Garry Kasparov's Internet clock simul

4/6/2003 – It was a private event, staged by the successful German chip manufacturer ZMD. To celebrate the laying of the foundation stone for a new ZMD campus Garry Kasparov played a clock simul against six opponents located in Germany and America. But if you were logged into the Playchess.com server you may have followed the action. In case you missed it here's a full illustrated report.

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Taking on the world in Dresden

Report by Frederic Friedel

Garry arrived in Dresden late on the previous evening, directly out of New York, and tried to get some sleep after an elegant dinner with the CEO of ZMD, Thilo von Selchow. The trouble with crossing the Atlantic in this direction is that your body doesn't want you to sleep at midnight, because it still isn't convinced that it is seven hours earlier. More seriously it most certainly doesn't want you to wake up again at what it believes is one a.m. in the morning. On the other hand Garry is one of the world's leading international travellers, at least in the chess world, and is not in this situation for the first time: "My whole life is jetlagged," he says with a wry smile.

Actually Garry was in excellent spirits – unlike in New York and Linares, where all we got were short grunts and dark looks. My wife once explained it to me: Garry Kasparov runs in three distinct modes. In Tense Tournament Mode (M1) it is advisable to keep all communications, even pleasantries and chit-chat, to a terse minimum; in I'm-Doing-Badly Match Mode (M2) you simply want to stay out of his way or get your head bitten off; it is only in Normal Mode (N1) that you have a fun time, with animated discussions, great dinners and numerous encounters with interesting people. Unfortunately there is no switch or command to change from one mode to the other. It seems to depend entirely on external circumstances.

In Dresden it was definitely Normal Mode plus. We were immediately subjected to a barrage of the latest Internet chatter. "The world is going crazy!" Garry said with mock anxiety: "The greatest rapper is white, the world's best golfer is black, Switzerland hold the America's Cup, the French are calling the Americans arrogant and Germany doesn't want to go to war." Latest Internet joke. We fire them at each other with gleeful abandon – while baffling our German hosts. "Of all the black people who voted for Bush, both are on his cabinet." As a staunch conservative Garry didn't approve of that one (by black standup Chris Rock). But political correctness is not on the agenda, wit and humour are, when your mind is still trying to figure out where you are and what time it really is.


Thilo von Selchow and his good friend Garry Kasparov

Garry was in Dresden for a very special event. The German IC manufacturers ZMD (Zentrale Mikroelektronik Dresden) is a company that his expanding during a time that all the others in the branch are taking heavy losses. It is led by Thilo von Selchow, a highly presentable, intelligent (and aristocratic) German who, as chance would have it, loves chess. Thilo met Garry some years ago, and the two, who are almost exactly the same age, get on famously. On at least five important moments in his company's recent history Thilo has invited Garry to be the centre of a commemorative event for ZMD (see "Kasparov takes East Germany"). ZMD is also doing a lot for chess, especially in the eastern German region of Saxony (see International Internet match in Dresden).


You can watch the construction of the ZMD campus on live webcam here.

This time the occasion was the start of the construction of a new ZMD "Campus", a complex of modern buildings that will replace the current production and management facilities. Garry was flown in to participate in the laying of the foundation stone. Thilo von Selchow, dignitaries from the city of Dresden and the great chess player all put symbolic items into a hermetically sealed metal box which was cemented into the foundation of the main building. Garry signed a large chess king and placed it in the box. "I wonder what they'll say when they dig this up a million years from now? Kasparov, wasn't that the chess player who…" He looked around for suggestions. "Who played Ponomariov in the early 21st century?", "Who yelled at Ian Rodgers and Leonxto Garcia in Linares?" No a single constructive suggestion from the small inside crowd standing around, with your reporter leading them in the ribbing.


The laying of the foundation stone for the new ZMD campus


Garry signs a chess king and discusses the archaeological consequences
of this action with Thilo von Selchow


Everything is cemented into the foundation of the new campus


Cutting the "campus cake", with Thilo von Selchow watching nervously


Being captured by a lightning cartoonist during dinner


A very good likeness – of Boris Spassky, we'd say

After the stones had been laid there was a reception and luncheon for the almost 100 managers and executives present for the occasion. And then the stage was set for the main event, a friendly Internet clock simul on the Playchess.com server between Garry Kasparov and six chess amateurs located in the six subsidiaries of ZMD around the world. The towns are Stuttgart (Germany), Neuchâtel (Switzerland), Melville (New York, Long Island), Madison (Wisconsin), Santa Clara and San Diego (California). At least that was the original plan. For two reasons it was simplified somewhat: on the one hand the main staff from all the subsidiaries were not in the offices but in Dresden. On the other the time zones were extremely uncomfortable. The event had to start at one p.m. Dresden time, and that translated to 6 a.m. New York and 3 a.m. California (with Wisconsin somewhere in between). So we decided, some weeks in advance, to gather the US opponents in the Melville office – condemning the ZMD manager there, Gabriele Taschler, to miss the fun in Dresden. And the European side was run directly out of the ChessBase office, mainly because one of Germany's most popular soccer stars, Marco Bode, wanted to participate. Marco lives in Bremen, which is just an hour's drive to Hamburg.


Marco Bode playing against Garry Kasparov out of the ChessBase Hamburg office


A world-class soccer star concentrating on chess

Three of the American opponents were prize winning kids from the regional chess clubs and the a chess school. One was Paul Hoffman, a correspondent of the New York Times. "Woodstock Paul", as we like to call him (he actually hails from the city that hosted the famous 1969 rock festival!), has written extensively on chess for the NYT and is one of the more valuable assets we have in our somewhat esoteric game.


Dr René Gralla, concentrating on his game

In Germany the second opponent playing adjacent to the soccer star, was Dr René Gralla, a free-lance journalist who in the past few years has been doing his best to popularise chess by writing interest stories in mainstream journals and newspapers – and at the same time drawing vitriolic criticism from some of the regular chess journalist who feel that chess must be presented in an erudite, staid fashion. In the end of all the traditional chess magazine readers both of them will probably realise that chess needs to be taken out of its ivory tower and out into the open. Even if some of the articles are a bit over the top.

Preparation on the evening before the Internet clock simul were hectic, with all the giant plasma displays to be installed and software to be installed. Two hours before the event started we had Garry play a practice simul, at 15 min plus 10 seconds, to get a feel for the setup on the stage. He had no difficulty handling the system and trounced four random opponents who had offered to participate. Mind you we had logged in with my handle – to avoid a mobbing when Garry Kasparov broadcasts an invitation to a simul. So for the four Playchess.com members who are under the impression that Frederic Friedel can suddenly play like a chess god: you lost to Garry Kasparov, guys!


Setting up the chess and display software on seven separate machines


Garry plays a quick test simul, with Frederic Friedel watching


The final setup, with six giant screens displaying the simul games

The ZMD Internet simul was a private event and not publicised in advance on the Internet. Naturally anyone could come in and watch, if they noticed that something was going on in the Simultaneous room of Playchess.com.


Two US opponents: Jimmy Zheng and Matthew Masino, with Gabriele Taschler

The games started a few minutes late, mainly because the US players had difficulties getting up at the ungodly hour. Under the guidance of Mig Greengard they turned up at the Melville office at 5:45 a.m. and were ready to stumble at 6:10. Garry reminded us that he was at an equal disadvantage: "For my body it is also six in the morning!"


On Playchess.com the clock simultaneous player can see all the boards at the same time. Each can be expanded to full size at the press of a key, but Kasparov played all his games on the smaller boards.


Even a friendly simul requires full commitment – if your name is Garry Kasparov

Two of the opponents were young chess players from the Chess Nuts a Long Island Chess Club, which was critical for the successful ZMD opening event with Gary Kasparov last June. The last player was a student of Kasparov's friend Michael Khodarkovsky, who runs a chess school in New York.


Great event, great software! Celebrating after the simul with Thilo von Selchow

The simul ended with an unsurprising 6-0 victory for Kasparov, with Woodstock Paul holding out longest (at one stage Garry was unsure he would win that game).

The soccer star played a respectable game and the two chatted afterwards on the phone. "I'd love to do it again," said Marco Bode, "the next time I'll beat you!" Garry invited him to come down for the next event, the opening of the ZMD campus in 2004, and play in person. Marco agreed, if Garry would play some soccer with him.


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