Monday 25 April 2016

Leontxo García and the strange case of Neurocase

You may recall that last week this blog ran a piece, a touch on the sceptical side, about the claim that thirteen million people watched a Spanish TV programme covering the last game of the 1987 world championship match. Leontxo García was not at all pleased:

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story, goes the saying1.

I was highly entertained by this and if I knew what I was doing I think I'd post the Tweet (or at least the quote) on the masthead of this blog, but just to remain within the limits of my competence for the while, I was reminded that for some time I'd meant to write a piece about Leontxo García and the strange case of Neurocase.

Thursday 21 April 2016

Tell me how it really happened II

One other thing relating to that interview with Leontxo García and Miguel Illescas that we were looking at, a little sceptically, yesterday.

In the eighties, there were fifty million keen chess players in the Soviet Union.
Were there? That sounds like a lot to me.

The piece states:
En los años 80 la extinguida URSS contaba con más de cinco millones de ajedrecistas federados y unos 50 millones de personas practicaban el ajedrez con asiduidad, promovido como deporte nacional
which means
In the Eighties, the former USSR could boast more than five million registered chess players while around fifty million people were keen players, chess being promoted as the national sport.

Wednesday 20 April 2016

Tell me how it really happened

Just yesterday we were discussing the surprise appearance of chess, in the shape of the 1984 Karpov-Kasparov match, in the longrunning Spanish soap/period drama Cuéntame Cómo Pasó, and the accompanying RTVE piece on chess which interviewed Leontxo Garcías and Miguel Illescas.

I have a few bones of contention with the piece, notably the claim that thirteen million TV viewers in Spain followed the final game of the 1987 match in Sevilla. The piece tells it thus:
TVE retransmitió en directo la final: "Se trataba de un programa deportivo que iba cambiando entre el match de Sevilla, la última partida Kaspárov-Kárpov, y un encuentro de Copa Davis de India con Suecia, y los espectadores llamaban indignados para que dejaran de conectar con el encuentro de Copa Davis, porque '¿a quién le interesa el tenis? Por favor, ¡qué nos pongan el ajedrez!", narra Miguel Illescas.

Hasta 13 millones de espectadores en España llegaron a estar pendientes de la partida, "desde entonces, los únicos acontecimientos que han reunido a 13 millones de espectadores ante un aparato de televisión fue cuando España fue campeona del mundo de fútbol o cuando el Barça ganó la Copa de Europa", explica Leontxo.
In English:
TVE showed the final game live. "This involved a sports programme which switched between the match in Sevilla, the final game between Kasparov and Karpov, and a David Cup clash between India and Sweden. Angry viewers called to demand that they stopped showing the Davis Cup match, because 'who cares about tennis? Please, put the chess back on!'" as Miguel Illescas tells it.

As many as 13 million viewers in Spain ended up following the game - "since when the only events that have attracted 13 million viewers have been Spain winning the World Cup or Barcelona winning the Champions' League"
1, states Leontxo.
I'm not saying that this isn't true. I am saying that I want convincing that it's true.

Tuesday 19 April 2016

Tell me how it happened

If you don't know Spain you probably won't have heard of Cuéntame Cómo Pasó, the long-running show on TVE1 (basically the equivalent of BBC1) which tracks the lives of a fictional Madrid family over time, depicting events, at any given moment, roughly thirty years n the past.

I've not often seen it but it's been quite an important show in its time, not just because it's long-running and has a sizeable audience, but because the very idea on which it's based, the depiction of the recent past, runs contrary to the practice of forgetting, or to put it another way, denying, what happened in Spain prior to the death of Franco (and the "Transition" to democracy which followed). I say "practice", but it's more than that: it's enshrined in Spanish law that human rights violations prior to the Transition may not be the subject of prosecution, and although it is not at all illegal to discuss the past there have been some very strong taboos against doing so, much stronger when the series began than they are now.

That's perhaps a bit heavier an introduction than the programme merits: it's much more a soap opera rather than a political drama, and its reference to events past can be more a way of providing period colour than of making a point. But I mention it just to give some idea of the show's importance in Spanish cultural life, and of explaining the fact that last Thursday's episode, ¡Maldito amor! ("God-damned love!" for want of a better translation) was advertised with the surprising heading:
Kárpov y Kaspárov, en 'Cuéntame': Cuando el ajedrez arrasaba en los 80
or as we might say:
the Eighties, when it was chess that ruled.
Those were the days.

Sunday 17 April 2016

Whatever happened to CJ de Mooi?

Seems ages since we heard anything of the ex-President of the English Chess Federation. Well, not since he claimed to be a murderer in the autumn of last year.

And now here he is popping up again.

I'm sure all English Chess Federation members will wish to join me in sending our sympathy to CJ and wishing him the best of luck with his legal travails.

(No comments allowed on this one, obviously - ejh)

Thursday 14 April 2016


Something odd struck me just at the end of this rather nice video which has been going about over the past couple of weeks.

It's that at the very end of the sequence, in which we're reminded that the world number #1 is Magnus Carlsen, there's no sign at all of the chap who is about to play him for his title. The top ten players' names appear in colour all throug the video (well, a maximum of ten) and Karjakin isn't among them.

I'm not 100% sure where they're getting the numbers from for that last point in the sequence but if it's the rating list for February 2016 that'd be more or less right, since there's Sergei just outside the top ten.

Monday 11 April 2016


Why is this man not smiling?

Contrary to the impression perhaps given by the photograph, it is not because he is about to be shot. He being me, the answer might be "because he never actually smiles" although of course I rarely do.

It is because I have tendonitis, and bloody painful it is too.

You might reasonably ask "what's that got to do with chess", but no sooner had I posted the image on Facebook then a friend asked Is it your chess playing arm?

It's not, since I mostly use the other one, not that I've used either of them in a real game since last August. Still, at least I can identify which arm is my chess playing one, which may be more than one can say for Hikaru Nakamura.

Friday 8 April 2016

The Baby and The Bike

"The child is father of the man" wrote Wordsworth. Chess-wise that seems more true than ever. The World Champion, a GM at 13, is about to take on a challenger who was a GM at 12. But can an astute eye discern the contours of a future chesser even earlier: in the cradle? Could the as-yet-unformed physiognomy of a mere toddler betray a nascent talent for the game?

As a case in point from an earlier epoch: does this blissfully ignorant infant astride their rocking-horse already bear the mark, some might say the curse, of their calling?

Photo courtesy of the family. 
Unlikely as it may seem, observe the unflinching gaze, the steely determination, the tight rein...

Wednesday 6 April 2016

Nothing lost

Returning to Hikaru Nakamura's adventures in J'adoube, I wonder if followers of other sports than chess might find it strange that an incident of this magnitude didn't end up in front of some kind of disciplinary panel.

Yes of course, Nakamura was fined a portion of his winnings, but not for inviting Lev Aronian to believe the unbelievable: he was fined for not turning up to the post-game "press conference". Ironic: a competitor is therefore fined, not for the offence as such but for not turning up to answer questions about it, at a press conference that is not actually in any recognisable sense a press conference and at which in all likelikhood, no difficult questions would have been asked.

This is ironic, but it's also, perhaps, a little bit stupid.

Monday 4 April 2016

If there really were 600 million players in the world....

...a claim Andrew Higgins uncritically repeats in the New York Times...

...don't you think we'd have journalists writing for the New York Times who knew the difference between a "game" and a "match"?

Sunday 3 April 2016

For the past 16 years the Carnegie Library has hosted a chess club... by Edward Ochagavia, a survivor of the Nazi siege of Stalingrad in 1942.
"I'm a very old man. I survived the Stalingrad battle in 1942, but at the moment I can't survive the Lambeth Council closure of the Carnegie Library."

The Carnegie Chess Club was established by Edward Ochagavia in 2000 when the Library was under threat of closure. He was keen to make the library not just a place for books but also to bring people living in the area together socially and stave off the threat. He learned to play when he was growing up in the Soviet Union where chess is almost a way of life and wanted to pass on his enjoyment of the game.
And now the library - and the club - is under threat of closure again.

Friends of Carnegie Library
Defend The Lambeth Ten
Save Lambeth Libraries

Saturday 2 April 2016

Double question mark

If you've ever seen The Avengers - and if you haven't you should make the effort to see one of the greatest, wittiest TV shows of its era - you'll recognise at least two people in the shot above, which comes from an episode called The Master Minds. In the foreground is John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and in the background, Emma Peel (Diana Rigg). You can see the sequence from which the still is taken here.