13 September 2008

Chess Reality

I have to intersperse my first chess-related post today. The Chess Masters tournament in Bilbao has just ended, with a great success for the Bulgarian grandmaster Veselin Topalov. This tournament may be compared to the upcoming Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, where I will put my hopes on my fellow countryman Roger Federer.

Congratulations to Topalov, although I had rather hoped for Vassily Ivanchuk to win the decisive last-round game. And of course, as everyone else, I was curiously following the results of the possibly most amazing chess prodigy ever, the 17-year old Norwegian Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen was leading the tournament and the inofficial live world rankings sometime during the tournament, but then fell back a bit. Well, he is young and will have many more chances to seize the number 1 position.

As it turned out, Topalov will probably be the new number 1 in the official rankings as of October 2008. He surely is one of the best active players, but unfortunately he also falls into the category of chess players that sometimes seem to lose their sense of reality. This happened to Topalov during the 2006 world championship match agains the great Russian player Vladimir Kramnik. Topalov, or rather his manager Danailov, accused Kramnik of cheating by using computer assistance on the toilet, leading to the horrible "bathroom controversy". An ugly story indeed. But unfortunately not the first time that psychological warfare was used in chess world championship matches .

As often in such controversies, it is difficult to be sure who is right and who is wrong. One indication that I tend to consider is how the parties behave. Are they still open for a fair discussion and rational arguments? Do they treat the other side with respect? A telling incident with regard to the latter happened early this year: The "handshake controversy". Ivan Cheparinov, another Bulgarian grandmaster managed by Danailov, refused to shake hands with English GM Nigel Short. Whatever the background, this is not a decent behavior of a sportsman. It shed a dim light on the Bulgarian chess elite.


  1. I do not justify such a behavior at all ( I am referring to the handshake incident). Still I have to say that I think you have to see these matters in their "right" context. When you do that the picture looks different; the bad guys are not that bad anymore.

    Short has been disrespectful toward Topalov ( the exact incident I do not remember). Therefore the young man's act was noble in the respect that his respect to his master (it is unbelievable how much Topalov is looked up to in Bulgaria) was so sincere, he was willing to risk his good name and also losing the game and points.

    So it is a culture of respect and honor. And the sin is not so great. It was more an act of protest.

    A. Weiler

    By the way, from just a first glance, your blog looks really interesting.

  2. Interesting post. Now I'm thinking, what if the global warming 'debate' were like a chess game? "Ugh, he keeps going to the bathroom to consult the computer on which talking point to use next!" :)

  3. Cheparinov may have had his reasons for refusing the handshake. But still it was not a good thing to do.

    Chilingar may have had his reasons to publish the same paper twice (thinking he had to spread the word of his new theory). But still it was not a good thing to do.

    You have to be careful if you do something bad for some "greater good". The justification may not hold up.

  4. WAH:

    For what it's worth, I'm not sure Chilingar's action was supposed to be for some "greater good", though it might've been for some greater profit.

    (As for Cheparinov, I'm not familiar enough with chess tournament etiquette to comment...)

  5. to bi:

    I am unsure about Chiligar's reasons as well. Greater profit is nicely put.

    About the chess etiquette: It is absolutely usual to shake hand before the game (and afterwards, when you resign or agree to a draw). But even in everyday life, if someone extends a hand to you and you just ignore it, that's kind of rude, isn't it? Just watch the video of the incident and you will understand...