28 June 2017

Spassky: 'The Dr. Zhivago of Chess'

In a recent post on my main blog, Sports Illustrated 'On the Cover', I showed that a prominent American sports magazine ('SI') once demonstrated a keen interest in chess. Through the series of Kasparov - Karpov clashes in the 1980s, SI had regular, multi-page features on top World Championship events. Here, for example, are the first two pages of a five-page spread on the Korchnoi - Spassky final in the 1976-78 Candidates Matches.


Sports Illustrated, 12 December 1977

The article started,

With the notable exception of Bobby Fischer, who won the world championship from Boris Spassky in 1972 in a memorable Icelandic psychodrama, Soviets have dominated world chess for 30 years. And their reign is not about to end. This week, in the shabby elegance of the Dom Sindikata Theater in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, two Russians, Spassky and Viktor Korchnoi, are meeting for the right to play still another Russian, 26-year-old world champion Anatoly Karpov, for the title.

Spassky is now 40, and his figure, which was trim in Reykjavik, is a bit fleshier, his dark hair longer and more styled. But the same calm green eyes study the board, and the same long artistic fingers are placed along his cheekbones. The world champion from 1969 to 1972, Spassky remains the gentlemanly, dignified, poetic grand master, the Dr. Zhivago of chess.

Across the board sits the volatile, daring Korchnoi, 46, the world's No. 2 grand master. In further contrast to Spassky, the formerly chubby Korchnoi has lost a great deal of weight recently. His brown eyes glitter, his shoulders hunch as he lunges forward to advance a bishop into dangerous territory. Korchnoi seeks the dangerous position -- in life as well as at the chessboard.

That's the sort of colorful sports reporting that is seldom seen outside of the mainstream press. Here is a list of all SI articles on the World Championship that I was able to locate.

  • 1960-04-18: A New Moscow Revolution • 'Mikhail Tal's brilliant and bewildering victories in world championship chess stunned the Russians'
  • 1960-05-30: A Nod for a Title • 'Sports Illustrated's correspondent in Moscow reports on the new world chess champion Mikhail Tal and on the new chess era that opened with a smile'
  • 1961-05-08: The Young Botvinnik • 'An aging champion created a new training technique to recover the fire of youth -- and his title'
  • 1967-11-20: The Further Adventures of Terrible-tempered Bobby • 'Bobby Fischer played like a champion at the international tournament in Tunisia, but he ended by forfeiting his way out of the competition'
  • 1971-08-02: Maybe You Can Win Them All • 'Bobby Fischer has pitched 19 no-hitters in a row'
  • 1971-11-08: Bobby Clears the Board for the Title • 'The young U.S. master, after Tigran Petrosian smashed his 20-game streak, closed strong to earn a shot at the world's chess champion'
  • 1972-07-10 A Sudden Stalemate in Reykjavik • 'The world championship was plunged into check when Bobby Fischer decided that a better game was hide-and-seek'
  • 1972-07-24: Boris in Wonderland • 'Russia's Spassky played Alice to Bobby Fischer's Mad Hatter in Reykjavik last week'
  • 1972-08-14: How to Cook a Russian Goose • 'First, catch a Russian -- and at long last Bobby Fischer apparently has, dominating Boris Spassky so completely...'
  • 1974-01-28: Memo from Moscow: don't get byrned • 'Hot on his world chess championship comeback, Boris Spassky faces a scholarly and unintimidated American'
  • 1974-09-30: A Case of Beauty Before Age • 'Two Russians are meeting to see who will take on Bobby Fischer...'
  • 1977-12-12: Taut Duel for Two Old Comrades • 'They grew up together in Russia and meet again for the right to face the champion, but one is a defector, the other an √©migr√©'
  • 1978-01-30: They Couldn't Zap the Viktor • 'Korchnoi came out of his match with Spassky smiling and ready for world champion Karpov, but in Belgrade he was grimly convinced that the Soviet KGB was bombarding him with rays'
  • 1978-07-31: Back to Drawing Old Board • 'The Soviet champ and a vocal defector drew the first three games of what could be a drawn-out world championship'
  • 1985-02-25: A Dubious Gambit In Moscow • 'Just when chess champion Anatoly Karpov seemed to be weakening, the challenger was abruptly checkmated'
  • 1986-11-13: Beating Back A Game Challenge • 'Anatoly Karpov played valiantly in their Leningrad showdown, but Gary Kasparov outlasted his rival to retain the world chess championship'
  • 1987-12-07: Duel Of Two Minds • 'Opposites Gary Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov battle for the world chess title'
  • 2016-11-12: Chess Pieces of History • 'Board in 1972 battle up for auction'

The reports aren't always perfect. There is sometimes confusion between the concepts of 'game' and 'match' that is irksome to many chess fans, and the 1971 baseball analogy...

Maybe You Can Win Them All • 'Bobby Fischer has pitched 19 no-hitters in a row'

...is clearly an exaggeration. Even with those nitpicks, I'll gladly accept a slightly flawed report that promotes chess to a non-chess readership. For some reason, the World Championship reports stopped after the 1980s. Was it because of a changing perception of chess as a sport, because of the political turmoil in the chess world, or because of something else? I would really like to know.

21 June 2017

Early Women's World Champions

The blog post originally scheduled for today has been postponed due to extreme heat. As a filler post, but fully deserving in its own right, here are photos of the first six Women's World Champions.


Top row: Vera Menchik, Ludmila Rudenko, Elisaveta Bykova (Elizaveta Bikova)
Bottom row: Olga Rubtsova, Nona Gaprindashvili, Maia Chiburdanidze

For more about the events in which they won their titles, see my index page World Chess Championship for Women. The photos were in a set that included the male world champions, Steinitz through Kasparov (although Capablanca is missing from the set I'm looking at), thereby dating their publication to no earlier than the mid-1980s. The description of the set said,

From the U.S.S.R. Ideal for framing and display in chess clubs and chess study rooms.

I'll be back in a week with the regularly scheduled post.

14 June 2017

World Championship, Oslo 2018

From newsinenglish.no:-
'Norway’s World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen was disappointed when he was told, right after tying another match at the Norway Chess tournament now underway in Stavanger, that he won’t be able to defend his title on home turf next year. Oslo has been dumped as a potential host city for the next World Chess Championship, with its arranger and the Norwegian government arguing over the reason why.'

From facebook.com/theworldchess/videos:-


2017-06-09: Video by Ilya Merenzon, World Chess CEO, regarding the statement of why the Match is not happening in Oslo in 2018.

From translate.googleusercontent.com -> chess-news.ru:-

From chess.com/article KajaMSnare

'Right now the culture differences are too massive. Norwegian bureaucracy and fastidiousness versus FIDE's and Agon's strictly-business approach and suspicious hesitation to show transparency. Stuck in the middle: Magnus Carlsen's dream of winning the World Chess Championship title where it all started. The dream of gathering the entire nation around chess -- because it would. Nothing could match the intense pressure, success, eventual lifting of the trophy, and singing the national anthem together with 100.000 Norwegians, showing him how proud he makes them.'

For more about Kaja Snare on this blog, see Carlsen - Karjakin, the Second Week (November 2016); on my main blog, see World Championship Closing Ceremony (December 2016).

07 June 2017

Zonal Qualifiers C01-C12 : Archive.org

Continuing with my previous post, Zonal Qualifiers C01-C16 : Archive.org, I noted the first steps for documenting the interzonal qualification process in C01-C12:-
I downloaded the three [GMG] pages from Archive.org and combined the ten different regional tables into a single table. I then split that table into cycles covering C01 through C16.

The tables for each cycle contain data about individual players plus info about the qualification process. For example, the data on the 20 players in the first Interzonal is shown here:-


C01 IZ Qualifiers

This should match my corresponding page on the 1948 Saltsjobaden Interzonal Tournament. Info about the qualification process for that same cycle is collected here:-

  • 'Hilversum Zonal 1947 gathered the champions of the various European FIDE member nations together. O'Kelly de Galway of Belgium came 1st, but must have declined to play at Saltsjobaden. Trifunovic and Pachman shared second. Szabo came in a tie for fifth. Pirc, Gligoric and Tartakover were not invited to Hilversum, but were nominated by ballot by the FIDE directors to play in the Interzonal.'
  • 'Isaac Kashdan came in second at the U.S. ch. of 1946. Reshevsky the winner was seeded into the 1948 World ch. at The Hague/Moscow, and Kashdan qualified to play at Saltsjobaden IZ 1948. Arnold Denker was selected by FIDE ballot, but apparently both Kashdan and Denker declined to play. Israel Horowitz seems to have been offered a place as well as a replacement, but must have declined as well.'
  • 'Najdorf and Stahlberg shared first and Erich Eliskases came third in a strong tournament at Mar Del Plata in 1947. Eliskases must have declined to play.'
  • 'All Soviet players were selected based on their results in ballots submitted by the FIDE directors. Boleslavsky came second at the 15th USSR ch. 1947, and Bondarevsky shared 3rd.'

This complements my corresponding page on the Zonals 1948-1951 (C01). In the 'C01-C16 : Archive.org' post, I also noted:-

There is some overlap in cycles C13-C16. I'll decide how to handle that when I come back to the subject.

For example, the first of my pages on those cycles is Zonal Qualifiers 1984-1987 (C13). Although I haven't decided how to handle the 'overlap', the C13 page shows the sort of thing I'm aiming at for C01-C12.

31 May 2017

Zonal Qualifiers C01-C16 : Archive.org

The last time I looked at zonal qualification paths, Zonal Qualifiers C27 - Qualification Paths (February 2016), I assigned myself an action:-
Another possible next step would be to work out the qualification paths for the cycles that I haven't tackled yet : C01 through C12. Part of that work has already been done (see 'G : GMG ' on my index page for the World Championship Zonals), so it needs to be reviewed and reworked into my own structure.

Although the GMG site has disappeared from the web, it lives on in Archive.org: Zonals in USSR, CIS and Asia. My remark that 'part of that work has already been done' was inaccurate. I should have said 'most of that work' has been done. The three pages --

  • Zonals in USSR, CIS and Asia
  • Zonals in the Americas and Africa
  • European Zonals
-- contain around 600 notes on individual players along with administrative decisions on why certain players were replaced for various Interzonals. The last zonal cycle covered is C16, which culminated in the Biel IZ, July 1993.

I downloaded the three pages from Archive.org, made some minor formatting changes to standardize them, and combined the ten different regional tables into a single table. I then split that table into cycles covering C01 through C16.

My previous work on qualification paths, Zonal Qualifiers C13-C27 : Summary (February 2016), indicates that there is some overlap in cycles C13-C16. I'll decide how to handle that when I come back to the subject.

24 May 2017

2017 Grand Prix, Moscow

I added the second event of the 2017 FIDE Grand Prix, which took place in Moscow, to my page on the World Chess Championship : 2017 Grand Prix. The first event was documented in my post 2017 Grand Prix, Sharjah (March 2017). As for future Grand Prix events, the last two are scheduled for:-
  • Geneva, Switzerland; 5-Jul-2017
  • Palma De Mallorca, Spain; 15-Nov-2017

In between those, we'll have:-

  • World Cup 2017; Tbilisi, Georgia; 2-Sep-2017

Two players from the 2017 Grand Prix and two players from the 2017 World Cup will qualify for the 2018 Candidates tournament, which is not yet scheduled. In another post from a few months ago, Chess in the 21st Century, I mentioned it was 'clear that FIDE has gone badly astray'. Nothing has happened to change my opinion since then.

17 May 2017

Elo and Edmondson

My previous post on Folke Rogard, FIDE's Consummate Diplomat, ended,
As for Cramer, the most comprehensive biography I could find is now in Archive.org: The Chessmill -> Fred Cramer by Roman Levit.

For convenience, here's the link again: Fred Cramer by Roman Levit. I found a couple of paragraphs particularly noteworthy.

Fred worked closely with [Arpad] Elo. He edited Elo's book, The Rating of Chessplayers Past and Present. He was a delegate to FIDE, and kept after FIDE to adopt Elo's rating system. Then, after its adoption, Fred continued to fight, this time battles with his own federation, who wanted to tinker with Elo's system as a promotional tool to make more money for the USCF. That led to some legendary battles between Cramer and Elo on the one side and USCF Director Ed Edmondson and Bill Goichburg [Goichberg] on the other.

The hostility grew between Edmondson and Cramer to the point where Edmondson had Fred replaced as FIDE delegate with Pearle Mann. (Fred always blamed Edmondson for the difficulties in negotiating the 1975 Fischer - Karpov match, claiming that just when things would be settling down Edmondson would stir up the Russians with insults or other violations of protocol. Fred always believed Edmondson resented being fired by Fischer during the Reykjavik negotiations, and so after that he tried to sabotage Fischer at every turn.)

Another page (undated) on the same site (now defunct), The Chessmill -> Interview With Arpad Elo, expands on both topics. The introduction to the interview starts,

We continue with our plundering of Wisconsin chess history by reaching back into the longest-published of all the local chess periodicals, Badger Chess, for this interview with Arpad Elo, conducted by Dave Brimble. Arpad Elo has influenced the history of the chess world with his scientific approach to the rating of chess players. In name recognition among chess aficionados, he ranks up there with the world champions.

The observation about name recognition is not exaggerated, although some chess players think 'ELO' is an acronym for something. The tie-in with the Cramer topics is later in the interview.

I was continually attacked by Goichburg [Goichberg] for example, for imagined and supposed usurpation of authority about the rating system. He eventually even got Edmundson [Edmondson] on his side and they tried to get me out of FIDE. They made quite an effort to get rid of me but I finally prevailed, I think because the people in FIDE that I worked with realized the integrity of the system and what I was trying to hold up was the integrity of the system. Whereas Edmundson and Goichburg [ditto] looked on it as a means to finagle and promote, inflating the egos of American chess players, that they are better than they really are. They wanted to use the rating system for political purposes, trying to influence the way the rating system worked. Then they would examine under the microscope all the numerical mistakes I would make and make an issue out of them. That was in the late 70's.

Fred Cramer had a run in with Edmundson in 1972 during the Fischer era. His gripe was about how Edmundson tried to manipulate Fischer. I still believe that Edmundson's shenanigans were a contributing factor to the failure of the Fischer - Karpov match in 1975. I think he deliberately insulted the Russians. Averbakh, the Russian master who was part of the negotiating team, who was also a member of the qualifications committee with me and who I became good friends with said that every time it seemed as if they were making progress about the conditions, Edmundson would throw about insults and such, and violate protocol. The Russians are very serious people and want to stick to the rules and when they get insulted repeatedly it really turns them off.

BC [Badger Chess]: So why would Edmundson try to sabotage the match?

Elo: Because he was fired by Fischer as his second back in '72. Edmundson was then the executive director of USCF and used his influence adversely. Fischer made certain conditions of course and the conditions were a matter of debate. Fischer insisted on the condition that in the event of an equal score at a certain point that the title would be retained by the champion and draws would not count and things like that. Eventually those conditions were slightly modified and adopted when Karpov became champion. So Karpov got everything Fischer asked for with minor changes. Of course I don't know if Fischer would have played in any case. I have a feeling that he would have found some other impossible condition. I agree with those who say that Fischer probably could psychologically not afford to risk losing the championship over the board.

Since the Elo interview might well be the source of the Cramer paragraphs, I would like to see these accusations against Edmondson confirmed elsewhere. Whatever I find, I'll report here. Fischer's default of the 1975 match signalled the end of the Fischer boom in American chess.