Sometimes, it is not even about the game

APRIL 30 — While the largely media-manufactured controversy over Nigel Short’s comments smoulders on thanks to strong statements made by sisters Susan and Judith Polgar, it is of course very much business as usual in the world of chess.

Despite broadcaster Fox jumping in late with their typically “selective” coverage, a major reason as to why it is all dying down within the chess community is due perhaps to a very well-written article by Tarjei J. Svensen entitled Susan Polgar and Nigel Short at War which shows that the underlying (real) issue written about by Short in the New in Chess column is certainly not sexism (let alone race, which was sadly thrown into the mix by some without any thought).

The less emotional (thinking?) reader would see that Short had perhaps been a little mischievous in the article as he was clearly taking the opportunity to ask some hard questions about several of Susan’s actions in the past pertaining both to her world record-breaking claims and reasons for her early retirement from playing at just 27 years of age.

He was especially brutal in rubbishing the claims of Susan’s husband (and business partner) Paul Truong who said he was Vietnam junior chess champion at 5 years of age and national champion at 8.

My take of the whole thing is they have taken it very personally without properly answering the accusations and that Paul really does seem to have a hand in too many of the controversies that Susan has been embroiled in (and it is well known that he runs her website and social media accounts where he often speaks as her without stating otherwise).

I have too often seen this kind of embellishment of the truth among the less accomplished in chess locally but it is done usually either by shoving their so-called technical knowledge (it can be reduced to simply “I play chess and you don’t”) in the face of parents or through accumulating official positions and titles through a corrupt and incompetent chess federation. The latter can then be used to further enhance their standing to again “bully” the same parents!

But in the case of Susan Polgar, it is unnecessary as no one questions her great accomplishments in chess and especially not her efforts to promote it. But hype may certainly have helped contribute to the status of legend and anyone who knows Short understands there is little bullshit about him; his achievements in chess are really quite enormous and he too has done a lot to promote the game as numerous organisers will attest to.

It is very unfair, even dishonest, to attribute false remarks to him or to try and summarily dismiss what he said without providing the facts and context.  

Of course the saddest thing about all this is that the global publicity for chess often comes as a consequence of some controversy or another. One might argue that good news is not considered to be news anyway, but chess for all its wonderful selling points still enjoys only a default place in the ordinary man’s consciousness as something best associated with some form of weirdness.

For this, no doubt the FIDE (World Chess Federation) President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov can happily take his share of credit due to his often bizarre actions. This includes his constant reference to his alien abduction experience  which was comprehensively documented by chess historian Edward Winter.   

The latest super GM event—the Vugar Gashimov Memorial in Shamkir, Azerbaijan held from April 16-26 -- saw many of the usual suspects with 24-year-old World Champion Magnus Carlsen showing again that he is the boss as he scored yet another comprehensive major tournament win.

Equally notable is that his 45-year-old predecessor Viswanathan Anand is still continuing to turn back the years and was a convincing runner-up, chalking up a score that on another day could easily have made him the winner and is now back to over 2800.

But it appears that the end of the road is nearing for another former world champion. Vladimir Kramnik will soon be 40, the age that he has said he would likely retire and despite the flashes of class showing what he is capable of, Shamkir also marks the first time in his life he has lost three games in row.

The three young players hotly tipped to be Carlsen’s most likely challengers -- 22-year-old Fabiano Caruana, 20-year-old Anish Giri and 21-year-old Wesley So—had mixed performances. World No. 2 Caruana is rediscovering some of his previous form while Giri has been slipping a little and that should not be because he is recently engaged to charming Georgian WGM & IM Sopiko Guramishvili.

As usual So started hot but clearly still lacks critical experience at this level and so fell back as the tournament went on. Yet the 21-year-old has arguably the greatest scope for improvement, family (money?) issues aside. 

On April 26 and 27, Garry Kasparov also played an exhibition event of two rapid and eight blitz games against Short at the Chess Club and Scholastics Chess Centre of St Louis in Missouri, USA, a match surprisingly comprehensively won 8.5-1.5 by the older “human rights activist” against a still active player who as recently as two weeks ago won the Bangkok Open ahead of such super GMs as Wang Hao and Francisco Vallejo Pons.

Kasparov started with a draw and then after exchanging wins, found his old form to reel off the next seven in a row!

Significant but not a big secret—and so not quite overshadowing either Shamkir or the St Louis Match—was the announcement made at the Chess Club and Scholastic Centre of St Louis the day before of the coming Grand Chess Tour with Carlsen and seven other top 10 players, one more to be named later since Kramnik declined and one more slot is a wild card for each of the three initial events.

For 2015 these will be the existing Norway Chess in Stavanger, Norway from June 15-26, Sinquefield Cup in St Louis, USA from August 21 to September 3 and London Chess Classic in London, England from December 3-14, all with a US$300,000 (RM1,071,090) prize with many more events soon to follow in 2016. This would almost certainly eventually eclipse the largely Russian supported FIDE Grand Prix.

To complete this round-up it should be mentioned that the World Team Championships, for men in Armenia and for women in China, ended on April 28 with few caring about the result. Besides the fact that the USA did not send their best men’s team, more surprising was that China’s Hou Yifan too opted out as did quite a few other top women players.

Here is the brilliant win by Anand over So.

Shamkir

Round 5: 21.4.2015

White Anand, Viswanathan
Black So, Wesley

1.  e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. d3 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. Nc3 d6 9. a3 Nb8 10. Ng5 Nc6 11. Ba2 Nd4 12. Ne2 Nxe2+ 13. Qxe2 h6

14. f4 hxg5 15. fxg5 Ng4 16. g6

Bg5 17. h3 Bxc1 18. Raxc1 Nh6 19. Qh5 Be6 20. Bxe6 fxe6

21. g4 c6 22. Rxf8+ Qxf8 23. Rf1 Qe7 24. g5 Rf8 25. gxh6 Rxf1+ 26. Kxf1 Qf8+ 27. Ke2 gxh6 28. Qg4 Qf6 29. h4 d5 30. h5 d4 31. b4 Kg7 32. Qf3 Qe7 33. Kd1 Kg8 34. Qf2 Kg7

35. c3 dxc3 36. Kc2 Qc7 37. Qc5 Kg8 38. Qe3 a5 39. Qh3 axb4 40. Qxe6+ Kf8 41. axb4 Qa7 42. Kxc3 Qa3+ 43. Kc2 Qa4+ 44. Qb3 Qa7 45. d4

1-0.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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