Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Vishy v Vlad 2008: Pre-Match Skirmishes, Round 2

Well, that didn't take long, did it? No sooner had I started deconstructing the rules of engagement on my blog than Vishy produced his second volley. Chessbase, bless their hearts, has all the relevant info. In reality the match has now begun, with every utterance of the two contenders likely to be analysed, distorted and whipped into a souffle by chess hacks worldwide - and, hopefully quite soon, the general media too. They will have to watch their every word: even a polite request for directions to the nearest gents could be mistranslated or misinterpreted as another toiletgate accusation.

I'm beginning to wonder whether the match should really be billed 'Izvestia v Hindustan Times', those being the two organs through which the rivals' latest pronouncements have been filtered. Then, of course, there is the secondary filter, ChessBase itself, which has been known to place a spin or two on chess news. Their headline - "Anand blasts FIDE's 'political patronage' of Kramnik" - shows they enjoy reading UK tabloid newspapers. The word 'blast' is beloved of the UK press - it's nice and short and Anglo-Saxon and pulls in the punters like no other. It's just a tad stronger than 'rap'. A 'rap' criticises in relatively polite terms (like a ticking-off from your mother) but I always feel a 'blast' really lets it all hang out, and maybe slips in a vulgar insult or two. Or am I thinking of 'slam'?

Well, anyway... as you excitedly read the text of a blast-headlined article for some full-blooded criticism, you usually find that what the 'blaster' (or 'rapper' or 'slammer') actually said, tucked away in a few lines somewhere in the third paragraph after the writer has had a go at exaggerating and interpreting the actual words, would barely offend an elderly dowager at a garden party. What a disappointment! Still, the press is trying hard and this is exactly how these things are supposed to play out in order to whip up a bit of aggro. 10/10 for effort all round.

Going back to the 3 November edition of the Hindustan Times article: the writer kicks off with "Long after the bitter days of rivalry between Kasparov and Karpov, another chess star war seems to be in the offing." Already we can see where he wants to go with this story. The first direct quote from Anand, quite a bit further down the page, is: "He is trying to make the most of the political patronage he enjoys from the FIDE. Kramnik's position seems like a legal explanation of a situation arising from the political patronage." Not exactly a 'blast', is it? Nevertheless Anand is making quite a significant criticism here, not so much of Kramnik as of FIDE for showing favour.

So there you have it: the second bit of FIDE-bashing from Vishy. As I said in my earlier blog, this is always a good move to make in a game of chess politics. Notice Vishy seems to have had two moves in a row. There is no rule about each player making alternate moves when mud-slinging. Kramnik doesn't have to move at all if he doesn't want to. There is no zugzwang in chess politics. I'm not surprised Vishy has made this pair of moves but they strike me as coming a bit early in the piece. I would have expected him to manoeuvre, playing the political equivalent of pawn to a3 or h3 for a while before launching a flank attack of this magnitude. But it is too early to judge its effectiveness. The position is either level or unclear (select whichever cliche you prefer).

Vishy's next quoted utterance - "Who the best player in the world is decided on the board" - well, that's more like it at this early stage. Just a minor developing move. You or I could have found that platitude without the slightest difficulty.

In the final para of the article, Anand is said to have 'refuted' (good chess term, that) the claim that the match would be held in Germany in September 2008 and that nothing had as yet been decided. Excellent! Any notion that agreement had been reached on dates and venue would be ruinous for this traditional area of off-board conflict, which ideally needs to be left unresolved until the last possible minute. In 1972, we didn't know if there would be a match at all until we saw Bobby Fischer descend the steps of the plane in Rejkyavik - which was picture that greeted us on the TV news that night. How's that for brinksmanship - and newsworthiness? I doubt that we could ever again enjoy that sort of cliff-hanging tension but the pot needs to be stirred for a few months yet.

On 5 November the Hindustan Times ran a story on Vishy Anand shifting base back to India. Apparently he has bought a house in Chennai and is talking about training young Indian players. "I have bought a new house in Chennai and will be staying more in India. Earlier, I used to stay for about two months in India and six-eight months in Spain. But now it could be the other way round." The maths doesn't quite work there. Where was he the rest of the time? On the road playing chess perhaps? But I suppose it could be interpreted as a political move in the build up to the Kramnik match. The fact that he lives most of his life abroad slightly detracts from his status as a national hero.

It is interesting to contrast this move with that of the Formula One racing driver Lewis Hamilton who, on becoming a British national hero, has decided to go and live in Switzerland because he cannot walk down a British street any more wthout getting pestered. Most of us cynics assumed the real reason for the move is because the Swiss tax man helps himself to less of his dough than his British equivalent. I wonder if Vishy has some ulterior motive in this move?

You would have thought that Vishy would have the same problem as Hamilton when trying to walk down an Indian street. But perhaps his privacy has to be sacrificed in order to benefit from the extra political muscle his vast and powerful home country can bring him - the 'India v Russia' angle. Akin to a playground dispute and the traditional chant of "my dad's bigger than your dad". I certainly get the impression that the Indian press could be a major influence in the coming struggle. The fact that they publish in English could be a plus factor in the Anand campaign.

Yes, it'a all shaping up nicely...


  1. Entertaining analysis! I look forward to future rounds. :)

  2. Vishy spending most of his time in Chennai can only mean one thing: less competitive chess, a kind of semiretirement. We'll have to see if he actually does make the move.

    As for his taking on FIDE, it's easier now that Ummar Koya is no longer FIDE Vice President. In fact, Koya has been consigned to oblivion even at the national level.

    Indian press publishing in English advantageous to Anand? Perhaps not. There are very few Indian journalists who understand chess. Their patronage could be counterproductive. I think we had a taste of that in Sanghi Nagar.

    Also, in India Anand is not a sporting hero on the level of, say, Sachin.

    Anonymous (of serpent tooth fame)