Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Check Mate

Fischer playing the forward defensive gambit - notice soft hands
English Grandmaster Chess Player Nigel Short will play 20 opponents simultaneously today to mark the UK premiere of the new documentary about legendary chess player Bobby Fischer.

Those of FB's readers old enough to remember the cold war - and that must be all 3 of you out there - will recall that by winning the world chess championship from Russian Boris Spassky in 1972, Fischer single-handedly dealt the fatal blow to Soviet supremacy that would lead, as night does day, to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism fewer than 20 years later.  And it is only a step from that event to Chelsea's undermining of Fernando Torres' career.  So Fischer has a lot to answer for.

Fischer was one management nightmare   His life after he defeated communism was acutely bizarre: he declined to defend his title, became totally reclusive, was stripped of his US citzenship, was imprisioned in Japan and finally taken in by Iceland, scene of his great 1972 match, as a stateless person.  He died in 2008 at the age of 45.   The documentary charts these events and an Oscar nomination is expected for it and its director Liz Garbus.   There seems to be no suggestion that Fischer played or even was familiar with cricket which is a bit of a pity for him.

But he would have been a challenge for any skipper - even FB might have struggled with him in the side..  He was notorius for extended negotiation about whether he would play and the playing conditions and rules. The Tuesday evening inquiry about his availability for the coming Saturday would end up in a series of counter proposals and demands.   During the famous match with Spassky he became upset with the cameras and had the players withdraw to a private backroom where they played.  The audience who paid handsomely for their seats were then informed of the moves.  This would be difficult in cricket.  Fischer would come into bat and demand that he and the bowler depart to a private space at the start of the over.  Or brought onto bowl he would demand that he used a different strip to that on which the wickets were set. FB can't see this catching on.

Some commentators suggest that cricket is chess on grass, but FB is not convinced.  While he has met many a player who moves only diagonally or only one square at a time, he has not met any player who goes two forward and one to the side.  Such a run up would lead to a profusion of no balls.  No, cricket and chess are different.  But there is one concept from competitive chess is interesting.  Brilliancy - many tournaments have a brilliancy award.  A brilliancy is a spectacular and beautiful game of chess, generally featuring sacrificial attacks and unexpected moves.  Apparently Fischer won one of these at the age of 13 in what chess buffs deem the game of the century when he sacrificed his queen.  This brilliancy thing is rather like FB's cricket and it is time his half-tracker or his thick outside edge over the slips were fully recognised and celebrated accordingly.  FB invites support for his campaign to bring brilliancy into cricket.

Just in case you think that Nigel Short's simultaneous games are a party trick, FB is confident that this is serious stuff.  Among his 20 opponents are Steve Davis the snooker player who as part of this mixed media event will try to pot the pawns in sequence.  FB heard a rumour that Shoaib Akhtar was also considering an invitation to play but was worried that there was not room for his run up.

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