Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Magic words

Back to Stephen Moss's not-entirely-balanced Guardian piece and that characteristically aggressive section from Nigel Short. Today, though, we'll be looking at the comments at the top end of the passage (and elsewhere) rather than the string of insults at the bottom.

First point: what's this?
It is very different in a game like football, where everybody has their heroes...why should you give any money to Wayne Rooney?
Is Nigel really under the impression that there's no resentment of what top players get paid in football, or that they're closer to everyday football people than top chess players are to everyday club players? If so, he really needs to talk to some football people. he would find out otherwise.

Second point: if we accept that there's a "disconnect between the top players and the club players", might that have anything to do with the way in which our most prominent players chooses to conduct himself? I mean I don't detect a great deal of resentment of Mickey Adams, for instance. On the contrary, he's much-liked. So is Luke McShane. Similarly David Howell, Gawain Jones and pretty much every other leading player.

But Nigel, not so much.

Why would that be, do we think?

So here's a little something for Nigel. A very little something.

Fortunately there's another paragraph in the piece that quotes Nigel, one rather more sensible, and for that matter less hostile to the average chessplayer who Nigel is expecting to pay for him.

You have to have an environment where people can play chess professionally...if you don’t have that environment, people will do other things.
Yes, of course. Statement of the obvious - and yet one worth making nonetheless, if only for the benefit of the general public and their political representatives, who can make some choices that might affect the ability of strong chessplayers to play professionally.

Whether the English Chess Federation can, is more doubtful. We'll get onto that shortly, but let's also ask - should the ECF be concerned with this and how much?

I mean of course it's desirable, at least as far as I'm concerned, that it should be easier to make a living playing chess. (Or playing a musical instrument, for that matter. Or many other things.) But should it be the priority for the organisation representing English chessplayers, the vast majority of whom are amateurs?

Shouldn't in fact the major priority of the English Chess Federation be organising and fostering chess for the people who form its membership and actually pay the subs? Shouldn't it do what they want, and what they consider they need, rather than what Nigel Short (or Nigel Davies) say he wants?

I'm open to the suggestion otherwise, but I'm not open to the suggestion that putting the subs-payers first constitutes "small-mindedness". And while I'm open to the suggestion that the ECF is dysfunctional - which it is, in all sorts of ways, most of them personified by Phil Ehr and his friends - if you want an entirely different ECF, one that prioritises the needs of actual and potential professional players, then you might like to consider the proposition that it's going to be expensive. Also the proposition that it needs to be funded by somebody else- assuming anybody else can be found.

This brings me on to another point, which is that the ECF - in any form, and with any set of priorities - might actually struggle to make any substantial difference to the problem which Nigel wishes them to address. This is because while anybody can invoke magic words like "business" and "sponsorship", it's easier to do so than to explain where you're going to find the kind of long-term sponsorship, the kind of reliable and lucrative chess circuit, that might have persuaded Luke McShane, say, to prefer a career pursuing a place in the world top twenty to the sort of money he could pull down in the City.

That's a little bit harder, isn't it?

Where are you going to find the kind of sponsors who will restore the Grand Prix to its glory days, or to bring about a transformation of tournament chess in Western Europe, so that players who are at school today might consider becoming professional players tomorrow rather than opt for what are currently more reliable and better-paid alternatives?

Might the sad truth be that they don't exist?

You want to locate a sponsor for a sport, for a team, an event, a series, whatever it may be, they're likely to ask some questions about what kind of publicity they're going to get in return.

They may ask - will it be on TV? The answer is, almost certainly it won't.

They may ask - will it be in the papers? The answer is, very likely it won't.

They may ask - is it likely to be popular? The answer is, nonsense aside, it very sadly isn't.

So sponsors, especially reliable, long-term sponsors, are likely to be pretty thin on the ground. They can't be summoned by using magic words. And this, with a few exceptions, has nearly always been the case. And there's precious little the ECF can do to change that. You can't make newspapers run chess news on their front pages or their sports pages. I wish you could.

For this reason, chess has often depended on patrons, rather than sponsors as such - people like the Piatigorskys, Jim Slater, Rex Sinquefield, who have been prepared to spend a lot of money on chess without very much financial return, because they personally liked chess. Is that the idea? That the ECF go on a game of Hunt The Billionaire?

If it is then best of luck, but I don't think actually the ECF are the people best-equipped to do that, or ever can be. (I also doubt that it's a long-term, sustainable way or supporting grandmaster chess, but that's a different tangent and a longer one.)

Point is, if anybody's got a plan, I'd like to see it. Not just a set of magic words, not just a set of epithets to be thrown at ordinary chessplayers, like the author of this piece and most of its readers, or the people who devote their time to organising tournaments for us to play in. Show us the plan, not two fingers. Show us the plan.

In one of the few passages of his piece that I didn't think was manifestly unfair, Stephen Moss says this:
Perhaps the glorious era of the 70s and 80s was the blip, and we are now reverting to mediocre type.
I suspect that this is true. I'd rather it wasn't, but I can think of many real-world reasons why it might be. But if anybody has a real-world plan to stop it happening, or rather to reverse the process, then I promise you I'm more than keen to see it.

But I'm not interested in magic words. I'm not interested in Nigel Short calling other people immature. And I'm not interested in hearing that the failure of a small group of bullies and incompetents to be returned to office has anything to do with it.

[Nigel Short index]


an ordinary chessplayer said...

"... not just a set of epithets to be thrown at ordinary chessplayers ..."

Happens all the time.

Anonymous said...

You are incorrect. One of the four above mentioned is generally disliked by both his fellow players, and by organisers. This is reasonably well-known though not universally so.


Anonymous said...

Not referring to the youngest of those four, are you LM?

Anonymous said...

Perish the thought!


Wellingtonchess said...

I was a keen chess player in the 1970's but gave it up in the 1980's mostly because I found players like Nigel Short and Raymond Keene deeply unpleasant and I was unhappy at being in the same sport as them. It was not until I moved to New Zealand that I took up chess again, you are much less likely to encounter people like them here. Having said that, Nigel Short has turned up in Auckland where he has just been beaten by top woman player Ju Wenjun.