When you play a grandmaster, it’s win-win – unless you get completely blown off the board of course. But that wasn’t about to happen … Was it?
Following a last-minute whim, last Sunday I found myself sitting on the District Line travelling to the Kensington Rapidplay. After polishing off my Greggs sausage roll (pre-tournament fuel of the highest order) I decided to take a look at the tournament player list and size up the field. I noticed I was seeded exactly halfway – 30th out of 60 entrants. I gathered, depending on byes and no shows, that I was either going to be playing against the unrated junior at the bottom of the list (who is probably actually rated about 2000) or, against a GM. Thankfully, it was the latter.
GM Eldar Gasanov from Ukraine, a regular on the London rapid and blitz scene, currently rapidplay rated 2388, peaking at 2560 in 2019 when he participated in the World Rapid and Blitz Championship. Gasanov boasts some impressive recent scalps in chess.com’s flagship “Titled Tuesday” event, taking down Benjamin Bok, Ray Robson, David Paravyan and Shak Mamedyarov. He also managed a draw with Nigel Short back in 2008.
I had zero nerves, a refreshing change from every other time I sit down at a chess board. I was really excited and just hoped I wasn’t going to be first finished out of the 65 boards in the playing hall.
“Start White’s clock!” intoned the arbiter. My opponent, who did indeed have the white pieces (in case he needed that extra boost) wasn’t at the table. The arbiters said that after five minutes, you would be re-paired. For a minute I thought I wasn’t going to get my dream game, but thankfully 30 seconds later he arrived. Since my return to chess, I’ve noticed that all the good players are always late. Why is this!? Indolence, poor timekeeping, or some deep psychological strategy to unsettle their opponents by saying “Look, I know I can win even with a time disadvantage.”
Although his clock was ticking (20+5 time control), Gasanov wasn’t in a hurry, taking his time to get settled, de-layer, position his coffee and adjust his pieces – coolness personified. He accepted my slightly greasy (Greggs-inflected) handshake, and we were off…
Be warned, what follows is not a detailed and educational annotation of the game. I’m not sure I can offer that. But I hope to take you through what was going through my mind while trying to beat – well, at least survive against – a GM.
Daaim Shabazz’s Triple Exclam!!! The Life and Games of Emory Tate, Chess Warrior may be short on great games, but it provides a compelling picture of a remarkable chess life
“Russian chess players use the somewhat untranslatable word творец[tvorets] to describe a particularly inspiring chess player. A tvorets prioritises elegance over rating points, values the quality of his games rather than his standing in the tournament. Above all a tvorets is someone who keeps the beauty of our game alive, inspiring us to follow in his footsteps. Emory Tate was most definitely a tvorets.” – GM Daniel Naroditsky
Emory Andrew Tate Jr, aka “Dennis” aka “The Exclam kid” aka “Emory Mate” aka “Indomitable Warrior” aka “Tactical Assassin” aka “ET the Extraterrestrial”, tvorets, was an American IM, martial artist, intelligence officer, poet, father, drunk and general weaver of chess dreams. He claimed the only chess book he ever read was Vladimir Vukovic’s Art of Attack in Chess, and this is born out by the games we’ve been left. He distrusted computers and databases, but took the scalps of many grandmasters. He died in 2015 at the age of 56 after a heart attack playing chess. Opening theoreticians will be aware of his contribution, Alekhine’s Defence Tate variation, an early rook development: 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. c4 Nb6 4. a4 a5 5. Ra3.
To the world at large, however, he is now more famous for producing Emory Tate III, aka Andrew Tate. He was the father of one of the most influential and controversial figures of our times.
Tate the father ticks a lot of the “tortured genius” boxes. From a good family, ill-disciplined but brilliant in high school, he achieved a scholarship to Northwestern University in Illinois at 17, but dropped out both here and then at Alabama University. He joined the US air force and entered intelligence, picking up Russian in a record time of three weeks (one of his eight languages). While based in the UK he snuck away to Camden for blitz with Limey locals, among them IM Malcolm Pein (who shares his memories in the book and contributes an analysis of one game). He formed a family, took them back to America, separated from his wife (who returned to England), split acrimoniously from the air force, and continued his life as a chess player and teacher, taking cross-country buses to tournaments and living the life of an eccentric, very much at home among chess players.
As an enjoyer of American writers focusing on this character type (Hubert Selby Jr, Charles Bukowski, John and Dan Fante), Tate very much appeals: the genius drunk living on the edge, circling the drain of life and finding beauty amidst the grime, loving and hurting everyone around him, exhilarated to suicidal from page to page. Reading through the book, the darker side is periodically hinted at: the paranoia and drinking, depression and resentments, critics and confrontations, not just involving Tate but fellow chess road warriors such as GM Aleksander Wojtkiewicz too. But we are mainly presented with the positives, chief among which are, of course, the games, such as this one against GM Leonid Yudasin in 1997.
Various Sicilians with both colours make up 20 of the book’s 35 full games, which give full rein to Tate’s penchant for sacrifices. He also shared my own desire for the holy move g5! (as did Fischer), as demonstrated in his win here against Alexander Beltre in 2001.
The main narrative thread is the paean to Tate, climaxing in a dramatic near miss of a GM norm in Curuçao 2007. Here, with White, he baffles GM Jan Gustafsson:
The question is presented: why was this man, a larger-than-life genius on and off the board, who played with such flair and scalped so many grandmasters (he claims about 80) not a grandmaster himself (he managed only – only! – IM)? Along the way he is regularly compared to Tal and Alekhine (for their gamestyles and lifestyles) but also Fischer (showing more determination against Russians). “You’re afraid of success,” he was told. “You could be the first black grandmaster, but you’ll never become a grandmaster unless you get serious.” Serious? This was a man who ended up in positions like this, as Black against Glenn Bady (somehow, the game was eventually drawn):
The book’s tendency towards hero worship is a definite feature of American chess culture (try disparaging Fischer or Nakamura to any US player). The über-competitiveness and trash-talk also comes across (play chess online and stars and stripes tend to be a decent predictor of insults in the chat). We’re constantly told people’s scores and placings in open tournaments, using a strange match system of 7-2 rather than 7/9. There is only one game given from a team match, something truly bizarre compared with our own domination by league chess culture. Tate himself is constantly aggressive, trying to dominate on and off the board with words and pieces, often simultaneously. Everything is a fight, even with his friends. Here he is in action in 2013 against GM Artur Chibukhchian.
Tate clearly had a remarkable ability to impress himself on an audience, resulting in legions of fans on and offline. Not only his moves, but his general patter and joy were infectious, sprinkled with cheeky expressions. Apart from the eponymous “Triple exclam!!!” here are a few other Tate-isms:
After meeting in 2009, Tate formed a friendship with the American rapper RZA, legendary founder of the Wu-Tang Clan, probably bonding over chess, philosophy and martial arts. For the youth and aged among you, Wu-Tang were a disparate group of competitive street rappers who shared an appreciation for all the above. Indeed their debut album featured Da Mystery of Chessboxin‘.
When you look into the Clan, the sense is of a brotherhood of young black fatherless men, dropouts in and out of jail, becoming a mutually supporting family, going their own way and working together in an often predatory record business. They had built up their skills by travelling the New York boroughs competing against any contender in battle rhymes in front of an audience, before the best were selected for the Clan, with a famous promise from RZA that if they gave him five years of their lives, he’d take them to the top (he did). Did Tate wish he’d met RZA decades before, to focus him on that GM title?
This is something else that comes across strongly in the book – the plethora of references to a community of black chess players, not just in the US but across the world. “Tate’s Black Imperative”, “Rest in Power” and “The Black Bear School of Chess” mark out this especial American phenomenon. The need to support each other in the quest for rating, prizes and titles even led Daaim Shabazz in 2001 to create a website called The Chess Drum. Tate felt great solidarity with Pontus Carlsson of Sweden and Amon Simutowe of Zambia before he’d even met them. Back in America, future GM Maurice Ashley credited Tate for berating him into a switch from 1. c4 to 1. e4. When he plays other black players, another layer of meaning and importance is added:
I was lucky enough to play a few games with Simutowe, aka the “Zambezi Shark”, while he was at Oxford, sharing the spectators’ hysterics at various sound effects (the helicopter and Bruce Lee in particular). Were some of these adapted from the time he spent with Tate in the US?
One suspects this is the world Tate was happiest in – the fun, silly, competitive, adrenaline-fuelled buzz of blitz, a crowd of adoring spectators at hand. Yet his pride and ambition thirsted for achievement in classical chess, both in titles and prestige. He repeatedly brought up his five US Armed Forces Chess Championship titles. At one point he runs out of the tournament hall to celebrate a win over IM Georgi Orlov, noted for his expertise in the Black Knights’ Tango. “I beat the Tango guy!”, Tate shouts, determined to instantly demonstrate the game.
As the story comes to a conclusion, the tone becomes palpably darker. Tate himself was prone to a sense of foreboding about his end: “When you screw up the opening and the middlegame, then you’re going to have a bad endgame.”
A decade ago Simutowe put out a shortlist of his best games, intending to work on an autobiography. Sadly Tate did not compile his own games (he played in roughly a thousand classical tournaments, as well as rapids later in his career), so what remains are those collected and commented on by others (bar three taken from Tate’s lectures, with his own unique patter). There are also some tactical problems taken from his games but, quite frankly, there aren’t many jewels.
“I hope that for our younger students and our aspiring players, they will study my play and emulate my style,” said Tate in 2006. “I hope I’ll have a lasting influence. I understand that I’m creating a legacy per se, and I’m very aware of that. There is never a time when I play that I’m not aware of that.” So let this be a lesson to all of us: if you think you have games or positions which will be of interest to the wider world, get them organised and ready to go. Death always wins in the end.
I enjoyed the story of Tate and his world, more so than the actual games. It’s a wonderful tribute to the man that so many have contributed to this book in so many ways; Tate clearly touched many, many lives. We’ll leave the last words to his son, Andrew (Emory III): “The only thing that makes me feel better is knowing that he doesn’t know he’s dead. If he did, he would be furious!”
When the London Chess Conference was first held in 2013, it was supposed to be a one-off, but it is still going strong 10 years later. What is the secret of its success, and what can we expect at next month’s event?
The London Chess Conference, which will place from 17-19 March, is a gathering of some of the leading lights in chess and education from around the world. The venue is the sparkling, newly-built Elm Grove Conference Centre at the University of Roehampton in south-west London. This year the theme of the conference is Chess and STEM. We examine how chess teaching can be adapted to help children to learn about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. There are places available for those wishing to attend the conference. For more details and to register, visit the conference website.
STEM subjects are seen as fundamental to careers in the 21st century, and any methods that assist children to learn are to be welcomed. If STEM are the vital academic academic subjects, then the vital skills that are needed in order to succeed in the future are the 4C’s: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. We expect to see examples of how chess helps children to acquire these skills.
The range of sponsors indicates the importance of the event. The partner sponsors, whose backing ensured the event took place, are the International Chess Federation (FIDE), the European Chess Union (ECU) and Chess in Schools and Communities (CSC). In addition, we have received sponsorship from the English Chess Federation, ChessKid, Chessable, Chess Manager and ChessForEdu. Chess and Bridge has also committed material support. As a result, we are able to secure the attendance of noted international experts to present at the conference.
The conference started in 2013 alongside the London Chess Classic. The two events were co-located at Olympia until 2017. Due to the growth of the events, the conference was held separately at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith in 2018 and 2019. The Covid pandemic forced the conference to be run online in 2020. Finally, we are able to meet in person again at Roehampton. The conference themes reflect the wide range of intersections between chess and the spheres of culture and education.
2013 Chess and Education
2014. Chess and Mathematics
2015 Chess and Society
2016 The Didactics of Chess
2017 Scholastic Chess
2018 The Future of Chess in Education
2019 Chess and Female Empowerment
2023 Chess and STEM
The number of attendees has grown each year, and 140 people registered for the last in-person conference in 2019. These included some of the movers and shakers of the chess education world, including officials from FIDE, ECU and other international representative bodies, officials from national chess federations, politicians and policy makers, managers of chess education projects including Erasmus Plus, organisers of school chess teaching, chess tutors, chess trainers, teachers, chess authors and journalists.
This year, the format of the conference continues to evolve. We have moved to a hybrid format so that some talks will be presented digitally – either from a remote presenter or in some cases pre-recorded. Pre-recording guarantees that the playout does not suffer from poor internet problems. It is also more useful when the language is not English and subtitles or a voiceover is required.
The opening event of the conference, on the afternoon of Friday 17 March, consists of a seminar on pre-school chess. The first part will comprise digital presentations and the second part will comprise in-person presentations. This seminar has been organised by FIDE and is probably the most expert gathering on early-years chess that has ever taken place.
The conference proper kicks off on the morning of Saturday 18 March with opening speeches by Dana Reizniece-Ozola, the chief executive of FIDE (and former finance minister of Latvia), and Malcom Pein, the chief executive of CSC as well as a board member of the European Chess Union.
FIDE started sponsoring the conference in 2019 and now treats the conference as the world’s premier chess and education conference. It has expanded the scope of the conference with the early-years seminar and has enabled several important chess officials from outside Europe to attend the event. The conference sequence would not have been possible without the continuing support of CSC, which has sponsored the event from the beginning. ECU has been supporting the event since 2016 and we are grateful to Jesper Bergmark Hall, chair of the ECU Education Commission, and Theodoros Tsorbatzoglou. ECU’s general secretary, for their unwavering commitment.
Dana and Malcolm are followed by Jerry Nash, chairman of the FIDE Education Commission, who will focus on how chess develops critical thinking, which is the foundation of the scientific method. Thereafter the day is structured around each of the STEM disciplines, with experts exploring the different ways in which chess engages a specific discipline.
For science, we have Mark Lawrenson from STEM UK, the network of teachers who teach STEM subjects. A physics teacher, he provides insights into how to inculcate children with structured ways of thinking. We will also hear about the Chessable research awards from Alexey Root – the application of chess-related ideas to real-world problems.
For technology, Boris Bruhn from Hamburg and a member of the FIDE Education Commission will give an overview of classroom technology used for chess. This includes how to make use of the large interactive screens as well as digital devices held by the pupils. Taking into account all of the software available, this is a large undertaking. Mike Klein (aka FunMasterMike), along with Carey Fan, will give an extensive overview of ChessKid, the leading software platform for learning chess.
For engineering, Rolf Niemann from the science centre at Lund University will show us how to control a robot using coding. A chessboard is a convenient space on which to drive a robot given its built-in co-ordinate system. Chess offers a ready-made domain for the practice of controlled movement rather than having to fabricate an artificial environment. Paolo Sartorelli will describe the new project Chess and Artificial Intelligence which is being funded by Erasmus Plus. Paweł Kacprzak will show us some AI in action – the ability to scan a document or indeed a chessboard and convert that into a digital format where it can link to a chess engine or a video about that very position. It has to be said that chess naturally lends itself to artificial intelligence. This was recognised by Alan Turing, who developed the world’s first chess evaluation algorithm.
For mathematics, Tiago Hirth from Ludus, the maths and games centre, at Lisbon University and Monika Musilek from Haus der Mathematik, the mathematics teacher training institute in Vienna, will talk about their work together investigating how children learn mathematics through play. They will show some strategy games which the participants will have a chance to try.
On Sunday 19 March, the conference looks at broader topics. The first session in the morning will look at how chess and games can help children who are struggling with academic subjects. We will hear from Marion Schöttelndreier, who is an assistant school principal with particular responsibility for science and technology at a secondary school in Lund, Sweden, who will outline some of the notable social benefits of chess. Mikkel Nørgaard from Skoleskak in Denmark will show how chess can in some cases improve mental health. Anastasia Sorokina will talk about the Infinite Chess Project, which finds ways to relate to children with some forms of autism. Brigitta Peszleg from ChessPlus will show some strategy games, such as Halma, which bring joy to all ages and makes learning effortless.
The second session looks at chess teacher training. Currently, there seems to be a lack of interest by schools in the professional accreditation of chess teachers, but the trend is that some formal training will be required, especially as the qualifications endorsed by official chess bodies gain credibility. The speakers include teacher trainers who have taught the basic European course (known as ECU101) and FIDE’s introductory course for teachers known as the Preparation of Teachers course. Other approaches to teacher training will also be covered.
After lunch, there is an opportunity to hear about innovative chess projects from around the world. The session will be headed by the former education minister of Georgia, Mikheil Chkhenkeli, where chess has been incorporated into the curriculum. In a round-table discussion, we will hear from speakers from Armenia, Germany, England, Romania, North Macedonia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Botswana.
Overall, it is an ambitious conference which, like a good chess move, tries to achieve several objectives at the same time. It brings together people who are genuinely committed to having games available to STEM teachers. People will come away having had their preconceptions blown away by the infectious enthusiasm of chess proponents from around the world.
It has been 10 years since the first London Chess Conference. It was originally the brainchild of Stefan Löffler and Malcolm Pein, and was only supposed to be a one-off. Its longevity is due to the fact that people liked it and want to come back again. It is the unique mix of people that gives the event its magic. The programmes are devised to capture the current state of play in the worlds of chess and education. Yet attendees value more the opportunity to meet others with whom they share a common interest – a community of practitioners.
Networking is done during breaks, in the evening, at side rooms, and even coming and going to the airport. New projects are hatched and collaborations begun. We can point to several major projects and methods which would not have occurred had it not been for the London Chess Conference. Ultimately the success of the conference is due to the perception and belief that we need to keep trying for the benefit of children everywhere so that they will become thinkers of the future.
It takes a lot of work to construct a professional event. I am proud that it is still running after 10 years and has achieved a measure of international recognition. Many people are involved in making it happen. This year, recognition for their contributions is due to Brigitta Peszleg, Leila Raivio, Rita Atkins, Kate Cooke, Etienne Mensch, Karel van Delft, John Upham and Stefan Löffler.
The keen-eyed reader will notice that the London Chess Conference is organised by ChessPlus Limited. This is the name of the chess consultancy which provides training for chess teachers. The pedagogical approach condenses many years of experience from chess teachers across Europe to integrate chess into the educational framework. ChessPlus runs a programme of courses comprising The Smart Method to Teach Chess, Chess and Mathematics, Chess and Logic, Chess and Critical Thinking and so on.
John Foley is director of the London Chess Conference
Larry Evans was just 16 when he wrote his first book – a self-published monograph on the great Vienna tournament of 1922. Some of the analysis is a little wayward, but it’s still a remarkable achievement
This season I have been mainly losing to people younger than myself. Other people as well, but it’s the youngsters doing the most damage. In revenge, I felt the need to savage a book written by a teenager.
In 1948 Larry Evans, aged just 16, was already a strong player. In three years he would be US champion, then go on to become an IM, a GM, US champion a further four times, and a second to Bobby Fischer. He would also become one of the most celebrated chess columnists and writers, famously co-authoring Fischer’s My 60 Memorable Games (which I still have not read).
As part of his development, the teenager not only discovered the 1922 Vienna tournament‘s scores, but took it upon himself to annotate each of the 103 games, and then self-publish the result. At 16! As Evans later admitted, “Youth is so presumptuous!” Sixty-two years later, he was asked to review his first work for a new edition of Vienna 1922, with computer assistance, sadly dying before the result was published. Thus this is both Evans’ first and last book – an alpha and omega one might say.
Vienna 1922was a 15-player all-play-all tournament featuring a lot of big names, though lacking Capablanca and Lasker, who had contested the world championship the previous year. The field was as follows, with Chessmetrics December 1921 world ranking in brackets: Alekhine (3); Rubinstein (4); Tartakower (6); Tarrasch (7); Bogoljubow (10); Spielmann (11); Maroczy (12); Réti (13); Grünfeld (20); Sämisch (23). Bogoljubow and Rubinstein were perennial world championship contenders; Alekhine would succeed to the title in 1927. Some other names may also ring bells!
Completing the field were local bunnies Sándor Takács, Heinrich Wolf, Imre König, Hans Kmoch and Vladimir Vuković. Kmoch and Vuković went on to become better known as chess writers. Kmoch’s most notable book is Pawn Power in Chess, published in 1956, while Vuković produced two of the most famous chess books of all time – The Art of Attack in Chess (1963) and The Chess Sacrifice (1968).
In Vienna 1922, Evans’s comments are pithy, but usually humorous and accurate in equal measure. Each round is given a succinct summary, and each game a brief prologue. So what happened? Here is the scoretable:
This was to be Rubinstein’s last great hurrah. He won five in a row between rounds 10 and 14, and went undefeated all tournament, but was clearly leading a charmed life in some games. Tartakower was a deserved second, hunted down after a start of 6.5/7. Third was … Wolf?! Indeed, Wolf led the tournament in round 10, only to receive 0 from the next two games. Though several games from this tournament made his own best games collection, Alekhine lost a whole three games, despite benefiting from a bye against Spielmann, who missed the last two rounds due to illness. It is quite clear that König and Kmoch suffered, even when their games were looking promising, and sought out draws whenever possible. Neither won a game. Maroczy had a very solid tournament, only losing one game.
Whilst going through the book I realised the drama of the tournament wasn’t coming across very well, so I made my own progressive (if slightly messy) scoretable.
Here I discovered one issue with the book: several round summaries feature the wrong match pairings and results. The table I constructed demonstrated just how well Tarrasch had finished (six wins and two draws in the second half of the tournament). In round 10 he defeated Réti with a lovely king march.
34. Kh2 Nd6 35. Rg7+ Kh8 36. Rd7 Nb5 37. Kg3 Nxc3 38. Kf4 Nb5 39. Ke5 Re8 40. Kf6. Black resigns. The plan is Kf7 and Bg7#. If Rg8 Kf7 and the threat of Rd8 is game-ending.
The openings played are testament to their era and the influence of “hypermodern” ideas. Because these ideas were new, openings can look inaccurate or overindulgent to modern eyes. However, the differences in strength are also a factor. Weaker players strive for drawish lines; stronger players play some slightly fishy stuff. For this reason, many of the most entertaining games are those against König and Kmoch, whom everyone was clearly desperate to dispatch. This was how Rudolf Spielmann, with Black, did the job against Kmoch in round 4.
This was not the only game where I had cause to doubt the teenager/septuagenarian’s commentary. In round 9, Kmoch was again the victim of a crazed stronger player, Ernst Grünfeld:
As the tournament progressed I found myself really rooting for Kmoch, only to be disappointed each time. The summary before Vuković-Kmoch pretty much covered being a Kmoch fan (“Black hangs his queen!”). I genuinely bashed my head into the table.
There were a number of blunders throughout – possibly because it was a long tournament, but more likely because back then they didn’t register thousands upon thousands of tactical puzzles and tomes of theory. They had to reason things out themselves, without a bank of patterns and tricks. Sometimes it’s utter nonsense, as in this game between Vuković and Spielmann.
The positional chess can be quite impressive though, as in the following game between poor old Kmoch and Siegbert Tarrasch.
Certainly, as a disciple of chaos myself, I didn’t really trust young Evans’s nous in the crazier positions. Which was a lesson in itself: given most chess books these days are written by grandmasters with supercomputers, it’s useful to be able to challenge what you’re being told, and sometimes find out you’re actually correct. Sometimes.
As you might expect from conversion of an old descriptive book without diagrams to algebraic with plentiful diagrams, there are regular typos; these don’t detract from the games though. In all seriousness, to achieve what he did in this work is quite astonishing. Evans the teenager found the time, determination and sheer cojones to analyse games from the top tier of chess a mere 26 years before – games by players who, he admits, were at that stage all stronger than he was. Not only did he contribute to chess scholarship in the process, but he protected chess legacy and brought obscure games to a wider audience:
“My main reason for writing in 1948,” Evans said, “was to preserve the games which were then largely unavailable except for a handful of collectors.” It is little wonder he went on to be so beloved by chessplayers in America, and around the world.
How would 11-year-old Kingston junior Jaden Mistry fare at the outdoor “Chess Arena” on the seafront in India’s bustling commercial metropolis?
A recent holiday back home in our native city Mumbai was meant to be a relaxing Christmas break with family and friends. Little did I imagine the intended time off from my demanding work schedule, and a well-deserved pause for my 11-year-old son Jaden from doing his homework and playing league chess for Kingston, would have some surprises in store.
With an estimated population of 27 million, Mumbai is the second most populous city in India after the capital New Delhi. Located on the west coast of India overlooking the Arabian sea, Mumbai never sleeps: it is the epicentre of fashion, the commercial and entertainment capital of India, and home to both the mega-rich and the poor.
As in most parts of India, cricket is the sport that defines the city and unifies people across all social groups. Chess may not yet have the universal appeal of cricket, but it is catching up. Encouraged by a growing number of enthusiastic parents, schoolchildren now take chess seriously as a sport, aiming to emulate old heroes such as former world champion Viswanathan Anand (“Vishy”) and new stars such as Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa (“Praggy”).
Both Vishy and Praggy hail from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and in part thanks to their achievements chess is most popular in the south. Club chess and coaching are increasing in Mumbai, though still not at the same pace as in the south of the country, but intriguingly one can also now often find chess being played in cafés, malls and workspaces.
An interesting open-air spot along the picturesque Arabian sea where I accidentally discovered street chess being played by young and old alike was on the promenade at Carter Road in Bandra, an up-market suburb of Mumbai. The promenade itself, a mile-long walkway along the Arabian sea, is popular with fitness enthusiasts and casual walkers. Carter Road is one of the most expensive areas in Mumbai, filled with cafés, street food stalls and fine-dining restaurants.
Strolling with Jaden on a pleasant Christmas Eve morning, we were intrigued by an array of marble tables and makeshift benches and chairs made from a mix of wood, stone, iron and steel at the northern end of the Carter Road promenade. We asked some locals about them, and were told that players and spectators were usually to be found in the evenings at the so-called “Chess Arena”, as well as occasionally in the mornings on weekends and holidays.
A local resident who was himself a social chess player gave us some background on the arena. He said that, drawing inspiration from open-air chess in the parks of New York, two chess boards set in marble and stone were initially erected in 2009 by the Carter Road association, with help from the local council. Subsequent interest from visitors prompted the council to add another 14 boards, though the monsoon rains from June to September and the salty sea breeze have since corroded some of the metallic structures, reducing the number of playable chessboards to about a dozen.
Armed with this history of the Chess Arena on a promenade where I walked with my wife on our first date (on 26 May, 2007, to be precise), I couldn’t help but reflect on the positive changes that my childhood city had undergone in recent years. Encouraged by Jaden, who in a café not far away from the promenade was being told about his parents’ first date, our natural instinct was to try to play a quick morning game on one of the medieval-looking marble boards. To our disappointment, we discovered there were no pieces – and no players either. I promised Jaden we would come back in the evening with our own chess pieces.
For Jaden, the wait until evening was the longest in his two-week of holiday back home in India. When the time arrived, I don’t think I have ever seen him get ready more rapidly. Soon we arrived at the same spot as in the morning, and were pleasantly surprised to see five of the chessboards already occupied. These were serious chessplayers, though playing without clocks.
There were also a number of onlookers loudly offering advice in a mix of local (Marathi) and national (Hindi) languages. I was impressed by the focus of the players and their indifference to the banter. The post-mortems after the games were even more intriguing, with the spectators having memorised the moves better than some of the players, who generally did not keep score.
Sensing Jaden’s impatience, I approached one of the players, who had just won a close game, to see if he would play a game with my son. He agreed, and with twilight descending we moved to another chessboard nearer a streetlight. Jaden’s first Chess Arena opponent was called Raju, quite a common name in India. He said he was a frequent player at the arena and reckoned he was rated about 1500.
Raju asked Jaden in a strong south Indian accent if he was a newcomer to the arena. Jaden explained how he had got involved in club chess in a pub in Kingston, London. Jaden’s recently acquired southern English accent, accentuated by a tinge of an Italian accent left over from having spent the previous eight years in Italy, and his opponent’s south Indian accent meant each of them repeated the same sentence twice to ensure they understood each other. But the beauty of chess is that, as with mathematics, it has a language of its own. A few moves into the game, Jaden and Raju seemed to understand each other perfectly. So here we were, within no time, my son making his international street-chess debut in his birth city and opting for e4 as White.
Faced with high-decibel traffic in this busy Mumbai suburb, and surrounded by curious and vocal onlookers, this was a spectacle Jaden had never encountered in the UK during his short chess career. He asked me if I had any earbuds to reduce the sound – not something I consider carrying in my pockets. Soon the focus of the onlookers at other boards shifted to Jaden’s game. The fact that he was by far the youngest player that evening encouraged the vocal chess engines to offer even more uninvited expert opinion. Raju politely reminded the spectators that their shadows falling on the board were dimming the already obscured streetlight.
The game lasted about 45 minutes and, after a rapid exchange of material towards the end, the players agreed a draw. The result drew applause from the spectators. One of them introduced himself as a chess player and coach, and invited me to visit his Facebook page, claiming to be a 1600 Fide-rated player and offering to coach Jaden. Raju later told me it was quite normal to be greeted by self-acclaimed chess trainers and experts, who might or might not have the credentials to coach.
As for Jaden, he appeared relieved to be off the mark in his international chess career. Inspired by his new-found confidence, he quickly made a New Year resolution to score his first points for the Kingston third team. Raju, perhaps sensing he had let an 11-year-old off with a draw, quickly asked Jaden for a rematch. The two of them ended up playing twice more, with honours even at the end of the evening – Jaden had won one, lost one and drawn one. Much to my amusement, our two hours at the Chess Arena had seen a succession of players and spectators observing and commenting on different boards in a variety of regional dialects, some of which I couldn’t fully comprehend myself.
We visited the Chess Arena a few more times during our stay in Mumbai. I lost count of the number of games Jaden played, but what is embedded in my memory – and perhaps in Jaden’s as well – are the buzz and vibrancy around the Chess Arena. In many ways, it felt nothing less than a carnival of street chess.
The Czech super-grandmaster’s games collection doubles as a memoir and is full of humour, passion, wisdom, raw honesty and an unquenchable love for chess
David Navara has always been one of my favourite players amongst the elite, but I’ve never really understood why. Are his games really that interesting? Is he actually a thoughtful character? A super-nice guy? A calculation machine? A true chess artist? Turns out – yep!
My Chess World really is a most charming book, as the Roman poets would say – except that at 616 pages it’s not exactly brief. In fact due to its weight this became a bedside book, where I would read a chapter or two a night (a couple of games) stretching through 64 (of course!) games. Before nearly every game is an article about his experiences as a professional chess player.
The dominant theme is Navara’s unstoppable love for chess, through ups and downs (even finishing up with a “Chess Poem”). Every page resounds with passion and strain, humour and wisdom. Despite this chess addiction, he finds time to read books (“I normally take three times as many books to a tournament as I manage to read”), partake in philosophy and art criticism, spend six years at university, follow Christianity and even have a girlfriend (on page 568 – by which time the reader has sadly already fallen in love). He also likes to take note of everything around him and find amusement everywhere.
The book is filled with stories and gossip, opinions and jokes, and one particularly surreal photo of himself with a large fish. He even has the occasional hilarious adventure, walking about between games. It may help that we seem to share a sense of deadpan humour, which of course can be a big hit-or-miss with chess books (and people.)
Navara is immensely courteous, making excuses for opponents, complimenting them, pointing out other instances when he was on the receiving end or how they proceeded to outscore him in the tournament. Before a game from his match against Nakamura, he writes about “UNPLEASANT OPPONENTS”. Is Navara about to unleash? No, he explains that certain players’ styles he finds hard to play against. The rudest he gets is a slight argument with someone who steals his seat on a plane, and remarking he has possibly heard one of Nigel Short’s stories before.
Harsh criticism is saved for himself. Games are filled with comments on things he missed, or ways he was lucky, or how computer ideas are beyond the mind of a mere 2700(!). One senses the mischievous wit of Tal, proclaiming himself the youngest ex-world champion, when Navara notes he has probably lost more chess matches than any other player (local sponsorship often invited strong players for mini-matches, which tend to go badly for him). However, he seems justifiably proud of certain stellar individual results, and team results are a source of great joy. There are moments which seem incredibly raw, and one particularly sorry comment that he used to have more supporters in the past. Everything is so honest it is impossible not to join in the emotional journey.
The self-deprecating bulk of the book comes under the title “Blog past its sell-by date”. This may be the secret of what makes this book so impressive. Navara clearly took his blog very seriously, investing time immediately after games to analyse and give his thoughts, sometimes to the detriment of the following day’s games. Through the various editions and translations, despite myriad lines I found very few errata. He gives move times, tournament placings (pre-game, post-game and final), team scores and podium scores. All this provides far more context (and interest) than your normal game collection.
Nevertheless all this would be fairly pointless if the games weren’t up to much. The 64 games chosen are obviously overwhelmingly interesting, although as Navara explains:
Substantial games are interesting
Substantial games require extensive annotations
Extensive annotations are boring
The Navara calling card is this king march, a superb concept coming from computer preparation and practical skill.
Here Carlsen is put on the back foot with White, coming up with a clever rejoinder.
Invited for a match in China against whizz-kid Wei Yi, Navara uses a Queen sacrifice to unbalance the position.
The powerful usage (and discarding) of a queen recurs in several games, both for himself and his opponent. Sometimes Navara neglects development and defers castling. He seeks out unbalanced positions, but often with not kings at stake but better coordination of pieces. Chaos – but more treading water amidst a tsunami than running to escape a volcanic eruption. It’s never that obvious what the end goal is or what we’re avoiding, just that it’s all completely bewildering hard work. A number of games finish in unusual rook endgames, which can become remarkably engaging, even for philistines like me.
Here are two games which felt particularly joyful. The first, against Indian GM Krishnan Sasikiran, appealed to me instantly because Navara randomly picks up an opening I play and finds ideas I’d never considered – and of course there are the tripled pawns! Drama explodes from a “level” position, but is tamed by piece coordination, accurate choices and a very cute finish.
Here the future world championship challenger, Ian Nepomniachtchi, contributes to a wonderfully unorthodox game, where Navara has to keep an eye out for perpetuals, fortresses and … blunders!
I would thoroughly recommend this book to chess lovers. If you end up falling in love with Navara as well, that’s just the cost.
Kingston members outline what they plan to do differently next year
David Rowson: I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Why spoil the fun of New Year’s Eve by thinking of all the tasks before you? Instead, I make lists of things I need to do at random times throughout the year. The chess ones begin with “Learn how to play some openings properly”. So my resolution list for 2023 is:
Learn a decent defence to 1. d4, instead of, when faced by this at the board, spending a couple of minutes regretting I still haven’t done this, thinking I no longer believe in the Old Indian Defence, and then playing it anyway.
Learn how to defend against the Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation and the Scotch etc, etc, instead of improvising half the time.
Study the endgame (rather vague, and an old chestnut, but I’m sure it’s true).
Greatly reduce the number of five-minute Lichess games I play and find something online that improves my play instead.
As captain of Kingston’s first team, help our excellent squad to fulfil their potential by winning everything we can (ie the Surrey League and Thames Valley division 1 – it’s going to be tough, but we have the players to do it).
Peter Lalić: I will quit 1. h3. I will play faster. I will continue to study zero endgames. I will win more games in the opening. I will become a Fide master.
David Maycock: Play faster and improve in calculation.
Peter Andrews: Bit late in my career to make many changes, but after seeing some scary tracking exploits I plan to use different openings when playing online – to put those wishing to prepare for games with me off the scent.
Stephen Moss: Naturally I will stop playing the hopelessly passive Nf6 Scandinavian. I started playing it about a decade ago and got hooked because some of my opponents tried to hold on to the d-pawn with c5. I found gambiting a pawn on c6 then gave Black a very nice attacking game and chalked up some easy wins. Unfortunately, very few players do try to defend the d-pawn. Most sensibly choose to build up a space advantage and enjoy a very pleasant game while I grovel. Peter Lalić tells me I play it wrong and should never put the knight, when chased from d5, on b6, where it can get marooned. He recommends the Portuguese Gambit, and I might give that a go, but I’m tempted to junk the Scandinavian and learn the Sicilian. Nigel Short once put me off trying to digest all the theory in the Sicilian, calling it “an ocean” and implying I would drown. But, given how tedious and grovelly my Scandinavian games are, I feel it’s either that or give up chess completely.
Julian Way: My resolution is to build an all-purpose repertoire against the Sicilian Defence. I’m even thinking of writing a little book about it.
John Foley: I don’t have New Year resolutions. Alone amongst chess players I am not interested in improving my rating. I am content to put up a decent struggle against strong players and occasionally win a nice game. My chess ambitions are focused on chess education.
Gregor Smith: As a seasoned member of the Failed by Third Week in January Club, I am no stranger to setting unrealistic goals, and here are my usual three annual intentions, which are no doubt destined for failure again:
Lose weight: I need to trim the fat. Not only from around the waistline, but I need to trim the fat from my opening repertoire. Calorific delights such as the Danish and Scotch gambits need to be banished, and replaced by lean efficiencies of the Italian and Spanish variety. I think I’ll still allow myself to indulge in some Smith-Morra on a cheat day however.
Read more books: Far from a bookworm, this is always a challenging one, and I must admit I’m still stuck on chapter 6 of Stephen Moss’s The Rookie having started last January – not a slight on the author, but a reader incapable of swapping his phone for a paperback. Next year, I think I’ll try a Chessable course.
Get more sleep: This involves not playing endless hours of 3+2 into the early hours. I want to channel that time before sleep into something that isn’t sending my mind into overdrive. I’ll maybe try 10+2 instead.
Mike Healey: As brain cells swiftly disappear, to find some openings which try to mask the decline.
Nick Grey: Play more Fide-rated games. Move quickly in known-to-me theory. Slow down when necessary and rely on tactics. Learn two new Black openings. Learn one new White opening. Volunteer to be reserve for Kingston teams. Allow plenty of time and arrive early. When not playing chess, talk more.
Jaden Mistry (aged 11): My chess resolution in 2023 is to improve my focus in the longer format of the game. My father, who taught me chess, always reminds me that I play as if I might miss my bus. That also means he gets little time to enjoy his Guinness at the Willoughby Arms. I therefore aim to develop my patience and focus more on the classical format, instead of the rapid and blitz that I started off with as a newbie. Since the league matches often end late in the evening, I also intend to work on my mental stamina to remain alert, and to improve my endgames. I am eager to get my first win for the club in January 2023, and subsequently perform consistently in order to improve our club’s record in third-team fixtures.
Stephen Daines: I’d like to get to 1700 by the end of 2023. I’ve come back to competitive chess after a 44-year break, and feel I’m getting back to my old form.
Mark Sheridan: I intend to study some endgames and learn more about them, because I currently know zilch. My plan is to read the highly recommended books by Averbakh and Silman.
Will Taylor: My main resolution for 2023 is to get into time trouble less, though I do make the same resolution every year. I’m also going to pretend I’m rated 200 points higher than I really am to make my approach more ambitious against players who are higher rated than I actually am.
Max Mikardo-Greaves: I’m hoping to boost my rating by a hundred points – it’s about 1300 at the moment – by analysing games, learning Queen’s Gambit as White and the French Defence as Black.
Ian Mason: I need to do my chess homework more regularly for the Killer Chess Academy. The aim is always to improve, even though getting up to 2000 is now well above my expectations.
Sean Tay: Find time to study more chess openings and try to improve my middle- and endgames. Play more league games and achieve a rating of 1600.
Vladimir Li: I will return to Fide-rated tournaments and hope to get the FM title.
Josh Lea: My resolution in 2023 is to take part in an actual, official chess game and get a rating. Once I’ve played 10 games I should have some idea of how strong I actually am.
Ohhun Kwon: I’ve returned to chess in my late twenties after a decade away, and I want to rediscover the passion for the game I had as a teenager. I’m wary of setting quantifiable goals because I know I just want to enjoy the game, but I would also like to start playing competitive games and climb up the ratings. I played at school and did well, but when I started university I lost touch with chess. Now I intend to start taking it seriously again and play some matches for the club.
Test your knowledge of chess with our festive quiz. We had a quiz night at the club on 19 December and the winning team got 12/20. See if you can do better. Answers at the bottom. No cheating!
Forty-two years ago, Garry Kasparov won the world junior chess championship ahead of several players with bright futures ahead of them. Which of the following players finished in second place?
(a) Silvio Danailov, future manager of Veselin Topalov (b) Nigel Short, future world championship challenger (c) Yasser Seirawan, future US chess champion (d) Ken Rogoff, future Harvard economist
During his brief career, Paul Morphy defeated all of the following chess greats one after the other EXCEPT:
(a) Adolf Andersson (b) Louis Paulsen (c) Jules Arnous de Rivière (d) Howard Staunton
Which of these is the REAL title of a published book?
(a) Disney’s Chess Guide by Anatoly Karpov (b) Fail at Chess with Putin by Garry Kasparov (c) Vegetarian Chess by Viswanathan Anand (d) Howling at the Moon by Vassily Ivanchuk
Which of the following grandmasters is the only one to have NOT won both the World junior chess championship and the world chess championship?
(a) Boris Spassky (b) Viktor Korchnoi (c) Garry Kasparov (d) Viswanathan Anand
The Elo rating system was featured in the plot of which of the following Oscar-nominated films?
(a) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (b) The King’s Speech (c) The Social Network (d) Parasite
The Fide logo is:
(a) A red-and-black chessboard surrounded by Olympic rings (b) A black-and-white chequered hexagon (c) A white knight on an oval black or blue globe (d) A black king in front of a blue or white shield
This chess-related item sold for $150,000 in a September 2009 auction:
(a) The chess set used in the film The Seventh Seal (b) A scoresheet signed by Kasparov and Karpov from an exhibition match in Spain. (c) The original manuscript for Aron Nimzowitsch’s My System (d) A copy of Wilhelm Steinitz’s will
In which of these chess variants would you try to lose all your pieces?
In April 2011, Viswanathan Anand achieved something that has happened to only five world champions. He:
(a) Won a Chess Oscar (b) Lost a classical game in under 20 moves (c) Achieved a positive head-to-head record against all his previous match opponents (d) Became a father
True or false: It is a Fide rule that the king must be taller than every other piece.
(a) True (b) False
Which of these was NOT an official rule for the 2008 Anand-Kramnik world championship match?
(a) The arbiter declares a time forfeiture (b) A player will be forfeited if he makes multiple illegal moves in a game (c) The players must recite the FIDE pledge at the opening ceremony (d) The players do not have to write down moves
Complete this quote from Capablanca in his book A Primer of Chess: A time limit of “between 20 and 30 moves per hour is …”
(a) “Suitable only for beginners” (b) “A fairly slow speed” (c) “Much too fast for proper study” (d) “The correct pace for correct chess”
In a 1992 tournament, GM Lev Psakhis accomplished something that has never been equalled:
(a) He defeated all four semi-finalists of the Candidates tournament (b) He defeated both Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov (c) He defeated all three Polgár sisters (d) He played 1052 moves over nine rounds
In 2015, this player was caught using a smartphone hidden in the player-only bathrooms to cheat against Armenian grandmaster Tigran Petrosian at the Dubai Open:
In July 2015 the Norwegian newspaper VG reported that Magnus Carlsen had:
(a) Signed for Real Madrid (b) earned $6.6 million in the first half of the decade (c) received 493 marriage proposals (d) met all three Kardashian sisters
When was the first official Fide ratings system introduced?
(a) 1966 (b) 1974 (c) 1971 (d) 1972
What is greatest in number?
(a) All atoms in the universe (b) Possible games of chess (c) Stars in the Milky Way (d) People on the planet
Which former Soviet player once got into a drunken fight over a woman at a bar in Havana, and missed the first five rounds of the 1966 Chess Olympiad because of his injuries. He was:
(a) Mikhail Tal (b) Vasily Smyslov (c) Viktor Korchnoi (d) Boris Spassky
What was Magnus Carlsen’s FIDE rating at 11 years old?
(a) 1645 (b) 2536 (c) 900 (d) 2127
During this well-known world championship match, a blueberry yoghurt delivered to one of the players became a controversial point of contention.
(a) Karpov v Kasparov, 1984 (b) Kasparov v Short, 1993 (c) Topalov v Kramnik, 1995 (d) Karpov v Korchnoi, 1978
(b) Nigel Short
(d) Howard Staunton. In 1858 Morphy travelled to the UK to play Staunton, but Staunton kept delaying the match and it never took place
(a) Disney’s Chess Guide by Anatoly Karpov
(b) Viktor Korchnoi
(c) The Social Network. In one scene in the film, Eduardo Saverin shows Mark Zuckerberg “the algorithm used to rank chess players”
(c) A white knight on an oval black or blue globe
(a) The chess set used in the film The Seventh Seal
(c) Antichess, also known as “losing chess” and “suicide chess”
(d) Became a father. On 9 April 2011, Anand and his wife Aruna’s first child was born, a son named Akhil
(b) False. The Fide Handbook says only that the king should be about 3.75 inches tall, and the other pieces “should be proportionate in their height and form”
(c) The players must recite the Fide pledge at the opening ceremony. At the time there was no such thing as a Fide opening pledge, and, even when there was, no one has ever been forced to recite it
(b) “A fairly slow speed”
(c) He defeated all three Polgar sisters. During a 1992 tournament in Aruba, Psakhis beat Judit Polgár with White in round five, Susan Polgár with Black in round eight, and Sofia Polgár with White in round nine
(b) Gaioz Nigalidze, who received a three-year ban and had to forfeit his grandmaster title following an investigation
(b) Earned $6.6 million in the first half of the decade, more than any other chess player over that period
(b) Possible games of chess
(a) Mikhail Tal, who was notorious for his affinity with alcohol. Tal and Korchnoi were reportedly in a bar when the former was hit over the head with a bottle by the jealous boyfriend of a woman Tal was dancing with
(d) Karpov v Korchnoi, 1978. After the yoghurt was delivered to Karpov, Korchnoi’s camp alleged that the flavour of the yoghurt (blueberry) was a secret signal from Karpov’s seconds
IM Michael Basman, who died on 26 October at the age of 76, was an innovator who passed on his love and deep knowledge of the game to countless players in Surrey and beyond
At the start of his chess career, Michael Basman might have been seen as part of the 1960s wave of young English players which also included Ray Keene and Bill Hartston, foreshadowing the English chess explosion of the 1970s. But Basman was never just part of a movement: he was much too individual and original for that. He was a great innovator at the board, a pioneer of neglected opening systems, but perhaps most importantly he developed new ideas about the teaching and popularisation of chess.
As long-time Kingston Chess Club member Julian Way remembers, Basman was always sceptical about established principles and didn’t like second-hand received knowledge. Julian studied with Basman as a junior, and then much later he had some mentoring from him, which assisted Julian in his approach to teaching chess himself. “Mike was a very original teacher,” he says. “He approached the game like a beginner, not an expert, in the sense of having a humble, open mind. He was unafraid to question everything. He liked to read the books of the early masters, going back as far as Ruy Lopez, as he felt they had an uncontaminated approach. He was a great teacher because he valued the progress of beginners as much as stronger players.”
Basman told Julian that he felt his life’s mission was to popularise chess. “He had the idea of putting lessons on audio tape, instead of into books, realising that listening could be a valid alternative learning methodology to reading.” He launched the UK Chess Challenge in 1996, which encouraged huge numbers of schoolchildren to participate in the game – around 50,000 annually and more than a million since its inception. Basman was very interested in how a good cadre of teachers could be produced. Julian explains, “His vision of chess teaching was to take people who knew little or nothing about chess and train them.” He was above all concerned to find people who had some teaching skills, or at least good communication skills, and direct them towards teaching chess.
Basman’s father was originally from Armenia; Basman himself studied for a time in the Armenian capital, Erevan, and won the city’s championship whilst there. However, he was a Surrey local, attending Surbiton County Grammar School and playing for several clubs in the area, starting with Surbiton as a junior and making a significant contribution to local chess right to the end of his life. He had many career highlights, including draws with two ex-world champions, Mikhail Botvinnik (Hastings 1966-67) and Mikhail Tal (Hastings 1973-74). In 1967 he led the English team at the World Students’ Championships, at which they finished third and scored a surprise 3-1 win against the Soviet Union. Basman won the top-board game against Vladimir Savon. His best result in the British Championships was first equal with Hartston in 1973, though he lost the tie-break. He became an international master in 1980.
The following is a game which Mike played against another uniquely creative player, Albin Planinc. Black’s opening is provocative in the extreme; some would say foolhardy, others brave, but it works out surprisingly well. In the 1974-75 edition of Hastings Mike only scored 5.5/15, but this included wins against Ulf Andersson, Pal Benko, Michael Stean and Jonathan Mestel, as well as Planinc. His fighting spirit is shown by the fact that he only drew one game out of the 15.
Kingston’s first-team captain has been spending the summer in Georgia. A foray to the centre of chess life there may not have been the ideal preparation for the start of the new season
Unlike our cherished Willoughby Arms, the Tbilisi Chess Palace was purpose-built in the 1970s for the practice and promotion of the game. Its full name is, however, the Tbilisi Chess Palace and Alpine Club, so it yokes together two activities which are usually thought of as rather distinct from one other (the Willoughby’s combination of chess and Irish music is perhaps less unlikely and certainly less strenuous).
The construction of a special building for chess and the implication that it is at least as significant an activity as mountain-climbing indicate its importance to the Soviet state and its people. There’s a comprehensive account of the Chess Palace’s significance and of the Soviet and Georgian chess background here.
When I first came to live and work in Tbilisi in 1988, I stumbled upon the palace and was lucky enough to find that an international tournament was taking place there, with the bonus that it featured Mikhail Tal, Oleg Romanishin and … Stuart Conquest. Stuart achieved the remarkable feat of beating both Tal and Romanishin (playing Black in both games), but, as a sign of the strength of East European chess at that time, the tournament winners were the little-known Bulgarian Valentin Lukov and the Georgian Elizbar Ubilava.
I didn’t realise it then, of course, but the privileged position of chess within the USSR would soon be under threat, as the Soviet state itself weakened and finally collapsed. Many top Georgian players, having lost their state subsidies, emigrated to other countries and/or tried other means of earning a living, such as starting businesses or playing poker. Yet the Chess Palace itself remains in place and, I assume, still plays a key role in the development of Georgian chess. Thirty-four years after I first encountered it, staying in Georgia this summer I decided to visit the palace again.
Hovering in the empty reception area, I was greeted by a man who emerged from an office with “What do you want?” I told him I was English and interested in chess. I avoided unnecessary and complicated explanations about how I used to live in Tbilisi and had actually played in two minor tournaments here 34 years ago. He asked me to wait, and about 10 minutes later called me in to meet another man, in his seventies, who addressed me with some words of English, trying to understand what I was doing in the otherwise empty chess palace in the sweltering month of August, when all normal people had gone off to the Black Sea or to mountain resorts.
He produced a board and set, and without further talk we began what was in effect a five-minute game without a clock. Playing Black, I very quickly found myself in a tricky line of the Two Knights’ Defence, transposed from a Scotch Gambit. A few moves later I was faced with losing my queen, being checkmated or possibly both. I opted for resignation, mentally blaming my comparative inadequacy on my opponent’s no doubt rigorous training in the Soviet school of chess.
I asked him his name – “Roman”. Clearly not Roman Dzindzichashvili (actually “Jinjikhashvili” would be a shorter and more accurate transliteration, but would spoil the spectacle of all those consonants together) as he was thin and wiry, the opposite of the once famous Georgian grandmaster (and US champion). He eluded my question about his rating, and tactfully made no comment when I told him mine. I noted that he didn’t ask me if I was interested in playing for the local first team, or any other team, for that matter.
For our second game I sought the security of my beloved King’s Indian Attack. Attack it was, on both sides of the board, him on the kingside and me on the other. He sacrificed the exchange and the position was very double-edged, so I bailed out by giving back the exchange for perpetual check. I hoped he hadn’t decided to go easy on a clueless foreigner. I had the feeling that if I could play him every week I would become quite a decent player, but he’s probably too busy doing the organisational work for the next generation of Baadur Jobavas and Nona Gaprindashvilis.