Friday, January 12, 2007

Gherkin Takes Kremlin, Check! A Tale of Chess with Ice

Whether you heard about it via The Moscow Times or CNN, MSNBC or The Guardian, The Gulf Daily News or The Washington Post, The BBC or ABC, or just good old Chessbase - chances are you heard about it. I mean the Moscow-London Chess Ice Match, in which a team headed by Anatoly Karpov took on a team headed by Nigel Short, at around this painful time yesterday morning. & what can little old us add to all that reporting, I hear you ask? Ah! A rather splendid eye-witness account and some exclusive photos (click to enlarge, see end of article for more) all courtesy of R J Christie:

"It was all a bit surreal: Trafalgar Square on a chilly January morning, spotlights, camera crews, a giant TV screen, a small crowd of onlookers, not to mention a giant chessboard (64 square metres) complete with 32 one metre high pieces sculpted entirely from ice!

"A similar scene could be seen on the big screen – beamed live from Pushkin Square in Moscow, just slightly later in the day and a little colder.

"The occasion - A chess game to launch the 3rd annual Russian Winter Festival.

"The chess set - The absolutely stunning pieces (some even in the shapes of significant London and Moscovian landmarks like the ‘Gherkin’) were carved out by Sergey Tselebrovsky, current world champion in ice sculpting.

"The participants – An English team captained by former world title challenger and reigning Commonwealth and European Union Champion Nigel Short, writer Peter Ackroyd and England’s 8 year old chess prodigy, Darius Parvizi-Wayne. And, in Russia, a team led by former World Chess Champion, Anatoly Karpov, along with a Russian chess prodigy, 8 year old Konstantin Savenkov, Olympic champion gymnast Alina Kabaeva and author Viktor Erofeev.

"Hosted by GM Daniel King, who provided lively and upbeat commentary, the match got underway just after 8am. The Russian team drew the White pieces and with 1.e4 the game began. Left without a pen and paper I was unable to record the moves, but the game was a risky variation of the Two Knights Defence – played mainly, it must be said, between the 2 eight year old prodigies!

"Nigel Short provided some analysis for the crowd, the only snag being that he could be heard in Moscow via the satellite link. This was only discovered when, after telling the crowd that his microphone wasn’t linked to the satellite feed, Nigel was bemused to hear Anatoly saying 'We can hear you!' No surprises for the Russians then!

"Anatoly Karpov was doing similar commentary in Moscow, sometimes breaking into English, but mainly speaking in his native Russian – luckily there was a translator on hand so we didn’t miss anything!

"As the clocks ran down, the temperature rose and the pieces started to melt, requiring the odd bit of mopping up before play could resume. The Russian team gained an advantage over the board and a win on time seemed the best the English team could hope for – the match was played as a quickplay game, with 30 minutes per side.

"Sadly work called before the game had ended, but from what I hear the Russian team, running short of time, offered the English team a draw – which was accepted. So honours even on the day!

"By the time I left just before 9am, a sizeable crowd had gathered; somewhere in the region of 150 I would estimate. Not bad for a cold winter's morning.
"The whole event was well organised, smoothly and professionally run and thoroughly enjoyable. It also enjoyed good coverage on the BBC and BBC London websites (at the time of writing I am hopeful it will get some airtime on TV) and should help to raise the profile of chess even further."

Thanks a million to R J Christie for that.

PS. You can find all the photos we have of the event archived here, where once again, you can click the images to enlarge.

PPS. UPDATE! Andrew's comment - the fifth one down, as 'anonymous' - provides more detail about the game itself. Sounds like an intriguing battle!


ejh said...

This stuff doesn't raise the profile of chess, because it's obviously a stupid gimmick.

Tom Chivers said...

The motive of the day was not in fact to raise chess's profile, or at least according to this preview from the end of last year it wasn't:

"The project is organized in order to let the British people get acquainted with Russian culture and give them a full idea of the way of life in Moscow. Antyufeyev also explains that the action is undertaken within the festival 'Russian winter' in London."

ejh said...

Right, so in Moscow they play chess outdoors with giant ice pieces?

It's a nose-in-the-trough exercise, as most "promotional" activities normally are.

And Peter Ackroyd plays chess, does he?

Tom Chivers said...

I guess they must do. And if their pieces are a metre high, imagine how tall their copies of Informator must be!

Anonymous said...

The event was certainly a gimmick, but not a stupid one. We live in a world unfortunately where press coverage is only going to be achieved by gimmicks, unless they are exceptional achievements (like Short getting to the World Championship final). There is no way say if Nick Pert or some other English GM made a 2800 performance in some category 14 tourney in Sofia,that it would make it into the general press.
The game itself yesterday was not really between the 2 kids at all times. It seemed to be in the early stages, where the British kid got in trouble having his f7 pawn taken and having to play Ke7. He had a couple of active pieces (Nf4 and Bd4) but it looked like white would work around them and get after the king (especially after he overprotected the Nf4 a la Nimzowitch with g7-g5)! However white's queen got into the black position, but then trapped itself on b7 and had to exchange itself (Moscow mayors office takes Gherkin)! Then despite losing another queenside pawn, black got a powerful d pawn (which when on d3 started sliding to promotion by itself)! At the end black I think was the exchange and 2 pawns down but had a pawn on d2 suppported by A N and R. The black king was also coming into the position. White was still probably better with accurate play, but it was getting unclear. Moscow then offered a draw with only 20 seconds left, which was accepted (black had 2 minutes or so). This seemed fair as London was in charge of the clocks and there seemed like a 5 second delay on average between Moscow moving and the clock being stopped! Although Short and King didn't get involved, Dave Rumens (about 200 strength) seemed to be giving lots of help near the end, which probably accounted for the improved position. Daniel King has also been known for dramatising chess (remember him on Channel 4 for Short's match anyone)? I was surprised that Short was happy to play this role as well.
The press seemed to be focussing on the melting pieces, linking it in with global warming etc., but apart from the self-promoting pawn (see above) this was really not much of a problem. All the pieces were completely distinguishable (well as well as a gherkin, Big Ben etc can be as chess pieces)!
Overall it seemed quite a successful event with loads of press coverage. Given the scant support funding wise chess gets, this is to be welcomed.

Tom Chivers said...

Did things seem *ahem* frosty between King & Short, Andrew?

Short got booted from The Guardian to make way for King's new column, that he writes alongside Ronan Bennett.

(Incidentally, Ronan Bennett is married to The Guardian's assistant editor. His novel Zugzwang was also recently serialised in The Observer - The Guardian's sister paper on Sunday - and will be published shortly I believe.)

Tom Chivers said...

PPPS. UPDATE, once more!

I found the moves of this game via Mig

Moscow - London Ice Match. 11 Jan 2007, 8am.

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. Ng5 Bc5 5. Bxf7+ Ke7 6. Bd5 d6 7. O-O Bg4 8. Qe1 Nxd5 9. exd5 Nd4 10. c3 Ne2+ 11. Kh1 h6 12. Ne4 Bb6 13. f3 Nxc1 14. fxg4 Nd3 15. Qg3 Nf4 16. d4 g5 17. Nbd2 Qg8 18. dxe5 dxe5 19. c4 Bd4 20.Qb3 Qg6 21. Qxb7 Qb6 22. d6+ Kd7 23. Qxc7+ Qxc7 24. dxc7 Kxc7 25. Rab1 Rhf8 26. Nf3 Rad8 27. b4 Ne2 28. c5 Rf4 29. Nd6 Rxg4 30. Nxd4 exd4 31. Rf7+ Kc6 32. Rxa7 d3 33. Ra3 Rd4 34. b5+ Kd5 35. Rd1 d2 36. Nf5 Kxc5 37. Nxd4, draw.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Anonymous above.

While the main purpose of the event ( as Tom says ) was not to raise the profile of chess, I think that anything that helps us make chess more popular and raises awareness of this great game should be welcomed with open arms.

BBC website and BBC London website coverage ( plus a fair few more I am sure ), pictures in the Metro, London Lite ( probably the Evening Standard as well then )and the London Paper. Good for chess I say!

Anonymous said...

Things didn't strike me as being frosty between Short and King, although they didn't appear to be big buddies either! G2 (the part of the Guardian not the square-just realised this!) where Short's column was in was re-arranged as was used as an excuse and I think the poker and possibly bridge columns went also. It is a big shame as Short was an excellent writer and didn't hold back on what wrote. I feel he fitted in perfectly with the style of the Guardian- intelligent, wittily cyncial and loads of attitude. That is why I was surprised he was playing up the commentary Danny King style yesterday.

Tom Chivers said...

* Justin * - it's just struck me. The reason Peter Ackroyd was there was not to do with chess, but geography: he was a representative of London. Likewise in Moscow, on their team they had a famous gymnast. Perhaps the seemingly-quixotic mission of the event - to let us know about life in Moscow - was therefore not as bonkers as it sounded. After all, if they have spritely gymnasts bounding around over there, instead of the bloated literary critics we have lounging about over here, this can only be a good thing! Ah, the way of life in Moscow, sommersaulting over the roof-tops, and metre-high chess pieces . . .

* R J Christie * All publicity is good publicity, eh? It's certainly better than all this cheating stuff coming out now, or some of the really bad stories from last year.

* Andrew * Yes & no. I agree that whatever else you might say about Short (and there is a lot to say) he does write very well. But I think he has a slightly different tone to The Guadian - whilst they share a sense of their own superiority, Short's is more detached and not cuddlified by an idea of togetherness, by a belief tomorrow might be better than today. Or something like that.

Anonymous said...

All publicity is good publicity? Up to a point! You have to draw the line somewhere.

I'd definitely prefer to see articles about an entertaining chess match ( like the one yesterday ) than about cheating chess players!

I think that, historically, chess has always had a bad rap - a game for nerds and geeks, not a game for girls, not a sport ( ok, let's not get into that one, shall we hehehe )etc.etc.

We, as chessplayers, need to do what we can to promote chess as a healthy, educational and enjoyable activity, great for improving one's memory, logical thinking and making friends.

The game is thriving in the UK I believe - David Howell becoming the UK's youngest GM, plenty of active chess clubs and leagues and lots of tournaments ( I played in the 69th Richmond Rapidplay last weekend - must have been over 100 kids there, must be good for chess in the UK ).

ejh said...

1. I think that anything that helps us make chess more popular and raises awareness of this great game should be welcomed with open arms.

My whole point is that I don't think gimmick-events do that.

If you want chess to become more popular and have ahigher profile, I think that first, it's a long haul and secondly, that it starts in the schools. People will cover chess in the press (it's astonishing, by the way, that it has no peramement place on the BBC website) if they think it's becomding more popular. In order to do that you have to get people playing early - which isn't that hard, in fact - and keep 'em playing. Then they demand the coverage. There's a lot opf talk about there not being enough FIDE events, sponsorship and so on - well maybe, but that's the professionals looking at it from their point of view. What you need to do is create chessplayers and then the sponsors will come looking for you.

2. I think Short's a fine writer when he's not carrying out feuds, which is far too often. These may be fun for some people to read, but ultimately they damage Short himself - as a person and as a writer.

Personally I loathe the man but that is neither here nor there when judging someone's writing.

Anonymous said...

Apparently London is awash with chess players touting their services to schools at £40 or more an hour. Wouldn't be surprised if 30-40 people are doing this, some of them rated as low as 100 (apologies to any 100 rated players). This should result in a second English chess boom, although it seems a very long way away at the moment and also has not generated any press coverage. The first English chess boom was done almost totally outside the school system and with very little tuition.

Anonymous said...

Hey Tom,

Could you comment something on my blog once more? I got an email saying they solved the problem, and i want to find out if it is really solved. Thank's.

Tom Chivers said...

Again!? Goodness!