A liver-pickling Oriental odyssey

9/30/2003 – ...and those mad, but magnificent Russians. The British chess columnists Nigel Short and David Norwood have been having a field day. Nigel tells about his trip to China, while David describes his first encounter with Peter Svidler ("young, tall, brilliant, brash and utterly charming – I was ready to hate him on sight"). We bring you excerpts and links.

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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.

The links given on this page lead to the full columns. Note that you have to register, free of charge, to read the columns. This entails giving an email address and a password for future logins.

Nigel Short's column

My waistline-bulging, liver-pickling Oriental odyssey is over. The hospitality in Yongchuan, Jinan and Beijing was delightful, but overwhelming. Much as I enjoyed the chess and food-fest (and I did heartily), I am glad it has ended.

The toughest part, against the Chinese olympiad team, was left until the final leg in Beijing. On the opening day the foreign "Kings" – Yevgeny Bareev, Yasser Seirawan and myself – by dint of great effort, crawled to a victory against China "A". However, on the next day, against the young, fresh and highly dangerous China "B", we barely held the draw. Had the competition continued, we probably would have succumbed to Burundi "C" – never mind China – such was our exhaustion.

Summing up: China continues its powerful onward march. One should nevertheless be wary of the perils of extrapolation. Strong as they are already, their progress to the summit in the men's game might easily be impeded by certain technical deficiencies, the result, I believe, of flawed training.

Even in women's chess, where China already dominates, all is not as rosy as it appears, although in truth other countries would yearn for the sort of problems they have. The "Queens" (Xie Jun, Zhu Chen, Xu Yuhua and Zhao Xue) received a very severe beating from the "Kings" in Jinan, emphasising the still enormous distance between the sexes.

With standards ever rising, and outside threats coming from such diverse countries as Russia and India, they will need to raise the bar in order to maintain their female hegemony.

"No fewer than 4,000 friendly and exceedingly polite schoolchildren greeted the eight participants of the second edition of the Kings vs Queens match last Sunday in Yongchuan, China. It was a reception as warm as the local Sichuan food of which, incidentally, we have gorged ourselves in endless sumptuous banquets. In such ostentatious luxury it is easy to forget that around 30 million people died of starvation, in the 1950s and 1960s, during Mao's Great Leap Forward. But then again few countries have undergone such an astonishing pace of change.

Illustrated ChessBase reports on the China events

David Norwood's column

It was a delight to read that Peter Svidler had won the Russian Championship. In these days of political correctness it is difficult to admit that one dislikes people who come from, say, the former Soviet Union. Fact is though that it's hard to feel warm about those ex-commie chess players. Many of them are miserable. Others are mad. Some of them are miserable and mad. The one thing that they have in common is that they play better chess than us. And that makes us miserable and mad.

I first met Svidler in England in 1990, just after the Berlin Wall had come tumbling down. Almost overnight western chessplayers had a rude awakening as we witnessed the skill of their youthful players. Nobody was as young, as precocious, as dangerous as Peter Svidler. It was the power of such prodigies that convinced me to find another career. I was ready to hate him on sight.

Svidler was young, tall, brilliant, brash and utterly charming. While destroying his opponents he would chat excitedly about the cricket scores. He would corner virtual strangers and interrogate them about heavy rock music. He would smile, all the time. Something the Soviets did only when they won. We were ready to hate him, but we loved him. I had a beer with him at the Olympics last October. He still seems more interested in the batting average of Tendulkar than in challenging Kasparov.


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