If this bank holiday Monday you find yourself idly googling the phrase "the sweaty glamour of disco", you'll soon find out what I consider to be The Best Chess Book Cover Of All Time. But now I've found a runner up. I think I can imagine how it came into being, too.
First, picture a game being played in the heart of a giant, industrial machine. Then, picture the pieces coming to life, and arming themselves with lasers. Finally, add the dirty dystopian texture of Total Recall, and voila. You have the brilliant cover of A Killer Chess Opening Repertoire's new updated edition by Aaron Summerscale and Sverre Johnsen:
Can you believe that the "killer" opening that inspired this cover seems to be the Colle?
[We are fortunate to be able to present to you a guest post by the influential monk, thinker and chess guru, the great honoured Zen chess master Seung Shant.]
Observe the chessboard. Do not disturb the silence, for only in silence is there perfect harmony.
Observe its symmetry, its perfection. Observe therefore its harmony.
Can these be improved upon? Can an artist improve upon the harmony of Nature?
Do not spoil what is now unspoiled.
You are now students, but you aspire to be masters. Observe therefore these masters, how they approach the chessboard, how they approach one another. The master Reuben is White. He represents White, and White represents him. The master Miles is Black. He represents Black, and Black represents him. They are White and Black. They are yin and yang.
They are masters not for what they have learned, but for what they have unlearned. They do only what they need to do. They do not do anything that they do not need to do. They do not need to do anything that they do not need to do and therefore do only what they do and not what they do not need to do.
What they do is what you need to do.
Do not know any opening theory, for theory is unnecessary and what is unnecessary is what we do not need.
Do not play any moves, for moves are unnecessary and disturb the harmony.
Shake hands, for you are a warrior and a warrior loves only peace.
Sign your scoresheets. Write modestly, for it is not what you are, but what you have not done that is significant.
Do not have a post-mortem, for there is a limit to how much even a Zen master can get away with.
Chess is harmony and harmony is chess. Silence is golden. The cat sat on the mat.
[Today we have the third and final installment of our interview with Ginger GM Simon Williams. Parts I and II were published on Monday and Wednesday respectively.
Many thanks to Simon for taking part.]
What about this “loony” life? I’ve always been curious as to what it’s like for people who live it full-time. Speaking as someone who recently choked when playing for second place in an under 180 event of little importance to anybody at all, I can’t begin to imagine what it must feel like to play chess knowing that whether or not you can pay your bills for the next little while rests on the outcome of the game.
After talking with Simon it struck me that a life lived playing chess for money requires a rather special kind of character. Taking coaching jobs that are far from ideal; competing with people that you know well for your wages; having to play when you don’t feel like it. To do all that year in year out knowing that you could probably earn more doing something else and that contemporary British/western culture has next to no respect for your talent – that takes real resilience. It requires the sort of personality, perhaps, which actively looks forward to the high pressure games rather than fears them?
JB: So you consider yourself to be a professional chess player?
SW: I do. Most of my income comes from chess related work.
JB: You mentioned that coaching is an important source of income for most pros
SW: Coaching in schools is really where the money is but this is a double-edged sword. On one hand it can be very rewarding but it can also be rather soul destroying. Chess players who consider themselves to be top players rarely want to be put in a babysitting role and this is often the case. When I was teaching in schools it was often great but you would also have some kids attending who were simply there because their parents could not pick them up at 3.15. They did not want to be there learning chess and you only need 1 or 2 kids like that in a class to bring the whole vibe down.
I only do individual coaching now and that is a lot more rewarding because you can be sure that the person that you’re teaching wants to improve. The problem is, chess is an individual activity and a number of people would prefer to study the game on their own.
JB: On The Killer Dutch you mention a game you played against Danny Gormally in the last round of the EU Individual Championships at Liverpool a couple of years ago and on your website you describes a game from the final round of the 2009 British Championship against Stephen Gordon. In both cases a lot of prize money was at stake and in both cases you were playing people you describe as good friends. The rest of us will often end up friends with our work colleagues too but we’re not competing with our workmates for our salary..
SW: I used to have a serious problem playing against good friends. Most GMs and IMs in Britain get on really well with each other, we share a common bond, so playing against a friend for your/their rent money can be very difficult. I think that this is what a lot of chess fans do not understand. We all want to try and win but if a draw in the last round means that we can eat steak and chips for another month or two, whilst a loss means that it will be beans on toast. Well then the draw is really the only sensible option.
Avoiding this is the only sensible option
I have learnt a lot recently about playing friends. You just have to separate your emotions until after the game. If you win you just have to buy your opponent drinks for the rest of the night! It is obviously easier playing an unknown opponent or even someone you dislike.
JB: And whether or not you know your opponent well it must be difficult to play chess when there’s a lot of money – thousands of pounds maybe – riding on the result.
SW: Dealing with the pressure of a big game is a very important factor in chess.
I believe that a player’s results have a lot to do with what psychological mood the players are in, I know that in my games this can be a very important factor. If I feel good, I play good. It is really a case of trying to psyche yourself up.
I enjoy the pressure of a big game that is one of the reasons I play chess. For example, if I do not have a chance of winning the British in the last round then it has been a bad tournament. The paradox is that I am often willing to lose, or should I say I try to convince myself, before the game, that to lose is not such a bad thing. This makes it easier for me to (try!) and play without fear.
JB: Talking of losing, at Hastings this year you had by your standards quite a duff tournament. As a professional player, how do you bounce back from that? I can just stop for a while if I don’t feel like playing but you don’t have that choice, not if you want to avoid the beans on toast option anyway.
SW: I find it very hard coming back from a bad result. It is all about momentum for me, if I start winning that I convince myself that nothing can get in my way but if I lose the odd game then doubts start to appear in my head. But you have to be tough and basically pick yourself up. I tell myself that it was just a bad game/tournament, everyone has them and that next time I will make up for it. But yes it can be very painful and I often think that the low you get from a bad loss is worse then the high you get for a good win.
You must be determined in some way to make it as a chess player. I guess that it is important to also not ‘give up’. I know a number of talented juniors who had a painful lose or two and then they decided to call it a day. I have seen some parents shout at their kids (as young as 9!) when they lose a game! These pushy parents should really take a look at themselves and try to figure out what the most important thing in life is. Needless to say most of these kids gave up as soon as they were able to get out of the clutch of their parents.
I expect that the most important thing is to roll with the punches and try to come back stronger. Try to look at your loses in a positive way and try to learn from them. I have to say that 95% of the GMs I know are very determined and focused people but maybe they have learnt over time to be like this.
To finish with off I wanted to go back to that taste for risk that Simon had talked about earlier. Was there a price to pay for that in terms of his playing career? A friend of mine once said to me, “Oh Simon Williams – he could easily be well over 2600 if he wanted” and I wondered if Simon thought that was true. If he lived a different kind of life, if he played a safer kind of chess, could he bump his rating up 100 points or even more? Even assuming that was right would he want to change?
SW: I am not sure about becoming 2600. It is one of my goals but it would require me working at my game somewhat.
At the moment I do no work at my actual game. Ok I write books etc and this may help my game a bit but the time spent writing etc could be used in a much better way. If I did not have the stresses of earning a living then I would have more time to look at my openings etc. Hopefully one day I will have the time to work everyday for an hour or so, just to see how strong I could become. You have to keep dreaming after all.
I suppose that I do sometimes go over the top when it comes to nights out, but in some ways this is my release from the stresses of chess. If I simply went home after my game every night then I would find it hard to get any sleep due to stress or the excitement/anticipation I was feeling about the next game.
I have calmed down a lot and I would consider myself to be fairly sensible nowadays but I am not going to change my character too much. I can remember one British Championships in my teens when I went out night clubbing 13 nights out of 14. It was fun at the time but never again!
The same goes with my playing style it has matured but I am not going to try and be a different person/player.
[Williams Week continues here at the S&BC Blog with Part II of our interview with the Ginger GM. In Part I on Monday Simon spoke about how he got started in chess, making his Killer Dutch DVD and organising chess tournamens in The Big Slick Poker Club. If you haven't already done so you might want to read that first.]
JB: Talking of poker clubs, you make a few references to the game on your DVD too. So you play quite a bit then? Are you the next Cincinnati Kid?
SW: Unfortunately I am rather too rash to be a good poker player. I enjoy the social aspect it is often a fun night out. Sometimes it can be a pretty horrible night out as well. Leaving a poker venue at 8am after losing the proceeds of a couple of chess tournament wins can be a bit painful.
JB: You’re not the only British GM who’s taken to the card table.
SW: A lot of the skills you use in chess are the same in poker so it is easy to transfer from one skill to another. I have met a number of chess players by random in poker clubs. I was living with my girlfriend, Aly, in Paris for a bit and on different occasions I bumped into Skripchenko, Fressinet, Bacrot and various other IMs and GMs.
JB: So if we could re-invent the modern pentathlon for the 2012 Olympics what events would we include for Simon Williams to have the best chance of taking the gold medal? I’ll give you chess and poker …
SW: Modern Pentathlon! Ok let say Chess, Poker, staying awake competition, rally driving and whisky downing. I can think of a couple more but probably best not to mention them here. My sporting days are rather past me.
I know practically nothing about poker except that regular players don’t consider it a game of chance but one of skill. Still, I wondered whether there was something about the gamble involved that appealed to Simon. Might this also show itself in how he plays chess? His fondness for the Classical Dutch; throwing the King’s Gambit at David Howell during last year’s British Championships; punting 1 d4, 2 h3 and 3 g4 when he was faced with the Dutch himself at Hastings. Wasn’t this all rather … risky?
SW: I guess that I am a bit addicted to risk in general and I don't enjoy things staying stagnant. I guess chess is one of the safest ways for me to dabble with that bad habit.
I think that the general idea that you have to play every game as correctly as possible is wrong. There are few players that can calculate everything perfectly and it is easier to attack rather than defend. I basically try to put my opponent under as much pressure as possible and I enjoy playing aggressively. I have the philosophy that you should always play the way that you enjoy the most. This will give you the best results.
GMs Williams and Arkell
JB: Towards the end of 2009 I’d interviewed Keith Arkell for the Streatham & Brixton Chess Blog. It’s strange I should be talking to you next – your playing styles seem to be as far apart as you can get.
SW: It is funny that you mention Keith. He’s a really good friend of mine and we often joke about how different out playing styles are. Keith enjoys grinding his opponents down in the ending whilst I enjoy a full frontal attack. Still, I think that it is important to remember that Grandmasters can generally play all areas of the games pretty well. They might specialise in certain areas of play but they must also be a rounded player.
One of the best games I saw was Hodgson-Arkell, Sutton Easter Tournament (I can not remember the year). If I can remember correctly Keith sacrificed 2 rooks in this game to gain a dangerous attack, he then went on to beat Julian in style. I have also learnt a lot about chess from looking at some games with Keith, our views are often from separate spectrums but we both have a good understanding of the game. That’s one of the things that makes chess so interesting – two very different styles of play can both work out at top level.
JB: In terms of the TV programme The Wire perhaps your playing style is McNulty to Keith’s Lester Fremon?
SW: I have never seen The Wire I am afraid, more of a 24 fan!
JB: Not McNulty then but perhaps there’s another TV or film character whose style would be similar to yours if they played chess?
SW: A TV character that matches me? Well that's an interesting question!
I am not sure that I would like to suggest one but I would be interested in hearing what other people think. I have always been a fan of The Doors and Gun n Roses. I suppose my style of play could be similar to some of their songs, not sure if that makes any sense!
I suppose if you wanted to sum up my game it would be something along the lines of ‘finding order in chaos’. I generally don't calculate that much (unless I have to) my judgement normally leads the way. [Jim] Plaskett once told me I was a poor man’s Shirov. That was one of the best compliments that I have ever had!
JB: Getting back to risk, how about off the board? Keith told me that one of the things he liked least about his job was the “economic uncertainty”.
SW: It is certainly a gamble being a chess player and I do expect that that is half the fun. The money though is made through chess coaching. Most players have to rely on this to makes ends meet. Chess is also quite a loony pursuit as it is very hard to have a partner if you’re flying around the world all the time playing chess. I guess I am lucky that my girlfriend plays chess!
On Friday ... Simon Williams on life as a chess professional, last round encounters and bouncing back from a bad tournament.
Six months ago the S&BC Blog published an interview with Grandmaster Keith Arkell (Part I, II, III). It seemed to go down well with our readers and on a personal level it was one - or rather three - of my favourite posts to write in the nearly four years that we've been going. I'm very pleased to say that we're doing it again.
This week we'll be speaking to GM Simon Williams - one of those guys who seems to have been around the British chess scene for ages although he only secured his title at the 2007/08 Hastings. I was very pleased when Simon agreed to an interview but I quickly realised that other than the fact that he was a hardcore Classical Dutch aficionado I didn’t really know anything about him at all. I decided that I’d better begin at the beginning.
Jonathan B: How did you get started with chess?
Simon Williams: My Dad used to play for Wimbledon and Guildford. He was a strong player - his highest BCF grade was over 200. I believe that at one stage he used to play above Gallagher, Hodgson and King in the Wimbledon team but that was when they were youngsters!
I am sure it helped having a Dad who played a lot, he was happy to take me along to chess clubs and tournaments. Basically my mum and dad must be thanked for their 'taxi' driving roles. In my experience of coaching one of the major factors can be the parents’ influence. I was very lucky in that my Dad and Mum were always very encouraging, when I had a painful loss they always told me it did not matter and that my time will come.
JB: Do you have any brothers or sisters? Do they play?
SW: My brothers are a lot older than me. My oldest Tony is in his 50's! Paul is 44 and I was born one year after my sister Kim died, so I did not know her.
Tony was also very strong and one of the leading juniors at the time. One of his best results was drawing with Karpov, I think he was world champion at the time, in a six board simul. Karpov beat the other five players which included Short, King and Plaskett! Tony gave up due to work and women commitments but he still plays online, often against Mike Surtees I believe. Kim once drew with the European Champion in a simul but unfortunately she died aged 18 from a brain tumour.
So I guess we have quite a strong chess family. It certainly helped me having some chess books lying around the house! And my Dad taught me my first opening when I was a kid - the Classical Dutch. I remember being fascinated with one line when I was on holiday with my parents, I must have been about 11 years old. The line in question was
SW: You have to remember that this was before chess computers, so all work was done on a mini board! Even then I thought the line was dubious for Black but I still felt the urge to play it. Maybe not the most classical way to learn about chess but it has certainly helped me out in my career.
The Killer Dutch
Starting early is what allows a man to build up two decades of experience with an opening by the age of thirty. Simon recently released a DVD on the Classical Dutch updating the book he published back in 2003. The cover blurb of The Killer Dutch describes him as “the world’s leading exponent” of the opening. A bombastic claim and yet one which would seem to be entirely justified; as he himself once pointed out in a NIC Yearbook, hardly anybody else over 2400 ever plays the line!
JB: Why a DVD and not a book this time?
SW: I thought a DVD would be a good idea as I see that this might be the way that 'infotainment' might go in the future. Don't get me wrong books are great. Personally my chess improved the most by reading chess books in the bath and on the toilet! But I like new challenges and a DVD was something different, the original idea arose after a couple of pints with my mate, Gary O' Grady. Everything seems like a good idea after 8 pints or so.
JB: You did the whole thing yourself. You didn’t fancy doing a DVD for Chessbase?
SW: Going it alone rather than teaming up with Chessbase seemed more like a challenge. Chessbase have had a monopoly of the market for so long it seemed like they need a sparring partner! It was a hard slog though. Where do you start with such a project? Pub talk often evaporates in the morning, so the momentum had to be kept up. Luckily Gary put me in touch with Clive from Chilli Pepper Films and we took it from there.
JB: And the end result?
SW: I am very happy with the way the DVD turned out. You have to remember that this was our first attempt but I believe that it is of a higher quality than anything out there (I am biased but also a perfectionist!). The plan was to try and explain the ideas behind the opening whilst adding a lot new material but I guess time and reviews will only tell how well the DVD does.
The Big Slick
Evidently the DVD has done rather well. Since I spoke to Simon he has begun work on his next project: The Killer French. Producing his own DVDs is not Williams’ only new venture of late however. Last summer he organised a pair of chess tournaments - the 1st Big Slick International consisting of a ten player all-play-all alongside a more traditional five round open. Keith Arkell won the invitational with an unbeaten 6.5/9 while Jonathan Rowson took the weekender after a blitz play-off.
JB: Why did you get involved in running a chess tournament?
SW: There is a serious lack of FIDE-rated chess tournaments in England and especially in London so I thought that it would be a good idea to try and put a tournament together. I played poker regularly down 'The Big Slick Poker Club' and I had become quite friendly with the owner, and luckily he let me use the venue.
I am a chess player rather than a chess organiser so it was a bit odd running a tournament but it did give me the chance to invite some of my friends that I had met on my travels. In actual fact, the GM tournament was brilliant in that respect. There was a nice mix of people and most evenings the majority of players would end up having a meal and a drink together. One player ended up sleeping in my car one night and another one fell asleep in the toilets at the poker club!
I have to admit that after the tournament I had a new founded sense of respect for arbiters and I especially have to thank Peter Ackley and David Sedgwick for helping me out there.
JB: Unorthodox sleeping arrangements apart, did everything run smoothly?
SW: There were some interesting moments. For example, I have only been down the club late at night and in the stupid hours of the morning, so I had no idea that there was a gym next door. Unfortunately, on the Saturday during the 1st round of the FIDE open the gym had an aerobics workout session from 10-11am! Imagine the scene, 60 players playing, I had relaxed thinking how well things were going and all of a sudden, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, GET THOSE LEGS MOVING! COME ON PEOPLE I WANT TO SEE THAT SWEAT DRIPPING OFF YOU! THUMP, THUMP, THUMP!!
What could I do?! Well most players continued with a sense of humour, we even had a couple of people moving to the beat!
There was another moment when one young player decided to shout at his opponent, I had a word with him when he told me something along the lines of “get out of my face!” I was very tempted to pick up the little whippersnapper and shove him outside. But I managed to control myself and I put the 'organiser' face on. He was last spotted shouting at a bus outside the club.
JB: I doubt Malcolm Pein had to deal with that sort of thing at the London Chess Classic! Did it put you off chess organising or would you do it again?
SW: It is funny you should ask that ... we are currently setting a date for the 2nd Big Slick Poker tournament. I will keep you updated.
On Wednesday ...
Simon Williams on poker, risk in chess and The Wire.
You'd guess this one had something to do with the clock: you're Evgeny Bareev, you're playing Black against Karpov, he has a slight edge all the way through, it's the occasion of his greatest performance in tournament chess.
Under those circumstances, you're going to be in time trouble. Bound to be. And as the screw tightens, with White's knights dominating the centre, with the White king looking rather better placed to get at your queenside than yours is to defend it, with six moves still to make before the time control, what are you going to do?
Your king can't do anything with the knights there, at least he can't fork you while it's there. But what else can we see, with the clock running down? Does a knight move let the rook into b5? Re8 allows something to d6...maybe h5, can we get away with that? Or we can exchange rooks, but is that going to end up stalemating the bishop?
That's how you're going to think in circumstances like that - time to see all the potential disasters, no time to see if any of them can be avoided. So what you do is try and make a move which, as far as you can see, in the time you have to see it, changes nothing.
It's the best that you can do. Except that it's the Worst Move On The Board.
Last Tuesday Alan Hayward became the 2010 Streatham & Brixton Chess Club Champion following up on his victory in January's mid-season rapdiplay. Today Angus supplies some photos.
The tournament hall
Gary v Barry
Thiery v Jose
See the phone? Thiery was playing on behalf of his son Hector who was detained elsewhere. We don't have any photos of Hector in action but I imagine it looked something like my friend and fellow blogger Morgan does here ...
... except Hector would have had a chess set and not a mug (and been on a geography field trip and not in a phone box)
Alan receives the trophy from tournament organiser - and 2009 champion - Angus French
Morgan re-enacts your author's journey home from the tournament
Here's a new reason why girls are bad at chess: coaches aren't hard enough on them. As crack coach Elizabeth Vicary explains, 'most people won't tell teenage girls (especially the together, articulate ones) that they are lazy and the quality of their work is unacceptable. and sometimes kids need to hear that, or they have no reason to step up.' And what kind of thing do they need to hear? 'I said some amazing things to kids, including "You can count to two, right? Then you should have seen that!!" and "If you are not going to pay more attention, you should quit chess, because you are wasting everyone's time."' And - it worked. Her team won the US nationals.
Once you've cleared the nasty noisy advert, The Washington Post has some nice pictures of a chess/hip-hop event. My favourite:
Chess and hip hop! Told you our old game was newly teaming up, didn't I? When I gave you four other reasons why chess is so darned good now? Still need more? Well Matthew Devereux has 1,001 reasons - and he's shared the first 101 here. (Via.) The rest are reserved for the book deal he's hoping to land. Of the many quotes, intrigues, amusements, pictures, I was particularly relieved to read Andy Soltis's view that "Mistakes are the key to chess success," because, well . . .
. . . guess what move I played two Tuesdays ago in the diagram position? I am white here, against Alan Hayward, in the S&BCC Championship. I'll let you know in the next Chiv Chat, if I've not successfully self-lobotomized it from my memory by then.
Thanks, as ever, to Angus for organising and congratulations to Alan for his win with a perfect score.
Special mention due to young Hector Huser who scored 50% despite having to play all three of his games in the second half of the tournament via telephone after being unable to get to the venue last Tuesday. Unlike Fischer in 1965, Hector had not been banned from traveling to the People's Republic of Streatham - he had just been detained elsewhere by a geography field trip.
Or rather, how long should World Championship matches be? More than twelve games? Ok. Sixteen ok, but not fourteen? Um, why? Back to twenty four, because that's what it used to be? Really? That's a good enough reason? Back to adjournments as well? Ok, what about more than 16, since it was not enough in 2000 for Kasparov to beat Kramnik, and we all know Kasparov was the better player really? But maybe 12 was enough in 2008, since Anand won, and we all like Anand?
To tell you the truth, although the match of such players are always awaiting with big interest and enthusiasm, the strategy for this kind of matches nowadays are rather uninteresting. Players, like Anand or Topalov, or even Kramnik are trying to minimize their risk and play positions with a small plus for White and try to hold a draw in boring and slightly worse endgames [with black].
A match is not a tournament, even if you win with the score +1 it's enough to get the title. This makes players play differently, not in an open and exciting style they usually play in tournament, but rather in very academical and unrisky ways.
In other words - that the recent lengths of these matches have been open to gaming.
So the answer to how long should a World Championship match should be? Now it's easy, almost obvious. The match should be sufficiently long that such a strategy doesn't make sense - that is, it doesn't make sense to aim for one victory and no losses, by changing style and openings. And the way to do that?
To make the matches sufficiently long that each player will almost certainly lose one game. Right? Except, there's a problem with gaming there too. Topalov as everyone knows is not as hot a rapid players as Anand or Kramnik; thus against Topalov, both Anand and Kramnik could aim for a drawn match confident that the rapidplay tiebreaks are likely to favour them. So instead, matches should be sufficiently long that each player will almost certainly lose two games.
And how can we calculate such a length? We take the player who generally produces more unbeaten runs. We double the length of their longest unbeaten run, and add the number two to it. That's how long each World Championship should be.
And what would that mean in practice? Um, I dunno. Anyone skilled at database use want to work this out? Perhaps retrospectively too?
First, the scores on the doors at the halfway stage of the 2010 Streatham & Brixton Chess Club Championship
3.0 - Alan H, James M
2.5 - Robin H
2.0 – Tom C, Morgan D, Jan K, David V, Chris M
1.5 – Hector H, Gary S
1.0 – Jonathan B, Ash K, Jose D, Thierry H
0.5 – Angus F, Barry B, Sam E
0.0 – Marc P
With Alan and James out in front and Robin Hacker Haldane in hot pursuit there's still everything to play for. The winner will be announced around about 10pm this Tuesday evening.
Secondly, we've received an email from Richard Tillett this Monday's Trost Trophy - an event run by the Croydon Chess League:-
For many years the Croydon League has held an annual lightning tournament. This year we’ve changed the format to five minute handicap blitz. So that players of all strengths a chance of winning, higher rated players will have less time on their clocks. For instance, where a player rated 100 is drawn against one rated 160, the weaker player will have seven minutes and the stronger player three minutes to complete all their moves.
The winner takes home £50. There are prizes for the second and third placed players and there’s also a grading prize. Entry costs just £2.
The fun starts at 7:45 pm on Monday 10th May. There are further details on the Croydon League website.
... and finally we get to Peter Lalic's World Championship videos. You can find Peter's thoughts on games 1 to 5 here. Today we have 6 to 10 - thanks for the vids Peter.
Will things start to get ugly in Sofia if Anand pulls ahead of Topalov?
Over on the EC Forum that was what one Arshad Ali, posting after game 3, wanted to know. "Very possibly" was my reply although as it happened when Anand did pull ahead a shenanigans there were none.
Was it out of the question though? What would have happened had the Champion won game 7 or saved game 8 or even picked up the win in yesterday's fabulous game 9? Topalov 2-0 down with four to play, say, instead of level? Might that have prompted some Bulgarian action? We'll never know.
A couple of pages after our friend Mr. Ali in that EC Forum thread BCM Editor John Saunders opined that we had returned to,
... pre-1972 times when world chess championships commanded minimal interest in the general media in the West. This is a pity because the entertainment value of the four games played so far has been remarkably high. However, these are early days and we mustn't underestimate the fertile brain of Silvio Danailov when it comes to creating a bit of controversy and garnering a few headlines.
Perhaps it's a shame nothing kicked-off; the chess in Sofia just gets better with every game and yet all the media are interested in is whether Kirsan has or has not met E.T. (and note how even here the chess content of the story is just a sub-plot to the main joke: 'These wacky foreigners ... they think they've met aliens and they spend all their money on chess').
There's certainly no denying that a little off-the-board argy bargy never hurts when it comes to generating publicity for a chess contest. As we saw in WwwK VII the Korchnoi-Spassky 77/78 Candidates Final was getting front-page coverage anyway but press interest in the match increased still further when the battle spread beyond the 64 squares.
Back in Sofia there are still three games to go so perhaps we shouldn't give up hope of trouble breaking out just yet. Vishy one up with one to play anyone?
Korchnoi vs Spassky: Chess Crisis
The Times, 21st December, 1977 page 5
PROTEST BY KORCHNOI AGAIN DELAYS GAME WITH SPASSKY Belgrade, Dec 20. – A dispute over Boris Spassky’s use of a demonstration board today prevented play between the former world champion and his self-exiled Soviet compatriot Viktor Korchnoi.
The organizers of the world chess championship challengers final postponed until Thursday the adjourned tenth game to allow Spassky time to appeal against the referee’s decision to place the board out of sight.
Korchnoi, who protested about the use of the board, leads the series with 6 ½ points to 3 ½ with one game adjourned.
The Times 22nd December, 1977 page 4
SPASSKY REFUSES TO PLAY IN CHESS PROTEST Belgrade, Dec 21. – The twelfth game of the chess candidates’ match between Russian grandmasters Boris Spassky and Viktor Korchnoi was postponed today after Spassky failed to show up, continuing the psychological warfare between the two contestants.
Officials said Spassky, a former world champion, risked forfeiting the game by refusing to play, but Korchnoi and the referee Bozidar Kazic, agreed on a postponement.
Korchnoi leads the 20-game match, 6 ½ points to 3 ½. Spassky’s refusal to play was apparently in protest against a referee’s ruling that a large display chessboard should come down from the stage. – UPI.
The Times 23rd December, 1977 page 6
CHESS CHIEF TRIES TO SAVE MATCH Belgrade, Dec 22. – Dr. Max Euwe, president of the International Chess Federation, arrived in Belgrade tonight to try to solve a dispute which threatens the match between the world title challengers Boris Spassky and Viktor Korchnoi.
The dispute, which has held up play for the past three days, is over whether a demonstration board for spectators should be within sight of the two players. It became an issue after the eleventh game – the first won by Spassky.
After Korchnoi had complained, the referee ordered that the demonstration board be moved out of sight of the players. Spassky has since refused to play.
Dr Eune (sic) will see both players. Korchnoi is leading 6 ½ - 3 ½ in the match to decide who challenges Anatoly Karpov for the world title. – Reuter.
The Times 24th December, 1977 page 4
FEUDING CHESS CHALLENGERS AGREE TO PLAY ON TODAY From Our Correspondent Belgrade, Dec 23
A temporary solution was found today to the dispute between Boris Spassky and Viktor Korchnoi, the world chess title challengers, and their 20-game match will be resumed tomorrow.
The compromise was reached after Dr Max Euwe, president of the International Chess Federation, had spent all night in separate talks with the two players.
The dispute is over whether a demonstration board for spectators should be within sight of the players. Korchnoi complained after Spassky had spent most of the eleventh game away from the table studying the position on the demonstration board and reappearing only to make his moves.
When the referee ruled that in future the demonstration board should be out of sight, Spassky refused to continue the match, arguing that the conditions of play had been altered.
The adjourned tenth game will now be resumed tomorrow in a small hall without a demonstration board. But the board will be back as Spassky wishes for the twelfth game.
What happens after that is uncertain as both players are insisting on their point.
The match is to decide who will challenge Anatoly Karpov for the world championship. At present Korchnoi leads 6 ½ – 3 ½.
The Times 30th December, 1977 page 1
KORCHOI ULTIMATUM 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 30th December, 1977 page 4
KORCHOI THREATENS TO QUIT MATCH AGAINST SPASSKY Belgrade, Dec 29. – Viktor Korchnoi, the self-exiled Russian grandmaster, today threatened to withdraw from his world chess championship qualifying match against Boris Spassky.
In a letter to Mr Bozidar Kazic, the umpire, he said he would not resume the match unless spectators were excluded and no demonstration board was in sight of the players. He would exercise his right to postpone the fourteenth game tomorrow but would play on Monday provided his demands were met. If they were not, he would ask the International Chess Federation to move the match from Belgrade.
The Yugoslav organizers are meeting tomorrow to consider the ultimatum. Mr Kazic said of Korchnoi’s demand that the public be excluded: “This just cannot be done”.
Korchnoi is leading 7 ½ - 5 ½ in the 20-game match to find a challenger to Anatoly Karpov, the world champion. But he was now lost three games in a row. A grotesque blunder which cost him his queen and the thirteenth game yesterday came after he had complained to the umpire of the noise in the packed audience.
Mr Kazic said today: “There would have been whistling and shouting if I had agreed yesterday to Korchnoi’s demand to lower the curtains on the audience.” He noted that the noise subsided as soon as he asked for silence.
The Times 31st December, 1977 page 3
CHESS CHIEFS PUT OFF DECISION ON KORCHNOI Belgrade, Dec 30. – The organizers of the Korchnoi - Spassky chess match today considered Viktor Korchnoi’s threat to withdraw from the 20-game series unless spectators are excluded. They put off a decision and will meet again tomorrow.
There was no play today, Korchnoi having exercised his right to postpone the fourteenth game. He says he will play on Monday but only if his conditions are met.
Korchnoi leads 7 ½ - 5 ½ in the match to decide who will challenge Karpov, the world champion, next year. Spassky has won the last three games. – UPI.
The Times 3rd January, 1978 page 1
KORCHNOI BACKS DOWN AND PLAYS ON 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 3rd January, 1978 page 4
KORCHNOI BACKS DOWN WITH GRACE Belgrade, Jan 2. – Boris Spassky and Viktor Korchnoi today adjourned the fourteenth game in their candidates’ match. After five hours of play the game was adjourned on the forty-first move in a position which experts say gives Spassky better chances to win.
Korchnoi, backing down from his threat to walk out of the match unless all points of his ultimatum, including the exclusion of spectators and no demonstration board were met, decided to resume the match after “a personal appeal of Dr Max Euwe”, the president of the International Chess Federation, said Mr Michael Steane (sic) Korchnoi’s aide.
Spassky, the former Soviet world champion, made the first move at 4pm, started Korchnoi’s clock, stood up, took off his jacket and left the centre of the stage. But, Korchnoi was nowhere to be found.
Minutes passed. As tension rose Korchnoi appeared nonchalantly, without a jacket, made his own move, and then left the stage. – AP
Of the many delights to be discovered in spectating the World Championship, being constantly reminded how bad I am at chess is possibly the most exquisite. Take the following position, Topalov having just played 20 ... h6:
"Drawish now" I kibitzed. And why not? Black is more or less developed, whilst white will pick up an a-pawn, re-establishing material equality.
As the game unfolded, I was further reminded of Anand's 2007 Linares victory over Carlsen. In both games black seemingly-successfully defends against queenside positional pressure - but too late realises his forces have been misplaced, as white switches to a decisive attacking on the king instead. The 2007 game I played through more than once at the time, thoroughly going through the victor's notes in New In Chess. But if pattern recognition is the key to chess improvement, then the lessons from the game were alas far from learnt.
I have enjoyed being wrong about the world championship in other ways too. One of the tacit predictions I made to myself was that there would be no "psychological choice of opening style". Meaning, I expected neither player to particularly angle the game toward something unsuitable for the opponent - no equivalent of the Berlin Wall, no equivalent of those dodgy, dynamical slavs. Au contraire. Excluding the Grunfeld, Anand has played like Kramnik, Topalov's nemesis. And the similarities between the Slav endgame after 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 dxc4 5. a4 Bf5 6. Ne5 e6 7. f3 c5 8. e4 Bg6 9. Be3 cxd4 10. Qxd4 Qxd4 11. Bxd4 Nfd7 12. Nxd7 Nxd7 13. Bxc4 and the Berlin Wall hardly need pointing out.
My overall prediction for the match was that Topalov - the best prepared player in the world, lest we forget - would win. I could only imagine that he wanted it more, with his many points to prove, whilst Anand does not seem to have particularly enjoyed being World Champ. At the half-way stage it's odds-on I'm wrong about this too.
Nonetheless, I'll venture one more prediction. Assuming Topalov doesn't win with black tomorrow, I think he'll be the first to blink and switch his opening move with white. Not only that, I think he'll switch it to 1.c4 in game eight, or possibly ten, if he is still a point behind then. A reversed Sicilian would be right up his alley, anything else would be a roll of the dice, and he could meet 1...c6 with 2.e4!?
Crazy? I've been wrong about everything else. Surely I'll get something right before the match ends?