This is the second part of an ongoing look at what Stockfish “thinks” of the legendary Najdorf variation. Part one was published a few daze ago (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2023/02/23/a-seventh-move-novelty-in-the-najdorf/), with a focus on the move Stockfish considers best for white against the Najdorf system, 6 f3. 365Chess.com shows a total of twenty seven different moves having been played by those with the white pieces against the Najdorf. The most often played move by humans has been 6 Bg5, and it has been played in 20,902 games. I utilized the 365Chess database because it includes games by everyone regardless of rating. The first game score you see emanate from the fertile algorithms of Stockfish vs Stockfish. The game most closely matching the moves of Stockfish follows.
This game was ‘contested’ by the Stockfish program on 2/20/23:
This writer was able to watch most, not all, of the coverage of the 2022 US Chess Championships. When unable to watch the live broadcast for various reasons I went back and watched what was missed earlier during the first twelve rounds. There were many “technical problems” with the last round so I turned it off and watched the games the old fashioned way by watching the moves played at Lichess.com. I did not later watch what was missed during the last round. Yasser mentioned something about the broadcast emanating from philanthropy and I realize the broadcast is not like any for profit broadcast, such as a Baseball game, or golf tournament, etc. Nevertheless, the broadcasts emanating from the St. Louis Chess Campus have been ongoing for many years, long enough for those broadcasting to have their collective act together. At the beginning of the broadcasts the commentators would focus on one game for a length of time, which was disconcerting, because there were fourteen ongoing games. I thought an overview of all the games should be given and from the emails received, so did many other viewers. One day the guys and girl focused almost exclusively on one game, which caused me to fire a salvo at the folks in St. Louis. After it happened again another salvo was fired, but no response was received from the Campus. I simply turned off the volume and watched the opening moves of all the games at Lichess.com.
I realize the commentators are not ‘professional’ media types, but they are getting paid, so maybe they could be considered “untrained” professionals. In one salvo fired at the StLCC I asked if there was a director, but have yet to receive an answer. A director could inform the commentators of where there was “action” in another game and they could switch to it immediately. I recall one instance when they were following an endgame in the open while there was a very interesting game with lieelt time remaining being contested in the women’s championship. I also recall Yasser saying something about, “We’re staying right here!” I tuned the sound off and watched the women’s game on Lichess.com.
(born 29 May 1982) is a Ukrainian chess player and journalist. She achieved the FIDE titles Woman International Master in 2000 and Woman Grandmaster in 2003. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anastasiya_Karlovich) Her accent often made it hard to understand what she was saying. In addition, she had a disconcerting habit of talking over Yasser. It is impossible to understand what is being said when two people are talking, which happened all too often.
That said, I still give the StLCC a B+ for the effort. There were too many positives for a lower grade to be given. Please understand this old Warrior is still amazed at being able to watch something like this, which was unheard of ‘back in the day’. “Shelbourne Richard Lyman (October 22, 1936 – August 11, 2019) was an American chess player and teacher known for hosting a live broadcast of the 1972 World Chess Championship for the PBS television station Channel 13 in New York. This broadcast became the highest-rated public television program ever at that time, far surpassing viewership expectations.” In addition, Shelby also, “…later hosted a two-hour broadcast covering the World Chess Championship 1986. This segment was recorded at WNYE-TV in Brooklyn and aired on 120 public television stations.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shelby_Lyman) It was during the latter time the woman with whom I lived, after watching the first broadcast, facetiously called him, “Mr. Charisma.” Chess broadcasts have come a long way, baby.
When there was a break in the action I would glance at some of the comments left by those watching. I was surprised when reading some that questioned Yasser Seirawan’s penchant for telling stories of the past. “you cannot understand where you are at unless you know where you have been,” I thought. One of the pleasures of my childhood was watching the Baseball Game of the Week on Saturday afternoon. Former Major League Baseball players Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese
would regale we neophytes with stories of bygone days, just as Yasser does during the broadcast. To this writer those stories are one of the best facets of the broadcasts. One was so good I took notes, realizing words would not come near describing how good was the tale. Imagine the elation when the segment was found! It concerns former World Chess Champ Gary Kasparov and to just read the words, or even listen to them, would not contain the visceral response shown by Yasser. All the hours spent spectating, and listening to the broadcasts were worth it just to be able to see Yasser when describing the story.
The 2022 US Chess Championships were inherently unfair. The player of the white pieces has an advantage, which is more apparent in the Open than with the Women. Someone was overheard saying to a student, “Fabiano Caruana played the best Chess in the tournament.” I begged to differ, saying Ray Robson played the best Chess. He knew how much time I had spent on viewing the action, so respected my opinion, but still questioned the statement. “Fabi had the white pieces in seven games; Robson in only six,” I said.
It is long past the time those in the Chess world come to terms with the fact that the way tournaments are structured favors one half of the field. The only way to remedy the problem is to have a US Chess Championship in which each player has an equal number of games with both colors. This could be done by having an eight player field, the Elite Eight, with two games versus each of the seven opponents, making for a fourteen round tournament. The fact is there were too many players who should not have been playing in the tournament.
The games are too long. The time for the games should be shortened because there are many games which do not begin until the players have spouted out twenty moves of opening theory in only a few minutes. Give the players ninety minutes with some kind of increment and have them play two games each day. It would be like going to work an eight hour day job. After the first game there would be a two hour break and the second game could then begin.
Deciding a championship by playing speed (kills) Chess is ludicrous, especially when a so-called “champion” is determined by some abomination called, appropriately enough, “Armageddon”. One of the definitions of Armageddon is: “A decisive or catastrophic conflict.” (https://www.thefreedictionary.com/Armaggedon). On second thought maybe it is appropriate after the World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, in an unprecedented act, withdrew from the Sinquefield Cup after losing a badly played game to Hans Niemann. There is nothing worse than for a player to withdraw in a round robin tournament, unless there was some major reason for so doing, such as having a stroke, or going blind, etc. The action of sore loser Carlsen was an affront to the Royal Game, the Singuefield Cup, and to the St. Louis Chess Club. In addition, it was a slap in the face to the man responsible for the philanthropy, Rex Sinquefield. Tony Rich, Executive Director of the St. Louis Chess Campus,
said Magnus would be welcomed back to the STLCC, but he will never be welcomed by this writer. It is possible his ill-advised action will bring down the House of Chess. Magnus will not be the Chess champion of the world much longer and he should be classified as persona non grata everywhere, forced to sit home and ‘stream’ like Hikaru Nakamura
I often wonder how many viewers actually read the responses left by Chess fans in the comments section. I admit to having occasionally read comments, and used a few on this blog, but have not made a habit of reading the comments, but an exception was made because of the firestorm caused when the current World Chess Champion withdrew after losing to the young American Hans Moke Niemann in the ongoing 2022 Sinquefield Cup at the St. Louis Chess Campus. What follows are only a few of the myriad comments left, and still being left at Chessbase (https://en.chessbase.com/post/the-carlsen-niemann-affair). If you have not read the article you may want to do so before reading any further. In addition, there is a link provided in the article, the best I have ever read at Chessbase (https://en.chessbase.com/), and that is really saying something because Chessbase has featured an untold number of excellent articles over the years, to another excellent and thought provoking article, Paranoia and insanity, by GM Jacob Aagaard (https://forum.killerchesstraining.com/t/paranoia-and-insanity-by-jacob-aagaard/856/1).
The first comment, and arguably the most pertinent, is from Brian Lafferty, a well known contributor to the USCF Forum:
ChessSpawnVermont 9/8/2022 01:33 As a semi-retired US litigation attorney (NY State and Federal Bars), former Assistant District Attorney and Judge, I find it fascinating to watch Mr. Nakamura dig the defamation of character litigation hole that he now finds himself sitting in. Unless he can demonstrate with specificity how Mr. Niemann actually cheated in his otb game against Mr. Carlsen, he will likely have no viable defense should Mr. Niemann sue him for defamation of character seeking monetary damages for injury to his reputation and career. What Mr. Niemann may have done as a twelve or sixteen year old in online competition will likely not be probative at trial and may well be ruled inadmissible at trial. Likewise, suggestions that Mr. Niemann subject himself to a polygraph examination will not be probative. Polygraph examinations are not reliable and are generally not admissible as evidence at trial. (I have seen people lie and pass polygraphs. It’s a skill that is taught and can readily be learned)
Chess.com has also created needless potential liability for itself by barring Mr. Niemann from its site and competitions absent a clear finding that Mr. Niemann cheated otb against Mr. Carlsen. Note also, that at a trial, it is likely that Chess.com will be forced in discovery to reveal to Mr. Niemann’s experts any algorithm used by them forming the basis of a cheating accusation against Mr. Niemann.
I suspect that Mr. Carlsen has received the benefit of legal counsel as he has clearly refrained from making a direct charge of cheating against Mr. Niemann.
Leavenfish At this point, this is all on King Magnus. Will he offer proof…or are we witnessing the sad undoing drama worthy of a Shakespearean King?
He does the one thing any professional would unlikely do: abdicates his crown.
His business empire started crumbling – so much so that PMG seemed ‘forced’ to sell itself to the ‘evil empire’ that is chess.com. How much of a slap in the face must this feel?
Young Princes from different parts of the world (Praggnanandhaa, Niemann…) are mortally and routinely wounding him on the battlefield he once dominated. Some treachery must be afoot!
All this in just the past few months. Have the walls of the castle… simply begun to crack?
Yannick Roy Great article. But to those throwing stones at Carlsen, let’s remember that chess, to a certain extent, induces paranoia. It pitches a mind against another mind. Losing to a young prodigy on a meteoric and quite atypical rise has to be very hard. It is true that after looking into the game and hearing all the declarations of those involved, it is becoming more and more difficult to believe that there was cheating. Carlsen’s mistake on the board pretty much dispels the suspicions one might have had.
Mel Griffin I agree with aleenyc2015 and Soprano.I can’t remember the last time Carlsen lost in a mature manner. If it’s not slamming down pens, or storming off from the podium when Ivanchuk was crowned Rapid Champion. Disrespectful. When Sergey Karjakin was the first to win a game in the World Championship Magnus left the press conference before Sergey even arrived. If Carlsen wasn’t fined for that he damn well should have been. Champs like Fischer, Kasparov and the current one have all gotten away with certain things that no other would. Pointed out by Kramnik years back( he was in fact talking exclusively about Kasparov). Talk to Judit
However, he’s all in for roasting Hans with ZERO proof. It’s obvious that Magnus quit the tournament believing Neimann cheated. If he does not believe this, he should have made a statement to clear up this witch hunt and slander. Magnus need to step up to the plate and be a man. However, being 31. Living with your parents and reading Donald Duck comics…I don’t expect this anytime soon. Pathetic. So Hans blew a couple of analysis lines with the commentator. Big f#%king deal. How many times has Svidler corrected Seirawan during this tourny alone. As far as social media goes. Regardless of subject, it explodes with a plethora of experts who irresponsibly hang a young man’s future in their hands. This is so sad for the world of chess.
fede666 9 hours ago I find this article by far the most informative and unbiased one on this matter on all chess sites … great work
Cato the Younger Cato the Younger Kudos to the author for a superb article.
The impressions left of the two bad actors in this saga are not particularly flattering. Magnus, no doubt acting on the advice of his attorney, heading for the tall grass following his hit-and-run non-accusation. And Hikaru, maniacally pouring gasoline on a campfire
and engaging in what seemed like Schadenfreude. Neither of them expressing the slightest regret or admission of culpability. Well, nobody’s perfect.
But to me the worst villainy emanates from Chess.com. The public expects that a mature, serious business–a behemoth in the sport–would be run with wisdom and probity. But no, instead we see their senior policymaker(s) ‘privately’ imposing dire career-limiting sanctions on a teenager who has been tried and convicted of doing what, exactly? This is an unbelievably gratuitous and unjust action that needs to be reversed immediately with a humble apology, not that this would fully compensate for the damage done. Otherwise, Chess.com’s position amounts to gross misconduct.
Cato is not the only Chess fan who feels strongly about the “villainy” of Chess.com:
Toro Sentado @tweeterbull · 19h Replying to @DanielRensch and @chesscom And you just happened to do this to him the day after Magnus withdrew and you offer no explanation as to why? Incredibly tone deaf – yes. Also incredibly unprofessional. Did Magnus order this? Why is this being done in public? Awful awful awful. (https://twitter.com/danielrensch/status/1568033316347203584)
How has Mr. Rensch responed to the vast number of Chess fans criticizing him and his company?
Daniel Rensch @DanielRensch Replying to @DanielRensch and @chesscom My intention was to add some humor 🤷🏻♂️ not be vindictive. Sorry to everyone if it was tone deaf. Despite the hate and opinions all around, I legitimately want what’s best for Hans (and chess).
Hoping to hear from him… 8:27 PM · Sep 8, 2022 ·Twitter for iPhone
The reputation of the Royal Game is on the line and this clown wanted to “…add some humor.”
If you are a paying customer of Chess.com my question to you is, why are you paying to play online when you can play free at Lichess.com?
relocated from Music City to the Phoenix city, Atlanta, Georgia. It happened that by happenstance I was at Todd’s apartment after he moved in and again later as he was getting ready to return to Nashville, Tennessee. There was an obvious disparity between how the apartment looked on those two occasions, kind of like one of those ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures.
Todd was young, and strong, at that time, and was the “Big Dog” at the Atlanta Chess & Game Center, kickin’ ass and takin’ names. He was also an extremely personable and animated fellow. After being beaten by Todd one regular habitué of the House of Pain vociferously and demonstrably said to any and everyone within earshot, “That Todd has a BIG HEAD!” To which Bob Bassett replied, “Yeah, and if you ever get your rating up to 2400 you will have a big head.” Another wag added, “Fat chance.” The loser hit the door… The name stuck, although no one ever called Todd “Big Head” to his face. After yet another player had been battered and bloodied, metaphorically speaking, of course, over the Chess board by Todd, the loser would be asked about the result and the reply would invariably be, “Big Head got me.” About this time there was a popular music group, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, who were quite popular. Todd traveled to a music festival in another state and I considered asking if Big Head Todd and the Monsters were there, but refrained from so doing…
These days Todd is the man with the Big Head at the Nashville Chess Center:
FM Andrews drew with fellow FM James Canty in the opening round of the May 2022 GM/IM Norm Invitational at the Charlotte Chess Center and followed that with a victory over GM Alonso Zapata, now a citizen of Georgia living in the metro Atlanta area. A couple of losses set him back before he was paired with serial drawer IM Nikolay Andrianov,
“…who became the Soviet Junior Champion in 1980. He beat GM Gary Kasparov in their junior years and maintains a plus score against the world champion. After that, he chose to focus on chess training. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chess training from the Moscow Central Physical Culture and Sports Institute, considered the top chess school globally at the time. He has since then trained students, many of them becoming masters in Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the United States. Currently, he teaches chess in Arizona and online with Ashburn Chess Club.” (https://ashburnchessclub.com/nikolay-andrianov)
These are the games produced by IM Nikolay Andrianov in the first four rounds:
IM NIKOLAY ANDRIANOV (2317) vs DONALD JOHNSON (2102)
What happened in the second round? It looks as though Tianqi Wang actually considered attempting to try and play for a win, but after making a very weak move that gave the advantage to his opponent changed his mind and offered a draw, which was accepted by the player with little fight left in him. It takes two to tango, and make a draw, so all the blame cannot go to IM Andrianov. Some of the blame must be taken by the pusillanimous pussies so ready to accept a draw offer from an old and weak IM. Todd Andrews came to play Chess and forced the ineffectual IM to play to the death. Unfortunately, it was Todd who lost, but he went down fighting, like a man, and my hat is off to FM Todd Andrews. In losing Todd Andrews comes away a winner from one of the Charlotte Drawing Tournaments.
GM ALONSO ZAPATA (2367)
vs FM TODD ANDREWS (2209)
Round 2 | 2022.05.05 | 0-1 ECO: C06 French, Tarrasch, closed variation, main line
e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nd2 (Stockfish 14 and 15 both play 3 Nc3, as does Komodo) 3…Nf6 (According to the ChessBaseDataBase, Komodo, Houdini, and Deep Fritz prefer 3…c5) 4. e5 Nfd7 5. c3 (SF 8 @depth 46 plays the move played in the game, but SF 13 @depth 44 goes with the most often played move of 5 Bd3. SF 14.1 @depth 47 will play 5 f4) 5…c5 6. Ndf3 (SF 311221 plays 6 Bd3 which has been far and away the most often played move with 8421 games in the CBDB; SF 14.1 will play 6 f4, the second most often played move (1924). The move played in the game has only been attempted in 54 games) 6…Nc6 7. Bd3 cxd4 (This move has been played most often with 130 games in the CBDB, but SF 14.1 and Komodo will play 7…Qa5. The reason could be that 7…cxd4 has resulted in a 66% score for players of the White pieces as opposed to only 42% in 31 games for 7…Qa5) 8. cxd4 f6 9. exf6 Nxf6 (SF 12 plays this move, but SF 070222 will take the pawn with the Queen with 9…Qxf6. Houdini will fire a TN with 9…Bb4+. 9…Nxf6 has been played in 84 games; 9…Qxf6 in only 8. White has scored 64% versus the former, but only 38% against the latter move) 10. Ne2 Qc7 (SF 130121 @depth 59 plays 10…Bd6, as do two different Fritz programs) 11. O-O Bd6 12. Nc3 (Fritz 16 plays this move, but Deep Fritz will play will play 12 g3. SF 170821 prefers 12 h3) 12…a6 13. Bg5 O-O 14. Rc1 (SF 14.1 plays 14 Bh4 and so should you) 14…h6 (14…Bd7 has been played most often, and one of the “New Engines” @depth 42 likes it, but left running a little longer it changes its whatever @depth 43 to 14…Ng4, which is what Komodo will play @depth 26) 15. Bh4 Bf4 (There is only one prior game with the game move. Komodo 8 @depth 14 plays 15…Bd7, but SF 261120 will play 15…Nh5, as will Komodo 9)
Charles Krauthammer, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and intellectual provocateur, dies at 68
by Adam Bernstein June 21
a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist and intellectual provocateur who championed the muscular foreign policy of neoconservatism that helped lay the ideological groundwork for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, died June 21 at 68.
The cause was cancer of the small intestine, said his son, Daniel Krauthammer. He declined to provide further information.
Charles was a conservative thinker who loved Chess. Decades ago, after learning of his love for the Royal game I began to read his column on a regular basis, something mentioned at a small gathering of Chess players, some of whom were Republicans, one of whom asked why I read Krauthammer. “Because he plays Chess,” was the reply. He seemed unable to grasp the fact that I read a conservative columnist until one legendary Georgia player spoke up, saying, “On some issues Bacon is to the left of Jane Fonda, but on others he is to the right of Attila the Hun!” Uproarious laughter ensued…I mentioned reading George Will because he had written several books on Baseball. “Sometimes I agree with him, and sometimes I don’t,” I said, “But I take what he has to say in consideration, just as with Krauthammer.”
Chess: It’s like alcohol. It’s a drug. I have to control it, or it could overwhelm me. I have a regular Monday night game at my home, and I do play a little online.
Charles Krauthammer (http://www.azquotes.com/quote/163123)
The Pariah Chess Club
By Charles Krauthammer December 27, 2002
I once met a physicist who as a child had been something of a chess prodigy. He loved the game and loved the role. He took particular delight in the mortification older players felt upon losing to a kid in short pants.
“Still play?” I asked.
“Quit when I was 21.”
“Lost to a kid in short pants.”
The Pariah Chess Club, where I play every Monday night, admits no one in short pants. Even our youngest member, in his twenties, wears trousers. The rest of us are more grizzled veterans numbering about a dozen, mostly journalists and writers, with three lawyers, an academic and a diplomat for ballast. We’ve been meeting at my house for almost a decade for our weekly fix.
Oh, yes, the club’s name. Of the four founding members, two were social scientists who, at the time we started playing, had just written books that had made their college lecture tours rather physically hazardous. I too sported a respectable enemies list (it was the heady Clinton years). And we figured that the fourth member, a music critic and perfectly well-liked, could be grandfathered in as a pariah because of his association with the three of us.
Pariah status has not been required of subsequent members, though it is encouraged. Being a chess player already makes you suspect enough in polite society, and not without reason. Any endeavor that has given the world Paul Morphy, the first American champion, who spent the last 17-odd years of his life wandering the streets of New Orleans, and Bobby Fischer, the last American champion, now descended John Nash-like into raving paranoia, cannot be expected to be a boon to one’s social status.
Our friends think us odd. They can understand poker night or bridge night. They’re not sure about chess. When I tell friends that three of us once drove from Washington to New York to see Garry Kasparov play a game, it elicits a look as uncomprehending as if we had driven 200 miles for an egg-eating contest.
True, we chess players can claim Benjamin Franklin as one of our own. He spent much of his time as ambassador to France playing chess at the Cafe de la Regence, where he fended off complaints that he was not being seen enough at the opera by explaining, “I call this my opera.” But for every Franklin, there is an Alexander Alekhine, who in 1935 was stopped trying to cross the Polish-German frontier without any papers. He offered this declaration instead: “I am Alekhine, chess champion of the world. This is my cat. Her name is Chess. I need no passport.” He was arrested.
Or Aron Nimzovich, author of perhaps the greatest book on chess theory ever written, who, upon being defeated in a game, threw the pieces to the floor and jumped on the table screaming, “Why must I lose to this idiot?”
I know the feeling, but at our club, when you lose with a blunder that instantly illuminates the virtues of assisted suicide, we have a cure. Rack ’em up again. Like pool. A new game, right away. We play fast, very fast, so that memories can be erased and defeats immediately avenged.
I try to explain to friends that we do not sit in overstuffed chairs smoking pipes in five-hour games. We play like the vagrants in the park — at high speed with clocks ticking so that thinking more than 10 or 20 seconds can be a fatal extravagance. In speed (“blitz”) chess, you’ve got five or 10 minutes to play your entire game. Some Mondays we get in a dozen games each. No time to recriminate, let alone ruminate.
And we have amenities. It’s a wood-paneled library, chess books only. The bulletin board has the latest news from around the world, this month a London newspaper article with a picture of a doe-eyed brunette languishing over a board, under the headline “Kournikova of Chess Makes Her Move.” The mini-jukebox plays k.d. lang and Mahler. (We like lush. We had Roy Orbison one night, till our lone Iowan begged for mercy.) “Monday Night Football” in the background, no sound. Barbecue chips. Sourdough pretzels. Sushi when we’re feeling extravagant. And in a unique concession to good health, Nantucket Nectar. I’m partial to orange mango.
Charles Krauthammer playing chess with Natan Sharansky at Krauthammer’s office in an undated photo. (FAMILY PHOTO)
Charles was as comfortable with Presidents as he was with Chess players.
Charles Krauthammer with President Ronald Reagan in an undated photo.
Charles Krauthammer with President Jimmy Carter in an undated photo. (PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE KRAUTHAMMER FAMILY)
Charles Krauthammer with President George W. Bush in 2008. (COURTESY OF THE KRAUTHAMMER FAMILY)
When Chess Becomes Class Warfare
By Charles Krauthammer March 1, 1985
Capitalism’s vice is that it turns everything — even, say, a woman’s first historic run for the White House — into cash. Communism’s vice is that it turns everything — even, say, chess — into politics.
Chess? You may have trouble seeing chess as politics. Americans think chess is a game. The “Great Soviet Encyclopedia,” in one of its few correct entries, defines chess as “an art appearing in the form of a game.” And like all art under socialism, it is to be turned into an instrument of the state.
You think I exaggerate. If I quoted you Nikolai Krylenko, commissar of justice, in 1932 — “We must finish once and for all with the neutrality of chess. . . . We must organize shock-brigades of chess players, and begin the immediate realization of a Five Year Plan for chess” — you’d say I was dredging the history books for Stalinist lunacies. So I bring you fresh evidence of communism’s penchant for politicizing everything, for controlling everything it politicizes, and for letting nothing — shame least of all — jeopardize that control. I bring you L’affaire Karpov, a tempest for a teapot.
The story is this. On Sept. 10, 1984, the world chess championship begins in Moscow. Both players are Soviet citizens: champion Anatoly Karpov and challenger Gary Kasparov. To win, one must win six games. Draws don’t count. After nine games Karpov is ahead 4-0. An astonishing lead.
Kasparov then launches the most relentless war of attrition in the history of championship chess. He deliberately forces draw after draw, at one point 17 in a row, to one purpose: to exhaust the older and frailer champion.
On Nov. 24, Karpov does win a fifth game, but he will not win again. On Dec. 12, Kasparov wins his first. The score is 5-1. Then 14 more draws.
Then something extraordinary happens. Karpov, known for his metronomic logic and unshakable composure, loses game 47, playing “as though in a daze,” writes chess master Robert Byrne. Game 48: Karpov loses again. The score is 5-3.
By now, says another expert, Karpov “looks like Chernenko.” Chernenko looks bad, but Karpov is 33. He has lost 22 pounds and did not have very many to start with. He is close to collapse. He is about to fall — as Nabokov’s fictional champion, Luzhin, fell — into what Nabokov called “the abysmal depths of chess.” Kasparov is on the brink of the greatest chess comeback ever.
And on the brink both will stay. Six days later, on Feb. 15, the president of the International Chess Federation, under enormous pressure from Soviet authorities, shows up in Moscow and declares the match a draw — and over. Karpov is saved by the bell, except that here the referee rang it in the middle of a round and at an eight count.
Why? One can understand the Party wanting Karpov to win in 1978 and 1981, when the challenger was Victor Korchnoi — defector, Jew, all around troublemaker, Trotsky at the chessboard. But Kasparov is not Korchnoi. He is a good Soviet citizen, a party member, and not known for any politics. He is, however, half Armenian, half Jewish. Until age 12, his name was Gary Weinstein. He is no dissident, but he is young (21) and independent. Above all, he is not reliable.
Karpov, a man who needed to be named only once, is. Conqueror of Korchnoi (twice), receiver of the Order of Lenin, ethnically pure (Russian) and politically pliant (a leader of the Soviet Peace Committee), he is the new Soviet man. And he receives the attention fitting so rare a political commodity: he says he was told of the match’s cancellation over the phone in his car. Cellular service is not widely available in the Soviet Union.
Now, this is the third time that Soviet authorities have tried to undermine Kasparov’s shot at the championsh. In 1983 they stopped him from traveling to his quarterfinal match in Pasadena, Calif. The official reason (later pressed into service for the Olympics) was “lack of security.” Only a sportsmanlike opponent and accommodating chess officials (they rescheduled the match without penalty) saved Kasparov from defaulting in the candidates’ round and losing his chance to challenge Karpov.
But challenge he did. The finals were held in the prestigious Hall of Columns in the House of Unions. That is, until Kasparov’s rally in the 47th game. Soviet authorities then suddenly moved the match to the Hotel Sport outside the city center. “Like moving from Carnegie Hall to a gin mill in Poughkeepsie,” says Larry Parr, editor of Chess Life magazine.
I interpreted the move to mean that Chernenko was about to die, since the Hall of Columns is where Soviet leaders (like Dmitri Ustinov) lie in state. Silly me. I was insufficiently cynical about Soviet behavior. The reason for the move was not to bury Chernenko (he continues to be propped up like a Potemkin villain), but to save Karpov. The move took eight days — eight otherwise illegal days of rest for Karpov.
It didn’t help. Karpov was too far gone. Kasparov destroyed him the very next day in the 48th game. Soviet officials then made sure it was the last.
Now do you believe me?
A month ago I would not have believed it myself. (Kasparov still does not believe it.) Fix the biggest chess match in the world? Steal the championship from one Soviet citizen for a marginal propaganda gain? In broad daylight?
Not all chess players are crazy. I’m willing to venture that. But not much more. Eccentricity does reign in our precincts. In my 20s, I used to hang out at the Boston Chess Club. The front of the club was a bookstore in which you’d mill around, choose a partner, put your money down with the manager and go to the back room — 20 or so boards set up in utter barrenness — for some action. (At five bucks an hour it was cheaper than a bordello, but the principle seemed disturbingly similar to me.)
I remember one back room encounter quite vividly. The stranger and I sat down to the board together. I held out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Charles.” He pushed his white king’s pawn and said, “I’m white,” fixing me with a glare that said, “Don’t you dare intrude into my space with names.” It was dead silence from then on.
A psychiatrist colleague of mine came by to fetch me a few hours later. He surveyed the clientele — intense, disheveled, autistic — and declared, “I could run a group in here.”
Don’t get me wrong. Most chess players are sane. In fact, a group of the saner ones, mostly journalists and writers, meets at my house every Monday night for speed chess. (You make all your moves in under nine minutes total, or you lose.) But all sane chess players know its dangers. Chess is an addiction. Like alcohol, it must be taken in moderation. Overindulgence can lead to a rapid downward spiral.
Vladimir Nabokov (a gifted creator of chess problems and a fine player, by the way) wrote a novel based on the premise of the psychic peril of too close an encounter with “the full horror and abysmal depths” of chess, as he called its closed, looking-glass world. (Nabokov’s chess champion hero, naturally, goes bonkers.)
Chess players, says former U.S. champion Larry Christiansen, inhabit a “subterranean, surreal world. It is not the real world, not even close.” So what happens when a creature of that nether world seizes political power?
Impossible, you say: Sure, there have been dictators — Lenin, for example — who played serious chess, but there has never been a real chess player who became a dictator.
And no wonder, considering the alarming number of great players who were so certifiably nuts they’d have trouble tying their shoelaces, let alone running a country. Wilhelm Steinitz, the first world champion, claimed to have played against God, given Him an extra pawn, and won. Bobby Fischer had the fillings in his teeth removed to stop the radio transmissions.
Well, in some Godforsaken corner of the Russian empire, Kalmykia on the Caspian, where the sheep outnumber people 2 to 1, the impossible has happened. A chess fanatic has seized power. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, former boy chess champion, current president of the International Chess Federation, was elected president of Kalmykia two years ago on the promise of a cell phone for every sheepherder and $100 for every voter in his destitute republic.
Naturally, nothing came of these promises. But once elected, he seized all the instruments of power including the police, the schools and the media.
Result? Ilyumzhinov calls it the world’s first “chess state.” God help us. Compulsory chess classes in all schools. Prime-time chess on TV. And in the midst of crushing poverty, a just erected “Chess City,” a surreal Potemkin village topped by a five-story glass-pavilioned chess palace where Ilyumzhinov has just staged an international chess tournament.
This scene (drolly described by Andrew Higgins in the Wall Street Journal) would be Groucho running Fredonia if it weren’t for the little matter of the opposition journalist recently murdered after being lured to a meeting where she was promised evidence of Ilyumzhinov’s corruption. (Ilyumzhinov denies involvement. Perhaps it depends on how you define the word “involve.”) Kalmykia is beginning to look less like Woody Allen’s “Bananas” than Nurse Ratched’s “Cuckoo’s Nest.”