The Curse of Fatherhood

I thought I remembered that it was Kmoch who had said, shortly after World War II, that if Max Euwe would want to regain his world title, he would have to drown his wife and daughters first. Before he settled in the U.S. in 1947, the Austrian chess master and writer Hans Kmoch had lived in the Netherlands for a long time as a secretary, good friend and occasional ghostwriter of Max Euwe. It was Kmoch who had persuaded Euwe to challenge Alekhine for the world championship match that would take place in 1935.

The quote about Euwe’s duty to drown his family would be typical Kmoch, who was often a good-natured humorist. But when I tried to find it, the quote was not where I expected it to be. I found that somewhere on the site, the remark was attributed to Fritz Sämisch, who was supposed to have said this to Euwe in 1946. At that point, I didn’t do my research any more to find out who had really said or written this; it was only a vanity project, to check the accuracy or faultiness of my memory. 

In the spirit of Kmoch, Sämisch or whomever, later jokers have reckoned that marriage would cost a top player about 200 rating points. I don’t remember if the rating loss incurred by becoming a parent was already included in this number. Anyway, it is clear that in chess mythology, ordinary human happiness is not supposed to be conducive to success in chess. Top players are supposed to suffer, as Bobby Fischer did.

At this year’s Leiden Open, Loek van Wely was the favorite for first place. He came to the tournament with his wife and his six-week-old son and finished on a shared third place. 

The usually ultra-solid Anish Giri, who expects to become a father in October, lost three games in the recent Bilbao Masters Final, finished last and avoided dropping from the top ten in the live rating list only by the skin of his teeth.

No wonder Van Wely showed himself rather skeptical about the chances of the Dutch team to win a medal at the upcoming Olympiad in Baku in September. With himself as a recent father and Anish as a prospective father who might also have higher priorities than chess... He did not want to be over-optimistic. 

Two “failing streaks” were ended in Bilbao. In the first round, Hikaru Nakamura finally won a classical game against Magnus Carlsen, and near the end, Carlsen finally managed to beat Giri. This may be a blessing in disguise for Giri, as the German grandmaster and commentator Jan Gustafsson opined in a mock-serious rant (Radio Jan, probably a spoof on American political radio ranters) on Now that Giri was relieved of the burden of anxiously protecting his unbeaten record against the world champion, he could set his mind on nobler aims, such as winning tournaments.

Carlsen, with four wins in ten games, one more win than the rest of the field combined, won the Bilbao tournament. In the game viewer you’ll find his game against Giri. The way he manages to breathe life into the position after an unassuming opening, reminds me of Euwe’s well-known remark about Alekhine, who was described as a poet who could make a work of art out of something that would hardly inspire another man to send home a picture post card.

Click here to view Carlsen-Giri, Bilbao 2016.