For ten years Nigel Short wrote a column for the Sunday Telegraph, delivering
a provocative and entertaining chess columns. Last year he was given notice
by Britain's oldest (right-wing) newspapers, after it was sold to the billionaire
Barclay brothers. Earlier this year he was snapped
up by the liberal Guardian, which went on to show an unprecedented commitment
to chess. The newspaper installed multiple chess columns, by Leonard Barden
and GM Jon Speelman, as well as by Guardian journalist Stephen Moss, who had
done numerous chess stories in the past. And of course Nigel's brash and often
outrageous column, which has offended many in the past, but has never committed
the gravest sin known to professional journalism: being boring.
Nigel Short, Guardian Chess Columnist
Now we learn that Nigel's column in the Guardian has been terminated. Really?
We contacted the author and asked him to confirm the news.
Nigel, is it true that you have been sacked, again, from your job as
a weekly chess columnist, this time by the Guardian?
Nigel Short: I'm afraid it is.
How did that happen? You were hired fairly recently, and things appeared
to be going extremely well...
I thought so too. Last year I was welcomed with open arms at the Guardian,
which ran a large feature on me to coincide with my arrival as their new chess
columnist. The warmth of that initial reception, and the incredulity the Guardian
expressed at my previous sacking ("I had no idea the Sunday Telegraph
would be so rash as to let you go...") led me to believe that this new
partnership would be a long and mutually beneficial one.
So you started to write a weekly column of the Guardian.
Initially I was asked to write on a daily basis. Although I was highly flattered
by that proposal, I knew that, if I accepted, it would be the death knell of
my professional chess career – something which I consider myself too
good and (although Magnus Carlsen will laugh at this sentiment) even too young
to contemplate. Instead we agreed on a weekly column, in addition, to spending
a few days in the year aiding Stephen Moss with the "Roookie". It
was called "Improve your chess with Nigel Short – Chess lessons
from a Grandmaster" and ran in 47
So why were you terminated? How did it happen?
While participating in the European Union Championship in Liverpool, in September,
I got the news that my column was due to disappear. The ostensible reason for
this was (yet another) redesign of the newspaper. The United Kingdom is one
of a tiny handful of European countries in which chess is not recognised as
a sport and thus if chess exists in the national press at all, it is normally
in unusual and precarious places. The news, although deeply disappointing,
was therefore not a total shock for one familiar with idiosyncratic British
So there is to be no more chess in the Guardian?
That's what I initially thought. But having been led to believe, for a month
or so, that there was to be no more chess in the Guardian's G2 section, it
now emerges that there is to be a new chess column by Ronan Bennet with Dan
Why do you think they replaced you?
I am not privy to the concept behind the change, but one suspects that the
Guardian is no longer interested in covering chess as an important and growing
international sport. If the coverage of chess has been downgraded by the Guardian
to an innocent pastime, where the fascinating, diverse characters and extraordinary
shenanigans of the international scene are of less interest than the movement
of bishop and knight, then doubtless others will write about this better than
So instead of chess politics and stories they are going with a tutorial
chess column, with chess puzzles? Was your column too good, too interesting?
One would think so.
And what will you do? You had a fairly substantial fan group, people
who read your columns in the Telegraph and then in the Guardian with great
I enjoyed writing the column, and would like to continue doing this.
Do you have any new offers?
Not yet, the news about my termination by the Guardian is just out. Should
any newspaper, in any country, think there is still a place for informed and
authoritative chess coverage, they are welcome to contact me. [Editors,
use the feedback button on the left]
Any newspaper, anywhere? The New York Times? The Beijing Daily? Pravda?
Yes, any newspaper that is interested in chess as an international sport,
played by literally hundreds of millions of people in over 150 countries worldwide.
We wish you luck. We'll miss your column and sincerely hope it will
resurface in a big newspaper very soon.
Letters to the editor
Here are two letter that were written to the Editor of the Guardian after
the news of the termination of Nigel Short's column broke.
Dear Mr. Mayes,
I am shocked to discover that Nigel Short's chess column is to be discontinued.
Although I am from the other side of the pond, and we pronounce the word "controversy"
differently (though "corollary" pretty much the same), I can assure
you that Mr. Short's chess column is the best in the world. He brings to the
editorial table a playful command of the English language, together with the
best chess credibility of any weekly writer. Mr. Short writes an accurate and
entertaining column, which reflects his status as an active player near the
top of world chess, and something of a celebrity to boot.
I hope that the discontinuance of Mr. Short's column is of the nature of
a typographical error.
I am the current British chess champion and a weekly columnist for the Herald.
I am writing because I was saddened and surprised to read on Thursday that
Nigel Short wrote his final chess column for the Guardian. Nigel's column was
excellent and I, like countless others, looked forward to reading it every
I am not sure of the basis for the decision, but there is much wider interest
in chess, and chess columns, than you might imagine. A recent study of household
goods in the UK revealed that there your average household is much more likely
to have a chess set than a cricket bat, for example, and a survey of popular
pastimes in Scotland found that just over half the population played chess
Moreover, The game is becoming increasingly popular. The basis for the growth
of interest in chess is twofold: compelling evidence for the positive effect
of chess in education, and the internet proving to be an ideal medium for playing
chess (hits at major game sites and chess sites suggest that at any one time,
worldwide, there are approximately 100,000 players playing online) and watching
it live or reading about it (hits from chess news sites like TWIC, chessbase
and chesscafe, which often have links to newspaper chess columns).
Nigel is a high profile character who writes with the authority of a world
class player and the style of a seasoned polemicist. I believe hundreds (if
not thousands) of chessplayers who would never otherwise read The Guardian
or visit The Guardian website, seek out his column for instruction and amusement.
There is therefore good reason to believe that as a result of Nigel's column
ending, your paper and website will lose a considerable number of existing
and prospective readers.
Please bring it back.
In the following we bring you excerpts from the finla columns written by Nigel
Short in the Guardian, with links to the full text and annotated game at the
Kasparov and Karpov
Thursday August 31, 2006: Garry Kasparov demonstrated that he has not completely
forgotten how the pieces move by coming out of retirement this week to win,
jointly with Anatoly Karpov, the Credit Suisse Blitz in front of Judit Polgar
and Viktor Korchnoi. Nor has he abandoned casual games, as he appears regularly
(and rather successfully) on the Playchess
server, under a pseudonym, to do battle with the leading lights. He even condescended
to challenge me a while back; I politely declined, having suffered too often
at his hands over the decades.
While chatting on that occasion, the Russian legend claimed – a touch
disingenuously, one suspects – to be indifferent to chess politics, although
it was only a couple of months ago that he was publicly urging FIDE delegates
in Turin to make "the right move" – a reference to the election
campaign of Dutch businessman Bessel Kok. Perhaps he was merely expressing
disappointment at the astonishing conversion of Bessel's deputy, Ali Nihat
Yazici, who recently welcomed his erstwhile opponent, President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov,
to Turkey, with such fawning obsequiousness as to make those of delicate constitution
reach for their sick bags. One would have thought it possible to attain the
worthy objective of establishing cordial relations with a little less self-abasement.
article with an annotated game Ivan Sokolov - David Howell
On Lawrence Day and the King's Gambit
Thursday September 7, 2006: Those with a predilection for antiquated
openings were thrilled to see the veteran Lawrence Day venture the King's Gambit
against the British number one Michael Adams at the Staunton Memorial the other
week. That joy was, alas, extremely short-lived as the Canadian lost pathetically
in 13 brief moves. The result was no surprise, given the disparity in rating
between the pair, but the spectators were cheated out of a more spirited display
from Day: if every King's Gambiteer were to resign the moment he got a dubious
position, a pretty sorry opening it would be.
One might conclude that the King's Gambit has no place in modern tournament
chess – but that would be wrong. Its dodgy reputation is unquestionably
an asset. Most leading young players view hours spent studying the venerable
sacrifice as time wasted (Adams is old and canny enough not to fall into this
category), and therefore content themselves with a brief and superficial acquaintance
with its complexities. This leaves ample opportunity for the industrious archaeologist
to familiarise himself with the ancient labyrinth into which he might drag
In the 20th century, Boris Spassky was unquestionably its most outstanding
practitioner, and he never lost a game with it. His success was due to his
remarkable flexibility; he could easily switch from full-frontal assault to
a quiet, queenless endgame at a moment's notice. Mind you, even Spassky understood
that proffering a valuable pawn on the second move was an extremely hazardous
affair, and he essayed it only intermittently.
It has to be admitted that the King's Gambit is a very difficult opening to
understand. In the opening manuals of my youth it was explained that an attack
on f7 is its primary purpose. This is a gross oversimplification, but one should
always be on the look out for this most direct of assaults. The epic Franco-Irish
duel below from 1834 (on which I can recommend the excellent McFarland book
by Cary Utterborg) featured several entertaining and instructive clashes.
article with annotated game McDonnell - De Labourdonnais
On FIDE and the World Championship
Thursday October 12, 2006: If there is an important decision to be
taken, one can usually rely on FIDE to get it wrong. The replacement of Yiorgos
Makropoulos and Zurab Azmaiparashvili as members of the world championship
appeals committee is a case in point. As outlined last week, these men should
never have been appointed in the first place, but their replacements, Boris
Kutin of Slovenia and Faik Gasanov of Azerbaijan, are scarcely better. Kutin
is a FIDE official and therefore, as Grandmaster Dr John Nunn pointed out,
cannot be considered impartial in a unification match. Gasanov is ostensibly
less objectionable until one considers that shortly before the Elista match
the Azerbaijani sport minister, Azad Rahimov, issued this statement: "It
is known that we signed an agreement with the Bulgarian State Youth and Sports
Ministry, and the existing (FIDE) world champion. That agreement envisages
the holding of Veselin Topalov's next match with Teimour Rajabov if the Bulgarian
chess player defeats Vladimir Kramnik. That is why [ ... ] we shall support
Without the largesse of the FIDE president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the organisation
would be in severe financial trouble. This was the primary reason that the
body introduced the money-before-merit principle of allowing any player rated
above 2700 Elo to challenge for the world title – providing a $1m prize
fund could be guaranteed. Rajabov, as a sportsman from the oil-rich Caspian
state, "earned" his right to a title match this way. With 20% of
the proposed prize fund flowing into FIDE coffers, FIDE has a clear financial
interest in Topalov winning. It is also not surprising that FIDE vice-president
Azmaiparashvili, who began working as Rajabov's manager a few years ago, should
emerge as the most outspoken supporter of the new regulations.
Meanwhile, as diverse a bunch as Kasparov, Karpov, Korchnoi, Spassky, Anand,
Svidler, Bareev, myself, and countless others believe that Kramnik has been
diddled out of a point by being forfeited in the fifth game of the match. He
has already announced his intention to sue if he fails to win. The match is
currently tied 5-5 with the 12th and final game taking place today.