Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Short Stories

The conspicuous absence of the Pakistan Chess Federation throughout my visit in itself tells a story. They were invited, but chose not to attend. This hopelessly dysfunctional body is by far the biggest impediment to the development of the game in the country. It doesn’t answer emails and attempts to thwart any initiative it does not control. Its President, Altaf Chaudhry, was thrown into prison in 2010 … Long suffering chess lovers have finally had enough.

Nigel Short, New in Chess 2012#2

The latest copy of New in Chess arrived the other day. Always a happy event, this edition includes an excellent piece by Nigel Short on chess in Pakistan. Previously I hadn’t given any thought whatsoever to how our favourite game might be getting on in that particular country, but that’s good writers for you. They take you places that you never realised you wanted to go.

Nige takes a dim view of the prospects for chess in those parts of the sub-continent that aren’t India.  That, as it happens, is in marked contrast to his opinion on the future for the game back in Blightly. Indeed, just a few months ago he used his column to explain that the current President of the ECF has “energised” his federation. Do you know, I’m not entirely sure that I agree – although that de Mooi has energised the flow of fivers into the pocket of one Nigel David Short is certainly beyond dispute – but it was another very good article nonetheless.

Unfortunately, Short’s performance in his role at the English Chess Federation has not always reached the standards of his work at the keyboard. The behaviour of our President has raised many eyebrows and not just our own. Considerably less remarked upon, however, is the off-the-board stinker that our long-time number one chesser has been playing in recent times.

Last October’s AGM in particular was far from his finest hour and, as we shall see, if anything his comments there (or lack thereof) regarding the FIDE lawsuit and financial matters relating to the British Championship look even worse now than they did six months ago. So bad, in fact, that I feel it's time that we joined the chess lovers of Pakistan and said that enough is enough.

There are quite a few things that we know now that we weren’t aware of at the time of the AGM. One of them is the little matter of the ECF getting itself involved in suing FIDE.

I’m indebted to Roger de Coverly for bringing the matter to my attention, as indeed I am with regard to the recent report of the Finance Committee which we’ll come on to later. It seems that Short has since written of the ECF's involvement with the legals, but even though it had all kicked-off months before the AGM, and even though at the meeting he was,

… quizzed about the ECF’s working relationship with FIDE … a discussion which lasted, if I recall, quite a few minutes ….*
see here

the AGM heard no mention of the lawsuit whatsoever.

After the legal case had become public knowledge Andrew Farthing apologised for the board’s failure to publicise it - “no intention to hide this matter from Council – it was genuinely overlooked” – but what of Nige? He wasn’t the only one to let himself – and us – down in this regard, but since he was acting as both FIDE Delegate and Alternate to the President it’s hard to see things any other way than the responsibility to inform the meeting was primarily his. Is it too much to ask that he acknowledge this? Apparently it is.

How big a mess is it?
photo from Chess Vibes

Short’s role in the non-announcement of the lawsuit is worth pursuing in itself, but it’s not the end the story. There’s also the shambles – my favourite word and all too applicable at the moment – that was (and still is) the finances for Sheffield 2011.

As we have seen, it was Nigel Short himself who gave the AGM the advice about gift horses. That’s rarely a sensible line to take, not even - as David Cameron will tell you - when it’s you that will get to do most of the riding, and you’d have thought that as a big cricket fan he would have had the ECB/Stanford fiasco fresh in his mind.  That didn't stop Nigel, though.

I find the attitude completely bizarre, but matters of an equine nature are not my primary concern just now. For today, I’m more interested in our man’s response when concerns were raised about the ECF President’s failure to fulfil the many promises he made to provide full accounts for the simul tour that Short had undertaken earlier in the year.

Regular readers may recall that in the comments box to my post of "Some questions for the ECF AGM", Mike Gunn** wrote,

In the discussion which took place several people (including Nigel Short) made the point that in practice you couldn't forecast the financial outcome of events like simul displays in advance.
(my emphasis)

In that article on Pakistani chess, Short wrote about it being “intellectually dishonest” not to question an “obvious doubt” concerning the long-standing claim that chess originated in what is now Pakistan. Well, dear reader, what of the ‘obvious doubt’ concerning the point of view that Mike reports above, i.e. the fact that even a cursory glance at de Mooi’s posts on the EC Forum reveals that he was not reporting ‘estimates’ but stating as a fact that certain sums had been raised.

What are we talking about here? A deliberate attempt to mislead the AGM or the rank incompetence of people spouting off about something that they had not actually seen? It simply isn't credible that anybody could have read de Mooi's posts and genuinely believed that he was reporting "estimates", so I can't see any other alternatives. It's one of those two.

Actually, it makes little difference either way. It doesn’t even really matter if Short was one of those who articulated this view at the AGM or not. It was his simul tour and he was paid good money to undertake it***. He was also taking part in an activity which was being advertised as a fundraiser for Sheffield. If the tour did in fact make some money for the 2011 British Championships – as we know, de Mooi’s reports differ – Short would have benefited from that too****.

The fact is, since Short was intimately acquainted with the mess that was the accounting for the his simul tour it is reasonable to expect that at some stage he would at been proactive and said something like, "You know, this guy doesn't really fancy numbers all that much. I’m not sure that leaving him in sole charge of the money for Sheffield is an incredibly good idea". He didn’t say any such thing, though, and in due course we ended up with the accounting for the 2011 British Championships.

When it comes down to it, it was Nigel Short who failed to warn the ECF board of the chaos that the President was about to bring to the Championship and then, it seems, Nigel Short was one of those who responded in particularly obtuse fashion when asked about what had gone on with his own tour. Well, as he himself wrote immediately after praising de Mooi in that New in Chess article,

An awful lot remains to be done – particularly on putting the federation on a sounder financial footing ….

And with that, dear reader, we finally find something upon which he and I can agree.

Photo from

So there you have it. A lawsuit and a financial mess. Both are ECF failures, both were raised as matters of concern in the Report of the Chairman of the Finance Committee published a week or so ago and both have Nigel Short smack bang in the middle of them.

Am I being too harsh? I think not. Short failed to inform English chessers about the lawsuit, failed to warn the ECF about the horlicks that was about to descend on their championship and failed to respond with any interest when reasonable concerns were raised about what had happened .

No, it's not all Nigel's fault. The sorry situation in which English chess finds itself is not down to one man. Not even two. He played his part, though. A very significant part even.

It’s a real shame. If his performance in his role at the ECF did match his abilities as a writer and a chesser we’d be fine, but it doesn’t and we aren’t. Let's hope that in the coming weeks and months Nigel Short manages to raise his ECF game.

* This account comes from Angus French who was present at the meeting. Angus is a clubmate and friend of mine, as it happens, but he has nothing to do with the present post. The opinions contained herein are mine and not his.

** Once again, I should emphasise that the opinions/interpretations expressed here are mine alone. Mike (a) agreed to raise my concerns at the AGM and (b) took the time to report back afterwards. I’m grateful that he took the trouble when I had no right to expect him to do either of those things.

*** A fact which bothers me not in the slightest.  I do not begrudge anybody earning a living.  It's how they go about it that's the issue.

**** See ***


Jonathan B said...

I cut this passage from the closing paragraphs at the last minute:

There's the English Chess Federation as a whole who collectively let it happen and, for that matter, people outside who were not willing to raise the questions that so obviously needing asking. There seems to be a fair few people in English chess who struggle to distinguish between a popular simul tour - clearly a very good thing - and discrepancies away from the chessboard. Quite a number who appear to believe that the correctness of a person's opinion is directly correlated to his or her elo rating.

So, no, not all Short's fault.

Anonymous said...

well, thanks for clarifying that bit about the FIDE lawsuit. I read the report of the Chairman (a fine piece of restrained and accurate input) and wondered how I'd missed this exceptional piece of chess news...


Tom Chivers said...

What is the lawsuit lodged by the ECF against FIDE? I must have missed something - I don't know what it's about, when it was lodged, or indeed even where (i.e. which court with what jurisdiction).

ejh said...

See for instance

Tom Chivers said...

I think I'm just going to repress that again.

hylen said...

The Nosher!

Jonathan B said...

You may say that Hylen, I couldn't possibly comment.

ejh said...

To me the most important thing about the case, by a very long way, isn't its intrinsic merit, or any possible consequences for the ECF: it's that its existence was apparently kept from ECF members by the very people whose responsibility it was to tell us about it.

Including Nigel Short.

Really, it's a shocker.

Tom Chivers said...

Is opacity and special interests a part of the culture at the ECF do you suppose, or is this a one-off?

Hanif Qureshi said...

Nigel Short has done a wonderful job of visiting us in Pakistan helping in our efforts of bringing a country of 200 million people on the world chess radar.

I being the Chairman of PCPA who organised Nigel trip among many other events sponsored mainly from my own resources for the passion of chess. I have been struggling so that CFP (Chess Federation of Pakistan) do its job in chess promotion.

I will now be running for the top post of the federation. I would like to request all to help us in gaining the deserving place of Pakistan in the chess world.

We will welcome the chess visitors in Pakistan.


Hanif Qureshi