Nigel Short on the virtues of slavery

12/2/2003 – When the 19th century abolitionists put an end to forced labour did they consider how one can produce monumental architecture or play great games of chess if one has also to do the shopping? Sunday Telegraph columnist Nigel Short has found a solution to the problem. He also talks about the deadly dangers of chess travel and the latest Tony Miles hagiography. The word is explained here...

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The following are excerpts by the Telegraph columnist Nigel Short. The links given below each section lead to the full stories. 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 on the virtues of slavery

23.11.2003 Pharaonic Egypt and Periclean Athens were great civilisations built on the firm foundation of slavery. Regrettably, bondage - of at least that variety - has gone out of fashion these days, and even indentured labour is considered to be somewhat morally repugnant. But I ask you, how is one supposed to produce monumental architecture and think philosophically if one also has to do the shopping, clean the house and mow the lawn? A bit of home help certainly does not come amiss – a point ignored by those myopic 19th-century Christian abolitionists. Most of the higher things in life require total dedication.

Chess is no different. Indeed, the game is so profound and complex that teamwork is far more likely to succeed than solitary endeavour. Thus, over the years I have employed all manner of coaches, trainers, seconds and analysts to assist me in my preparation. Some have been good, some have been not so good, some have been industrious, some have been bone-idle, but they have all required gentle handling and payment. Finally I have found a helper who answers almost all my needs!

He doesn't eat and he doesn't sleep and is therefore very economical. I can abuse him, give him the most humiliating and degrading tasks, and he sets about them uncomplainingly. As to his ability? Well, he also has just about the sharpest tactical vision of anyone I know. Recently a close relative of my silicon slave, Fritz, played a match against Garry Kasparov, which he drew 2-2. He held the first game comfortably despite having a dodgy position an exchange down. In the second game he shuffled around aimlessly waiting for Garry to blunder, which the great man duly did. In the third my silicon friend lost in a way that only computers know how.

The fourth was a very sharp but short draw - a result that neither camp would have been averse to, given the lucrative prospect of a rematch and another massive dose of publicity.

Nigel Short on a Tony Miles hagiography

30.11.2003: Some reading recommendations for your Christmas stocking. First, Tony Miles: It’s only Me – compiled by Geoff Lawton (Batsford, £17.99). Tony was a giant figure in British chess and his death, at the age of 46, was a terrible loss. The book is a warm and heartfelt tribute to the highly idiosyncratic grandmaster. As a hagiography, one cannot fault it. Indeed, there is ample testimony that Tony could be charming to – and was admired by – those who posed him not the slightest threat.

As a biography however, the book is glaringly deficient – unless you think that Tony’s well-documented mental illness was not worth mentioning. Tony was insanely jealous of my success, and his inability to accept that he was no longer Britain’s number one was an indication of, if not a trigger for, his descent into madness. His first psychiatric internment came in 1987, and he was in and (usually) out of institutions for the remainder of his days. Thankfully, there was much more to him than that.

As a writer he was usually witty, irreverent and often educational. He was impossible to ignore, whether one was on the sharp end of his tongue (as in my case) or not.

Secrets of Opening Surprises by Jeroen Bosch (New in Chess, £14.95) is a refreshing change from the usual dreary technical works and is definitely not for the bovine. His recommendations are a mixed bag: some are good, some are pretty awful. All are original or, at the very least, unusual. Nevertheless, Bosch is someone who clearly thinks about his chess, a quality that distinguishes him from 99 per cent of authors.

Which brings me to Bobby Fischer Rediscovered by the prolific author, Andrew Soltis (Batsford, £15.99). It is not a totally original work but I doubt whether most readers have seen Fischer's fascinating annotations from American Chess Quarterly, Chess Life or Boy's Life – the magazine of the American boy scouts. Soltis sorts, selects, and adds his own clear perspective. There are times when he disagrees with Fischer's analysis although in general he is suitably deferential.

Nigel Short on the dangers of chess travel

16.11.2003 Travelling to chess tournaments can be a distinctly unhealthy affair, as I discovered after being laid low by a rancid fish curry on a simultaneous exhibition tour of Malaysia last year. I was so ill that I had to be taken to the doctor in a wheelchair because I was physically unable to stand up.

After returning home to Egypt from last month’s African Games in Abuja, Nigeria, Esam Aly Ahmed, a 38-year-old International Master ranked sixth in his country, dropped dead from cerebral malaria. The 60-year-old head of delegation did likewise the following day. The disease, which requires urgent treatment, had not been detected in time.

Another Egyptian talent, IM Ahmed Adly, whom I played in Tripoli earlier this year, fared somewhat better. Ironically, he was saved because he travelled straight from Nigeria to Greece, to participate in the World Youth Championship. A sharp-eyed doctor spotted Adly’s parlous condition during the first round and immediately whisked him off to Thessaloniki’s Special Diseases Hospital. His coach, Hassan Khaled, was admitted the next day. This poor gentleman had suffered the additional indignity of having been bitten by a scorpion in Abuja. Thankfully, both of them have now recovered fully from their terrible ordeal.


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