INTERVIEWER: Lev, what happened out there? Did Nakamura really say "J'adoube"?One of these things should have happened on Thursday night. As far as I'm aware, none of them did.
ARONIAN: Yes, yes he did. He tried to get away with it. I just couldn't believe it.
INTERVIEWER: Lev, what happened out there? Did Nakamura really say "J'adoube"?
ARONIAN: To be honest I really don't know. I thought he did at the time but we were both tired and I really can't be sure.
INTERVIEWER: Lev, what happened out there? Did Nakamura really say "J'adoube"?
ARONIAN: You know - I just don't want to talk about. It's gone, I won the game. Let's just talk about chess.
Everybody knows what did happen on Thursday night, but let's just look at it again, just to remind ourselves how outrageous it actually was.
Perhaps you'll take issue with "outrageous" - perhaps not. You can find occasional examples of similar conduct from top-notch players and you can judge them, and Nakamura against them, as you please.
However you judge it, though, it was an extraordinary incident, and hence it is also extraordinary that as far as we know, nobody asked Aronian about it in the subsequent interview. By "extraordinary" I don't necessarily mean "surprising" - that's far from the case - and obviously the best person to ask about it didn't turn up to be asked, for which he has quite rightly been fined.
OK. But what was stopping the interviewers, at what (not very accurately) is described as a press conference, asking his opponent about it?
To draw a parallel, it's as if after this happened
nobody had asked Peter Shilton or Bobby Robson for their opinion.
Come to that, it's as if Maradona had turned up for a press conference two days later and even then nobody asked him about it, given that when Nakamura actually turned up following his defeat of Topalov in the very next round, nobody said a word on the subject. You'd have thought it would be an ideal opportunity to press him about it. But they didn't.
Of course you don't know how much freedom of action AGON employees have to ask the questions they'd like (and as far as I can tell there isn't a press corps present, which is why it's not really a "press conference") which is one reason why I look a little askance at Ilya Merenzon declaring
it is following these moments of high drama and controversy that chess fans particularly want to hear from the players involved- another being that Mr Merenzon has done his best during the tournament to prevent chess fans discussing the games in the way we would like. But before we find ourselves moving off at that particular tangent, let's have a little look at Sagar Shah's interview with Nakamura in which he took the trouble to actually ask the wrongdoer to account for his actions.
Nakamura up against the wall, kinda
Again, you can judge for yourself what you think of Nakamura's explanation (even less than I thought of his original conduct, would be my answer). But without taking too much credit away from the interviewer - he's done an invaluable job that nobody else seems to have done - let's take a brief look at his approach instead.
Shah introduces the topic thus:
it's a little sensitive issue about yesterday but something from you would be really nice to hear about [the] touch-move incident, if you could just, ...which is kind of a deferential approach, but never mind, the point of an interview is what answers you get out of them rather than the way you get them, so it's not the most important thing. However, when Nakamura comes out with the intelligence-insulting garbage that he does
I probably touched the king for a second or two....in the moment I certainly didn't feel like itMr Shah then doesn't come out with any of the responses that immediately spring to mind. Like for instance
- really? you're telling us you didn't feel like it?
- isn't "A second or two" a long time to touch a piece and not notice that you're doing it?
- if you're claiming you didn't know you touched it, what was the j'adoube business all about?
As I say, I don't particularly want to criticise Mr Shah, who has after all performed us a service. Moreover, as far as I'm aware he isn't a professional chess writer but a titled chessplayer, as indeed are the people in the studio when the players come for a post-game "press conference".
So it's more than plausible that "titled player" combined with "not a professional journalist" isn't the description we're looking for, if the job we want done is "asking tough but necessary questions of top players". It's exactly the right description if the job you want done is "asking the players to guide you through the moves they made". But when you need something tougher and more bolshy than that, it shouldn't really be left up to people who have no expectation that that is going to be their job, and who are likely to be in awe of individuals who are world-class performers in the same field as them.
It's a culture of deference, or reluctance to make waves, and perhaps to say so helps solve the mystery that baffles Colin McGourty:
It remains a mystery why Levon Aronian wasn’t asked about the incident in the press conference he did attend.
Let's be clear about this: Mr Shah's interview with Nakamura shouldn't be an unexpected bonus and the failure to question either Aronian or Nakamura in their "press conferences" shouldn't be standard practice. The first should be standard practice and the second should be the exception.
Why? You shouldn't have to ask.
BECAUSE IN SPORTS JOURNALISM, ASKING COMPETITORS ABOUT INCIDENTS THAT JUST OCCURRED IN THEIR GAMES IS BOTH NORMAL AND INDISPENSIBLE.And if you haven't got that, you haven't got proper journalism.
Which, you might argue, might be because of a dearth of proper professional chess journalists, in this instance at any rate. Still, that explanation only goes so far to solve that mystery, and we surely know this, because it's not really a surprise to anybody that so few quesrions got asked. It's normal. It's our culture. Our deferential chess culture.
Because what would have happened if we'd left it to an actual, professional journalist?
A journalist like, for instance, Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam?
Cast your minds back - well, don't go to so much trouble, the video's right here - to last June in Norway, when a major international tournament coincided with very serious allegations of financial misconduct being levelled against Silvio Danailov, one-time President of the European Chess Union and aspirant to the leadership of FIDE.
So what happened when Dirk met Danailov?
What happened was that Dirk decided no difficult questions were to be asked. At about 11.23, you can find the doyen of European chess journalism declaring to the camera
In case you're wondering, we decided that we're not going to touch on any chess politicsbecause of course, touching on chess politics is not the job of a chess journalist nor of any interest to a chess audience.
And what is the reason for this omission? That it's all too difficult for our pretty little heads. At about 12.20, Dirk informs us:
There are a lot of things going on that are way too complicated for usComplicated. That's one way of putting it.
So, you know, while we can point at AGON, at the individual interviewers, at the problems inherent in having chess interviews carried out by strong players rather than professional journalists - what happened with Nakamura and Aronian was absolutely standard and normal in the world of chess. This is very much to our discredit.
By the way, I am not so naïve as to not understand that Dirk and Danailov presumably agreed before the interview that difficult questions, about money and where it had gone to, were not to be asked. (Maybe somebody made a similar agreement with Aronian.) I assume that that is what Dirk is saying. But that being so, Danailov shouldn't have been sitting next to Dirk in the first place, and Dirk should be saying something along the lines of "we wanted to interview Silvio Danailov but he wasn't willing to answer our questions". Because that's what proper journalism is. It's not celebrity-interviewing, where the subject approves the questions in advance. It's asking the questions the audience wants and needs to have answered.
As Dirk did not. But if you haven't got that, you haven't got proper journalism. And very much proper journalism, in chess, is what we haven't got.