Blood-curdling, X-rated, kinky

1/10/2005 – 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...

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The following are excerpts from the Sunday Telegraph column by Grandmasters Nigel Short and David Norwood. The link at the bottom leads you to the full story, each of which contains a game annotated by the author. Note that you have to register, free of charge, to read the full columns. This entails giving an email address and a password for future logins. For Nigel Short's column it is useful to have a dictionary handy – a good place on the Internet is the OneLook Dictionary Search.

Nigel Short


Nigel Short, Telegraph chess columnist

09/01/2005 – In the 1980s many British players made the annual pilgrimage to Gausdal, Norway, for a bit of chess and skiing. It wasn’t really a high class tournament but it was, by all accounts, a convivial experience. Relatively unknown Soviet juniors (such as Alexei Shirov and Vladimir Kramnik) also appeared. Still, it has to be said that Norway was not much of a chess country, despite the presence of Simen Agdestein, who uniquely represented his country at football (as a centre-forward) and drew a match with Anatoly Karpov, among numerous other achievements.

Curiously his chess form dipped sharply after suffering a nasty knee injury which ended his footballing career. One would have thought that having more time to devote to chess would be beneficial, but in his case, apparently not. He felt his lack of fitness hurt his chess. A healthy mind in a healthy body, they say, although I am not so sure Mikhail Tal – a great chess genius but one of the most sickly men I have ever met – would have agreed.

Anyway, there is now a clear upsurge of interest in the game in the country due to the exploits of the teenage prodigy Magnus Carlsen. He appeared at the World Championship in Libya 2004 with camera-crew in tow and even has a biography published; not bad for a pre-pubescent. Norway is one of the few European countries I have not visited, so I was delighted to receive an invitation to the Smartfish Masters tournament.

Regrettably I was unable to attend, but fortunately, judging from the list of participants, my place seems to have been taken by England’s Luke McShane. Luke has been having a rough time of things of late so this was an excellent opportunity to make amends. He began well enough, defeating the Women’s World Champion, Antoaneta Stefanova of Bulgaria, in the second round and went on to gain third place behind the winner, Alexei Shirov, and Peter Nielsen.


02/01/2005 – The chances of getting caught for any irregularities or misdemeanours in the chess world are pretty slim. One can buy titles with impunity. One can arrange fictitious tournaments to boost one’s rating. One can even take back a move in a vital game with witnesses all around and still become European Chess Champion. The only thing one must never do, God forbid, is to refuse to submit to the humiliation of a drugs test. For that, you will be punished no matter what. Of course, caffeine – that evil substance – does improve concentration, but so does having a good night’s sleep. Perhaps napping should be banned as well.

One of the very rare cases of a cheat being punished (however lightly) was that of the young German grandmaster Arkady Naiditsch, who was caught using a computer in an internet tournament in 2004. For this, he was disqualified from the event. The German Chess Federation also took a fairly dim view of his behaviour.

At Cesme, Turkey, in October, I asked Naiditsch why he had ruined his reputation so senselessly. He agreed that he had made a serious mistake, but emphasised that he did not use computer assistance in all games (only most of them, apparently). Besides, he said, he had to because the other participants were doing the same thing. It is curious to me that many organisers seem indifferent (or perhaps oblivious) to such transgressions.

Perhaps they are more forgiving than I am.


26/12/2004 – Just as I was about to annotate game 11 of the Leko-Kramnik match (for after all, what better symbolises the season of peace and goodwill to all men?), an edict was issued from on high. The editor has proclaimed that the following blood-curdling, X-rated encounter from the World Junior Championship in Kochin, India shall be analysed. Were I to have the temerity to offer an opinion, I would suggest that it is far too violent for a bloated Boxing Day but, being a humble and loyal serf in the Sunday Telegraph, I do as I am bid. Children, avert your gaze.


19/12/2004 – When the facts are forgotten and everyone who was involved is long dead, one of the questions future chess historians might struggle with is why the immensely talented Hikaru Nakamura did not participate in the US team at the 2004 Calvia Olympiad. A wrangle over money, perhaps? No, the answer is quite simple: he was not selected. That decision, which looked most peculiar at the time, appeared ludicrous when the 16-year-old became the second youngest winner of the US Championship (behind Bobby Fischer), in San Diego, just a few weeks later.

In contrast to the English, the Americans use a formula, rather than a committee, to make their selections. Before I become haughty and disdainful of these primitive Yankee ways, I should mention that committees also have their drawbacks. Still, one does wonder whether the Americans have their formula right. According to the October 1 Elo list – the most recent available – among active players Nakamura was ranked second in the US, behind Onischuk, even before his latest substantial gains. Of the other players with nominally higher ratings: Bobby Fischer is currently detained at the pleasure of the Japanese Government and Yasser Seirawan has ceased playing altogether. Gata Kamsky, who is apparently attempting a comeback, was retired for so long that his reactivated stratospheric rating from the mid-1990s is (bad) science fiction.

Hikaru Nakamura was born in Japan and came to the US when just two years old. His step-father is Sri Lankan and is a reasonable chess-player himself, holding the FM title. I think it is safe to say that this young man is going to make a big international impression – although whether he will go on to become World Champion is too early to say. He certainly seems to have good nerves. Here is his error-strewn but fascinating last-round victory over Ildar Ibragimov.


12/12/2004 – Oliver Cromwell, visionary curmudgeon, abolisher of Christmas, where are you now? Save us from the endless check-out queues, forced jollity, hangovers and bank overdrafts... Oh! Sorry about that. You just caught me in a private moment of prayer. Well, it seems that the happy time of Christian giving is nearly upon us again; and to help you with your shopping, I have drawn up a short-list of books.

Let's begin with Pal Benko: My Life, Games and Compositions by Pal Benko and Jeremy Silman (Siles Press, £38.99) – the British Chess Federation book of the year. Benko is best known for his eponymous gambit and for standing down to allow Fischer to compete in the Palma de Mallorca Interzonal in 1970 – a generous act that changed the course of chess history. In 128 annotated games, we observe a very fine player, with a broad repertoire and an aptitude for the endgame. He was also a serious study and problem composer. We learn about his life, including his terrible imprisonment under the communists, as well as his hearty appetite for the opposite sex. It's a good book, but would be even better if his fellow Hungarian/American Susan Polgar would not pompously style herself "World Champion" in the foreword. Ms Polgar, who lost the title several years ago, will perhaps one day understand that she was only a temporary custodian of this honour; until then she will continue to court public ridicule.

Garry Kasparov's My Great Predecessors (Everyman Chess, £18.32) has received lavish words of praise in this column before. Volumes two (£18.32) and three (£15.70) are out already and the fourth, on Bobby Fischer, should be available this month (£25). There is no question that this series will take its place among the classics of chess literature.

In a lighter vein, Test Your Chess With Daniel King (Batsford, £14.99) is both fun and instructive. The reader is invited to guess the move and points are awarded, or deducted, accordingly. The author – a well-known writer and commentator – is as lucid as always with his explanations.

If I had to pick a favourite tome of the year, though, it would be Amos Burn: A Chess Biography by Richard Forster (McFarland, £51.50, but it is 972 pages long). It is reassuring to see that scholarly traditions are not extinct; as long as meticulously researched and beautifully produced books like this occasionally appear, there is still some hope for civilisation. It has taken a Swiss IM to write the definitive work on one of the most important British players of the 19th century; he has done chess-lovers in this country, and indeed worldwide, a great service.


05/12/2004 – In the eight years or so that I have been writing this column I have, until today, diligently avoided the subject of chess problems – not of the political variety, of course, but the brain teasers you solve in the quiet of your own study. Wherein lies this prejudice? Without wishing to get too psychoanalytical, am I the only one to find the arcane disciplines of self-mates and reflex-mates, well, a little bit kinky? While acknowledging the right of fairy chess to exist, is it appropriate to introduce it to a family newspaper? Does Genrikh Kasparyan's classic book Domination in 2,545 Endgame Studies belong anywhere other than the top shelf?

For some time now, those kindly gentlemen at the British Chess Problem Society (www.bcps.knightsfield.co.uk), the oldest society of its kind in the world, have been sending me their monthly magazine The Problemist. On the front cover of the latest issue I was saddened to discover that the Hungarian problem composer, Dr Laszlo Lindner, had recently died. I was interviewed by this remarkable man – still actively writing for his newspaper – last year. "You know," he confided, "it is 75 years since the last such important tournament took place in Budapest." There was a pause. "...and I was at it." It was a difficult interview, not because he had gone gaga or anything – his mind was as sharp as a razor's edge – but because he didn't hear me very well. I found his positive outlook on life – amazing for one who survived a concentration camp – quite humbling.

At the end he gave me a signed copy of his book, Mattbilder eines Lebens. I spent many an hour during the tournament working through his 66 years of chess compositions, in particular enjoying the helpmates. Luckily, this suicidal training did not appear to affect my play adversely.

However, I am but a patzer in this field in comparison with England's Dr John Nunn. His achievement in winning the World Problem Solving Championship in Greece this year was simply magnificent. John, of course, was a world-class player as well in his day. His greatest result – winning the Olympic gold medal in 1984 – coincidentally, also took place in Greece. John is just 49 and hopefully not in danger of dropping dead soon.

When the time finally comes, though, the following game ought to serve as his epitaph. It won the brilliancy prize in Wijk aan Zee and was voted the greatest game in the highly prestigious Informator 39. It is also, quite rightly, considered to be one of the best games of the past few decades.


28/11/2004 – In 1990 I took the former Czechoslovakian and US Champion, Lubosh Kavalek, as my coach to the Manila Interzonal. The collaboration began well: we had an easy friendship, he structured the work sensibly (despite contributing virtually no original ideas himself) and I appreciated his sage advice. I eventually qualified (with difficulty), but many a big name didn’t. I earned a few thousand dollars for my third place finish with Anand – somewhat less than Kavalek earned for working for me – but I had no grumbles; I had achieved my objective. Over the next two years I retained Kavalek’s services for the Candidates stages of the World Championship.

Gradually though, our relationship became more strained. With each successful match Kavalek’s financial demands increased sharply. In part this reflected the increased workload, but only to a degree. Soon his wage demands were running well into six figures. I was so incensed at what I perceived to be an abuse of the trust that had been the basis for our relationship that I was for sacking him on the spot. To my eternal regret I didn’t. Instead, I succumbed to the usually impeccable counsel of my wife, and signed the contract to retain him, although not without disgust. Later she would acknowledge that keeping him had been an error. As I had argued all along, any good feelings between us had already been destroyed. The postscript was predictable: a year later, after inevitable disagreements, I dismissed Kavalek during my World Championship match with Kasparov. Thenceforth all communication was conducted through Kavalek’s lawyer, but eventually, after some pointless diversions, a commonsense settlement was agreed.

A while ago I worked as a trainer for some weeks to the young Indian boy, Pentala Harikrishna. I would like to flatter myself that his marvellous form in the World Junior Championship, which he is currently leading, has everything to do with my advice. It almost certainly does not; he does the work himself and his raw material is of the highest quality.

Although acknowledging that coaching can indeed be useful, I have perhaps a less inflated view of its value than do some others. If I managed to impart a couple of small useful tips over that lengthy analytical session, I will be more than satisfied. So far this has been the tournament’s most critical game. Even with this loss, Zhao Jun stood in second place with seven points after nine rounds.


Postscript

In his November 14, 2004 column Nigel poked fun at the Turkish currency. Specifically, complaining about the recent influx of new GMs he wrote: "...in no time at all there were more grandmasters than there were Turkish liras to the pound."

We note that the Turkish government, which is an avid reader of the Sunday Telegraph chess column, reacted quickly to this slur and defused Nigel Short's narrative by introducing, on January 1, 2005, the New Turkish Lira (YTL: Yeni Türk Lirasi), which has exactly one million time the value of the old Lira. The New Turkish Lira is divided into 100 kurus (koo-ROOSH). Old Turkish Lira notes and coins will be withdrawn from circulation, but will still be accepted through 2005.

So today one British Pound is 2.62 New Turkish Lira, not 2,616,830, as was the case when Nigel wrote his column.


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