Friday, April 30, 2010

When we were Kings VII

[JB's Note:
Today I have another article that I originally wrote at the start of the year but which never got published. As on Wednesday, I thought it was time to have another look at what I wrote in January in the light of the Anand-Topalov World Championship match currently underway in Sofia.

... can you compare any of the media coverage of the world chess championship games favourably to the coverage of any other sports?

asked Adam Raoof over on the EC Forum on
yesterday morning and a very reasonable question it is too. Only the day before Chessbase had published an article contrasting the print media’s coverage of Anand-Topalov in India with that in the rest of the world only the day before. Outside of Vishy's homeland, they said, news from Sofia usually amounts to

... just an inch or two at the bottom in the sports section

If only the coverage in Britain was that good! To be fair there was a
piece in the Telegraph the day before battle commenced - I’m indebted to Roger de Coverly, also from the EC Forum, for the link – and that was certainly better than nothing but the fact that the journo concerned was writing from Warsaw and unable to distinguish between a tournament and a match, or between a match and a game for that matter, tells you something about the quality of the article.

In the comments box to T.C’s pre-match article
Contemporary Chess is Brilliant, George suggests that there would be more news coverage if Carlsen was playing. Well that’s very probably true, I suspect the ‘young pretender’ angle would be a narrative that the press would find quite appealing, but I doubt that even Magic Magnus’ presence would make that much difference. After all he was playing at the Chess Classic in London last December and that didn’t lead to a huge amount of coverage.

Perhaps you’re wondering, ‘
Are you really surprised that the World Championship isn’t receiving wall-to-wall coverage? What do you expect? Chess has never exactly been front page news has it?’ Well, since you have been kind enough to allow me to ask those questions on your behalf, dear reader, allow me to respond …

Hold the Front Page

On the 16th December 2009 something rather extraordinary appeared on the front page of The Independent newspaper. There, right next to articles about Arnold Schwarzenegger being the man to save the world from global warming and Sir John Scarlett being the man to lie to the Iraq inquiry sat thirteen remarkable words,


Computers will be the death of chess - by Viktor Korchnoi
page 12

and a colour photograph of a Black king lying prostrate before a White queen.

Amazing don't you think? Chess. On the front page of a national newspaper. In 2009!

Readers who turned to the indicated page would find that it was entirely devoted to an interview with old Vik* which is

(a) great


(b) more than a bit of a shame

because it was conducted at the strongest chess tournament to be held in Britain for at least a quarter of a century and yet the London Chess Classic gets no mention whatsoever save for Korchnoi's presence in town being explained as the result of him being a guest at the event.

Still, we take what we can get don't we? Chess in any form on a front page is a real achievement for the Classic in general and organiser Malcolm Pein in particular isn't it? That's true I think but when Korchnoi left London to fly off to Elista for a replay of his 1977/78 match with Boris Spassky (mentioned on these pages more than once before) it rather underlined how much times have changed.

photo from the Indy

Back in the day chess graced the front pages of our newspapers far more frequently than the Halley's Comets we have come to expect today. Between 12th December 1977 and 14th January 1978 the Korchnoi-Spassky Candidates Final alone generated half a dozen front page articles in The Times. True they were often short or inspired by what was happening off the board as much as on it but nonetheless they were there.

Incredibly The Times devoted a full 280 first page words to the news that the match had finally been won and then followed up with another 470 from Golombek inside. That's completely unthinkable today but Korchnoi - Spassky was the cold war writ small (it's no accident that two days after the match was over a story documenting Korchnoi's campaign for this family to be allowed to leave the Soviet Union appeared on The Times' front page) and chess was mainstream back then, part of the East - West narrative by which we, or at least the newspapers, lived.

So yes, let's celebrate any publicity our game gets but the next time somebody wants to tell us that the media ignores chess because it's inherently dull and was never popular anywhere except the former Soviet Union lets remind them that When we were Kings chess was front page news here too.

The Times
12th December, 1977

page 1

Chess: Korchnoi wins another game to take a 5-2 lead in his world championship semifinal match against Spassky 5

The Times
14th December, 1977

page 1

A blunder by Boris Spassky, former world chess champion, drew gasps of dismay from spectators in Belgrade and brought him another defeat at the hands of Viktor Korchnoi. Korchnoi now leads 6-2 in the match to decide who will play Anatoly Karpov for the world title. Page 6

The Times
30th December, 1977

page 1

Viktor Korchnoi, the self-exiled Russian grandmaster, threatened to withdraw from this world chess championship qualifying match against Boris Spassky unless spectators were banned. Page 4

The Times
3rd January, 1978
page 1

Korchnoi has backed down and resumed his game with Spassky in the world chess candidates’ match in Belgrade. Although the demands of his “ultimatum” have apparently not been met, he returned to his board yesterday after a personal appeal from the president of the International Chess Federation. Page 4

The Times
13th January, 1978

page 1

Belgrade, Jan 12. – Viktor Korchnoi, the self-exiled Russian grandmaster, today became the challenger to Anatoly Karpov, the Soviet world chess champion, by winning the eighteenth game of his match against Boris Spassky, also of the Soviet Union.

Spassky resigned the adjourned game after the first move today. With an angry wave of his hand, he strode out of the hall as soon as the referee disclosed the move, which he had sealed in an envelope when the game was adjourned yesterday.

He did not shake hands with Korchnoi or say one word to him. The defeat was doubly bitter for Spassky for he had spurned the offer of a draw from Korchnoi on the thirty-third move.

Once the offer was refused, Korchnoi went all out for the kill. Sacrificing pawns, he built up a powerful attack against his opponent’s king.

The icy finale reflected the extent to which the match, billed as a test of two brilliant but dissimilar players, had degenerated into bitter psychological warfare.

Spassky’s resignation gave Korchnoi victory by 10.5 points to 7.5 in the best of 20-game series. Korchnoi won seven games, Spassky four, with seven drawn. Korchnoi who is 46, will meet Karpov, aged 26, later this year at a location still to be decided.

Besides the right to challenge Karpov, Korchnoi won $15,000 (£8,000) and a Yugoslav-made car, while Spassky who lost the world title to Bobby Fischer of America, received $10,000.

Korchnoi looks on his meeting with Karpov as a grudge match – for it was his semi-final loss to Karpov in 1974 that led to his defection to the West leaving a wife and son in Leningrad. – Reuter and UPI.
Harry Golombek comments and moves, page 16

The Times
14th January, 1978

page 1

Belgrade: Viktor Korchnoi, challenger for the world chess championship, will press the Soviet authorities for the release of his family from Russia 5

When we were Kings Index

* Curiously it appears on the web dated Tuesday 15th December

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

When we were Kings VI

[JB's note:
I was originally planning to write about something else today but when I realised we'd be in the middle of Anand - Topalov I had a rethink. To be honest the start of the match took me rather by surprise. This is partly because I'm not visiting chess news websites like Chess Vibes or Chessbase so much these days but I also think it says quite a lot about the lack of an impression that chess makes in the mainstream media these days.

Today's blog article was originally written in January but, for reasons that won't be at all clear when you read it, it got held over because of that earthquake in Chile. Despite Tom's encouragement the world, as reported in the news and on TV at least, doesn't seem to care very much about Anand-Topalov in particular or chess in general. I like to think that it's worth remembering that it wasn't always like this.]

News of the World

I’m writing this in my local coffee shop having just enjoyed a nice cup of tea whilst taking a look at Jon Speelman’s chess column in The Independent. It happened to be Spess I was reading before getting down to work but it could just as easily Malcolm Pein in The Telegraph or Ray Keene ('Ray Keene' if you prefer) in The Times. It wasn't that long ago that weekly was the typical interval for chess articles in what we used to call the broadsheets but now The Guardian seems rather out of step in running theirs every Tuesday.

Just as I was putting down my tea cup and powering up my laptop I had a ‘the world doesn’t make sense’ thought:-

We live in a time where there’s more chess in the papers than ever before and yet the game has completely disappeared from the news.

Which is pretty strange when you think about it.

Specialist chess columns may be great for we confirmed players but they come at a price. You’ll find Speelman at the fag end of the Indy’s “Life” supplement, Malc under a pile of obituaries and RDK hidden away somewhere between the financial news and the sport. They're easy to miss and easier still to skip over if you happen to accidentally fall upon them. ‘Chess’, the placement of the columns tells us, ‘is a speciality subject of interest only to those already interested’ and every article might as well be headlined ‘Nothing For Outsiders Here’.

It wasn’t ever thus. When we were Kings chess used to be news and because of that it was part of the collective consciousness. Not a big part perhaps but in the 70s the game was a mainstream subject and treated as such. When I mention this in conversation I often get incredulous looks in return but have a look at some clippings I've had kicking around on my hard drive since a spot of research at the British Library last year:-

The Times
2nd November, 1977
page 5

Pasadena, California, Nov 1. – Police have issued a warrant accusing Bobby Fischer, aged 34, the former world chess champion, of forcing his way into the home of Mrs Holly Ruiz, a magazine writer, and hitting her on the face because of a story about his affiliation with the Worldwide Church of God.

The Times
16th November, 1977
page 5

Pasadena, Nov 16. – Judge M.G. Fransciscus has announced that he is prepared to dismiss criminal charges against Mr Bobby Fischer, the former world chess champion who had been accused of assaulting Mrs Holly Ruiz, a woman magazine writer. Mrs Ruiz has withdrawn her complaint after receiving an undisclosed sum in an out-of-court settlement of her civil claim for damages.

The Times
9th December, 1977
page 11

Pasadena, California, Dec 8. – Charges accusing Bobby Fischer, the former world chess champion, of attacking a woman journalist were dismissed after he appeared in the municipal court here.

Today we can only dream of this level of media interest. OK, there were the Danny Gormally and Vlad Tkachiev kerfuffles but they were two isolated incidents more than three years apart. Here we’ve got a trio of (admittedly short) pieces in barely a month and don’t forget Fischer hadn’t played for over half a decade by the time of these reports.

Kasparov? Yes that name crops up in the media from time to time but he's a rather different kettle of fisch. Other than that one-off burst of publicity over the Karpov match at the end of last year, when Gazza gets mentioned it tends to be in connection with his political activities. The fact he was once the best chess player in the world might be mentioned in passing as a curiosity but it’s not likely to be at all relevant to the story.

As implausible as it sounds at this distance, between the 2nd of November and 9th December 1977 The Times published three short stories relating to an incident which was deemed to be ‘news’ because one of the participants used to play chess. In the Golden Age even ex-chessers were celebrities. Well they were if they were Bobby anyway.

And then there’s Ray Hankin.

The Times
2nd December, 1977
page 6

Ray Hankin, aged 21, the Leeds United footballer, was banned from driving for a year and fined £120 by magistrates at Wetherby, West Yorkshire, yesterday after admitting a drink-driving charge.

That season Leeds United finished ninth in the old First Division of the Football League* and Hankin was their leading scorer with 21 goals. His story makes an interesting contrast with the Fischer reports don’t you think? Today it’s inconceivable that a drink-driving footballer from a top flight club would be allocated less news space than a former world chess champion getting shirty with an uppity journo but that’s how it was thirty years ago.

So it’s the best of times and it’s the worst of times. We’ve got specialist chess columns but even though papers are many pages thicker than they once were there’s no room for chess in the news anymore.

It may be strange but that's the way it is and I’m not sure that there’s much if anything the chess world can do about it so I intend just to enjoy what we’ve got. Which is why, now my blog is written, I'm about to have another cup of tea and take a gander at what Malc’s got to say today.

When we were Kings Index

Thanks to Sean for the Joe Jackson tip.

* This was back when in football terms “first” meant “first” and not “third”. Leeds, by the way, finished four points ahead of Manchester United who were 10th and ten points ahead of Chelsea who were 16th. Nottingham Forest were champions that season which rather underlines the point that the world was rather different back then.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Your game here?

Anand-Topalov not exciting enough for you? Well, exercise your adrenal gland with this little beauty. One of the most dramatic games you're ever likely to see.

What a turnaround. Black looked as if he would come out of the opening on the receiving end of a miniature - but then as if by magic, out of the hat hopped a brilliancy.

Thanks to Jack Rudd for sending that one in. If you missed our previous installment of reader's games, you can click to find it here. And if you've played a good one recently - or indeed historically - or indeed been on the receiving end of a fine effort - once again feel free to email me for possible inclusion on the blog.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Chess in Art Postscript: Possibly...Definitely...Finally

The last Postscript, and the one before, left this question in the air: why, late in life in 1987, did artist Eileen Agar, creator of at least two chess related works, choose that particular theme to pay her respects to Surrealists Magritte, Dali et al.? Well, if the premise is correct, I reckon the answer is possibly quite straightfoward. First, her soul mate, long time partner, and husband since 1940, was Hungarian Joseph Bard (1889-1975), who was, yes, a poet; and also the model for the Angel of Anarchy.

Bard and Agar in 1937.

Second, in 1941 he wrote a short story "The Game of Chess", broadcast by the BBC in 1959. My hunch is that her chess piece of 1987 was a coded hommage to him as much to the other big beasts of Surrealism. In her autobiography she reminisced thus about the plot:
"In the broadcast, the inimitable Patricia Hayes took the part of the small boy in Belgrade who plays chess with the colonel who is about to murder King Alexander and his Queen that night. The boy wins. In a voice of unfeigned simplicity, he comments that nobody who hates his king will ever make a good chess player".

Which is rather simple chess, but hardly, the colonel might have replied, a conclusive argument against a republic.

Now that we have settled that, it is time to speak of Roland, the main man of Surrealism in England, responsible for unleashing it, red in tooth and claw, on an unsuspecting domestic arterati at the First International Surrealist Exhibition, which he organised in London in 1936 (the one where Dali tried to give a lecture clad in a diving suit, nearly suffocating when the helmet jammed, but not quite - shame, it would have spared us his later ravings).

You'll recognise the name: Penrose, Roland Penrose, son of James (portrait painter), brother of Lionel (geneticist), uncle of Roger (mathematician), Oliver (mathematician), Shirley (geneticist), and of Jonathan (psychologist and chess player). Quite a dynasty, stacking up the family IQ points down the generations as if trying to solve the nature/nuture problem single-handed.

Photos of Jonathan, our Tal-slaying hero, are hard to come by on the web, but one shows Bobby Fischer taking on this particular string from the Penrose gene pool.

Surrealist's Nephew v Fischer (Leipzig 1960)

It's not the best shot of Jonathan I'm afraid, and the camera angle makes it difficult to see any family resemblance in this self-portrait by Uncle Roland:

Roland Penrose (1900-1984)

Self portrait (1947) [National Portrait Gallery]

Though I think there is something about the ears.

Like Eileen Agar, Roland Penrose had a soft spot for collages and you can see many of them, together with other works of his, and a cornucopia of international surreal delights, at his house Farley Farm in Sussex. It is still lived in by the family and you can visit for a fascinating conducted tour. It is a marvellous living museum of friendly Surrealism, where, if you crave something chessic you can see, in the flesh, an aluminium and wood edition of the Man Ray chess set (he was an early lover of Lee Miller, who was later Penrose's wife and mother of Antony Penrose, who will welcome you, rather more in the flesh, to the farm).

Man Ray's set, pure and simple (c1920-24)

So that's it: chess in art with Nash, Ernst, Agar, Magritte, Dali, Bard, Penrose, Man Ray, and Miller. Serially. Finally? Yes, sure really.

Acknowledgements, etc.

Eileen Agar's autobiography was detailed in the previous post.

The Fischer - Penrose photo is from Edward Winter's Chess Notes 2 November 2008.

Farley Farm is celebrated in Antony Penrose (2001) The Home of the Surrealists - Lee Miller, Roland Penrose and their circle at Farley Farm. Pub. Francis Lincoln Ltd., London. On pages 92 and 93 there are photos of the Man Ray chess set, 1946 version, sitting on the sideboard . He also wrote a biography of his father (2001) Roland Penrose - the friendly Surrealist. Pub. Prestel, London.

Chess in Art Index

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bad book covers XI

Play the St George, Basman, Pergamon 1982

Bad book covers index

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When we were Kings V


A narrow escape for Korchnoi and Keene

It is, as my friend and fellow blogger T.C. pointed out on Monday, almost that time again. The only problem is nobody is quite sure precisely what "almost" means.

According to the original schedule the opening opening ceremony of the Anand – Topalov World Championship match is due to be held this afternoon and the match itself is supposed to kick-off on Friday afternoon. As Tom said though, Anand's was one of the many journeys disrupted by that Icelandic volcano. Vishy asked for an adjournment but at the time of writing - Tuesday evening - the (Bulgarian) organisers are refusing his request.

Anand and his team eventually managed to get to Sofia but only after a 40+ hour road journey. That doesn't sound like much fun although he should perhaps think himself lucky; back in the day Viktor Korchnoi and his second Ray Keene took an unplanned road trip on the way to Belgrade for Vik’s Candidates' Final match with Boris Spassky and it very nearly resulted in something much worse that a numb bum.

When we departed, we ordered a taxi, which should have taken us to a ferry, then a trolley-bus followed by a train to Zurich, and so on. But the taxi driver offered to take us directly to Zurich for a reduced fare. After some thought, Keene and I agreed. After crossing the German-Swiss border, we reached the direct autobahn to Zurich. As night was falling, I was sitting next to the driver, when in the gloom a lorry suddenly loomed up ahead. I shouted, and the driver managed to turn the wheel slightly. We crashed into the lorry and turned over, I think, once. For perhaps a couple of seconds I lost consciousness. And then I unhurriedly crawled out of one of the car windows. The lorry in front belonged to the Swiss army …

Viktor Korchoi
Chess is My Life,
Olms, 2005 (p. 118)

Here’s RDK’s version:-

Boris Spassky almost won the Candidates’ Final by default. On the evening of November 8th 1977, the taxi taking Korchnoi and myself to Zurich smashed, at speed, into the virtually unlit back of a Swiss army lorry. Our Mercedes veered sharply, swung right over and then broke into a spin on its roof, across three lanes of the motorway, until it was brought to a standstill by the crash barrier. I escaped through a demolished window, and managed to help Korchnoi, who was crawling out from underneath the wreckage. His right hand was covered with blood and he looked as if he had been scalped. We had been lucky: the car was destroyed but it did not start to burn, and we had not been hit by any of the traffic that had hurtled past us on the motorway. Korchnoi’s reaction was amazingly calm. He took his miraculous salvation as a sign from above that he was indestructible and that he would therefore be immune from Spassky. Naturally he was not pleased at what had happened but he was far more upset when he lost the eighth game of his match with Polugayevsky.

Ray Keene
Korchnoi – Spassky: Chess Crisis,
Allen & Unwin, 1978 (p. 8)

It may have taken him a couple of days but at least Anand arrived in Sofia in one piece!

Well what now? I may well have been proved wrong by the time you read this but somehow I very much doubt that we’ll see anything resembling this kind of report appearing anywhere in the press this week ...

The Times
Wednesday November 16, 1977
Page 11

“Belgrade, Nov 15. – The world chess championship semifinal match between Viktor Korchnoi and Boris Spassky will start next Monday instead of tomorrow as had been planned.

Korchnoi, who injured his hand in a car accident recently, asked for a postponement today and Spassky agreed. – Agence France-Presse”

... and not just because chess never makes the news anymore.

In any event, having finally arrived in Sofia Anand might be well advised to strap himself securely into his seat. From here on in the ride is likely to get really bumpy.

When we were Kings Index

Photograph taken from BCM, March 1978

Monday, April 19, 2010

Contemporary Chess Is Brilliant
(and the world should know it)

On Friday Monday Saturday*, World Champion Vishy Anand will sit down opposite the world number two ranked player Veselin Topalov and their contest for the ultimate chess crown will begin: the World Championship. Chess players everywhere will follow the match obsessively, mostly via the internet. But what about non-specialists with a passing interest, or the just plain curious? They must rely on their usual media, and here in the UK the BBC tends to ignore all chess news unless it involves calamity or boxing. And although many of our newspapers have chess columns, even the World Championship is unlikely to catapult chess news out of its regular spot and on to the front pages where it belongs. Lest foreign readers think those regular spots hold a cosy prestige of their own, I’ll quickly mention The Telegraph, whose very good daily chess column is buried each day at the bottom of the newspaper’s Obituaries page.

But mainstream media should cover the World Chess Championship extensively and prominently, and for one very simple reason. Contemporary chess is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Don’t believe me? Here are five reasons why contemporary chess should command the mainstream attention that it has yet to receive.

1. We know who the World Champion is. It’s Vishy Anand. He beat Vladimir Kramnik in a match, and Kramnik is the guy who previously beat Garry Kasparov in a match. There’s no dispute, no rows, no arguments about it. No corrupt institutions waiting in the wings with false crowns buffed up for their personal favourites. No paper titles handed out like the lesser belts in boxing. No Champions League where the quality of play is really the highest in the game. Not even the sideshow of a constructors championship. No confusion, no nothing. It’s Vishy. For now . . .

2. We know who the Rising Star is. It’s Magnus Carlsen of Norway. Still a teenager, tutored by Kasparov, touted by all as the one to watch. No-one disputes his talent or his achievements, so far. But will he become World Champion? There are question marks over his drive; he describes himself as not obsessed by chess. There are questions marks over how well prepared he is – how long can he rely on the secrets Kasparov has passed him? And one final question is whether he is the rising star at all, and not just the herald of the next generation of top players, fundamentally different from the current older crop of Vishy & Vladimir & Veselin and the rest. Why fundamentally different? Because Magnus is the first top player who grew up practicing against computers as strong as Grandmasters. But others are coming, and all of it is fascinating to watch; Mangus is still the rising star - but for how long?

3. The internet. The internet could have been invented for the sake of chess, and vice versa. Curious about trying a new game? You can get a game of chess the minute the thought strikes you. Want advice? You can do anything from leave a message on a forum, to pay for the help of Grandmaster. Chess news, chess blogs, chess jokes, chess poetry, chess images, chess programming – it’s all a google search away. Chess porn even, or so Morgan tells me. And you can watch the World Championship (and indeed all top tournaments) live, in the company of thousands of others, listening to Grandmaster commentary, supplied with computer analysis, playing a friendly game on the side.

4. Chess itself is better than ever. At Arsenal in the 1980s, away fans used to sing "Boring, Boring Arsenal". Now the home fans sing it – ironically, because Arsenal now play beautiful, exciting, attacking football. Like Arsenal, chess has, I admit, gone through dreary phases. Lots of short, dull draws in long, dull tournaments. Lots of similar openings. The belief that dry, technical procedures were best, the styles of the top players suitably dour. Games without sacrifices, without excitement, almost without imagination. No risk, no fun. And, no more. Kasparov and the computers have put pay to that. Nowadays chess is a rough-and-tumble fighting game, a drama of violence, surprise and imagination. Top players head for unbalanced positions where they have the best chance of outwitting their opponents. Each player seeks to throw the game into chaos as early as possible; not for nothing was a recent book called "Fire On Board". Learn the rules, play a little, get used to the game – then have your mind blown by the stuff they get up to in top tier chess. I’m a seasoned player – and I still do. Daily, or almost.

5. Chess is teaming up. The right image for chess is no longer a school boy, lonely, bespeckled, bullied, sat in a classroom on a sunny day – facing him his mathematics teacher, whose broken dreams can barely be sensed on his expressionless face, in his bored, quiet sighs. Instead, chess players enter poker tournaments – and win. Sometimes. Female players – yes, they not only exist, but they have their own websites, and furthermore they often inject them with, let us say, a certain photographic glamour. Others try to link chess with the prevention of Alzheimer’s, or with learning about decision making, or with peace, or with social programmes in troubled areas. And with what next, who knows.

A vibrant and diverse church we have become. True, with the odd wacky element that teams chess up with boxing or visits from aliens. But far more than that. Contemporary chess is an exciting game, replete with intriguing leading players and an emerging new generation, branching out into the wider world and brilliantly served by the internet. Players, tell your friends. Journalists, tell your readers. Editors, it’s time for the mainstream media to catch up. You can start on Friday Monday Saturday*. It’s time for the world to know.

* - hopefully finally. Anand's travel plans have been affected by the volcanic ash grounding flights in Europe.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chess in Art Postscript: Possibly...Definitely...Continuingly

Now, please try and read this quote without a trace of irony:

"As beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella."

It is the flamboyant rallying call of continental Surrealism, penned in 1868 in fact. It makes Paul Nash's chance meeting in a field of a tennis ball and a dead tree (discussed in the first instalment of this post) look very English: Centre Court meets Chelsea Flower Show; as surreal as a cream tea.

A chance meeting on a tea tray of cream, scones, and raspberry jam.

Marvellous (a term of high praise in Surrealist circles).

Between the Wars Nash came within the orbit of one of the GMs of Surrealism, German born Max Ernst, who was in England in the 1930s, and who provides the rather thin pretext for this Postscript to Chess in Art XIII; and while we are about it, to this one as well.

They had many mutual friends, including artist Eileen Agar (1904-1991) who had been co-opted as a Surrealist at about the same time. She played mixed doubles in 1936/7 or thereabouts with Nash, and she produced a piece with the handle "The Angel of Anarchy", some fifty years before Malcolm McLaren and Viv assumed the mantle.

Vivienne Westwood. Passably.

Tate Gallery

Eileen produced two other works of interest to this blog. One, made around the time she met Nash, was an object/construction which possibly had something to do with chess, and definitely, given the title "Mate in two moods", other things besides. It featured a truncated and refashioned chess board with various "things" standing for pieces, including a sunfish (dead) leaning against a wall to play with its shadow, or so says Michel Levy (1999). Without being able to locate a postable version, Fish Circus (1939) will have to do instead. It has pleasing Nasher seaside references, and check motifs to appeal to the complete chess addict.

Eileen Agar (1904-1991)

Fish Circus (1939) National Gallery of Scotland

The check business, on the right representing/alluding to a clown or harlequin's costume, possibly, crops up a lot in non-figurative chess-themed artwork, but that's a topic for another occasion. Here it helps evoke the distinctive features and aura of the circus, its genius loci, just as did Nash, as a rural Romantic, with Ballard's Down, Wittenham Clumps, Romney Marsh and other sites of special ecstatic interest. Agar gives her circus a cast of performing fish (real and painted). She is possibly trying to do a similar thing to Nash and capture the spirit of the plaice.

The collective fun and games of this party of British Surrealists, leavened by divers waifs and strays from abroad, was cut short by World War Two after which Agar continued to plough her distinctive and sometimes overlooked furrow into sprightly old age. In her eighties she could still turn a head, both by modelling clothes for the mature lady (snapped by Snowdon, no less), and making collages such as this:

The Game of Chess (1987) Redfern Gallery

A board has some rook-like symbols in the bottom corners and more bits at the top (maybe with a Picasso touch). Our opponent is a bowler-hatted René Magritte silhouette who characteristically has his back to us, preferring to watch a Martian sunset. There could be a play with profiles on the left: is that Dali with his wispy moustache looking out, with a topless lady looking in, forming his nose and chin? If so, who could she be?.....difficult to say as many of the Surrealist ladies were inclined to liberated behaviour, sometimes provoking apoplectic jealously among their men-folk who thought it their preserve. Fun and games, as ever. And in the struggle of shapes and edges will the straights succumb to the curlicues; will the the infernal reds see off the icy blues? It may possibly be chess, but definitely not as we know it.

So this collage, produced in her 83rd year, appears to be Eileen Agar's surrealist retrospect, created by one who saw them all. But why did she hang this hommage on a game of chess? Perhaps we'll see next time.

Eileen Agar c.1988. Photo by Orde Eliason

Notes and acknowledgements:

The ironing board image comes from Comte de Lautréamont (1868) Les Chants de Maldoror written in Paris.

Agar produced a first version of the Angel in 1937, it was lost and the second version, illustrated, was made in 1940-3.

Two books in particular have informed this post: Eileen Agar (1988) A Look at My Life (Methuen, London); and Michel Remy (1999) Surrealism in Britain (Ashgate, London).

Chess in Art Index

Friday, April 16, 2010

Desperately Siegen Scoresheets

Readers may remember this post in which, with a lot of outside help, were able to track down the correct score of an errant game, Patterson-Gheorghiu, from the 1970 Siegen Olympiad.

Alas, it is not the only game missing from that tournament. Not long ago I glanced at the What Is Missing section of the estimable OlimpBase site, and under Siegen 1970 it states:
Following gamescores are missing: Gligoric-Penrose (YUG-ENG, qual. group 2), Sanz-Bahtiar (AND-INA, qual. group 2), Ribeiro-Bonner (POR-SCO, qual. group 5)
The first of these took me aback. While England were far from a force in world chess back in 1970, Yugoslavia were (indeed, they finished third) and Gligoric was still one of the leading players in the world, having competed in the most recent Candidates' cycle. He had also beaten Petrosian with the Black pieces a few months before the Olympiad.

One would have expected his games to have been among the most important to the bulletin and its readers. Moreover Penrose was not entirely an unknown in Olympiads. But the game - which must at very least have been of interest to potential top-board rivals of either player - is not in the bulletin and is, apaprently, nowhere to be found.

What makes this absence even more mysterious is that a book on the Olympiad was written by Raymond Keene and David Levy: and the first of these was naturally seated next to Gligoric-Penrose while that game was being played. But unfortunately Ray has no memory of the game:
are you sure gligoric and penrose played each other at siegen? if they did gligoric wd have been white and it wd have been a draw

at the moment i dont recall the game at all!
Understandably, forty years on. But what baffles me is that the absence of the game from the bulletin produced at the time. You would have thought somebody would have asked after it - and even if no scoresheet could be found, its absence would have explained, or remarked upon, somewhere. But it's not mentioned in the Keene/Levy book.

Baffling. Was the game really so unimportant? Even if it were a short draw, that in itself would have been interesting, given that the world-class Gligoric had the White pieces in what turned out to be a tight match (and even then, the opening might have been of interest). But I don't know whether it was drawn in nine moves or in ninety.

One assumes that forty years later is too late to recover the gamescore, though we can always hope. But can any reader shed any light, from contemporary reports or even memory, as to why the gamescore should have eluded the bulletin, and why its absence should have escaped comment? What happened on the top board in Qualifying Group 2 in the second round, and why, apparently, did nobody care?

(Thanks to Paul Timson, Martin Smith, John Saunders and Wojciech Bartelski for assistance with this post.)

[Photos: Ajedrez32, Olimpbase.]

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ray Could Play V

Stean-Toth, 1976
White to play

Before falling out after Baguio, Raymondo and Michael Stean had been big mates.

In the October 1976 edition of the BCM Stean writes of a game he had recently played against Bela Toth. In the diagram position he wanted, he said, to play 23 Be3 but was put off by the continuation 23 ... Rxf1+, 24 Bxf1 Qxe3+. After a bit of a think he chose 23 Bg5 instead and the game was drawn seventeen moves later after many adventures*.

On his return to England Stean showed the game to Keene who, quickly spotting something his friend had missed, demonstrated that 23 Be3 wins after all. Even when it wasn't his own game Raymond Dennis Keene could play.

Ray Keene Index

* although Fritz tells me that after 23 Bg5 Black can force an immediate draw. It's got nothing to do with Keene but it's quite pretty so you might want to have a look for it anyway.

Monday, April 12, 2010

"Dump Trucks once more, Aunt Peedy..."

Back in 2008, I proudly announced on the blog that I'd beaten a titled player for the first time - an FM.

But then Richard asked in the comments, 'Surely "titled player" is normally short-hand for "IM" isn't it?'

To which my fellow blogger ejh answered:
I tend to reckon that the main function of the FM title is to enable people like me to say we've beaten titled players. I've beaten 4 FMs and until I finally pot myself an IM I think this claim will remain valid.
Quite so. Which means that, once again for the first time, I am happy to announce that I've beaten a titled player.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Chess in Art Postscript: Possibly...Definitely...

This post has possibly got something to do with chess. It has also definitely got something to do with chess. In art criticism, that is:
The practice of his art involved a lot of staring at individual things within the landscape, or in London, or in his rooms.......The things are separated from their place, yet linked to them. They sit in his pictures like chessmen on a board, where they need each other to make sense, yet are distinct.
Or so it says in an essay here:

Paul Nash (1889-1946)
(part of) Landscape of the Vernal Equinox (1943),
as cover design for "Paul Nash; The Elements."
which is the catalogue for an exhibition in Dulwich. It has this captioned comment, by the same author presumably:
The things are separated from their place, yet linked to them. They sit in his pictures like chessmen on a board, where they need each other to make sense. They become protagonists in a visual drama, and Nash learnt to notice objects that would be useful to him when made to perform a role.
And you'll find that here:

Totes Meer (Dead Sea) (1940-41), as the exhibition's poster.
Hmmm......what's he on about?

This picture, also in the exhibition, might be a good place to start:

Event on the Downs (1934)
Nash has placed some "individual things" so as to sit uncomfortably in a familiar landscape: downland above cliffs (actually Ballard's Head, Dorset; but it could be any number of places on the south coast). The torso-like tree trunk is odd. It isn't rooted in the ground, and yet hasn't toppled over; but otherwise it is plausible, if unusual. An out-of-scale tennis ball has just burst on the scene, as if erupting from a Rift in the Space-Time Continuum, and it places itself with precision, its seam rhyming with the receding track. The two objects confront each other and, like ourselves, scratch their heads and try to make sense of their situation (and gnash, in frustration?). That cloud seems to have something to say, as well.

This unlikely conjunction only bears meaning, if meaning it does, because they are all there together. Take away the ball, for example, and you have black pieces without the white. It is the juxtaposition that creates the tension, asks the questions, and demands answers. Remove all the bits and the scene would be just empty, barren, inert; a non-event; like a board without pieces. As to their significance? Possibly all or any of the following: dynamism versus stasis, play and decay, Eros/Thanatos, life/death. The cloud is the departing spirit, as some commentators, and Nash, have suggested. All played out on the rolling chalk.

So, seaside Surrealism (as Nash's biographers have put it) meets rural Romanticism, up on the downs. Strange, but no more strange, perhaps, than the game of chess itself. Possibly. And if you were wondering why this could be a Postscript, please could you come back for the next instalment. No, definitely.

Acknowledgements, etc.:
The Exhibition is at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

The author of the chess analogy is David Fraser Jenkins in his essay, with the same title, in Paul Nash: The Elements (2010) Scala Publishers Ltd.

Chess in Art Index

Friday, April 09, 2010

The Great Chessboxing Swindle goes to Upper Holloway

Chessbase has been running April Fools and stories that look like April Fools, but aren't. Bad habit to get into, for the reader anyway: you start thinking other stories are are made up, even when they're not. So it was when I read their 5 April story on the latest round (ho ho) in the Great Chessboxing Swindle. I just couldn't believe what I was reading.

It transpires that the fastest-growing sport in the world has been on the road. It may not be going to the Olympics, but it has at least, like the Olympics, gone to North London. N19 in fact. I am surprised that I hadn't been aware of this before I read it on Chessbase, since apparently
this latest event achieved global media coverage on countless national TV networks
but I suppose I must be in one of the few parts of the globe which missed out. Tsk.

Well, I suppose chess has a low public profile, despite Tim Woolgar's sterling efforts to change all that:
since establishing chessboxing in London two years ago, Tim Woolgar has arguably done more for the profile of UK chess than anyone since Nigel Short challenged Garry Kasparov in London for the 1993 world title!
Funny, I thought that distinction belonged to Ray Keene - at least, according to Ray Keene - and in truth the whole story has more than a touch of Ray about it, most obviously in the tenuousness of the connection between reality and how that reality is being presented.

But we were talking of chess and promotion, and it seems that Tim Woolgar has risen to the heights of "English heavyweight champion". That must have been a long, hard road, with many difficult fights between Tim and the coveted belt, and I look forward to seeing the biopic. I also look forward to seeing what is meant by the claim
Woolgar's Elo has doubled from 800 to 1600 in the past two years, and is still on an upwards trajectory
since this is what you get if you search for his FIDE rating and he does not seem to appear on the ECF grading page either. Perhaps it is a chessboxing grade instead. In which case I have just decided that I am the Aragonese Light-Heavyweight Slav Exchange Analysing Champion and that in that discipline, I have a grade of 2950.

The second bout was a closely-matched affair between the Spaniard Daniel Lizarraga and the German Sebastian Bauersfeld - extremely closely-matched since both happen to possess ratings of 1650. Though not according to FIDE, whose site suggests that they share a rating of 0. (Nor does Lizarraga's rating appear on the list of his native Navarra.)

Still, these mysterious 1650s were an improvement on the 800s on display in the final bout. Presumably though, these patzers made up for their weakness on the chessboard with strength in the boxing field? Not, unhappily, so: one
is political editor of London's Metro newspaper
which, to anyone who knows that periodical, is about as impressive a credential as being English heavyweight chessboxing champion. As it turns out, he has a play about to open, which presumably could do with some publicity:
Higginson has also written a satirical play, Stiffed! which will run in London's Tabard Theatre from 14 April 2010, in the run-up to the general election
the subject of the play being
the UK's political Expenses Scandal.
Whether the work will be in favour of, or opposed to, dubious claims made in the pursuit of money, remains to be seen. The playwright's opponent, meanwhile, turns out to have been
making a programme on his chessboxing adventure.
Which is a bit like making a documentary about making a documentary: an event taking place so that the person taking part can make a programme about taking part in the event. Very contemporary. Very postmodern. Very much an example of hype creating hype.

Woolgar's appearance in the ring was as a substitute for a fighter (if that be the word) who had withdrawn, and one wonders how the world of boxing would view an event in which the bill was headed, for want of alternatives, by the promoter. I think they might consider it a freak show. They might also take the same view of a bout, like the third, whose protagonists were no more skilled or experienced in boxing than they were in chess. I think they'd consider it a joke, and probably one at their expense.

Actually I know what it reminds me of: the old fairground attraction, where punters would be invited to roll up and try their luck in the boxing ring against the "champ". Except without the champ. In this show, everybody's trying their luck. Some are getting away with it more than others.

So much for the fastest growing-sport: a joke indeed. But who, exactly, is laughing at who? That's the question chessboxing raises. The answer isn't so much Wu-Tang Clan as Public Enemy.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Before the Frost

She followed him into a room full of shabby, ill-matched furniture. A torn Che Guevara poster hung on one wall, a tapestry embroidered with some words about the joys of home on another. Zacharias sat at a table with a chess set. Linda sat as far away from him as she could get.

“What do you study?” she said.

“I don’t. I play chess.”

“And you make a living from that?”

“I don’t know. I just know I can’t live any other way.”

“I don’t even know how the pieces move.”

“I can show you, if you like.”

Not a chance, Linda thought. I’m getting out of here as soon as I can.

Before the Frost
Henning Mankell

Monday, April 05, 2010

Your game here?

Last year blog reader and Streatham & Brixton Chess Clubber Robin Haldane sent me two games from the Snodland Rapidplay. Not just any two games, but spectacular wins over International Masters each graded over fifty points higher than Robin.

Here for your perusal is a position from the first game, Robin's win in round two over Augustin Madan with the black pieces. White has just played 18.Bxg7, and whilst the automatic 18...Rg8 is certainly a very good answer, you must also remember the prevailing ethos of Robin's play, which he summarizes as: "you have a moral duty to sacrifice as much material as you can."

Black to play and shed material

And here's Robin's crushing win from round five over Jovanka Houska, presented purely for your pleasure:

Only a rook that time.

I don't know about you, but all that excitement's got me in the mood for some more readers' games. If you've played a good one recently - or been on the receiving end of a fine effort - feel free to email me for possible inclusion here on the blog.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Chess in Art Postscript: ITMA

Once upon a time the T.V. was in black and white, and the Light Programme, on the wireless, played Educating Archie, Hancock's Half Hour, and Round The Horne. In that nigh on lost world of blue remembered Hills (Benny was one - best forgotten) one could relish the bitter sweet of Two Way Family Favourites, the mystery of BFPO, and the wonder of Hattie Jacques; oh, Hattie, Hattie Jacques.


These flickering reminiscences of diverted childhood innocence recently sprang to mind one Saturday afternoon in the nouveau riche opulence of Polesdon Lacey, a National Trust property in Surrey, once owned and glamed up by a certain Mrs. Ronald Greville, Edwardian "society hostess", daughter (in unorthodox circumstances) and heiress of brewing magnate William McEwan. Not that dodgy parentage deterred Royalty from accepting her invitations to party. After all, illegitimacy runs in The Family, don't y'know.

There, in a dimly lit corridor haunted by the shades of scurrying servants, ladies-in-waiting and ladies-who-could-wait-no-more, I felt the force: ITMA. It's That Man Again. That Cornelis de Man. You must remember him, the Dutchman, from ejh's Chess in Art IX; he who painted de geezer losing to de lady at chess. This one:

Cornelis de Man (1621-1701)

The Game of Chess (1670) [Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, Budapest]

It seemed just possible that M. had repeated himself. And what gave him away? How was it possible to ID the artist in lighting so feeble that servants not seeing might cannon into ladies not waiting? And the picture's label so murky? A certain lady spoke to me, that's how:

Cornelis de Man (1621-1701)

The Game of Cards (nd) [National Trust (Polesden Lacey)]

De Man had been at it again, this time with cards, because it's that woman again, in reverse. She had somehow found her way to Polesdon, not twenty miles from Streatham, practically on our doorstep.

Apologies, though, for the quality of the pic. The NT will only let you download for free the lo res image above, or a water-marked version, below. If you want a decent job you will have to pay bucks, big bucks, even if you are a casual not for profit blogger, burdened by a harmless obsession with Chess-in-Art, on a sometime award winning chess, yes chess, blog site. Sucks, big sucks. Not amused.

The Game of Cards, with subtle NT water mark.

So, it's that look again: the one over the shoulder. She is going to trump her partner, and is a trifle disapproving of us peeping at her cards (she caught us in the mirror). She'd be even more miffed if she realised that the artist, with the same device, has given us a cheeky peek at her décolletage. Rather Benny Hill. What a Carry On.

Unlike the chess picture there is no feline presence to encourage us to observe the action.

Instead, a table-high boy to the right points to the game, and thus throwing down a gauntlet to the cat lovers of Amsterdam (and beyond), de Man proposed that a child was capable of doing with one small finger what otherwise would take the whole of an entire moggie. He was a brave, or foolhardy, chap, who would have attracted the indignation of many, including perhaps that understated giant of the chess board, seeker after harmony, and admirer of cats, Vasily Smyslov (24.iii.1921 - 26.iii.2010), to whom this blogger adds his tribute.

With The Game of Cards Cornelis seems to want to stake his claim to recognition, what with that mirror effect and the glimpse through the window above, and much else besides. He says he can Verymeerly do what Johannes can do, and Pieter de Hooch and all those other Dutch genre guys as well: he can play with light and reflections, set off interior against exterior, and move red around the field like de Man United. He can create a discreet domestic drama from a turn of the head, just like the rest of them. The man has a case, and a sly sense of humour. Either that or I'm a Dutchman.

Acknowledgement and more pics.

The Game of Cards photo credit: Derrick E. Witty, taken in December 1992.

Chess-blessed National Trusters, and the general public, can see some actual Chess-in-Art works at other NT properties, as follows:

At Clandon House, Surrey: Group of men playing chess (nd) panel above the fire place in the Hunting Room, painted by Daniel Gardner (1750-1805). Photo by John Hammond. Interesting detail: a black servant.

At Ickworth House, Suffolk: Chess table top, white squares depicting Roman ruins after Piranesi(nd), in the Drawing Room. Photo by John Hammond.

At Saltram House, Devon: Chess Players (nd) by Henry Edridge (1768-1821). Photo by Rob Matheson:

Chess in Art Index