About Dr. Kenneth S. Rogoff

Kenneth Rogoff

This personal biography covers my background through my education at Yale and MIT. My professional life as an economist is covered in my vitae (or short vitae if you prefer), and on my research interests page.

Family

I grew up in Rochester, New York (near Buffalo and Niagara Falls in upstate New York). My father, Stanley M. Rogoff, was a Professor of Radiology at the University of Rochester, one of the first medical schools to realize that doctors need to learn basic science if they are to keep up with medical advances over their lifetimes. He served as Chairman of the Radiology Department at Strong Memorial Hospital and as President of the American Society of Diagnostic Radiologists. My mother was (coincidentally?) a social science librarian and later became head of the main branch of the Rochester public library. My older brother Hal inherited my mother's broad intellectual curiosity. I, myself, liked playing basketball, baseball and football with my friends.

East High School

As true liberals, my parents insisted on living in the city where their children could have a genuine American inner city high school experience, which we certainly did. Given that a healthy majority of my East High School class did not attend college, much less graduate, it is an amazing coincidence that two members of Harvard’s Department of Economics attended East High (albeit at different times), myself and Andrei Shleifer (winner of the 1999 John Bates Clark award as the top American Economist under 40).

Chess

In many grade schools today, particularly in California and New York, chess is considered cool and on par with playing soccer. That sure wasn’t the case when I was growing up. (OK, it is true that chess was big among rock stars and movie stars at the time, and my best friend in chess, Kim Commons, could count people like Mel Brooks and the entire Jefferson Airplane band among his students.)

I learned the moves from father at age 6, but took up the game in earnest when I got a chess set for my 13th birthday. Although the epicenter of United States Chess has always been New York City, Rochester has a very good club that boasted a many-time New York State champion, Dr. Erich Marchand. There is no such thing as a pure prodigy in chess, and I worked very hard at it. By age 14, I was a U.S. master and New York State Open champion, and shortly thereafter became a senior master, the highest US national title. By 16, I was U.S. under-21 champion and representing the United States in the World championships in Stockholm (picture). It was at this time that I first got to know the brilliant American player Bobby Fischer, who was shortly to become world champion, and is widely considered to be one of the couple greatest players of all time. Fischer actually wrote an article about one of my games from the 1969 US junior championship, one of the very few times he ever chose to write about someone else’s games. (Here is the article, from the 1969 issue of Boys Life.) Though it is not particularly a record chessplayers strive for or care about, my marathon game (from Stockholm 1969) against Britain’s Arthur Williams established a new record for the longest game ever played and was featured in the Guinness Book of World Records from 1971-73.

At that point, I decided to miss most of the last two years of high school, and move to Europe, which at the time had many more tournaments. I lived on my own, mainly in Yugoslavia (Zagrab and Sarajevo), supporting myself with my prize winnings. I supplemented my income by giving simultaneous exhibitions (where a master typically plays anywhere from 25-75 club players at the same time) and blindfold exhibitions (pictured), in which a master plays a smaller number of players (say 6-12) without any sight of the boards (my personal record was 26, in Rochester NY at age 15). At 17, I played first board for the US team which won the world championship in Haifa, Israel (the world champion US team). I do not know what possessed me, but at age 18, I decided to completely buck the trend among my chess peers and apply to college. Happily, Yale University decided to ignore the many holes in my high school transcript, and admitted me to the class of 1975. Here I am as an 18-year old freshman at Yale against 20-year old Anatoly Karpov of the Soviet Union in the World Under 27 team championship in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. (At this time, Karpov was on the cusp of his decade-long run as world chess champion, before eventually losing his title in a series of extremely closely contested matches with Garry Kasparov.) My game against Scotland’s David Levy (who was later to become one of the pioneers of computer chess) is featured in American Chess Masters From Morphy to Fischer by Arthur Bisguier and Andrew Solitis (MacMillan, 1974).

At Yale, I played chess only in the summers, mainly living off ideas I had developed in high school. Through maturity, I guess, I continued to improve, finishing 5th, 2nd and 7th in three US Championships I played in, tournaments where (more or less) all the other players were full-time professionals. I eventually went on to represent the United States at theWorld Championship Interzonals in 1976. (Courtesy of Sports Illustrated, which featured the 1975 US championship in Oberlin, here I am at age 22.) I was the youngest player, finishing tied for 13th-15th. I became an International Master in 1974, and in 1978 I was finally awarded the title of International Grandmaster, the highest title in chess. (It is a life title; at the time, there were just over a hundred grandmasters in the world.)

Because of conflicts with my studies, I ended up playing just over 300 tournament games lifetime, an unusually small number at the professional level where 100 – 150 games per year is the norm. Of these 300+ games, some 25 were featured in the weekly chess column of the New York Times during the period 1967-78. Here are some of them (there were losses too, but you will have to look at the microfilms on your own if you really want to see them). On the personal side, here is an article I wrote for Seventeen magazine, explaining a bit about the life of a chess player. Even today, every once in awhile, my games are reprised in a chess magazine or newspaper. Here is a September 28, 2008, New York Times article, for example, and a March 2010 Chess Life article. And, of course, there are still articles that touch on my chess career without getting into actual games, for example The New York Times, July 4, 2010.

Yale and MIT

At Yale, I became a student of (later Nobel prize winner) James Tobin. My classmates included (now Stanford professor) Jeremy Bulow (who had a huge influence on my decision to go into economics), and (now Yale professor) John Geanakoplos, both of whom were later to be roommates of mine in graduate school. Jeremy and I went to MIT graduate school, John went to Harvard, John had more fun. My thesis committee consisted of Rudi Dornbusch (main advisor), Stanley Fischer and Jerry Hausman. Jagdish Bhagwati, the distinguished trade economist now at Columbia, was also an important influence. I must admit that I was not the best student in graduate school since, at the time, I was still torn between being a professional chess player and a serious research economist. Indeed, I ended up repeating my East High School experience, and dropped out after a semester, but this time I ended up deciding to re-enter a year later. I am fortunate that MIT was very accommodating about all this.