Archive for December 21st, 2013

The slow motion replay doesn’t show how fast the ball was actually travelling – Richie Benaud

In England, there’s much pub-talk about where people were when important historical events occured, such as Armstrong landing on the moon or when England won the world cup or when the great fire of London broke out, and so on, and so on. My question is where were you when McShane played 2 Nf3 against Anand’s Caro-Kann at the opening of the 5th London Chess Classic? For me…well I’d rather not say…I was helping a friend fix his washing machine but became trapped inside the bloody thing, anyway… .

At the beginning of December 2013, the London Chess Classic coincided with The Ashes down under (that’s cricket to all you saddo no-lifes out there), fans of both spent an exceptionally long weekend trying to keep up with the action. An almost improbable task given that we only had eight days for the chess and a mere five for the cricket. Like most, I had to take a week off work to recover from the excitement then several more from the tragedy of it all -well almost. Surprisingly, my request for such time off was not given the seriousness I had hoped for.

The crowd roars it’s deep and so unhealthy… .

Their gloomy beginnings left behind long ago, both chess and cricket now offer a resplendent, high-tech horizon where viewers across the globe can follow the action like never before. But looming on this horizon lies a dark foreboding menace beyond anything vocalist Mike Patton ever ingratiated his audiences with.

Purgatory and the gnashing of teeth…is our top GM going to play 1. b3 or 1. b4 today?

In search of greater revenue both chess and cricket have been forced to modernize themselves in favour of faster, sexier formats. In cricket, the patience batsmen need to build an innings has been steadily eroded by the dominance of one-day internationals and twenty-twenty, where the object of the game is to blast every ball into orbit and beyond, meaning that even world class batsmen (most of the English and some of the Aussie top order) now constantly get out to risky shots that people didn’t play with such regularity ten-twenty years ago, as we saw all too often in the third test. In chess, we now get quick-play tournaments where top Grand masters allow themselves to be checkmated having barely got out of the opening, and where ex-world champions lose in a manner which even beginners would be embarrassed by, as we saw in the London Chess Classic.

Do you feel sometimes that age is against you?

I didn’t follow-up on Kramnik’s defense of his knock-out loss, I assumed there isn’t one. Instead we can only reflect upon the pressure inflicted by such insidious time-controls, and ask ourselves if something is wrong when watching great players blunder game after game becomes synonymous with entertainment for the masses? Mistakes are part of the game at all levels but when the format of the game invites them with such certainty, something much more precious is lost.

The null of losing, can you afford that luxury?

Viewing on line for free I don’t want to sound harsh, especially when those involved did their best, but I for one would be more than willing to pay for a VPN and a choice of game with full commentary instead of what we were given…it was a shame to see the commentary team struggle with the revamped format of the fifth London Chess Classic but was it inevitable? Commentating on one quick-play game between two players, both of whom are several hundred rating points above you is hard enough, but four simultaneously is sheer folly.

The world expects a pose…perfectly natural?

Personally, I don’t like to see GMs making a mess of things. We ought to watch top-flight chess to see how things are done properly and not how they aren’t done properly. If I wanted to watch that, I could just go along to the nearest club and watch some games there.

It’s the thing you hate the most…the thing you hate almost.

Why did the London classic change its format? There are reasons, the main one being the proximity of the Vishy-Magnus match and the participants unwillingness to play classical chess so close to it. From what I understand, a change in format was the only way the tournament could be the first to parade the winner of the match. Sadly, this was not enough to persuade Magnus to join, so there was no world champion present.

“A very small crowd here today. I can count the people on one hand. Can’t be more than 30” – Michael Abrahamson

Was the revamped 5th London Chess classic a success? I have no idea. Given the caliber of the competitors, the play was poor I thought, the commentary even worse and when Vlad played that ridiculous move against Boris in the semis it was the final straw, at which point I turned all my attention to the cricket instead…unfortunately England were in pretty bad shape by then too.

Does life seem worthwhile to you? 

The weekend was over. It was not yet winter but bitterly cold and barely light as I walked across Baku to work, my hands numbed by the morning sleet that fell upon its backstreets leading into the city. With many kilometres ahead I walked slowly, not yet awake but pensive. By then England were close to losing The Ashes and Nakamura had won in London, I was dressed in black accordingly. Just before I reached the government buildings ungainly edged onto the city centre, shivering, I thought to myself ‘sometimes life is just shit‘… .

It was not yet 8.30 when I arrived at work. The office empty, I reclined in my chair. The heating was on high, I drank some hot chocolate undisturbed. Asleep again as my colleagues arrived, I awoke covered in snot, dreamt I’d swallowed my teeth and tried to cough them up…such lyrics and more came from my MP3 player, which I had forgotten to switch off.

Except for boiled potatoes and broccoli, only death is real.

It was a forgettable morning with little to do in the office. The final session in the cricket I dursn’t follow, the chess I just forgot about. The sleet had stopped but a low cloud stayed til lunch, when I ate the portion of boiled potatoes and broccoli given to me. I drifted into thoughts about England as I cut my food with my fork; the cricket, the chess, the inclement weather all reminding me of London strangely. But then my supervisor interrupted, standing at silly point he asked me to complete a report after I had finished. I took an afternoon nap first.

Someone taps me on the shoulder every five minutes, nobody speaks English anymore.

Nap over, bell stopped ringing, corridors all empty now. No one stood at urinals pissing nor in front of mirrors examining their tongues. Where were the students? I don’t know …pregnantorondrugsonwelfareorontopoftheworldalulalulalulalullulululargurghargh…gargles….spits…uuurrgghhh…ummmm…would anyone tell me if I were gettin’ stupider?

I spoke to no one that afternoon and left the office early to the winter park where the subway system beneath was warm and provided shelter. Nearer home, the backstreets were empty of the city traffic and muddy from the morning sleet still. An elder colleague once swore that in Soviet days Baku was a clean and orderly city but after the war, when the Soviets left, people from the country came into the city in their thousands and turned the place into a complete mess. I didn’t doubt it. I was barely 200 meters from the city centre yet the street I took home, named after the satirist Jalil Mammadguluzade, had an entire row of makeshift housing built on the road itself where it widened – most unwise considering that driving licenses are usually bought rather than gained via the proper channels but not unexpected. On the corner nearest, people stood selling bread every morning, hours before it was light even. A little further up I once saw chickens run freely across the road where washing hung between the trees, blocking off what little pavement there was. Nearby, groups of bored teens sitting by open fires on broken furniture left in the street offered to wash cars for a pittance except today, today of course, it was too cold. I saw only one other on the street, an elderly woman carrying a large jar of pickled watermelon in both hands. She had a row of gold teeth behind the grimace on her face…had she watched the cricket too I asked myself? I walked on as fast as I could, it would not be long before I was home and warm again.

Drought makes the workers dream.

The water was off yet again when I arrived. What was I to do tonight I asked myself? Sit staring at the computer screen again? I wanted to get drunk to forget about Baku, to forget about everything. Chess was a motivating factor in coming to Azerbaijan…curse that bloody board game I told myself. On the few times I found people playing, everyone looked so depressed and miserable I dursn’t say anything to anyone, fearing that their misery may be contagious. The fridge was always stocked with beer because I didn’t want a daily encounter with the peasant in the kiosk closest and his tiresome attempts to shortchange me. I drank Czech beer only, certainly none of that local rubbish. The fridge was the only modern item in my apartment. I trusted it, it was switched on to my needs. The first beer sank as I sat in my bed listening to the radio in the dark. I had no bed in the conventional sense of the word, only a mattress on the floor, an over-sized pillow and an old cardboard box as a head rest. I didn’t mind sleeping like that, somehow it seemed appropriate given the state of the building. It was a Stalinka -that being a generic term for anything built whilst Stalin was in power- and had seen better days. I wondered if I would ever return to Azerbaijan and its grotty little capital Baku -a city stricken by decades of Communism still. It would mean yet more time away from my daughter…her funny little laugh and her little smiles I had missed for too long now. I thought about the day I would see her again and wondered if she would still recognize her father. Every time a beer was empty I looked out of the window by the fridge when I got another. There was nothing to see other than the same parked cars and the same row of street lamps becoming fainter in the gloom. I don’t know why I always did that…but then I was unable to stop myself…perhaps it was disbelief. With each day passing as part of one long count, another empty evening lay ahead, soon it would be tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow… .

All behold the spectacle of fleshy, limbless rectangles… .

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...and yes that is a Celtic Frost hoodie.

The author in contemplation, wearing that which he walks to work in. On the left cuff of his Celtic Frost hoodie lies the inscription:
‘Only Death Is Real…’.


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