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Saturday, August 13, 2011

World Champion…Who Cares?

       I have to admit that I haven’t closely followed the world championships since the days of Kasparov.  There was the time they had those stupid knockout “championships” and now it’s no longer determined by classical games, but rather blitz. 
      In the recent Kazan matches Alexander Grischuk (a late replacement for Magnus Carlsen) adopted a strategy that was disgusting. He believed he couldn’t beat the better players in classical chess so used what GM Ian Rogers called “poker strategy.”  Grischuk threw in his hand if the cards didn’t favor him…meaning he agreed to short draws with White if he felt he didn’t have a clear advantage. He didn’t even try to win in the classical or blitz games. He counted on winning with tiebreakers. He freely admitted he couldn't beat his opponents from an equal position so, as Rogers put it, he "avoided dragons rather than slaying them."  So this is what world championship chess has been reduced to.  Rapid games and tiebreaks.
      Supposedly the idea of finishing all games in one session was to eliminate adjournments and the use of engines.  That’s nonsense.  What’s the difference between having a gaggle of GM seconds analyze an adjourned position or using an engine?  None. In fact I would sooner rely on the analysis of two or three GM’s than any engine.  In amateur chess, engine use for analyzing adjournments is no problem at all.  Let’s face it.  Average players can’t remember 10 moves of their favorite opening let alone a whole lot of lines generated by Fritz.  No.  It’s about money.  Organizers want chess speeded up so they can get sponsors and everybody can make some money.
       Just picking a tournament at random, the Atlantic Open held this month in Washington, DC has an entry fee of $120 and most of the prize money goes to players rated under master.  First is $2000 and class prizes are between $400 and $1500.  Even a player rated under 1300 can win $1200. 
       It used to be everybody played the same schedule and at the same time limit.  There weren’t any accelerated parings.  In those days with my lowly mid-1600 rating there were many times I was paired against a master in the first round.  OK, so it was an automatic defeat, but there was the thrill of playing a master and if I was having a good day, making him work for his point.  I remember the pride after one defeat when my opponent, rated 2202, asked my rating and when I told him 1660, he said, “Really?  I thought you were about 2000.”  Prizes?  We class players were playing for a cheap trophy or a book. 
       GM Nicholas Rossolimo once complained that he couldn’t get a book of his best games published because he wasn’t scoring points.  When he pointed out how many games he had played with Q-sacs and how many brilliancy prizes he had won, he was told, “Who cares? You didn’t score a lot of points.”  Rossolimo was a far cry from guys like Gata Kamsky and Yasser Seirawan before him.  Kamsky has announced that if he isn’t world champion by the time he’s 40, he’s retiring.  Apparently chess is not enjoyable for these guys; it's about the money...nothing but the money. OK, so maybe no big international events, but why not a weekend Swiss just for fun?  Apparently because there is no money in it especially if you probably have to split the prize fund with a bunch of other GM’s.  At least Kamsky is on record as stating that in the Kazan matches he decided to play for a win in every game whether it was rapid or classical because the spectators were watching and he can’t play like Grischuck or Kramnik.  For that we can be thankful even if it cost him a shot at the world title.

1 comment:

  1. I have to agree completely about the degeneration of the tournament scene. There's something really perverse about a 1450 player who would rather play weak players in hope of winning a cash prize than play stronger players and improve his game. I think we can be pretty confident that no one with that attitude will ever be threatening to become a master. Of course providing large prizes to the best 1600 and 1300 player can only be done by reducing the prize fund available to the actually accomplished players. This in turn makes it harder for the aspiring pro to actually make a living. I was rated around 1570 the first time I ever beat an expert, and all the stupid cash prizes in the world couldn't compare to that thrill.