On world chess and crapulent GMs

4/11/2005 – In recent days there has been a spate of articles, editorials and interviews on chess. Anand gave an interview to Rediff; Jon Speelman and Leonard Barden wrote columns in the Guardian; ACP president Joel Lautier was extensively interviewed by the Russian chess magazine 64-Chess; and of course Nigel Short did his thing in the Telegraph. Interesting material...

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Awesome to better your record

Viswanathan Anand created history at Amber, winning all the three titles – rapid, blindfold and combined – at stake in the 14th edition of the tournament. In the process, he repeated the feat he first performed in the 1997 edition of the event and became the only player to do so. The triumph was in sharp contrast to the Indian ace's showing at Linares last month, when he failed to live up to his high standards, and finished third, behind Veselin Topalov and eventual winner Garry Kasparov. In an e-mail interview with rediff.com Sports Correspondent Harish Kotian, Anand reflects on his Amber triumph and the impact Kasparov's retirement could have on competitive chess.

Rediff interviews


Speelman on chess

Bobby Fischer's release from Japan following his acquisition of Icelandic citizenship has been discussed at length in the news pages. Fischer wouldn't be Fischer if he hadn't made some trenchant statements and he notably told reporters: 'This was not an arrest. It was a kidnapping cooked up by (President) Bush and (Prime Minister) Koizumi...They are war criminals and should be hung.' While I abhor his anti-Semitic and anti-American tirades, I'm nevertheless delighted that he's found sanctuary in the country where he recorded his greatest triumph – the world championship victory over Boris Spassky in Reykjavik 1972; and hope that this chess legend finds some peace there.

There was also the tragic news of the death on 14 March of International Master and Correspondence Grandmaster Simon Webb. Webb, who was 55, moved several decades ago with his Polish wife to Sweden; and it was in the kitchen of their home in Stockholm on 14 March that he suffered a fatal knife attack, allegedly at the hands of his 25-year-old son, a convicted drug dealer, who subsequently attempted suicide and is now in custody.

Barden on chess

Sofia, Bulgaria, stages a truly innovatory tournament on May 11-22. The double-round elite all-play-all will forbid draws by mutual agreement. Shared points will be allowed only in totally drawn positions and must be approved by the arbiters advised by a strong grandmaster. Can Sofia avoid the fate of the 1962 Olympiad, also played in Bulgaria and the last serious attempt to stop quick draws? Varna had a 30-move rule, which peace specialists soon learnt to dodge by a mutual head nod, the French or Slav Exchange and rapid piece hoovering.

Steven Moss: The Fischer king

Chess genius, cold warrior turned al-Qaida enthusiast ... and now citizen of Iceland. Bobby Fischer may just have played his most brilliant move. Holed up in a Japanese detention centre, with his native US wanting him deported on charges of tax evasion and sanctions-busting – not to mention going on Filipino radio to congratulate al-Qaida over the September 11 attacks – he has successfully applied for Icelandic citizenship. What a denouement: on the brink of being checkmated, he has produced a brilliancy to win the game.

Guardian chess columns


Indepth interview with Joel Lautier (Excerpts)

  • I think that Kasparov's evaluation of the situation is not very objective, when he says that the goal of the Association of Chess Professionals is to prevent him from playing a match against Kramnik. ACP is not Kramnik's organization; it is the organization of chess professionals. It was established in Paris and by the end of 2003 we already had more than 100 members in it. ACP board was elected, including Kramnik and me. To sum up, we were elected; it was not like we came ourselves and declared: ok, let us fight with Kasparov…

  • Members of the Board (seven in all) are always in contact with each other either via Internet or over the phone. We discuss current problems and plans for the future. We have a vote within the Board when solving important issues. The fact that we are all professional chess players does not allow us to work full time. Therefore, some of the decisions need more time to be taken due to the participation members of the Board in some tournaments.

  • Frankly speaking I don't understand the decision [Topalov and Ponomariov, who left the ACP because they say that the ACP pays much attention to Kramnik]. As far as I can understand this is more Topalov's opinion than Ponomariov's. Perhaps they have different reasons to leave ACP. So, they left – it is their business. We will continue working and will be happy if they decide to come back. I believe it is possible if the organization is successful.

  • The plan [of the ACP] is very simple – to organize a proper cycle of the World Championships with more than eight chess players. Sponsors so far have been a bit problematic, since we do not gather stadiums of audience. Our plan is to organize the full cycle of the World Championship. It can be based on what is commonly called an interzonal tournament, or, for instance, on our ACP tour, uniting all tournaments in one system. I mean a qualification tournament which they used to call an interzonal. The idea is the following: a big "Swiss" tournament, only top will qualify for the candidate tournament, the winner of which will play the match against Kramnik.

  • Before the Match Kasparov and Kramnik signed the document in accordance to which the defeated one is obliged to play in the next qualifying tournament. Kasparov lost and right away he started demanding the return-match. The reply of Kramnik to this was very reasonable: he said that the agreement was different. We need a complete world championship cycle otherwise we will never pass the crisis. That cycle was the responsibility of the "Braingame" company that started experiencing financial problems right after the termination of the match and in 2001 the company failed to fulfill its obligations. In 2002 Braingame passed its rights over to the "Einstein" company that organized the qualification tournament in Dortmund. Kasparov and Anand were also invited to participate there. Kasparov rejected and we cannot say that he was not given a chance to play. Should he accept the invitation, everything would have been different right now.

  • Legally all the rights [to Kramnik's title] belonged to the sponsor "Dannemann" who received its rights from "Einstein". Nevertheless, the organizers refused the "Dannemann World Championship" and named this championship as a classical one meaning the line from Steinitz to Kramnik. For them it was very important to preserve and follow the 120-years-old history of the championships for the title of the strongest chess player in the world. As for the ACP, we have become part of it since we see something very worthy in it that will help us grow up as an organization.

  • Full Lautier interview in 64-Chess Review

Nigel Short on Jan Ehlvest

It was only when I began reading his enjoyable autobiography, The Story of a Chessplayer by Jaan Ehlvest (Arbiter Publishing, $24.95) that I realised how little I knew about the 42-year-old Estonian grandmaster whom I have met at countless tournaments (and played several times) in various continents over the last quarter of a century or so. He is not exactly taciturn but, like so many of his countrymen, he is some-what reserved. When crapulent he becomes more loquacious, but also tedious – so the veil of impenetrability remains.

Bad weather, of which Baltic countries are not short (I played the coldest tournament of my life in Parnu one February), and binge drinking are inextricably linked. Jaan takes his drinking seriously (“beer is for children” being a favourite motto), meaning that to arrive at a blissful state of intoxification real men do not lose time by consuming weak and watery liquor. At times, Jaan’s dipsomania landed him in trouble with the authorities: he was once banned from playing chess by the Estonian Sports Committee, after an incident at a tournament in Tallinn. That took place during Soviet times, when minor or sometimes imagined transgressions of their strict rules were harshly punished.

However, such indiscretions were by no means rare, and even the liberal Icelanders (no strangers to stupefaction) were once scandalised by an rather unsavoury incident in a Reykjavik hotel lobby.

Were Jaan just another boring drunk, I would not be writing about him now. Besides, over the years I am glad to say he has moderated his worst excesses and has become middle-aged and solidly respectable. He is a gentle, shy person (still unmarried) with a keen intelligence. He is a fair judge of character, and fancies that he usefully applies his academic training ( he studied psychology at Tartu State University) to his opponents at the board. Now he spends a lot of time in the United States, enjoying the rough and tumble of the difficult tournaments there.

Jaan won the European Junior Championship in 1983, the New York Open in 1994 and the World Open in 2003. However, I consider his greatest achievement to be his magnificent performance in the World Cup cycle in the late 1980s. Kasparov and Karpov were the dominating figures of that aeon. Ehlvest may only be ranked just outside the top 100 on the April 2005 rating list, but at that time he clearly demonstrated that he was tertius inter pares.

A Short English glossary
  • taciturn – habitually reserved and uncommunicative
  • crapulent – suffering from excessive eating or drinking (not what you thought!); Latin crapulentus, from crapula ‘drunkenness’
  • loquacious – given to fluent or excessive talk
  • intoxification – Nigel Short creation, synonymous with but more interesting than "intoxication"
  • dipsomania – an intense persistent desire to drink alcoholic beverages to excess
  • tertius inter pares – the third amongst equals

Finally guess who's the subject of today's featured article on the front page of Wikipedia. Note that the featured article changes every day, so it will only be visible on April 11, 2005. Hopefully the links included in the main blurb will remain intact.

Today's featured article

Garry Kasparov is a chess grandmaster and one of the strongest human chess players in the world. He is highest rated on the FIDE January 2005 list at 2804, and he is the highest rated player ever with his 2851 ELO in 1999. He was classical world chess champion from 1985 until 2000. Over the last decade, he has played a series of matches against chess machines, including Deep Blue and X3D Fritz. Kasparov, who announced his retirement from serious chess on March 10, 2005, has been credited with the invention of Advanced Chess, as a new form of chess in which a human and a computer join their forces.


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