance, she cannot make more than $2,110 a month.”The limit is hard and fast,” she says. “It has kept me in perpetual poverty, my entire adult life, even though I have always worked. That’s why I play chess, because it helps me cope with all the things I cannot change, that especially.”She later added: “I don’t want pity, but rather opportunity. I just want to be equal.”She has honed her chess game on the streets: Market Street in San Francisco, Santana Row in San Jose, Dupont Circle in Washington. Her favorite place was the student union at San Francisco State University, where she got her undergraduate degree at age 36.”I would set up multiple sets at a time and take on all comers,” she says. She drew a crowd, not so much because she was blind or a woman, but because the struggle of one person against many never fails to fascinate. The nearby stores noticed that their sales increased when she was there, as people stopped to watch. “The coordinator of the building told me, ‘I hope this won’t offend you, but we’d like to adopt you!'”Because she has played so much on the streets, she plays very fast, using openings that are often considered unsound for tournament chess. In blitz, or five-minute chess, her peak rating placed her one category below master. Getting a master title is still her goal, although she is aware that the odds are against her: Not many players have achieved this in their 40s. “I am not giving up this dream of mine,” she says.In October, Lauser won her third consecutive U.S. Blind championship — a tournament that was held in person, in spite of the pandemic. It had been postponed from July. Before the pandemic, says Virginia Alverson, the president of the U.S. Blind Chess Association, she had hoped to attract 20 participants. (Normally about 10 players come, out of about 100 members.) But with the pandemic, they had to settle for three: Alverson, her roommate, Pauline Downing, and Lauser. “We felt that if Jessica was willing to travel from Kansas City to New Hampshire to defend her title, we should have some sort of tournament,” Alverson says. “It says a lot about Jessica that she wanted to come. Jessica loves to play chess. And truth to say, I wanted to see Jessica.”This year’s Olympiad for People with Disabilities, held over Thanksgiving weekend, was a much higher-profile event. Originally scheduled for Siberia in August, it was moved online, and attracted 60 teams from 44 countries. The U.S. team, led by Aigner on first board, tied for 10th place. Lauser started slowly but won a key last-round game against a player from Brazil. And she was arguably the most important player, because each team was required to field a female player. Without her, there would not have been a U.S. team.”In the middle of the tournament, after she lost the first three rounds, we played about an hour of blitz chess, just for fun,” Aigner says. “She was playing all of her gambits against me, and in some of the games I got in trouble. When she finally won in round four, my reaction was thank goodness someone else gets to see how good you are. She was playing the style she played against me in blitz, and of course she won.”Currently (subject to change), the next Olympiad is scheduled for Russia in 2022. Lauser would like to go, but she is not sure how she can. This year, before the event in Siberia was canceled, FIDE, the international chess federation, offered to pay accommodations plus 1,500 euro for travel — or about $1,800. “Whether that would get people to Russia and back is debatable,” says Chris Bird, FIDE events manager of the U.S. Chess Federation. Until the pandemic is over, the federation is not giving financial support to teams for international events.For Lauser, it’s a familiar story. She has also qualified for the world blind championship six times, but has never been able to attend.In the short run, Lauser hopes to keep her job in Kansas City, as well as her current apartment, from which she can hear the trains rumble by on their way to and from Union Station. Long term, she says, “My dream situation would be to make enough money to live on, to not be struggling with debt, maybe to have a home at some point. To be able to use Russian every day, to be able to compete, to be able to help others. Maybe live in Russia, teach English and play chess.”This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company
More China coal investments overseas cancelled than commissioned since 2017
More China-invested overseas coal-fired power capacity was cancelled than commissioned since 2017, research showed on Wednesday, highlighting the obstacles facing the industry as countries work to reduce carbon emissions.
The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) said that the amount of capacity shelved or cancelled since 2017 was 4.5 times higher than the amount that went into construction over the period.
Coal-fired power is one of the biggest sources of climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions, and the wave of cancellations also reflects rising concerns about the sector’s long-term economic competitiveness.
Since 2016, the top 10 banks involved in global coal financing were all Chinese, and around 12% of all coal plants operating outside of China can be linked to Chinese banks, utilities, equipment manufacturers and construction firms, CREA said.
But although 80 gigawatts of China-backed capacity is still in the pipeline, many of the projects could face further setbacks as public opposition rises and financing becomes more difficult, it added.
China is currently drawing up policies that it says will allow it to bring greenhouse gas emissions to a peak by 2030 and to become carbon-neutral by 2060.
But it was responsible for more than half the world’s coal-fired power generation last year, and it will not start to cut coal consumption until 2026, President Xi Jinping said in April.
Environmental groups have called on China to stop financing coal-fired power entirely and to use the funds to invest in cleaner forms of energy, and there are already signs that it is cutting back on coal investments both at home and abroad.
Following rule changes implemented by the central bank earlier this year, “clean coal” is no longer eligible for green financing.
Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the world’s biggest bank by assets and a major source of global coal financing, is also drawing up a “road map” to pull out of the sector, its chief economist Zhou Yueqiu said at the end of May.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)
Bank of Montreal CEO sees growth in U.S. share of earnings
Bank of Montreal expects its earnings contribution from the U.S. to keep growing, even without any mergers and acquisitions, driven by a much smaller market share than at home and nearly C$1 trillion ($823.38 billion) of assets, Chief Executive Officer Darryl White said on Monday.
“We do think we have plenty of scale,” and the ability to compete with both banks of similar as well as smaller size, White said at a Morgan Stanley conference, adding that the bank’s U.S. market share is between 1% and 5% based on the business line, versus 10% to 35% in Canada. “And we do it off the scale of our global balance sheet of C$950 billion.”
($1 = 1.2145 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Nichola Saminather; Editing by Leslie Adler)
GameStop falls 27% on potential share sale
Shares of GameStop Corp lost more than a quarter of their value on Thursday and other so-called meme stocks also declined in a sell-off that hit a broad range of names favored by retail investors.
The video game retailer’s shares closed down 27.16% at $220.39, their biggest one-day percentage loss in 11 weeks. The drop came a day after GameStop said in a quarterly report that it may sell up to 5 million new shares, sparking concerns of potential dilution for existing shareholders.
“The threat of dilution from the five million-share sale is the dagger in the hearts of GameStop shareholders,” said Jake Dollarhide, chief executive officer of Longbow Asset Management. “The meme trade is not working today, so logic for at least one day has returned.”
Soaring rallies in the shares of GameStop and AMC Entertainment Holdings over the past month have helped reinvigorate the meme stock frenzy that began earlier this year and fueled big moves in a fresh crop of names popular with investors on forums such as Reddit’s WallStreetBets.
Many of those names traded lower on Thursday, with shares of Clover Health Investments Corp down 15.2%, burger chain Wendy’s falling 3.1% and prison operator Geo Group Inc, one of the more recently minted meme stocks, down nearly 20% after surging more than 38% on Wednesday. AMC shares were off more than 13%.
Worries that other companies could leverage recent stock price gains by announcing share sales may be rippling out to the broader meme stock universe, said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset Capital.
AMC last week took advantage of a 400% surge in its share price since mid-May to announce a pair of stock offerings.
“It appears that other companies, like GameStop, are hoping to follow AMC’s lead by issuing shares and otherwise profit from the meme stocks run-up,” Ablin said. “Investors are taking a dim view of that strategy.”
Wedbush Securities on Thursday raised its price target on GameStop to $50, from $39. GameStop will likely sell all 5 million new shares but that amount only represents a “modest” dilution of 7%, Wedbush analysts wrote.
GameStop on Wednesday reported stronger-than-expected earnings, and named the former head of Amazon.com Inc’s Australian business as its chief executive officer.
GameStop’s shares rallied more than 1,600% in January when a surge of buying forced bearish investors to unwind their bets in a phenomenon known as a short squeeze.
The company on Wednesday said the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had requested documents and information related to an investigation into that trading.
In the past two weeks, the so-called “meme stocks” have received $1.27 billion of retail inflows, Vanda Research said on Wednesday, matching their January peak.
(Reporting by Aaron Saldanha and Sagarika Jaisinghani in Bengaluru and Sinead Carew in New York; Additional reporting by Ira Iosebashvili; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Shounak Dasgupta, Jonathan Oatis and Nick Zieminski)