After finishing the latest issue of the mag, Mrs BCM Editor and I headed north to Durham for a few days of rest and recuperation. I didn't take a laptop with me, so it was a welcome break from the goings-on of the chess world. The hotel had free broadband access, but I avoided checking the chess news, confining myself to deleting the tidal wave of spam emails that had built up over three days. How people can go away for a fortnight's internet-free holiday these days I cannot imagine: on return it must take hours blitzing all the junk emails.
On my return, the main chess news seemed to be Nigel Short being brought before the FIDE Ethics Committee accused of defaming FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos and Fide VP Zurab Azmaiparashvili. Malcolm Pein's Telegraph column of 30 April has all the relevant details.
Now, it is true to say that Nigel and I are not on each other's Christmas card list (click here if you want to find out some of the reasons why we don't get on). However, my sympathies are entirely with Nigel when it comes to a face-off with the likes of Asbo-parashvili and Makro. Malcolm Pein makes reference to 'the antics of this pair over the years'. These are well enough known about in the chess world and I don't propose to go through them all. You can find out for yourself by googling 'Azmaiparashvili Strumica' or 'Azmaiparashvili Calvia'. Makro, on the other hand, is believed to be the man behind FIDE's incredible shrinking time limits (readers of this blog will already know what I think about this).
As for Azmai and Makro working in tandem, one only has to recall the 2003 Corus Wijk aan Zee tournament when they turned up, looking like a pair of gangsters, to lean on Ruslan Ponomariov and make him sign a world championship match contract while he was in the middle of an important tournament and despite the Ukrainian's pleas to delay the decision until after the event. The picture published in the March 2003 BCM showed the grim-faced, black-dressed pair having a word in the ear of the Corus arbiter and looking like something from The Sopranos.
Personally I cannot see how Nigel can lose, whatever the outcome of any hearing. If the charge fails to stick, then his version of events in San Luis is duly ratified, leaving the 'Blues Brothers' looking very silly indeed. If the charge is upheld, there is first the matter of what sanctions FIDE think they can legimately impose - loss of rating? disaffiliation of the Commonwealth Chess Association (of which Short is president)? I cannot see either of these things happening. Telling him he's been a naughty boy and not to do it again? Maybe, but it will hardly be worth the effort, with the chess media using the story as an opportunity to rake over all the old anecdotes about Azmai and Makro. I am amazed that they should think they have sufficient credibility and standing in the chess world to undertake such a risky course of action. If Fritz could analyse chess politics, it would surely adjudge the situation about +4.00 in favour of the English grandmaster.
I suspect Nigel is enjoying every minute. Considering he is currently "resting between engagements" as regards his career as a chess journalist, it could prove very useful. Oscar Wilde's famous quotation - "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about" - seems to encapsulate it quite well. With a bit of luck, a slanging match may even catch the eye of a newspaper editor somewhere who might be sufficiently impressed to offer him a job as a chess columnist. We are told he intends to use the 'simple defence of truth'. That sounds perfectly sensible, though I should point out that this wording is worryingly similar to the 'simple sword of truth' which UK cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken famously tried to deploy in a libel case against The Guardian. But I feel sure that Short will not suffer the same fate as Aitken (imprisonment for perjury).
My advice to Azmai and Makro is to calm down and quietly drop the case. After all, it is no big deal. They have simply joined a long list of chess people, both living and dead, whom Nigel has slagged off in print. Petrosian, Miles, Kavalek ... I'm sure there are plenty of others. Quite a distinguished group, actually. Speaking as an immeasurably less exalted chess player, I'm proud to be a member myself. Being inducted into Nigel Short's Hall of Notoriety may be the second highest chess honour to which I can realistically aspire (after editor of BCM, of course). There are 1,000 grandmasters but perhaps only 30-50 members of this exclusive club, entry to which is by Nigel's appointment only. Recognition and publicity - what more could a chess journalist ask?