I was looking forward to the London Chess Classic all year and I was really glad I took some time off work to go along. I thought I might get bored but I couldn’t get enough of it and only failed to turn up on the two Sundays when I had to do some domestic duties.
It took such a huge chunk out of my life that I’ve been busy catching up since then and haven’t had a chance to write down what I learned from it.
One of the great things about chess is there is a very informal feeling about it. You can rub shoulders, quite literally, with all the great players and even have a chat in the toilet if you’re so inclined. Personally I can’t stand it when people talk to me in the toilet. Well, in truth, when they’re in the middle of a game, the players also tend to have a distracted and distant air that discourages trivial banter. But I did hold the door open for Nigel Short. I was going to say, “Well, Nigel, you really made a mess of that position, didn’t you? What are you going to do now?” That’s one of the few occasions in my life when, in retrospect, I’m glad I held my tongue.
But look at the position.
Kramnik has just played 19. … d5. Nigel’s bishop on b3 is entombed and White’s position is hopeless.
But you’ve got to admire these players even when they are losing. I came home with a headache on a few days because it’s really hard to follow 4 simultaneous games for hours on end and at the same time keep up with the exhaustive analysis in the commentary room.
Octagenarian Viktor Korchnoi managed to do not only that but also to play 25 simultaneous games while he was at it. Twice. “The first simul was a bit tough,” he complained. “I discovered I was up against two or three serious players.”
One of the highlights for me was listening to Julian Hodgson comment on the games. I wish he’d been present in the public commentary room for longer but he got heckled by some soccer fans and disappeared to the VIP room never to emerge again.
The final day of the tournament was an anti-climax. The games just fizzled out and Kramnik won without much fanfare. The prizes were awarded in the Savoy Hotel on the other side of London and the audience wasn’t invited.
Can you think of any other sport where the winner skulks away and is given a trophy in secret but where you can meet the players in the toilet in the middle of the match?