World Championship Trivia

Before the world championship match in New York began, FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov said that he would invite Obama, Putin and Hillary Clinton to attend the games. When a Russian journalist asked Karjakin which one of the three politicians he would most like to talk with, he said, “With Trump. In my view he is the most insane! It would be fun to chat with him.”     

One can imagine a frightening scene. Trump, soon to become the most powerful man on earth, ruling over life and death of us all, approaches Karjakin, his immense body ready to crush him like a fly, and he says, “So, Sergey, is it true what I heard, that you called me insane?”

Karjakin is known as a resourceful defender and he might answer that his remark was meant as a compliment and that both the cool political thinker Nicolo Machiavelli and the shrewd American president Richard Nixon were of the opinion that feigned insanity is sometimes indispensable to a political leader. And it’s stock-in-trade of our own Ilyumzhinov.

Fortunately this scene remained a fantasy, as the three world leaders did not appear at the match. Neither did Ilyumzhinov himself, as he is still blacklisted by the American government.

Donald Plays Chess

Among the many previews to the match, one of the most remarkable was a story in the Norwegian weekly Donald Duck, an issue that was almost completely dedicated to chess. A helpful Norwegian lady scanned it for me and translated a few things.

Not only Donald and his irritating cousin Gladstone Gander play chess in that issue, but also the Big Bad Wolf, the three piglets, Mickey Mouse and his nephews Puk and Max, and there is also a “chess school with Magnus.”

World champion Makspuls Clarsyn (Maxpuls Clearview) comes to Duckburg for a simul. Donald and Gladstone are forced by Daisy Duck to take part, although they cannot play chess. Gladstone relies on his luck, Donald relies on Gyro Gearloose, who has invented a gadget to read other people’s thoughts. Of course the great Clearview wins all his games anyway.

The Norwegian lady, who is not afflicted by the chess virus herself, said giggling on the phone that it was clear that her country had become utterly chess mad. 

Fighting in the Street

As a reporter on the match for a Dutch newspaper, I was obviously interested in what some of my colleagues were writing. One of them was the Norwegian grandmaster Jonathan Tisdall, who wrote in English for the Norwegian website Patt & Matt. I knew Jonathan from several Karpov-Kasparov matches which we had both attended as journalists.

Tisdall was much offended by the denigrating complaints by amateurs about the draws in the early part of the match. He had found much that was exciting even in these drawn games and compared the spoilt internet hooligans of today with the grateful spectators in Moscow during the first Karpov-Kasparov match, which lasted from September 1984 till February 1985 and counted 48 games, of which 40 ended as a draw. There was one period of 17 consecutive draws.

Were the Moscovites angry about all these draws? According to Tisdall, they were not. He remembered that sometimes there were street fights near the Home of the Trade Unions about being able to buy a ticket to attend the games.

There were many games then of 15, 16 or 17 moves and even one of only 13 moves. Did they really keep fighting during the dull season? I cannot say myself, as I followed these matches from a newspaper office in Amsterdam where the moves arrived by telex. The first time that I was reporting on the world championship matches on the spot was in 1986 in London. Newspapers still had money then.

The complaints about the draws may have been caused by the fact that many people didn’t take Karjakin seriously at the beginning. Those who didn’t know much about him and thought he didn’t have a chance to win the match, might have felt that it was best to have it over with as quickly as possible.

Saving the Nation

When the match was over, the Norwegian lady who had helped me with the Donald Duck magazine, mailed me to say that she had learned a lot about chess in the preceding weeks. She realized that it would have been a national disaster if Magnus Carlsen had not won. From the start, the Norwegian newspapers had been adamant that the natural order of things would be perversely disturbed if Magnus didn’t keep his title. The lady had understood that it had been frightfully close and that Magnus had saved the nation only by an unbelievably brilliant finish. I had called the queen sacrifice only “elegant,” but I didn’t dare to repeat this meek description to her.

World Chess Championship, New York 2016
Fourth Rapid Game
The (unbelievably brilliant) two moves that ended the match.
48.Rc8+ Kh7 49.Qh6+ and Black resigned