lunes, octubre 31, 2011

A No - Introduction - Necessary Interview. Full Attention Needed. (Part II)



the Official Magazine of the Catalan Chess Federation "El Butlletí d'Escacs"


Ana Matnadze

Being a chess pro is tough. We are constantly traveling. What is your secret to deal with jet lag?

Sadly, I have no secret for jet-lag.  Throughout my career it has had a negative impact on my play at the start of events.  Terribly so I might add. 

And your secret as to how to recover from a bitter loss?

One can never overcome a ‘bitter loss.’  The way to deal with a loss is before the tournament.  I think most professional players simply have to accept that when they play in a tournament, to win it, they will have to take risks.  So if before a tournament a player mentally girds themselves and say, “Okay, I’m going to lose a game, two or three, but I’m going to play hard for a victory,” then ‘accepting’ a loss is easier.  Although the bitterness is long-lasting.  Secondly, losing is part and parcel of the game.  Get used to it.  It will happen!  Instead, we have to learn to take our losses in stride and learn from them.  What did we do wrong?  Why did we make the mistake we did?  And so on.  Losses will help us learn if we make the correct deductions. 

The number of Chess fans all over the world is growing every day, however, it is not yet meant as popular a sport as, for example, football or tennis… What do you think would be necessary to do to make chess more popular? What would be your strategy or ideas to attract more Sponsors?

My approach is far different than the questions imply.  In terms of ‘athletic sports’ one doesn’t have to be a golfer to understand the game.  Through simple observation we see there is a ball and a club.  The golfer uses his club to smash the tiny ball into a hole that is two hundred meters away.  Most athletic sports are simple to understand, soccer, the world’s most popular sport is simplest of all to understand.

Chess on the other hand is too complex for the public.  Someone may observe for hours and hours and still not understand the basic rules.  So we should not only ‘accept’ but ‘embrace’ this limitation.  Chess is a complex game appealing to a small but significant segment of our populations.

Salgado and Seirawan having a great time during the official closing dinner

Where chess fails is on several levels.  My experience tells me that in the case of the United States Chess Federation, for example, we need one hundred players who play and understand the game, to produce one USCF member.  The reality is that we ‘lose’ ninety-nine players because somehow – on the organization level – we are not doing enough to ‘appeal’ to the ninety-nine players we lose.  In short, our ‘retention’ levels for those who learn the game is simply abysmal failure.  We need to better understand how we can make ‘organized chess’ more appealing.

Recently, in August, I visited my sister in Phoenix Arizona. While there I hooked up with my friend Scott Frenaux who organizes a scholastics chess network.  Scott and his staff reach out to hundreds of schools and teach chess to about 25,000 children a year.  By the second year, half have dropped out.  By the third year, another forty percent.  Those that stay in the program eventually become champions and USCF members but the ‘attrition’ and turn-over rates are staggering if not at times depressing for the coaches.  Still, for all that effort, many lives are positively impacted.

The truth is that there really are untold millions of people world wide who have – at times – found chess to be enormously interesting.  We need to make greater efforts at ‘re-capturing’ those who have ‘left’ our sport and bring them ‘back into the fold.’  If we are successful at that, chess would be, instantly, the most popular board-game in the world.

As regards sponsors, I think this is a ‘top down’ approach.  Here what I have in mind is the ‘crown jewel’ of chess, the World Chess Championship title.  Universally acknowledged to be one of the most important ‘intellectual titles’ in the world.  This title has been the providence of FIDE for sometime.  Here FIDE has made a hash of its own title.  When the rules are without sense, the sponsors flee.  So even to begin to think about ‘how do we attract sponsors to chess’ we must first realize that our most important events, world and national championships must have sensible rules, sensible regulations and attract the best players.  Failure in this most obvious ‘top down’ approach means no or limited sponsorships for lesser events. 

What do you think about the “short draws phenomenon”? What would be the mechanism to avoid them?

Funnily enough, I don’t share the concern that ‘short draws’ are a problem.  Really, I see it as overblown hysteria.  The obvious solution is what was used in the Magistral event: No draw offers before move forty.  Simple.  End of discussion.

The greater concern is actually getting games with ‘content.’  Again, I refer back to my complaints regarding the advancement of opening theory.  Let us say to the players, okay, play till move forty at least!  Both players show us their homework coming out of a long theoretical dispute of say thirty moves, a late middlegame, endgame evolves where the ‘machines’ have judged a ‘small pull for white.’  The players continue playing ‘correctly’ and by the end of another ten, twenty moves the game is clearly drawn.  Well, that was nice.  Right?  Correct play by both players led to a draw.  But was the game either ‘fun’ for the players or ‘enjoyable’ for the spectators?  Were the players ‘just going through the motions’ for the last ten or twenty moves to meet the expectations of the rules?

This is what I worry about, that the opening theory has become so deep, that the levels of sophistication for the defender is reaching so high, it becomes harder and harder for the elite to gain victory.

I’m not saying that ‘chess is played out.’  No, no, no, not at all.  I do however worry that theory has made such rapid advances, half the players’ armies are reduced before the players are ‘playing on their own.’  

What is your opinion about cheating? It is becoming a very serious problem.

Cheating has always been a concern.  Long before computers ever became strong.  That is players receiving advice/information during a game.  In truth, at the most elite level charges of ‘cheating’ are simply ridiculous and don’t exist.  On the amateur levels however cheating, again even before the computer could have been a problem.  A coach telling his student what move to make.  Now with electronic devices, such charges, are far more worrisome.

Here I think there is a ‘disconnect.’  Again, at the elite level cheating is not a problem but there is a public perception that there could be a problem and then it gets blown well out of proportion.  A “possible” problem “becomes” a problem that doesn’t exist.

It was terribly unhelpful for the image of chess when Topalov accused Kramnik of cheating during ‘toilet-gate.’  Without any proof or any evidence whatsoever.  Just a charge of, “my opponent is a cheater!”  When Kramnik won in Rapid play, without leaving the board, Topalov explained that Kramnik’s method of cheating had simply been improved!  My goodness, how silly was that? Topalov damaged his own image and brought chess into disrepute.  What sponsor wants such an association?

Cheating is an ‘image’ problem for chess.  If the world ‘perceives’ that computers are better than humans and that humans ‘could get help at the board’ it would mean that there would be less and less interest in chess.  Even if no cheating at all is taking place.

In my view, chess authorities should take a ‘pro-active’ stance, to convince the public that there is simply no possibility of cheating at all.  Some simple suggestions include no electronic devices of any type by the player (a security wand before the start of play); as well as a time delay for the relaying of the moves.  These should more that suffice.  

                                                             To be continued...

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