Nigel Short on being number one in Britain again

9/4/2009 – This week Nigel Short, aged 44, crossed the elite 2700 barrier once again, regaining the England number one spot he had lost for years. It was yet another twist in the remarkable career of the Athens-resident Englishman. We spoke to Nigel about form, longevity, and the secret of surviving at the top of world chess at middle age. Must-read interview.

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Interview with Nigel Short

ChessBase: How did you do it? Did you expect it?

Nigel Short: 2007 was my annus horribilis, when I was plagued by various physical ailments and plunged down the ranking list – almost in danger of disappearing from the top 100 altogether, the sad fate that is now set to befall my former antagonist, Anatoly Karpov. But after that my feeling is that, with a few exceptions, I have been playing rather well. For example, I have twice finished equal second in Corus B, on the last occasion coming within a whisker of winning it. I also finished equal second in the President's Cup in Baku – a very strong open – as well as the 2008 European Union Championship. To that one can add victories in Bazna and the 2008 Commonwealth Championship in Nagpur, India. I was in good shape at the Dresden Olympiad and have recently had two exceptional victories at the Sigeman & Co tournament and the Staunton Memorial. Alongside these numerous good-to-excellent results, set-backs have been relatively few: I shed a sack of rating points in just six games in the 2008 Chinese League, which probably indicates I should not attempt to play chess straight after flying half-way round the Earth, and a few in this year's Thailand Open. I was out of form in last year's Staunton, but nevertheless as one can see, generally the trend has been sharply up.

What does it feel like to be Britain's number one again? Do you feel bad for Mickey Adams?

I must say that I am delighted to be the British number one again. It means much more to me than my Elo. I shall enjoy it while it lasts. Do I feel bad for Mickey? In a word "no".

People said you were too old for it – do you feel your age?

People keep going on about my age, but this only a question of perspective. If I were the British Prime Minister, I would be described as "youthful" – perhaps not quite in the category as William Pitt the Younger, but young and vigorous nevertheless. Just because I am a chessplayer everyone thinks I am a dinosaur.

Do you feel you were stronger in your twenties and early thirties than today?

I was stronger in my twenties beyond any doubt – among the top ten players in the world for roughly a decade, and as high as number three for a period of 18 months. The recent ChessBase article on rating inflation by Jeff Sonas would suggest that my rating in the late 1980s would be approximately equivalent to 2750 in today's much debauched currency. This is why I am personally far less excited by crossing the 2700 barrier (again) than various other people seem to be. Basically I have been there and done all that before.

Whilst we are on the subject, Dr John Nunn remarked to me, a very long time ago, that he considered the most insidious effect of aging on a chessplayer to be the loss of motivation. In that judgment I think he was essentially right. People's priorities change. No one can stop time's relentless march, but with application and determination one can strongly mitigate its effects. It is interesting to observe that Ivanchuk and Gelfand – both players in their early forties – still maintain an extremely high standard. The over forty category is, of course, shortly to be bolstered by the World Champion, Vishy Anand himself.

Is this a one-time thing or do you intend to continue in the same vein?

I don't think I am really doing anything radically different to what I have always done. I am certainly not working any harder. Perhaps though I have made a few subtle shifts in my game. My impression is that I am playing a bit faster. Although I might lose a little accuracy, this, I believe, is more than compensated by a reduction in the number of time-trouble blunders. One can lose an awful lot of points in those high-stress moments – an area in which middle-age is particularly unforgiving.

Is it tough keeping up with the computer preparation of the teens and twens?

At the Dresden Olympiad, Yuri Razuvaev sagely advised me to play more. He correctly surmised that I practically never do any work, except when I am at tournaments, and therefore suggested that I need to play regularly to maintain a high standard. He is quite right, of course. The only time that I am really obliged to study the chessboard is when Parimarjan Negi comes over for a couple of weeks' training. I find it very demanding and, frankly speaking, I am always relieved when he has gone. Nevertheless it pays the bills and is good for my soul. I am glad to say that, judging by his recent good results, Parimarjan also finds these sessions beneficial.
Incidentally, the generational computer knowledge gap, to which you allude, has narrowed of late. This is not only because my own proficiency has risen over time, but because the software has also improved significantly. The irksome necessity of downloading TWICS, constantly creating and maintaining new files, creating new search boosters, etc. has either been done away with altogether or significantly eased. Extremely valuable information can now be obtained at the touch of button rather than, as was formerly the case, through a series of tedious processes – if at all.

Korchnoi attributes his longevity to plenty of walking, and eating oatmeal porridge every morning. What is your secret?

The words "Nigel Short" and "fit" are rarely, if ever, found in conjunction, but perhaps I am in slightly better shape than I was a couple of months ago. I was getting so fat that I was compelled to diet for the first time in my life. I have also been doing 30 mins to one hour's swimming daily in Greece. Although I would hardly qualify as a fine athletic specimen, I do feel somewhat better. Also I followed the nutritionist Professor Michael Crawford's advice on eating plenty of fish and vegetables at the Staunton Memorial. Whether it helped me or not, I don't know, but I suspect it didn't do me any harm.

You are standing for the post of FIDE Delegate in the forthcoming ECF elections. What made you decide to enter chess politics, and what are your intentions in case you win?

If elected, I intend to uphold the fine English traditions of secrecy, uncommunicativeness, obduracy, ignorance and utter contempt for the interests of those whose livelihoods I will affect by my vote. And I shall exhibit a gargantuan appetite for junketting – my raison d'etre. As to why I have decided to enter chess politics: suffice it say that I am not entirely satisfied that the interests of English Chess are best represented by our current Delegate.

Copyright ChessBase

Other memorable ChessBase reports on or with Nigel Short

Over the years Nigel has kept our readers informed, excited, amused and outraged with his words and deeds. Of the countless articles fed by his activities we have chose a few that highlight his style. Make yourself a nice half-hour and browse through the following stories.


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