Short on the ECF, Rublevsky, Crimea, FIDE, Brunei

7/6/2006 – As a chess grandmaster he made it to a challenge for the world championship title, and at 41 he is playing quite successfully in top international events. But it is as a chess columnist that Nigel Short has really blossomed. Sacked after ten years work for the Sunday Telegraph, Nigel now produces an even more scintillating column for the Guardian. We bring you excerpts.

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For ten years Nigel Short wrote a column for the Sunday Telegraph, delivering one of the most provocative and entertaining chess columns in the world. A year ago he was given notice by Britain's oldest (right-wing) newspapers, after it was sold to the billionaire Barclay brothers.

The good news at the time was that just a few months later Nigel was snapped up by the liberal Guardian, which went on to show an unprecedented commitment to chess. The Guardian Chess Page holds links to multiple chess columns, by Leonard Barden and GM Jon Speelman, as well as by Guardian journalist Stephen Moss, who has done numerous chess stories in the past. And of course Nigel's brash and often outrageous column, which has offended many in the past, but has never committed the gravest sin known to professional journalism: being boring.


Nigel Short, Guardian Chess Columnist

In the following we bring you excerpts from recent Nigel Short columns in the Guardian, with links to the full text and annotated game at the end. Enjoy.


On the English Chess Federation

Thursday July 6, 2006: Last year, the anachronistically named British Chess Federation finally acknowledged reality by becoming the English Chess Federation. The piecemeal disintegration of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland began at the Folkestone Olympiad in 1933, when a Scottish team made its first appearance alongside the BCF team, possibly, in that depressed era, to bolster the numbers in an otherwise underrepresented event. The remaining UK glue held together until the Skopje Olympiad of 1972, when the Welsh dragon breathed its fiery flame in the international arena. Guernsey and Jersey followed later still.

The Ulster Chess Union's application to join FIDE was shelved at Turin this year. The motive for this rebuff is transparently one of crude political expediency. Either FIDE must insist on a single UK federation (unpalatable for the powers that be, as it would ruffle feathers and cost votes), or it should allow all constituent parts of the country to become members. Dispassionately speaking, you cannot pick and choose in such circumstances; alas, logic rarely counts when vested interests are at stake.

Now that we have an English Chess Federation, perhaps we can also have an English Championship? I won this event on the only occasion it was held, in 1991, so I assume I am still the reigning champion. I am hoping to emulate the late Kim Il Sung of North Korea: with a little luck, when I snuff it, my son will nominate me "Eternal English Champion" so that I might lead a contented afterlife. Pity I don't also have a republic to plunder: I will have to leave that to others in the chess world.

Full article with an annotated game Tiviakov-Timman, Dutch Ch. 2006


On Sergey Rublevsky

Thursday June 29, 2006: It was not quite a gulag-worthy performance, but Sergey Rublevsky has every reason to be thankful that his 2/5 at the 2006 Turin Olympiad did not occur in harsher, totalitarian times. In Soviet days he could have expected a fierce verbal lashing, the end of privileges and a goodbye to western tournaments for his significant part in Russia's worst ever team result. If he was lucky and escaped from his homeland at all in the following years, it would be no further than dreary Bucharest or freezing Ulaan Bataar.

It is odd how severe threats tended to concentrate the mind rather than induce psychiatric ruin. Little pity was given to the casualties: the Soviet Union had such an abundance of chess talent that it could afford to squander the abilities of those rare failures. In Turin, Rublevsky is unlikely to have suffered more than the odd murmuring of discontent from his colleagues. His wretched form continued into the elite Aerosvit Tournament in the Crimea a few days later. Last week we saw him succumb to Mamedyarov in round one. However, after a stabilising draw, the clouds departed and he suddenly won five consecutive games to seize the lead. Suddenly we were reminded of why he had been Russian champion and was one of the last players to have defeated the active Garry Kasparov.

Rublevsky is not a sexy player. There are younger and more gifted individuals around and he knows it. Yet he has canniness, which the greenhorns don't. He does not engage the teenagers on the sharp end of opening theory, testing his ailing memory against the freshness of their computer-assisted analysis. Instead he heads a little off the beaten track - not exactly to the jungle, but to lesser-travelled byways where his experience counts. Here his speculative attack brought its reward.

Full article with an annotated game Rublevsky-Volokitin, Foros 2006


On the Crimea

Thursday June 22, 2006: The Crimea was, until recently, undoubtedly the best place to obtain the Grandmaster title. One did not have to do anything so irksome as to actually play chess. Indeed, in some cases, one did not need go to Ukraine at all. A simple bank transfer and the organisers would fill in the results in the cross-table on your behalf and submit them to FIDE. Thirty euros, or thereabouts, was the going rate for procuring each "win", according to a Ukrainian GM colleague of mine with more than a passing familiarity with this business, although if one were prepared to bargain-hunt for long enough, games could be bought for less. All in all, even with fat commissions, the whole transaction could be concluded satisfactorily for a few thousands.

The situation became so bad that in 2005, FIDE - no paragon of virtue itself - took the unusual step of refusing to ratify norms obtained from Alushta, the origin of many of the complaints. Alas, this blanket imposition - a rare, laudable show of treating corruption seriously - discriminated against those who had obtained their titles legitimately. A more effective policy would have been to empower the FIDE Ethics Commission to demand evidence - visas, photos and the like - that people were present when they claimed to be. This would have trapped only the most culpable, but it would not have punished the innocent.

Full article with an annotated game Rublevsky-Mamedyarov, Foros 2006


On the FIDE Elections

Thursday June 15, 2006: The horror of the FIDE presidential election result in Turin has not fully sunk in yet. Will the chess world get another eight years without significant corporate sponsorship to add to the 11 we have already had? Probably. It came as no surprise, after Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was re-elected, that oil-rich Khanty-Mansysk, in western Siberia, won the nomination to hold the 2010 Olympiad. It is hard to envisage any challenger defeating the Russian Ilyumzhinov there without spending millions of dollars on their campaign.

One small consolation: I was elected president of the Commonwealth Chess Association despite a concerted attempt to oust me by the FIDE apparatchiks. It was a close-run thing though: I defeated general secretary Ignatius Leong from Singapore by 16 votes to 15 with one abstention. Nice try, guys! Come back again in four years.

Full article with an annotated game Polanco-Tidman, Turin 2006


On playing in Brunei

Thursday May 25, 2006: There is no booze in Brunei," I informed Bessel Kok, the candidate for FIDE president, as we boarded the flight to Bandar Seri Begawan. "Excellent!" he replied. "We will be able to give our livers a rest."

It had seemed like a noble idea at the time, but by the second night we were reduced, in the opulent Empire Hotel, to ordering cocktails that at least sounded alcoholic, and had begun inquiries as to how far we were from the Malaysian border.

Except for that one drawback, Brunei Darussalam is a fine country - clean, orderly, free of income tax, blessed with pristine jungle, tropical weather and cheap petrol. I had expected a relatively easy task in my clock simultaneous exhibition against the national team. I was surprised to find myself pitted against some very young juniors at the newly inaugurated federation headquarters. Brunei is planning for the future, as the BCF president, Zainal Abidin Ali, proudly told me.

The standard was very respectable, with even the youngest having a fair knowledge of openings and good grasp of midgame strategy. Training by their national coach, IM Tahir Vakhidov from Uzbekistan, is starting to have an impact. The final result, 7-0, somewhat flattered your columnist. Five or even three years hence I very much doubt I will be able to repeat such a feat.

The leading Brunei player is 22-year-old Ak Hirawan. He attacked me like a homicidal machete-wielding maniac, which gave me a few nervous moments. Nevertheless when I quickly beat off the assault, it was time for him to resign. Perhaps a measured approach would have been more successful. Mind you, extreme violence was the key to victory in the game below.

Full column with an annotated game Hirawan-Harika, Hyderabad 2005


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