Short and Norwood on chess today

11/15/2004 – "Aye lad. It were different in my day. A grandmaster was a grandmaster, not a bloody nobody. It all began to go downhill when them folks at FIDE decided that every federation, no matter how weak, should have its own GM." The British GMs Nigel Short and David Norwood are candid and blunt, and always entertaining, in their Telegraph chess columns.

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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

14/11/2004 – At 39, I am beginning to find myself the oldest participant in tournaments with disturbing frequency. I have even started losing to players who are the same age as my children. I can see myself in the years to come wearing my flat cap, sitting in the front of the fire, reminiscing to my grandson:

"Aye lad. It were different in my day. A grandmaster was a grandmaster, not a bloody nobody! You see, son, it all began to go downhill when them folks at FIDE decided that every federation, no matter how weak, should have its own GM. Even Equatorial Guinea had one after that Mark Thatcher got his norms in Alushta."

"But Grandad, wasn't he English?"

"Aye, son – but FIDE weren't too particular with matters of citizenship or residency or the like. Any sort of connection at all, even the ability to find the place on the map, was good enough for them. You see, lad, FIDE were in the business of spreading happiness - or at least that is what they said. The more grandmasters the merrier. Some cynical folk said it had more to do with the money they collected each time they distributed a certificate than anything else. In fact, it is a surprise they didn't award the title to everyone everywhere - regardless of whether they could play chess or not. Well they didn't quite do that, but in no time at all there were more grandmasters than there were Turkish liras to the pound."


07/11/2004 – Whereas the England team has been universally and, for the most part, justly censured for its abysmal performance in the 36th Chess Olympiad in Calvia, Spain (30th place, our lowest ever), the precise remedy for the malaise remains in dispute. John Saunders, editor of the British Chess Magazine, suggested that, because of the absurdly fast time controls in vogue in FIDE events, we ought to select a younger team.

An eminently sensible idea, but just who exactly did he have in mind, I wondered? After all, the arid desert of the British tournament scene of the last two decades has hardly been the ideal environment for new talent. At last a name emerged from Mr Saunders, that of Thomas Rendle. While I congratulate the young gentleman on the progress he has shown recently, I would just like to comment that it is perfectly possible for a prospective England team to finish a lot lower than 30th.


31/10/2004 – The team spirit is palpably present, but the points are sadly absent. Alas, the Olympiad in Calvia, Spain, will not go down in chess history as one of England's finest performances. By way of consolation though, the women are doing rather well; I hope to cover their sterling efforts next week.

Some weeks ago, I wrote in this column that I hoped for a top ten finish for England. No sooner had the ink dried than I realised this was a stiff task; I subsequently confided my anxieties in an email to (non-playing) team captain Allan Beardsworth, a tax partner at our sponsors, Deloitte. However, with only one round to go, even a very modest top 30 finish is not certain.


24/10/2004 – What a relief! I no longer have to write about the didymous duo of Leko and Kramnik – conjoined at the hip. Neither of these two Titans deserved to win the World Championship, so it is most appropriate that neither of them did. We will not be fooled into believing that this was an interesting match just because the last two games were exciting. No, the overriding impression was of a turgid and dreary affair.

Once upon a time they would have got away with it. When chess fans received their monthly magazine with carefully distilled highlights, the dross was discreetly hidden away. Now, in the age of live internet broadcasts, there is no “junk game filter”. The rubbish is clearly visible. People will not be fobbed off with heavy theory, a novelty, a 40-minute think and then a draw offer, with happy smiles all round as the hands are shaken. The crowd, quite rightly, want blood. At least they are getting plenty of it at the small Essent Tournament in Hoogeveen in The Netherlands.


17/10/2004 – I have started to worry for Garry. It was not just his truly woeful result at the European Club Cup in Turkey last week. Accidents have befallen Kasparov before (admittedly very rarely) but this time, outwardly at least, he did not seem to mind that much. He chatted so affably, and not only to your columnist, that it was impossible to discern that he had fallen below the magical 2800 rating barrier for the first time in an aeon. I am sure inwardly he was still none too pleased at his own performance, but gone were the dark, brooding, snarling, seething moods to which we have long grown accustomed. Even a sworn enemy such as Alexei Shirov conceded that Kasparov is much more human these days, but humanity is not what made him great. Indeed the qualities of forbearance and clemency are a distinct liability on the chequered board.

One senses that the tectonic plates of the chess hierarchy are finally shifting. The topography has been unchanged for so long, with Kasparov, Kramnik and Anand occupying the top spots in some order, that it is easy to forget that the alignment is only temporary and not permanent.

However, by now it does not take a seismologist to notice that Vladimir Kramnik has been edging steadily downwards for at least the past couple of years. In a deft exploitation of the elo rating system, which contains too great a historical bias, he has massaged and manipulated his own slow descent by the frugality of his appearances (indeed virtually not playing at all in 2002). Put another way, he has parsimoniously expended the vast accumulated capital of his match with Kasparov. Being so highly an accomplished player, he will not necessarily lose his World Championship title to Peter Leko (the outcome is still too close to call) but he will certainly have to rekindle his vigour to avoid it. Should he succumb (a distinct possibility) he will slither to fifth or sixth place, behind Morozevich, Topalov and perhaps Leko.


David Norwood

On the long and winding road to a reunified world championship

13/11/2004 – With the deathly dull Kramnik-Leko match now safely behind us, it was interesting to read Vladimir Kramnik's recent interview on the reunification process. Most of us thought that the match in Switzerland was the first stage to a unified title. Alas, we should have known better- the chess world is never so simple. Things now seem to be in more disarray than they were before.

Vlad says that he doesn't recognize the forthcoming Kasparov-Kasimdzhanov match as having anything to do with the World Championship situation. Instead, he proposes a tournament between Anand, Ponomariov, Kasimdzhanov and Kasparov – a wonderfully random gambit destined to complicate matters further. Anybody playing such boring chess has no right to an opinion and Kramnik knew from the start that the whole process depended on the reunification. Even for a chess player, his behaviour is disgraceful.

Meanwhile the sponsors of the Kasparov match say that it is going ahead anyway. Good luck to them. The winner should play Kramnik. And if Vlad won't play, just default him and ban him from every future tournament. That might even get the public interested in watching chess again.


Who's wearing the trousers in English chess today

06/11/2004 – It used to be something of a tradition that the England men's team won the medals and the women came along for morale support. However, in these dark days of political correctness, the women have become upwardly mobile while the men bumble around like limp-wristed house husbands. In short, the women now wear the trousers and the likes of Speelman, Short, Hebden and Wells wear frocks. If you don't believe this role reversal, just look at the statistics. The women were seeded 27th and finished a very creditable 8th. The blokes were ranked 6th and finished 30th! It makes one ashamed to be English and a man.

So what is the way forward for Englishmen's chess? Select a team which is a mix of golden oldies and talented youngsters coming through. Otherwise, we should just focus on providing morale support to the women…


On England's Olympians and the lack of talented youngsters

30/10/2004 – The most challenging thing about being captain of the England chess team was trying to impress girls in the pub, without giving away the fact that I was a non-playing captain. But chess isn't a sport, is it? "Oh yes," I would counter, trying to pull in my stomach and recalling the occasion when a young Joel Lautier refused a glass of champagne with a Gallic sneer, "No, I am a sportsman."

Oh, so you are off to Syndey in 2000? "Well, no actually, I'm off to Kalmykia this year (1998)." There would then begin a long explanation as to why (even though chess was a sport) we didn't go to the Olympics but played our own, usually in some unheard of place. Every two years rather than every four. By then the girl in question would have lost interest.

This year's venue, Majorca, everyone will at least have heard of. But how many know that England, once the second greatest chess nation on the planet, is currently battling away at the Chess Olympics. Last Sunday I logged onto the official site to follow our heroes. Sadly, they were so far down the table that their games weren't even listed. How the mighty have fallen.


Match report underladen with superlatives

23/10/2004 – This is the first time that I've had to totally re-write my introduction to this chess column. Until a few hours ago it read something like this: 'Vladimir Kramnik has become a slug who not only will never win another game of chess, but seems to have forgotten that trying to defeat your opponent is a primary objective of the royal game.'

Now I need to use phrases like 'sensational comeback', 'dramatic finale' or 'Kramnik's brilliant resourcefulness'. But I'm not going to. The fact remains that Kramnik won the first game and the last game and played like a traumatized tortoise in the middle. That middle consisted of twelve games in which Kramnik lost two, won none and drew the rest. Much of the time he was happy to agree a draw before he had left his home preparation; ie, before he even had to think about moves for himself. This match took the emerging concept of non-chess to a whole new level. Now Vlad is the Champion, retaining the title because the match was drawn, which is somehow wonderfully appropriate. What must the sponsors think? Not that chess players worry much about sponsorship -- until it all disappears. During this match, for the first time in my life, I began to feel happy that chess is not a televised sport. The Kramnik-Leko charade has done for chess what the Ice Age did for dinosaurs.


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