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 parts.
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 ways.
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 King.
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 myself.
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 enjoyment.
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.
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 week.
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 'quite often'.
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 end. Enjoy.
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.
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 his victim.
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.
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 the Bulgarian."
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.