Chess24 Jan London

John Watson Book Review (88)

Matches and Tournaments

Chess Results 1941-1946; Gino Di Felice; 380 pages; McFarland 2008

Chess Results 1947-1950; Gino Di Felice; 485 pages; McFarland 2008

From London to Elista; Evgeny Bareev & Ilya Levitov; 398 pages; New in Chess 2007

Topalov-Kramnik: On the Edge in Elista ; Veselin Topalov & Zhivko Ginchev; 220 pages; Russell Enterprises 2007

Elista Diaries: Karpov-Kamsky, Karpov-Anand, Anand – Mexico City 2007 World Chess Championship Matches; Anatoly Karpov & Ron Henley; 414 pages; Ishi Press 2007

The wave of match, history, and to a lesser extent tournament books shows no signs of receding. It seems as though chess fans have a large appetite for reading about the great competitions past and present. In this and the next column, I've picked out some books that seem to me of general interest.

Chess Results 1941-1946; Gino Di Felice; 380 pages; McFarland 2008

Chess Results 1947-1950; Gino Di Felice; 485 pages; McFarland 2008

From London to Elista; Evgeny Bareev & Ilya Levitov; 398 pages; New in Chess 2007

Topalov-Kramnik: On the Edge in Elista ; Veselin Topalov & Zhivko Ginchev; 220 pages; Russell Enterprises 2007

 

Elista Diaries: Karpov-Kamsky, Karpov-Anand, Anand – Mexico City 2007 World Chess Championship Matches; Anatoly Karpov & Ron Henley; 414 pages; Ishi Press 2007

 

Gino Di Felice's colossal series Chess Results contributes more to fundamental chess research than any work that I can think of over the past 20 years. Okay, the ultimate achievement from my perspective would be to compile a majority of all the games played before 1970. But even with the astonishing rate of technological progress, it's hard to imagine the creation of databases incorporating the tens of thousands of games hidden in various magazines and second-tier books from the past. Tournament bulletins were rare, and most games by masters ended up on private scoresheets, in notebooks, or abandoned. Barring some hefty grant designated for the purpose, it's not likely that a sufficiently large group of researchers could be found with enough time or interest to input even a significant fraction of such material.

But Di Felice fulfills the next most important task. He demonstrates that it is possible to gather the results, in the form of crosstables, of nearly all prominent and important tournaments and matches that have been played from the past. In these incredible collections he also manages to include a remarkable number of events of moderate or scant historical significance, mostly gleaned from chess magazines. In some ways, his work is a continuation of and grand expansion upon the relevant portions of Jeremy Gaige’s Chess Tournament Crosstables which includes crosstables up to 1930 (a list broadened by de Felice). In Gaige's classic Chess Personalia (now available in softcover from McFarland, by the way!), he has a tournament 'checklist' (without results) for later years through 1950, which helped de Felice in his search for the actual crosstables from those events. Di Felice uses an extraordinary number of old magazines from around the world to do so, as seen in his Bibliography. To be clear, there exist a limited number of tournaments that are known to have taken place but for which no crosstable exists - this has been pointed out by Vlastimil Fiala in Quarterly for Chess History (see my next column).

Having begun his project in 2004, Di Felice has completed separate, hefty volumes covering the years 1747-1900, 1901-1920, 1921-1930, 1931-1935, 1936-1940, and this year he has added two more volumes: Chess Results 1941-1946 and Chess Results 1947-1950. The enormity of the task becomes clear when we see the progression of the volumes: as we get closer to the present, they cover fewer years but contain more events.

Chess Results 1947-1950, for example, contains 980 crosstables, more than the entire period 1901-1920. It also has 155 match scores, which is impressive, but indicative of the relative decline in popularity of the match, which was represented by 300+ entries in the 1901-1920 work. Along with a thorough Bibliography, every book contain indices of events and players. The latter obviously takes a lot of work on the author's part, but it's extremely useful, and in the current volume uses up 35 pages of fine print.

In the chess world, McFarland is a unique publisher. Chess constitutes only a small fraction of their business, and they put out primarily hardcovers of the finest physical quality. They feature a wide range of chess history from Soltis' books with traditional emphasis on chess playing, e.g., Frank Marshall, United States Chess Champion and his brilliant tome on Soviet Chess, to relatively conventional biographies like Landsberger's William Steinitz, Chess Champion and Winter's classic book of original research on Capablanca. Then there are the lengthy and more expensive, research-oriented tomes such as Forster's Amos Burn: A Chess Biography, Woodger's 'Comprehensive Record' of Reuben Fine, and Gordon's 'Compendium' on Samuel Reshevsky. Most of these have been reviewed in my column. All of them can be appreciated by a typical TWIC reader.

But McFarland has also published a set of expensive books that seem to be aimed almost exclusively at libraries and the extraordinarily dedicated chess book collectors, in that their subjects are obscure (and prices very high) for the average player. These would include, for example, Hilbert and Lahde's The Tragic Life and Short Chess Career of James A. Leonard, 1841–1862; and Hillyer's Thomas Frère and the Brotherhood of Chess. Their most recent publication, Hilbert and Lahde's Albert Beauregard Hodges, The Man Chess Made, with 542 dense pages, is also in that category. I recognise only a tiny percentage of entries from the General Index, and surprisingly few from even the Games (/Players) Index. While I admire the dedicated research that the authors have invested, this book reads like a purely academic exercise. That is commentary, not criticism; obviously the publisher and authors have in mind a scholarly contribution. From the admittedly narrow viewpoint of a player/author, however, it seems a shame that chess books of the highest physical quality will be of such little interest to not only the vast majority of players, but to most fans of chess history.

I think that Di Felice's series, while not destined to be a popular hit, will attract a wider audience than the latter group. For one thing, the volumes are softcovers, still pricey but not shockingly so. For another, they are a handy way to reference particular events, including some very obscure ones that you'll find nowhere else. Finally, they can be read for their own sake. When Nigel Short came on my Chess.FM radio show, he confessed to be an avid reader of crosstables, and I could definitely relate. It's fascinating to see how top players' careers ebbed and flowed over the years, and you'll recognize countless names of lesser players, for reasons running from names of opening variations, winners or losers of famous games, players who come from your own area, etc. Sometimes it's just interesting to watch the bottoms of the crosstables and notice how many players were invited to tournaments stretching over long periods in spite of consistently poor results! In short, Chess Results provides entertaining browsing material for those with a passing acquaintance with the history of chess and its players. When you combine that with its value as a reference work, a chess fan with a modest library and a fairly liberal chess budget should consider picking up these volumes.

I'm quite late reviewing the next book, seeing as how it's already won various awards and doubtless been picked up by the majority of players who read this column. It seems as though everyone has a different reason for liking From London to Elista by Evgeny Bareev and Ilya Levitov. While there have been match books galore, none cover three World Championship events in such comprehensive detail; with thorough annotations, to be sure, but more strikingly, a wide-ranging and personal look at the matches, in two cases directly from behind the scenes. The best thing of all is that much of it is done in a light-hearted and humorous manner.

The matches under examination are the three played by Kramnik: his 2000 match with Kasparov in London, his 2004 match versus Leko in Brissago, and his 2006 match versus Topalov in Elista. Bareev is the main narrator; he is a strong grandmaster (once in the World's top 10) and served on Kramnik's team for the first two matches. Levitov is a "Public Relations Expert" and, as it turns out, a superb journalist. The first two Parts of the book, representing those matches, are the best. The third Part, about Elista, is shorter and much more of a traditional match book with analysis than the first two.

Much of the book is served up in what the publisher describes as 'Socrates-style dialogues', a great phrasing that I can't help quoting in spite of its inaccuracy. As if in an interview, Levitov and Bareev toss back-and-forth thoughts about the matches, beginning with their background and continuing right through the match to its aftermath. There are also quotes from Kramnik himself, of course, and from his opponents and others, but the Levitov-Bareev interactions are the most frequent. On the other hand, Levitov goes on into his own flights of fancy, 'discussing' chess psychology with Petrosian and Smyslov, for example, and then returning to ask Bareev about it.

No book is without its prejudices. The authors go out of their way to portray Kramnik in a selfless role with respect to the World Championship controversies. The Shirov situation is dismissed in a few sentences, and Kasparov's positions with respect to a rematch or qualification are presented as meritless, to put it gently. It doesn't seem to faze them, for example, how arbitrary the decision was to make Dortmund 2002 a qualifier, designed to produce a contender for Kramnik. Levitov talks about the 'absence' of Kasparov from that event, obviously not a trivial matter, and says merely: 'I'll point out that for various reasons neither Anand, nor Ivanchuk, nor Ponomariov participated in it.' As if somehow all these players had a fair shot, and their absence wasn't a blow to the whole credibility of the process.

A great deal of time is spent describing the preparation for the matches (especially opening preparation), as well as the emotions and adjustments made during the matches. As it turns out, a hefty portion of the 'dialogues' consists in Levitov giving an extensive history of a particular chess topic, full of philosophy, analogies with other fields, and, often, stories largely irrelevant to the matches. Fortunately, all of this tends to be fun, well-written, and worthy of a book in itself. Somehow it all hangs together and works brilliantly.

An appealing aspect of this book is that it can go anywhere. The authors don't seem to worry about drifting away from the main subject, which is to the chess fan's benefit. When discussing the qualifying tournament in Dortmund 2002 (won by Leko), for example, they begin with the semifinal pairings. Already that's quite a distance from the Kramnik-Leko match itself; but Levitov throws in the story of how Bareev had earlier qualified for the semifinals by defeating Morozevich from a totally lost position. Then he describes the aftermath:

"The defeat itself wasn't particularly surprising, anything can happen. But Morozevich's reaction to the defeat showed him to be a true genius. Walking out of the tournament hall shocked, he picked up his passport and went to the airport, and a little later announced his departure from professional chess. After the tournament, when someone offered to return his suitcase with his things in it, he said, 'Throw them away, they're unlucky.' Somehow Fischer immediately came to mind ... All this couldn't fail to make an impression on a chess world that wasn't overburdened with dramatic events - from that moment Morozevich became one of the most popular grandmasters in the world.

After Dortmund Alexander actually did stop participating in tournaments for a while. True, he subsequently returned, but already, in his words, 'in the role of an amateur'. I'll be very upset if this crazy, all-consuming passion for chess won't take Morozevich to the title eventually."

As it happens, the day that I'm began this review Morozevich became the new #1 player in the world (according to the unofficial live list at www.chess.liverating.org )! Of course, he immediately dropped back after a loss, but somewhere Levitov must have been chuckling.

Another example: Out of nowhere, we get a four-page (small print) speech/essay on Chess & Literature. A few excerpts:

LEVITOV: Chess and literature generally aren't very compatible. Literature deals with universal human issues, global problems - 'to be or not to be?' For a novel you need a conflict, preferably an insoluble one, for example, the conflict between thee generations.

But chess is a concrete, calculable game, it's a game of answers to questions Here you can't debate in generalities, or come up with something intuitively, you have to calculate variations, and calculate them accurately and far in advance...

Probably for a writer chess is as uninteresting as boxing (except in the case of Jack London). There two people bash each other in the face, and here two people move pieces all over the place. There's no global conflict in chess, which is why literature devotes sparse attention to it.

Nevertheless, the great Nabokov and Zweig tried to reveal the nature of the chess player, his way of thinking. And I should point out that they both managed this brilliantly, except that they saw such chaos in these minds that no one has written sensibly about chess after that. Both writers, each in his own way, revealed a peculiar disease of the human mind - chess poisoning. Only the degree of neglect of the disease in the heroes is different, but otherwise it's the same.

BAREEV: I wonder - Nabokov revealed the personality of the chess player so accurately because he played chess quite well. But when he was describing Lolita, did he play the game somehow? Amateur or professional. .. or idle fantasist?

LEVITOV: It's difficult to say. ..

BAREEV: To get into the mindset, you have to play the game. Try to play it once.

LEVITOV: Zhenya, we've got somewhat distracted and it's the subject of women again, incidentally. .. we have some kind of strange tendency, we're always switching to women. Everyone suddenly wakes up and starts getting excited. When we talk about chess, for some reason there isn't the same enthusiasm.

So, Luzhin's Defences ... What sort of person does Nabokov describe? A man for whom the real world has ceased to exist. His 'life position' is hopeless, to express it in the language of chess. He basically doesn't exist in the sense we're used to, his life is black and white, limited to the 64 squares. Wherever he goes he tries to understand, where is he? Why is he here? What is he doing? His ideal... no, not his ideal, but his only world, is the chess board. That's why it's called Luzhin's DEFENCE - he's trying to defend his fragile chess reality from the pressure of cruel existence, but he can't... Do we know any similar situations in real life? Not just one, I can tell you. Rubinstein, 'the great Akiba', went mad from chess. It's been said that he sat at a table for hours in the hospital, moving a pawn from c2 to c4, then moving it back. Morphy, Fischer. By the way, they're all Americans ...

The first time I read [Zweig's Schachnovelle], I was amazed by the depth of Zweig's understanding the nature of the chess player, he described how chess takes a person over Surprisingly accurately. But when I reread the story recently, I recalled how Zhenya [jw: Bareev] told me about 'chess insomnia', about the impossibility of getting a game he'd just played out of his head, about the dozens of variations that fill his mind to overflowing. I'd like to ask Zweig, why does this happen? Why is chess so compelling-

This is what Stefan Zweig himself replied: 'The more I now sought to form an impression of such a temperament, the more unimaginable appeared to me : a mind absorbed for a lifetime in a domain of sixty-four black and white squares.... But is it not already an insult to call chess anything so narrow as a game? Is it not also a science, an art, hovering between these categories like Muhammed's coffin between heaven and earth, a unique yoking of opposites, ancient and yet eternally new, mechanically constituted and yet an activity of the imagination alone, limited to a fixed geometric area but unlimited in its permutations, constantly evolving and yet sterile, a cogitation producing nothing, a mathematics calculating nothing, an art without an artwork, an architecture without substance and yet demonstrably more durable in its essence and actual form than all books and works, the only game that belongs to all peoples and all eras, while no one knows what god put it on earth to deaden boredom, sharpen the mind, and fortify the spirit? Where does it begin, where does it end? Any child can learn its basic rules, any amateur can try his hand at it; and yet, within the inalterable confines of a chessboard, masters unlike any others evolve, people with a talent for chess and chess alone, special geniuses whose gifts of imagination, patience and skill are just as precisely apportioned as those of mathematicians, poets, and musicians, but differently arranged and combined..."

"But this still isn't all. My widely-educated sister advised me to read Kuprin's story Marabou. Of course, it's an outrage, not a story. Any self-respecting chess player who reads it would swear like a trooper. And this is why.

The hero of the book, having been in various free countries, comes to Russia and finds himself in a cafe full of 'the pungent smell of tobacco smoke and foul coffee'; entering a 'small, neglected, poorly-lit room', he sees strange people playing chess - 'hunched shoulders, strange collars like hairy capes and a look of gloomy importance - all this surprisingly reminded me of a row of similar birds with long beaks, collars around their long, bare necks, sitting there in the same stupidly melancholy way - Marabou storks.'

The hero, being a cheerful and vivacious person, starts loudly making suggestions to the players, and then offers a simultaneous exhibition on 12 boards. The chess players, whispering, agree. The hero starts all his games with the move e2-e4, then tries to move his knight from b 1 to b3, the people are indignant, and the hero makes a hasty exit..."

And so forth. Levitov goes on to philosophize about Dostoyesky and Gogol, and finishes:

"From all this I draw a conclusion: literature has extracted whatever was interesting for humanity from chess, examined it and described it. All the rest is the destiny of a small group of not-quite normal people who have moved the art of chess forward in every generation for over a thousand years already."

This chaotic digression segues directly into the fourth game of the Kramnik-Leko match! Another example comes immediately on the heels of the concluding, dramatic finale of that match, in which Kramnik catches Leko and draws the match. Do Bareev and Levitov talk about what happened in the game? In a way:

"LEVITOV: Zhenya, can you say that the model became Kramnik's muse7

BAREEV: No, Marie was his muse, she arrived for the last two games. LEVITOV: She had such a positive influence on him! Who is she?

BAREEV: A French journalist. She was supposed to go back without waiting for the end of the match, but she called her editor and said that she couldn't abandon her beloved in a difficult situation.

LEVITOV: That's excellent. How romantic!

BAREEV: I haven't revealed the whole secret of how he was saved by love, because you tend to vulgarise everything. In our conversations you encroach on the most sacred matters."

And so forth.

But it's not all so silly - real work went into the preparation for that game:

BAREEV: We awaited the opening with fervent impatience. Behind the scenes we'd discussed that if Leko changed his opening once more, it'd be difficult to win the game to order. If he again chose the most solid continuation, go in there and punch through it. But Leko repeated himself, it's difficult to say why, perhaps he decided to save his strength for the game, or perhaps because one of his assistants, Akopian, had left. The most unpleasant part was that the Caro- Kann was up to me. Petya was working on the Spanish, he was smoothing out the field, so to say.

Before the game Volodya set me the task of refuting the Caro-Kann with the move 3.e5. Nothing could be done about it- if you're behind in the score and you need to win, 3.Nd2 won't work."

From London to Elista will be read with pleasure by future generations, whether or not chess survives in its present form. This is simply one of the very best books of the decade. Certainly in the genre of matches and tournaments, there's no contest. It is a kind of rebellion from the dry way in which matches have traditionally been presented, and yet Bareev preserves the objective and detailed analysis/commentary that the games themselves deserve. Once in a while Levitov's writing is too cute for its own good, or intentionally obtuse; but even in those cases, his exuberance is so evident that one forgives him.

As an added benefit, chess journalists in need of a good quote will always be able to revisit this work. I'll close with one that John Donaldson discovered and put in his Mechanics Club Newsletter:

"Sometimes it seems that Leko doesn't really like playing chess so much as striving to analyse opening positions. Probably his ideal would be to take his analyses, if not to bare kings, then at least to positions from the Nalimov database. When Peter manages to use a novelty as Black that instantly kills all life on the board, he becomes happy like a child and calls this kind of game 'magnificent'."

This is typically absurd, exaggerated stuff, but it has that grain of truth that makes the joke work.

Finally, I should mention Jimmy Adams and Sarah Hurst must have done an incredible amount of work to get this book correctly translated and preserve its character at the same time. They succeed brilliantly in both respects.

The Topalov team gets its shot in the much more concise Topalov-Kramnik: On the Edge in Elista, written by Topalov himself and Zhivko Ginchev, who, like Levitov, has been a journalist and a PR man ('media relations') for Mobiltel of Bulgaria. For the three years up through the match he served as Topalov's spokesman. Unfortunately, Ginchev's accounts aren't as interesting as Levitov's, describing, for example, the meals he is served in great detail. He has a rather cutesy style mixed with dark insinuation. Still, he introduces us to the Topalov team (giving them all nicknames) and lets us see behind the scenes in a sort of haphazard reportage. We get his view of events including the various protests, letters, etc., connected with the infamous 'Toilet-gate'. Ginchev has a much harsher line than Topalov on these controversies. He and Danailov's paranoia about Russian agents and conspiracies is ever-present, and apparently at the heart of their suspicions and their allegations of cheating. To many outsiders, the whole affair was simply a manipulative circus produced by the demonic Danailov, and it's certainly hard to defend his actions. Still, to try to be as charitable about this as I can, we in the U.S. spent decades in paranoia about Russian intrigue, and made repeated accusations of Russian duplicity in almost every sphere, so I imagine that such feelings can easily have developed to a much greater extreme in the far more immediate historical context of Russian-Bulgarian relationships.

Topalov himself writes the 32-page Introduction, with 21 pages covering the history of the World Championship. This begins with the post-war of the title by FIDE, and skips quickly to Karpov and Kasparov. Topalov expresses his displeasure with the way that the current champion has consistently managed to manipulate the system to his own advantage, even in tournament disputes and prizes. His examples are Botvinnik, Karpov, Kasparov, and Kramnik. He clearly doesn't like Kramnik, and gives his own perspective on the controversies, but is obviously more interested in the chess.

Indeed, Topalov's game annotations are easily the best feature of Topalov-Kramnik. They are brilliant, self-effacing, and much clearer and more interesting to read than the corresponding annotations by Bareev in From London to Elista. Of course, the Topalov match was the only one from which Bareev was absent, and his otherwise superb annotations are less inspired for that match.

In the end, I got tired of Ginchev's prose - he tries too hard to be colorful and humorous. But I can unequivocally recommend the book for Topalov's great notes. It is, after all, a World Championship annotated by on of the participants in great detail, which makes it essential for most chess fans' bookshelves.

I'll conclude with one more match book, Elista Diaries: Karpov-Kamsky, Karpov-Anand, Anand- Mexico City 2007 World Chess Championship Matches. This is the second edition of a book that first appeared in 1996 as an account of that year's World Championship match between Anatoly Karpov and Gata Kamsky, written by Karpov and his second Ronald Henley. One of its obvious appeals is that Kamsky is just now returning and moving towards another possible World Championship match after an interval of so many years. If he defeats Topalov in their upcoming match, he will indeed reach that goal. So it is very interesting to see his play as a young man, commented upon by one of the greatest players in history. The match itself wasn't close enough to produce tremendous drama, but it wasn't a slaughter, either; and the games were all hard-fought.

Actually, the expanded 2nd edition is quite a distinct work, because it adds 80 pages of both the Karpov-Anand 1998 FIDE Championship Match and Anand's FIDE World Championship victory in Mexico City 2007. Elista Diaries is actually a much broader work than the title might indicate. It begins with a selection of two games from each of the World Champions going back to Steinitz; annotated by Karpov, who adds seven of his own games and the famous Duke of Brunswick/Count Isouard game versus Morphy. This section takes up 85 pages and constitutes a nice little pamphlet in its own right.

The next chapter introduces Kamsky and reviews his qualification process, which went through the Biel 1993 Interzonal and match wins over van der Sterren, Anand, and Salov. Every match game is included and annotated. Then we get Karpov's own qualifying match win over Gelfand, again fully annotated.

The next chapter includes all Kamsky-Karpov games played prior to their 1996 match. Amazingly, they had played 20 times between 1991 and 1995 on the International circuit, which is a testament to both players' activity. The notes are typically Karpovian: very broad, with few lengthy variations, giving short verbal indications of the reasons for various moves. The match itself follows, naturally taking up the largest chunk of the book (133 pages). In this case, the annotations become more thorough, although still primarily verbal and thus easy for the average player to follow. They are also quite instructive. The match is remarkable in that there are no short games, and although you could argue that in a couple of games the opening plays a decisive role, all the games continue well past the time control. Both Karpov and Kamsky are known for solid, tenacious, positional play, and that's exactly what you get.

The account of the Karpov-Anand FIDE match is limited to the games, and again the annotations are presented in primarily verbal form, which makes for easy reading. Not until after the match does Henley refer to the fact that Anand had gone through an entire high-pressure Knockout tournament, only to play a rested Karpov a couple of days later. This has reduced the match's legitimacy in some people's eyes, I think rightly so.

The final short section about Anand's 2007 Mexico City triumph consists of his games, with little context or description of the tournament as it proceeded. Probably this section could have been dropped, but Henley redeems it by contributed superb analysis of four examples of Anand's endgame play from that tournament, which he rightly identifies as the critical element in his success.

It's hard to sum up Elista Diaries because there are several parts to it and the material isn't tightly held together. You get some inside information about the matches, but Karpov and Henley's emphasis is on the games, and the events surrounding them are only lightly covered by comparison with the two preceding books. Nevertheless, I'd recommend it as a good buy for the average player if only because there are so many instructive games annotated in fine style. Most lower-rated players will enjoy the World Championship games at the beginning of the book, and the Karpov-Kamsky match contains one high-quality game after another.

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