November 11, 2013 14:03

A great event

When it turned out that I would be in Chennai, India, in November during the World Championship match between Vishy Anand and Magnus Carlsen, I was, like any chess fan would be, over the moon. I even posted a photograph of my visa on my Facebook page to annoy my chess friends who would have to remain at home. 

But in real life, things always turn out differently. In 1997, I saw an exhausted Anand lose in my home country to an extremely fresh and fit Anatoly Karpov, for the FIDE World Championship in Groningen. In 2000, I travelled especially to London with two friends, only to see my hero Kasparov draw with White in just 11 moves against Vladimir Kramnik - and subsequently lose the title. 

Actually, my most memorable moments in chess were consistently witnessed at home. The first World Championship match I seriously followed was Kasparov-Karpov, Seville 1987. I pasted newspaper clippings in a little booklet with my own analysis and thoughts. The 1990 match, again between the two Ks, coincided with the Open Dutch junior championships, where I participated. We youngsters analysed these games much more seriously than our own, which, for a junior championship, is surely telling. And even though I managed to visit the recent Candidates tournament in London, held at the Savoy, I witnessed the dramatic two last rounds at home, behind my laptop. 

On Sunday, while visiting the Hyatt Regency Hotel to watch the second match game in Chennai, at some point I again felt like I should have stayed behind my laptop. All tickets for the main playing venue were sold out and the press room was strictly for journalists with official accreditation - even when the game had finished (after less than one and a half hour of play) and the players were giving a press conference. 

I've never really swallowed the thought, which some tournament organisers appear to take for granted, that a press conference should be just for press: it seems a terribly outdated concept that only journalists are allowed to ask questions, let alone that only they would be in a position to witness it live. These days, most press conferences can be watched by the whole world online, so why not in real life too?

This is not a new, internet-induced development, by the way. Already during the London 2000 match between Kasparov and Kramnik, the audience was allowed to the press conferences and could even, if memory serves me right, ask questions to the players directly (which, of course, nobody dared to). But in Chennai, the problem was that the press conference was held IN the press room, where nobody without a valid press accreditation was allowed to enter. 

To be honest, this wasn't particularly bothersome for me - after all, it hadn't exactly been an exciting game, and I've been fortunate enough to witness many press conferences by both Anand and Carlsen in the past. But for the many Indian chess fans trying catch a glimpse (or a photo) of the players, especially 'their champ', it must have been less easy to accept. I couldn't help feeling that they, too, might have been better off watching the whole thing live on internet. 

The were men in uniform everywhere, strict looking security guards who weren't only, I suspected, looking for real troublemakers but also trying to prevent 'ordinary' people from coming too close. After the press conference was over, both players left via the emergency exit, denying the fans a fair shot at a question or an autograph. This meant that the fans started haunting Susan Polgar and Tania Sachdev for photos instead - understandable, but surely still second choice. 

Having said that, the atmosphere in and around the playing area that I experienced was just wonderful. I have never seen so much genuine interest for chess as here in Chennai. The taxi drivers whom I spoke to all knew not only Anand (which I guess isn't surprising) but also Carlsen (which is, at least when compared to Dutch taxi drivers). It is also clear that the local government has really done a great PR job, placing giant chess boards across town and huge posters everywhere, mentioning the event and what's at stake. (They could, in my opinion, do something about some other posters that I saw, such as one which read 'Curing Cancer is Easy!') 

The lobby of the Hyatt hotel, too, was a feast for chess lovers. Here again were giant chess boards being played at by colorfully dressed little kids and their parents; a section called 'Vishy's Lounge'; people dressed up as Kings and Queens; and regular chess boards and monitors everywhere. (I didn't see any chess clocks, though. I hope this doesn't mean Indians don't like to play blitz, which would be an insult to Anand, one of the great blitz wizards of the last decades.) 

In general, the luxury of not only the Hyatt Regency but also other five star hotels stands, of course, in stark contrast with the indescribable poverty that can be seen elsewhere in Chennai and indeed all across India. The fact that one sees cows, goats and stray dogs everywhere is something even a Western European can get used to pretty quickly, but the sight of old men wearing nothing but a loincloth crossing a busy highway, or dirty five year olds playing in a heap of garbage, is not so easy to forget (especially if you have five-year-old kids yourself). Still, this too must look somehow 'normal' to the citizens of Chennai. 

It's too easy to criticize the Chennai municipality for spending their rupees on chess rather than poverty reduction, especially if you read about the chess in the school projects and see the immense joy and pride of the Chennai people when you mention their World Chess Champion. But it's also true that they could perhaps have been just a little more relaxed in allowing people - not would-be journalists, but local chess fans - to watch, say, the press conference, or collect a few autographs after the games. Then, instead of this just being a great event (which all World Championship matches are by default), it might become a truly memorable one. Let's face it: so far, the games certainly aren't.

Chennai beach...
...where a giant chess set has been put up
A statue of Mahatma Gandhi
View from St. Thomas Mount
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Arne Moll's picture
Author: Arne Moll


Bartleby's picture

Nice views of and on the city for the unfortunate ones who stayed at home, thanks. As a tourist at the olympiad in Istanbul I had the same feeling about the closed-doors commentaries and press conferences. Probably everybody who knows somebody should be able to get an accreditation anyway. The money comes from elsewhere, not from the spectators. It's only logical organizers think more about functionaries and dignitaries. The mere chess spectator is expendable.

Chess Fa's picture

Thank you Peter.
Really appreciate such cultural experience articles on the rest day. I look forward to it.
Hope you have a safe and enjoyable visit in Chennai.

Chess Fan's picture

I am "Chess Fan" obviously. Will not current such things in the future.
One more thing Peter. I actually thought of coming all the way to Chennai to watch the World Championship match. But knowing tickets will be sold out, I thought that I would follow from this web site. You have been giving me the needed chess news and cultural news. Thank you so much and I appreciate it.

>:)'s picture

Another nothing article from Arne.

Hanseman's picture

I agree - He takes himselve too seriously. Booooooring...

Anonymous's picture

"The were men in uniform everywhere"

Awesome journalism! Congrats.
Not to mention the content, which is totally nailbiting.

Frits Fritschy's picture

I don't recall I've ever seen men in uniform at the Wijk aan Zee tournament, so as part of an atmospheric description it's useful. Sarcasm is easy, reviewing is work.

Thomas Oliver's picture

But Wijk aan Zee has men in suits guarding the entrance to the restricted press-only area, as well as some men in suits (arbiters) in the area for spectators and amateur players. Usually they are pretty invisible, but they might take action if spectators talk too loudly or if a mobile phone rings (Indian spectators are less disciplined than Dutch ones, police presence is needed at least 'just in case'?).

On the article itself: I like it ... . Visiting on-site has two advantages: catching glimpses of the players and their body language (better than video coverage), and interacting with other chess fans. Both may be more the case in Wijk aan Zee - players aren't behind glass, and people like Arne or me are more likely to meet people whom we know.
Free access to the press conferences would cause even more chaos than already - the room can hardly accommodate the journalists covering the match.

Frank's picture

Thanks for this article, which as ha different view than the seen ones. And nice photos - the official journalists might have no time to make it to the beach ;-)

Viduk Quisling's picture

Excellent article. Nice photos.

Cynics, if you do not understand it, do not read it.

Septimus's picture

No need to be so dismissive of the article. Some subjective (honest) commentary can add flavor to the main story, i.e. the match.

I see nothing wrong in the author's description of life. Yes, there is poverty and a stark contrast between life inside and outside the playing hall, but there also seems to be immense pride for the local hero and chess itself. Passion for the game despite difficult conditions. Somehow I find this a very uplifting story, unlike the cynical state of affairs here in the West.

Bravo Arne!

Vitecasse's picture

My brother who lives in India took a pic from the playing room before the match. Can I send it to some email address of Chessvibes?

Chess Fan's picture

I see "" in the contact below. I am sure chessvibes would appreciate any input. If you are not expecting to be paid, let them know that, it would be that must easier for them to use.
But don't take it personally if they don't publish or acknowledge.
I wouldn't. Chessvibes has a lot going on.
These are just my personal opinions, chess fan to chess fan. I so mean to be talking for Peter or ChessVibes.

Chess Fan's picture

The Chennai beach must be the one where the Tsunami stuck in 2004 Dec 26 morning. The waters must have com a long way from the pictures now and then!
I believe that it is called the "Marina Beach" and used to be one of the most beautiful beaches many decades back, a beautiful natural sandy beach, much like Half-Moon Bay in California, but much larger.
Peter, watch the sunrise or sunset there over the sea water's horizon. One of the most beautiful natural sights you would see, even coming from the Netherlands.

Mart Smeets's picture

They could indeed try for the booklet "our immemorable draws"

Chess Fan's picture

I am just thinking two things: the chess revolution that this would cause in India and in Norway.
I am also thinking how important is this match for the Magnus Carlsen corporate brand on a global level. MC is already very liked in India (aside from his competing with Vishy) and there are a billion people there; assuming a minute 1% consumers for his brand, it is 10 million. Plus access to China, Singapore and other similar places. Team MC acting not rude to Vishy and leading with graciousness will be a billion dollars + windfall for their brand and a business goldmine in addition to Europe and America.

Tyche's picture

Nice piece, Arne. As you have rightly pointed out, one of the most puzzling things about the culture of India is the peaceful coexistence of opulence and poverty. However, despite all the poverty and the difficult living conditions, there is palpable vivacity in the faces of people. This is something unique to the Indian culture. People do not complain much about their lot in life - they accept it and look for inner peace in the midst of all the difficulties.

Chess Fan's picture

Very nice comment. Seems very correct.
Not to be forgotten is how sincerely kind they are to the guests. They are genuinely supportive and encouraging even to MC which is rare considering that their national sports hero and a legend is competing.

Septimus's picture

Indeed. Contrast this to the open hostility, rudeness and ridiculously petulant behavior by the Bulgarians. The most classless clown of them all was Silvio Danilov.

{$Real Signmund Freud} + 1's picture

Thanks for your unique perspective and pics. Here's my thoughts

You can let any spectator in to ask questions in a London event where attendance is low and audience are well behaved. If you do that in India for Championship event like this, you will need to conduct the press event in a 30,000 people stadium with high security. Even the journalists are not well behaved in India!

I don't get this patronizing statement by many seemingly lucid westerners.... 'It's too easy to criticize the Chennai municipality for spending their rupees on chess rather than poverty reduction'.

By your logic, any poor country or anyone with poor people or social problems to be addressed, shouldn't host any events? When India launched an orbiter mission to Mars, with a cheapest budget of $74 M I might add, every western media outlet is adding a paragraph to highlight India has a millions of poor people living under poverty, blah blah.. on every single article. I was wondering are these journalists dumb, jealous or stupid? Is $74 million really gonna solve the poverty problem? In that same logic, can all westerners stop all spending until all the social problems are solved like mentally retarded people gunning down innocent children, drugs, what not... I'd especially like to see funding stopped to 'free loading' Royal family who has no use to either English or rest of the world.

didn't mean to be highly critical, but I wanted to point out if there is a lack of perspective and logic

AAR's picture

Problem in India is not poverty or lack of ideas.
It is corruption and arrogance of the ruling class - Politicians, Administrators, Police and Judges.

Sample this - Do you know that Chennai Marina Beach has cemetery of two politicians occupying nearly 10 acres of land?

Raj's picture

I think main issue is cleanliness. India would have been much beautiful even with poverty if cleanliness were addressed. ( I also think it is the product of lack of education)
Another issue is education (no more illiteracy!!) , but slowly getting improved. With the hyper communication medias like internet and TV, I think Indian people are slowly trying to match the standards of west.
Unlike the olden times, the world standards for any given filed are at internet/TV distance , I think India will match them quicker than we think.

PircAlert's picture

Among other things,
1. Indians lack civic sense.
2. Also Indians lack sense to the point that they forget to realize that their too selfish behavior is what is not allowing them to develop. For example, how else will you explain when no one individual could board an Air India flight at JFK for about an hour long after pre-boarding announcement was made. No one is willing to make way for people with children etc. I did not see politicians, administrators, police or judges in that crowd.

Raj's picture

It is interesting . I dont know how such collective behavior is developed, although individual Indians are good most of the time. My guess is that since the basic needs/comforts of the most of the Indians have not yet achieved , mind is somewhat occupying with false sense of urgency and sense of loosing if we don't out run others !!

PircAlert's picture

I guess that is what it is! Indian people in general have very good helping tendency. I think all it requires is a bit of training to bring in the discipline. Like you mentioned before, we have improved and we're improving!

RG13's picture

I don't think that the U.K spends money on the royals, they are conspicuously wealthy themselves.

Septimus's picture

Good journalists are hard to come by. Your example is a perfect case of how those who fail at everything else in life seem to want to become either lawyers, businessmen or journalists.

The media missed the point that sending a probe to Mars is a huge technological achievement, one that inspires the younger generation to pursue science. Hardly a prescription for failure in a modern society. Unfortunately, with dumbasses in the media (especially American media), everything should be in some canned form of bullet points or cynical snippets to cater to the uneducated idiots glued to the TV.

Vitecasse's picture

@Chess fan- Yeah I saw it. Besides the pic is not very clear. My brother said the the room was kinda sterile. I have no idea what he means about that. Prices are high though, he said.

Anonymous's picture

Prices are high for your picture? What about no-one wants it? Then how high will the prices be? LOL

Chess Fan's picture

I think he means the cost of things or prices in Chennai maybe? That is how I understood.
I can only imagine the feeling of looking at both of them in that room if I am there as a spectator and feeling awed by the players and the history. Sterile is probably good for them to focus on their job of playing for the world title!

Anonymous's picture

The were awesome pictures!

Chess Fan's picture

I just again saw this incredible Anand's game from 2000 FIDE world championship. His intuitive thinking after move 36 especially shows the thinking efficacy of a World Champion:
(Analysis by GM Ľubomír Ftáčnik):
Anand–Bologan, New Delhi, 2000 World Championship;[65] Ruy Lopez, Breyer (ECO C95)
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. 0-0 Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. c3 0-0 9. h3 Nb8 10. d4 Nbd7 11. Nbd2 Bb7 12. Bc2 Re8 13. Nf1 Bf8 14. Ng3 c5 15. d5 c4 16. Bg5 Qc7 17. Nf5 Kh8 18. g4 Ng8 19. Qd2 Nc5 20. Be3 Bc8 21. Ng3 Rb8 22. Kg2 a5 23. a3 Ne7 24. Rh1 Ng6 25. g5! b4!?
Anand has a strong kingside attack, so Bologan seeks counterplay with the sacrifice of a pawn.
26. axb4 axb4 27. cxb4 Na6 28. Ra4 Nf4+ 29. Bxf4 exf4 30. Nh5 Qb6 31. Qxf4 Nxb4 32. Bb1 Rb7 33. Ra3 Rc7 34. Rd1 Na6 35. Nd4 Qxb2 36. Rg3 c3 (see diagram) 37. Nf6!! Re5

If 37...gxf6, 38.gxf6 h6 39.Rg1! Qd2! 40.Qh4 leaves White with an irresistible initiative.

38. g6! fxg6 39. Nd7 Be7 40. Nxe5 dxe5 41. Qf7 h6 42. Qe8+ 1–0

White forces mate in 12 moves if the game were to continue, with 42...Bf8 43.Rf3 Qa3 44.Rxf8+ Qxf8 45.Qxf8+ Kh7 46.d6 exd4 47.Ba2 h5 48.dxc7 Nb4 49.Qg8+ Kh6 50.f4 g5 51.f5 g4 52.h4 Bxf5 53.exf5 Nxa2 54.Qh8#

Vítor Almeida's picture

Great article! I'm brazilian and well, I don't know much about the last great tournaments here, in São Paulo. But in my city (Juiz de Fora-MG) if we could have an spectacle like this I think that should be like in Chennai. And would be fantastic see, not by the internet, but person to person, the players, and interact with them. Great vision! Thank you for sharing it, and you Peter for posting it.

Chess Fan's picture

I think that the world is lucky to have two major events - World Cup Soccer and the Summer Olympics - in Brazil. With the global importance of Brazil, a World Championship in the future there is not unlikely. From what you say, I hope your city also bids and successfully with FIDE.

Chess Fan's picture

Peter, what is this title (cover picture) with the sun?
Is it from your room at Hyatt? It is beautiful.

Rutger's picture

The Anand-Karpov match was not played in Holland but in Switzerland, only the qualification knockout tournament was in Groningen. Remembering seeing an exhausted Anand face Karpov is therefor highly unlikely.

Arne Moll's picture

You're absolutely right, rutger! I didn't bother to check this but indeed the game I witnessed was Anand-Adams, also known as the 'most expensive blitz game in history'! Thanks for reminding me that even memories need to be double checked as well!

Anonymous's picture

The were an awesome article!

Anonymous's picture

Arne W. Moll, I thank you for this article. For you
not to have access to the contestants to ask questions is an injustice.

Two items of interest catch my attention in this report and that is the security at the WCM and the contrast in luxury and poverty.

I am one on those who enjoys the online coverage, otherwise I would be following the match like I did in the Fisher/Spassky contest.

However, when I was living in St Louis, the US Championship was held there. (2009) I really was happy to be able to get up close to the games. I shot some video and you can check them out at:
and and this one shows just how close I was to Nakamura shooting video at the post game interviews!

This goes for the actual games themselves and the live analyst and the post game interviews. I even met Nakamura after he won the championship out in front of the chess club. We talked for at least 10 minutes!

The 2009 US Championships brought me back in the world of high level chess. The easy drive to the event and also the close access to the games etc.

While the internet has been good for chess, those darn chess engines is another matter all together. When I play online, I often run across a 1200 rated player playing like a grandmaster! Then recent scandal in Bulgaria is a good example of what I am referring to. Even though in the Fischer/Spassky match, the cheat word had been spoken and printed in the press, no one believed it. Today, the opposite is true.

Shane's picture

Arne, what a coincidence. I had travelled from Scotland (where I lived at the time) to London to see that 11 move Kasparov-Kramnik draw. I was pretty unhappy to travel so far to see so little.

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