Bisik-Bisik with GM Nigel Short

10/3/2008 – Mention GM Nigel Short and we think grandmaster, world championship challenger, coach, author and journalist. Some of us will also associate him with the French Defence, an opening that he used to play regularly many years ago. But away from the chess board, this man is also very well known for his witty reports and articles on chess. Edwin Lam interviews the chess writer.

Bisik-Bisik with GM Nigel Short

By Edwin Lam Choong Wai

As a chess player, Short, the England number two, is best known as the man who challenged Kasparov’s throne back in 1993. En route to his world championship summit against Kasparov, Short defeated no less an opposition, than the ex-World Champion, Anatoly Karpov, in a match. Besides his illustrious individual career, Short is also a constant feature in the English national team having represented them to countless Chess Olympiads, Euroteams and World Team Championships.

Away from the chess board, this man is also very well known for his witty reports and articles on chess – a far cry from the other writers who are content with a drier approach to chess journalism. His writings have appeared on the pages of The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail and The Spectator.

While his competitive chess career may have been very well documented, the same cannot be said about his career as a chess journalist and writer. In this Bisik-Bisik column, let us sit back and read more about Short, the chess journalist.

Edwin Lam: Do you consider yourself, first and foremost, a chess player and only then a chess journalist? Or, vice versa?

Nigel Short: I have always considered myself to be first and foremost a chess player. This was true even in 2005, when I hardly played at all and was dependent upon writing for my livelihood.

Edwin Lam: When was your first foray into chess journalism?

Nigel Short: I am not quite sure of the answer to this one. I was asked to fill in for Peter Clarke at the Sunday Times, during a four week period of his convalescence. I think I must have been about 18 at the time. My contributions, without being dire, were forgettable.

Edwin Lam: What inspired you to be a chess journalist?

Nigel Short: I really came into journalism by accident. I was a very poor student, having been thrown out of two schools, for low academic achievement, by the age of 17 and thus had a massive inferiority complex. My friend Dominic Lawson, however, totally against prevailing opinion, regarded me as a smart and capable individual, and asked me to do a review of Kasparov and Trelford's "Child of Change" for the Spectator, for which he was working at the time. Dominic liked my piece, as, more importantly, did the Literary Editor of the magazine. I would say that this was the moment when I first began to believe I could become a good writer.

Edwin Lam: When you started as a chess journalist back then, what were your goals like? Did you dream to one day be reporting for the chess public around the world?

Nigel Short: My first regular journalistic job was when I became chess columnist for the Daily Telegraph. I didn't really have ambitions per se: it was just a very useful source of income. I guess it took me a little before I really found my stride.

Edwin Lam: Could you please share with us as to what your journey was like, over the years, as a chess journalist?

Nigel Short: My best work was done during the ten years I wrote for the Sunday Telegraph. Of course, not everything I submitted was a masterpiece, but I managed to produce sharp and witty columns at fairly regular intervals. To be honest, I would not mind seeing them in an anthology. I was also very pleased with the overwhelmingly positive response to my San Luis World Championship reports for ChessBase. The website received literally hundreds of e-mails praising my reports. It is quite obvious that the vast majority of chess fans don't care for masses of analysis: they want excitement, flavour and good description. Almost everyone I know possesses a volume or two of Kasparov's classic "My Great Predecessors" but I have found again and again that people simply have not read it. At some point they become intimidated by the labrythine variations. I think there is a moral there.

Edwin Lam: In your opinion, what was the role of a chess journalist back then?

Nigel Short: Chess journalists should inform and entertain.

Edwin Lam: The Internet emerged as a great force in the 1990s. In your opinion, how has the Internet changed the face of chess journalism?

Nigel Short: It has made it much easier to cover events.

Edwin Lam: And, how has the Internet changed the role of a chess journalist in the past 15 years?

Nigel Short: Nowadays everyone is a big genius sitting on his fat arse in front of the computer watching Rybka and Fritz whirring away. Therefore journalists who just copy and paste cyber evaluations don't produce anything worthwhile. I am certain there is a huge unmet demand for humorous, instructive, amusing, quality writing.

Edwin Lam: Over the past few years, very many chess players have also started blogging. How do you see the role of bloggers being different from that played by a chess journalist?

Nigel Short: I have not given enough thought to this question.

Edwin Lam: Thank you for this interesting conversation.

Samples of Nigel Short's writings

Short on the ECF, Rublevsky, Crimea, FIDE, Brunei
06.07.2006 – As a chess grandmaster he made it to a challenge for the world championship title, and at 41 he is playing quite successfully in top international events. But it is as a chess columnist that Nigel Short has really blossomed. Sacked after ten years work for the Sunday Telegraph, Nigel now produces an even more scintillating column for the Guardian. We bring you excerpts.

Nigel Short is back – in the Guardian
13.09.2005 – Just six weeks ago we reported that the conservative Sunday Telegraph had axed their star chess correspondent in favour of a second poker column. We received a lot of despairing feedback from readers and fans. So here's the good news: Nigel Short is back, this time working for a liberal newspaper, which will be carrying more chess than ever before.

Nigel Short axed, future world champion survives
28.07.2005 – For ten years Nigel Short has written one of the most provocative and entertaining chess columns in the world – in the Sunday Telegraph. Now the newspaper, under new ownership, has sacked their star columnist. In the "final episode" Nigel tells us how he recently almost changed the path of chess history.

The fake Heroes of Chernobyl revisited
23.05.2005 – A few weeks ago we reported on a tournament that had supposedly been held in Óity a Slavutich, Ukraine. Nigel Short commented on this fake event in his Telegraph column. Now the Ukraine Chess Federation tells us it has investigated and found that the event was indeed an 'open and shameless falsification'

On world chess and crapulent GMs
11.04.2005 – In recent days there has been a spate of articles, editorials and interviews on chess. Anand gave an interview to Rediff; Jon Speelman and Leonard Barden wrote columns in the Guardian; ACP president Joel Lautier was extensively interviewed by the Russian chess magazine 64-Chess; and of course Nigel Short did his thing in the Telegraph. Interesting material...

Short on beauty, Kasparov and the chess scene
03.04.2005 – Nigel Short's Sunday Telegraph column is informative and entertaining. It can also do wonders for your vocabulary. Nigel's prose is erudite and occasionally sesquipedalian (oh dear, now we have caught it!). But not to fear. Together with our excerpts we provide, as a reading aid, a special version of the Short English Dictionary.

Kavalek to Short: I am not dead!
01.02.2005 – In a recent Sunday Telegraph column Nigel Short wrote critically of his collaboration with former Czechoslovakian and US Champion, Lubomir Kavalek, who worked with the British GM during his bid for the World Championship title. Now Kavalek has sent us a reply, to which Short has reacted.

Blood-curdling, X-rated, kinky
10.01.2005 – Over the Christmas season Nigel Short's sometimes outrageous but always entertaining Sunday Telegraph column included stories involving blood-curdling, X-rated games and kinky self and reflex-mates. Even the Turkish government saw it fit to react to his provocations. Here for the curious are excerpts from his recent articles. Children, avert your gaze...

The name is Spassky – Boris Spassky
02.09.2004 – "If chess is a vast jungle, computers are the chainsaws in a giant environmentally insensitive logging company," writes Nigel Short in his always entertaining Sunday Telegraph column. He goes on to plead for more romance in chess, and tells of a brilliant King's Gambit game by Boris Spassky which was used in a Bond movie...

The dawn of a new era
06.04.2004 – Sunday Telegraph columnist Nigel Short was enchanted. "For the first time people could watch the European Women's Championship on TV, with the charming participants themselves presenting their strategic masterpieces – often in delightfully Russian-accented English." Nigel calls this development 'a new era in chess.'

David Norwood's Christmas Quiz
21.12.2003 – It's the time of year when Telegraph columnist David Norwood likes to test the chess knowledge of his readers. There are 20 questions, mainly relating to chess trivia, but some require thought and research. At least you have plenty of time to finish your turkey and Christmas pudding before you check your results. Here's the Telegraph quiz.

Nigel Short on the virtues of slavery
02.12.2003 – When the 19th century abolitionists put an end to forced labour did they consider how one can produce monumental architecture or play great games of chess if one has also to do the shopping? Sunday Telegraph columnist Nigel Short has found a solution to the problem. He also talks about the deadly dangers of chess travel and the latest Tony Miles hagiography. The word is explained here...

Yes, Virginia, there is humour in chess
19.10.2003 – GM David Norwood was confused. "On the ChessBase website there are not pages upon pages of dry annotations of the latest chess theory. The stories are fun and eminently readable." He got stuck on Plaskett's Puzzle and wrote his Telegraph column on the subject. Nigel Short and Malcolm Pein have also provided very readable articles.

Top columnists at the Telegraph
03.09.2003 – If you want news and gossip, on a weekly basis, the British Telegraph newspaper is a good address. It has three correspondents, GMs Nigel Short and David Norwood, as well as IM-journalist Malcolm Pein. In the past weeks the latter told us about the Staunten Memorial (won by Speelman), while the GMs handled more general subjects. Details...

For Sale: One World Chess Championship Match
21.08.2003 – "Price $1,000,000. Any offers above 50 quid considered." In his Telegraph chess column Nigel Short is always entertaining – and never diplomatic. This week he discusses the performance of Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Leko in Dortmund and takes a glum look at their prospects of finding a sponsor for their world championship match.

Bisik-Bisik articles by Edwin Lam

Bisik-Bisik with GM Alexander Khalifman
20.08.2008 Bisik-Bisik is a word from the Malay Archipelago, and means whispering from one person to another. In a series Edwin Lam seeks to “whisper” to our readers out there the previously unknown other side of his interview partners. Today he talks with GM Alexander Khalifman, who in 1999 became the FIDE world champion in Las Vegas. Today "El Khalif" runs a training web site and publishes books. Bisik-bisik.

Ni hao, GM Zhang Zhong and WGM Li Ruofan
10.01.2008 – Ni hao, pronounced second tone-third tone, is Chinese for Hello or Hi ("Ni hao ma?" means "how are you" and "Wo hun hao" means "I'm doing great"). After this short lesson in Chinese first encounters we bring you a portrait of the Chinese dream couple: GM Zhang Zhong, Elo 2634, and his wife WGM Li Ruofan, rated 2417. Bisik-Bisik (Malay for "whisperings") by Edwin Lam.

Bisik-Bisik with Viktor Moskalenko
15.12.2007 Bisik-Bisik is a word from the Malay Archipelago, and means the act of “whispering” from one person to another. Starting with this inaugural article Edwin Lam will seek to “whisper” to all our readers out there the previously unknown other side of his interview partners. He kicks off with a conversation between Edwin and Ukrainian Viktor Moskalenko, grandmaster, teacher and chess author.

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