Columns | March 17, 2010 14:15

Not again!?

Europe-Echecs interview DanailovPerhaps it was because I'm currently reading The Age of Empathy - Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society, Frans de Waal's latest book on how and why humans (and other primates) are capable of showing empathy and solving moral problems - that I found myself shocked by the recent Europe Echecs interview with Topalov's manager Silvio Danailov. Topalov's match against Anand hasn't even started yet, but the first provocations are already in the air again.

Photo: Europe-Echecs

Tiebreak in ElistaFrans de Waal is one of the world's leading primatologists and has written an impressive body of work about the similarities between apes and humans. In his latest work, he hands us a toolkit on how to improve our society by looking at (human) nature. Empathy and morality are not only human affairs, but also play an very important role in other species, such as chimpansees and dolphins. De Waal argues that the election of president Obama is a clear sign that the 'nightmare' days of Reagan and Thatcher are over and that perhaps it is time to transform society into a more empathic place. Well, I think it's time to end the 'nightmare' of Toiletgate and start a new era where chess professionals actually show some empathy and respect for each other instead of constantly trying to provoke the opponent.

In the video of the interview, Danailov talks about whether the 'Sofia rules' apply in the upcoming Topalov-Anand match, to be held in Sofia next month. They will not be applied - at least not officially. But that's no problem for Danailov:

If one player doesn't offer or accept draws they will apply. Vishy [Anand] doesn't agree but he will be forced, because Topalov will not offer him a draw and he will not speak to him. So, what to do? He will be forced. This is the best. This is the best, otherwise... I don't know, there's people who are absolutely conservative, they are against these rules, but this is the future of chess. This is for sure. Everybody now understands this. Of course, I understand there are some players, old players, who don't want to work... they like short draws and whatever. They like to offer them, but this is finished. Chess ... we need a professional sport, and in professional sport, we cannot do this.

It's a remarkable statement: Anand - forced against his will to comply to rules that are not official; this is the future of chess, no matter what 'old' chess players say - their opinion clearly is unimportant and shouldn't be respected. But the most remarkable is that Danailov says that Topalov will not only refuse to offer any draws but also will ignore his opponent altogether: "He will not speak to him." In other words, he will drop all courtesy and normal etiquette and create a 'non-speaking terms' atmosphere in a match in his home country, against one of the most relaxed and friendly chess players in the professional chess scene.

And why? Because of 'professionalism', that vacuous word all too often misused by people who refuse to acknowledge that most if not all work requires empathy and social skills - in other words, people who haven't the slightest idea what 'professionalism' really means. (Here's how one competency library actually defines 'professionalism': "Thinking carefully about the likely effects on others of one's words, actions, appearance, and mode of behavior.") To exclude all social elements from a profession is in fact the ultimate un-professional thing imaginable.

It's a fallacy Frans de Waal convincingly demolishes in his book, showing how cooperation and social interaction are absolutely crucial to succeed in any job and society, and are in fact measures by which we judge people and choose them as colleagues, friends or mates. Not so for the Bulgarians, who've created their own rules and apparently don't mind to be social isolates in the chess world, as long as the results speak for themselves. What an utterly unprofessional attitude!

In a similar vein, we've argued before on this site that shaking hands before and after a game shouldn't actually be incorporated in the rules of chess, but instead should be respected even though they're not in the rules - because, as De Waal shows, that's how empathy and social skills work: intuitively, without explicit rules, automatically. And that's why apes and other animals are capable of displaying them, too, without being able to read lawbooks or guides on ethical behaviour. It's a thing of nature. It's in our genes.

Tiebreak in ElistaThe sad thing is that we've seen this all before, four years ago in Elista. There, the Bulgarian team made themselves ridiculous in the eyes of world by accusing Vladimir Kramnik - without a shred of hard evidence - of cheating. They even published a childish book on it - still lacking any solid evidence - to prove their point, which I reviewed back in 2007. Perhaps it's worth recalling how Topalov accused Kramnik of unfairly using his 'home advantage' up till the Kremlin in order to "keep the title at any cost" and that he (Kramnik) "will not balk at violating ethical principles."

In his book, Topalov wrote that it was naive of him to agree to the match against Kramnik being played on Russian (well, kind of) ground, because such a match obviously couldn't be fair. Well, it's four years later and look who's playing on home ground this time. Will Topalov and Danailov return the compliment and agree if Anand claimed a match in Bulgaria couldn't ever be fair because of some kind of home advantage? Frans de Waal devotes an entire chapter on the 'walking in other man's 'shoes' concept, but looking at the interview of Europe Echecs, I have my doubts if Danailov has read it. Note how he laughs during the entire interview, routinely dismissing dissenting views and announcing how the reigning World Champion will be 'forced' to do this and that. Does that sound like someone showing any kind of empathy or 'ethical principles' at all?

Silvio Danailov has recently announced his candidacy for president of the European Chess Union. Heaven forbid someone who doesn't understand the first thing about 'professionalism', baselessly accuses some world class players of unethical behaviour and laughingly tells others what to do, ever gets to play such an important role in European chess, even if he did show some good initiatives like the exciting M-Tel tournament and his passion for more fighting chess. This kind of destructive madness really can't be tolerated in our beautiful chess world. Frans de Waal ends his book The Age of Empathy (I am quoting from the Dutch version) with the following words:

We must rely on our intellect to figure out how to balance individual and collective interests. One instrument we have and which enriches our thinking enormously, has been selected over ages, meaning its survival value has been proven time and again. It is our capacity to show a sense of oneness with others, to understand them, and to place ourselves in their situation.

We can only hope this message will reach the Bulgarian team before the Topalov-Anand match starts.

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Arne Moll's picture
Author: Arne Moll


Sherman's picture

Arne, Bulgaria is probably the most corrupt country because of Danailov's smile is very irritating. Do not you think that the thread of logic you short again? What is common between corruption in public and chess as sport, even if everyone borned in Bulgaria corrupt at his first steps?
What is your problem, man? Tell us. Is Danailov your problem? Bulgarians? Are they offended you?

T. Goto's picture

Just to clarify, I would like to draw attentions to the nature of Arne's work; he writes opinion pieces, which is an important part of journalism. All newspapers feature some opinion pieces by regular or guest writers, and, by nature, these pieces must be distinguished from reports. So one can contest writers' views, yet one cannot expect the same degree (or kind) of objectivity and neutrality one finds in reports from opinion pieces. They are opinion pieces, after all. Therefore, one expects Arne to take a stand on whatever the issue he chooses to write. I generally appreciate and enjoy his pieces, even when I do not agree with him.

In this case, I cannot comment on the book Arne discussed, yet I share his distaste towards what is indicated as a do-anything say-anything policy seemingly expressed by Mr. Danailov. True, impressions we get from the interview would not be homogeneous, and we cannot argue for what is the right way to read his facial expression, save intention, with scientific objectivity. What we can argue, as Arne does, is that we have a right ground to be concerned.

What Mr. Danailov did at Elista was extremely damaging to chess. I am not arguing that he and Topalov weren't right to be suspicious. Suspicion is, ultimately, a subjective experience, and we either have it or not have it. It can be validated, of course, but if someone is having a suspicion, objective verifications cannot always remove it. So, one must be extremely cautious in expressing it, save acting on i. In Elista, they were suspicious, and it is a simple matter of fact. What they did wrong was that they acted on speculations and accused his opponent as a cheat. True, it is always very difficult to get someone red-handed. But that does not justify to accuse someone of such a grave misconduct in a hope to verify one's suspicion. That incident has, in certain extent, changed the culture of chess. And, Arne has voiced his concern that another incident like this can be extremely damaging to chess. For that, I agree.

Casablanca's picture

"Anand, one of the most relaxed and friendly chess players in the professional chess scene." On which ground do you make this assumption Arne? Opponents have complained about irritating pen- clicking and caughing. Of course Anand is very populair, but you have to be critical of him too.

Sherman's picture

@?T. Goto Thank you! Your post is mutch more understandable for me than words about coruption and chess.

Arne Moll's picture

@jhoro: I hope you're right about point 2!

@Sherman: I only mentioned Bulgaria's corruption because you made a rather chauvinistic comparison with The Netherlands. I didn't mean to imply Danailov has anything to do with it, but it's certainly also not true that Bulgaria is like heaven on earth. There are huge problems in Bulgaria (like in Russia), so why not simply admit this?

@Casablanca: I've heard such things before, and it's possible: I've never played against Anand so I don't know. However, unlike the Bulgarians, I've personally never heard him say anything controversial or unfriendly off the board. Have you?

Sherman's picture

Arne, there are problems in every country in the world but you get too far. I just wanted to say that there are no problems with the household of Sofia for this match. And you can not indicate anything meaningful to me, to refute me. Therefore I intervened Netherlands in order to understand what your argument is based.

Sherman's picture

"There are huge problems in Bulgaria (like in Russia), so why not simply admit this?"
I admit this! )) Do you admit that Nederland is full with drugs?

Arne Moll's picture

Sherman, you started the comparison of countries, I'll let you to it.

Bangalo's picture

To all those who think that Danailov's conduct at Elista was unacceptable:
imagine that you are playing in the spotlight vs another player. In the middle of the game that player farts in order to disturb you. Of course, the audience cannot hear or smell it, because it is far away from the table. Several seconds pass and you already can feel the obnoxious smell. You raise your head in surprise but your opponent gives you an innocent smile, which you know is only meant to exasperate you further. What are you going to do? Sit there and keep on breathing in his rectal gases? Or raise your voice? Remember - you don't have any proof, after all everybody saw that your opponent was a good-natured guy who was even smiling at you kindly. You will be deemed paranoid! Everyone will laugh at you and will say that you are shame to chess world! So what are you going to do? Humiliate yourself or try to tell the world? And you have to take the decision instantly.
So please, everyone, stop this hysteria. Noone was there and noone knows the FACTS. There are so many things which we are mislead to believe and at the end the facts turn out to be totally different. There is no point in this argument.
@Arne: it is ridiculous to point a finger at Silvio and to expect only wrongdoings from him. You should comment on things he HAS done, not on your fears of what he MIGHT do.
P.S. I am sorry for this dirty example, but just wanted to make it more picturesque :-).

Nonationalism's picture

Gases cant be traced, cables and other devices can. Quite a diff, no?

Kremlin's picture

I think mr. Moll could have avoided all these critical posts by just being frank about his irritation with mr. Danilov, his personal views on this behavior, and not try to mix his personal sentiment by referring to adjusted definitions of "professionalism" and a more broad appeal for empathy. Whether Anand has said controversial things off the board or not seems to be a point Moll makes, but in an earlier discussion where he called Carlsen "boring", he praised controversy and claimed it gave entertainment value.

These are opinions, and trying to convince people to agree based on "rational" argument is obviously failing horribly. Agree to disagree ffs.

I for one, think Danilov is a prick and agree that he has a smirk on his face, but I would never cry if anyone wants to disagree... And I do not think this is the right time to call out for "empathic behavior": Chess professionals, go to war!!!

Bangalo's picture

Cables cannot be traced, because the entire operation would have been supported by a powerful organization, you can guess which one... Putin made an inspection at Elista shortly before the game.

Tom's picture

If Topalov feels the need to resort to such nonsense, I guess Anand must be favourite to win the match.

Nonationalism's picture

So now Putin himself placed the untraceale cables? Oh and how can we be sure mr. Borissov does not place some of these invisible devices in Sofia too? What a joke.

Peter Doggers's picture

This morning I asked Silvio Danailov whether he would like to comment on our column, and perhaps clarify matters, and that we would be happy to publish it. We indeed received a reply and published it here.

bolsky's picture

Topalov is a strong player and one of the strongest, I personally felt bad why he follows his managers " new rules" in chess. If you are a stronger player, logically you will win in chess.

Bangalo's picture

@Nonationalism: ha-ha, the cables are not invisible. Do you know who Putin worked for, prior to becoming president? This organization is capable of everything. If Vishy's team is left to freely inspect whatever they want in Bulgaria, you can be sure that there will be no dirty tricks.

SanChess's picture

How about being more empathetic towards Danailov and Topalov? This match is all they have left and it's taking place on their home soil. They have to win at all costs. It is understandable that adrenaline is running high.

Danailov is exquisitely insulting in his approach to psychological warfare at WC level yet they can at least be fond of co-starring in two matches of the reunification era. That's all that matters to him right now. They won't have such an opportunity again.

Topalov is certainly capable of wining this match and upgrade his FIDE Champion status to that of the more distinguished Classical Chess Champion, but I think his chances against Anand are slimmer now than they were against Kramnik a couple of years ago--for one thing: there is nothing he can do on/off-the-board to upset Anand.

@chickypanda: I agree with you analysis.

Alexander's picture

Wait ... Danailov brought up a chess player?

Janis Nisii's picture

I really don’t know if Dainalov’s alleged provocations are worse than the ones contained in this column..
If you wanted the match to start in a relaxed, peaceful state of mind, Arne, you don’t seem to having contributed to build that kind of atmosphere with your text., did you? :)
I found it a bit weird that you didn’t even mention the Topalov-Kamsky match that is more recent than the Kramnik-Topalov match, was held in Sofia, went smoothly without any problem being reported and that Topalov won. (Please correct me if I’m mistaken, I wasn’t there).
When I edit my interviews, I always consider that most of the time English is not my interviewee’s first language and I am very careful in trying and understand what the speaker was saying, beyond the words he/she actually used. Different cultures and characters should also be considered when judging what someone says.
In this case, it seems to me that Dainalov was simply saying “it takes two to tango”, meaning that, even if the anti-short draws rules won’t officially apply to this match, it is sufficient that one player behaves according to those rules and they are automatically in force.
If, as I believe, this is what he meant, the fact that Topalov won’t speak to Anand is not related to any social context, but to the fact that Sofia rules imply that the players don’t talk to each other during the game.
Now, we all know that players, at least during world top events do not talk to each other during the game except for draw offers. And we all also know that a draw offer is declined by simply making a move, not with a “oh thank you honey, that’s very nice of you, know, I came here to play and I’d really like to go on with this game. I’m sorry if you are a bit tired, I feel so much empathy for you, sweetheart, and to make you forgive me, I’ll offer you a beer after the game”. Right?
I’d like to remind everyone that if there are motivations for a short draw, they apply to Topalov as well, he can happen to be tired, or to need a half point like any other player.
After all, it seems to me that all Dainalov wanted to say is: we will apply Sofia rules, not because they give us any personal advantage, but because we strongly believe in the principles these rules are based on. What’s wrong or provocative with that? There are probably millions chess enthusiasts who agree with him.

Arne Moll's picture

@Janis, it seemed this thread was finished and perhaps we shouldn't regret this, but let me still comment to your post because it surprised me and I think you somehow misunderstood what I wanted to say.

To be honest, I had already almost forgotten about Danailov and what happened in Elista! If you read again the first paragraph of my piece, you see that I say that I'm not precisely sure myself why I was so shocked to see the interview. I speculate it was just because I'm currently reading a book on empathy which made a great impression on me, implicating that I may be wrong in making such a big deal about it. I think I was being pretty careful in describing my thoughts and making sure I didn't sound too offensive or biased.

Anyway, it seemed to me Danailov's attititude in the interview - not only what he said but also his body language (which plays an important role in both animal and human communication, as Frans de Waal explains in his book) - was rather unpleasant.
Words like 'he will be forced', 'this is finished', 'old and conservative' combined with a smug grin (at least so it seemed to me, but if it looked genuine and innocent to you, I'll accept it) made an unpleasant impression on me. And again this reminded me of much of what Frans de Waal says in his book. On top of that, Danailov uses a rather silly meaning of the word 'professional' which, in the light of his recent candidacy for ECU president, didn't make me very happy either.

So now I really was fully reminded of Elista, and I decided to look up some things from Topalov's book I reviewed back then. I admit reading this book brought back some of the unpleasant feelings I had back then, and it did make me wonder why all these provocations (at least that's how they appear to me) are necessary all the time. Yes, I know Topalov-Kamsky went very smoothly, and I haven't forgotten about it, but what about the other incidents? If I'm not mistaken you were also a witness to at least one of the 'non-handshake'games between Kramnik and Topalov in Wijk aan Zee as well as the Cheparinov-Short incident. Did that strike you as a pleasant atmosphere? And who was the prime figure involved in these incidents? Yes, Silvio Danailov. Coincidence? Perhaps, but to blame this kind of behaviour on 'language problems' all the time doesn't really seem probable.

Actually, I think reputations do matter when interpreting current statements from individuals. As I said before, I don't think Danailov really deserves the 'benefit of the doubt' anymore in this respect, and this is why I felt (and feel) my column was more than justified. Now one point is clarified (the draw offers), but not the others. In fact, as noted in the other thread, now also Aruna Anand is discredited by not being 'respectful' to Danailov and the organizers. Now tell me Janis, is it really only my bias to spot a pattern here? And that is why I called my column 'Not again!?' - note the question mark. It's not only an exclamation, but also a question. I didn't mindlessly shout that Elista will happen again. I wondered about it. I hope you see the difference. And I hope I will be proven wrong!

Cheers, Arne

Timothée Tournier's picture

Hey Chessvibes, You should just try to provide a 2 million dollars prize fund in crisis time ! The provocative fact is that you give lessons even if you're nobody in the world of chess. You have never brought up a chess player, you have never organized a tournament or a match, you have never been a manager, and you just had to criticize everything. Yeah it's the future of chess. You have to fight till the end, like in tennis when there has to be a winner, in golf when there's always a playoff, in football when you have to run all the 90 minuts. What Danailov said was that Topalov will not offer draws, that's his right, and he will not accept draw offers, which is also his right, so the consequences are exactly the same than if the Sofia rules applied. Did I make it simple enough ???

burnett's picture

Small advice for Arne Moll,
Your article is nice, you have a subtle touch to introduce and enlighten contrast of several elements (Here the Frans de Waal book and the interview with D. In the Moskalenko review the diferent value of practical- and philosophical approach) but the idea of being right or objective really destroys a lot of the fun, the many enthousiast comments you get shows you did well, just gather new information and prepare your next article, don´t try to defend a personal point of view but instead continue the excellent work of presenting (in your pitoresc way) contrasts in the (chess) world.

kaspy's picture

your comments are extremely logical .
no matter what , saying that not agreeing to sofia rules, amounts to disrespecting
organizeres... etc etc is rank stupidity.

such dirty tricks have not worked in past for topalov. he could not win even after
kramnik forfeited a game.(danailov and topalov gleefully accepted the point)

Timothée Tournier's picture

He managed to get Topalov to the top, directly or indirectly !

Rodolfo's picture

Leer que Anand no juegue luego de la entrevista a Danailov, es lo mas cobarde e infantil que se puede escribir. Apoyo a Anand, a que juegue, no ha dicho nada ofensivo Danailov a nadie y menos a Anand y me imagino que se puso no solo en los zapatos de Anand sino de todo el mundo del ajedrez que quiere que se juegue hasta el final, que tablitas ni que tablitas, que horrible, que horrible que acuerden tablas en 11 jugadas digamos, eso seria fatal, que jueguen hasta el final y felicito a Danailov, Topalov y Anand porque haran de la regla Sofia sin estar escrito como lo dice Frans De Waal. Jiji. El que metio escarnio es nuestro amigo de Chessvibes. Pero al final resulta divertido. Porque asi muchos han escrito y eso es el mundial 2010, el mejor. Anand-Topalov. Creo que ganara Topalov, es mas quiero que gane Topalov pero eso no significa que no apoyare a Anand si muestra mejor juego y superioridad. Como quien dice soy hincha del cienciano si esta en primer lugar.

chandler's picture

i guess i'm a bit late.... but, Peter/Arne - if you're reading this; I think our focus should by only on chess (like Anand) and that by giving so much attention to guys who think otherwise, you're actually doing what you don't want - moving focus away from the board. And you're only encouraging "them" by giving them what they want.

(I'm referring only to columns here, not news reports which of course shouldn't take sides).

chandler's picture

oh, and i must commend the choice of Danailov's still.... :) great choice


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