David Smerdon | May 23, 2012 23:37

World Chess Championships 2012 – Amateur Hour

I’m disappointed.

I’m watching Game 9 from the World Chess Championships between the reigning champion, Vishy Anand from India, and Israeli Grandmaster Boris Gelfand.  In fact, I’ve been closely watching all of the games, and commentating on them every now and then for ChessFM.  But, to be honest, I’ve been pretty disheartened by what I’ve seen.

I love world championships.  There’s something magical about pitting the two best players in the world against each other in a match followed by millions – the highest quality chess in the world, in three weeks of drama, controversy and supreme wit.  The rich history of world chess championships over the centuries pays homage to the majesty of the institution.  Fischer-Spassky played an important part in the Cold War.  Karpov-Kortchnoi was played with the backdrop of the coming collapse of the Soviet Union.  Kramnik-Topalov had a bathroom scandal that will live in infamy.

But this year?

I guess it was always going to be difficult for the quality of the chess to be the dominant factor in this match; after all, neither of the competitors are even ranked in the top four, according to the current ratings.  The FIDE qualifying system to get to this point has been marred by controversy, and it’s certainly up for debate as to whether Gelfand deserves to be there at all.  Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always been a huge Gelfand fan, and I’m certainly glad from a sentimental viewpoint that he’s got his shot at the title.  But the fact that every commentator independently has been calling for a Carlsen-Aronian match as a ‘real’ world championship battle says something.

So, there’s that.  But at least the players could make things interesting for us.  Hard-fought battles, never-say-die attitudes, both players rising to the occasion and playing for the win with every inch of their being, to the entertainment of millions of chess fans the world over.  And yet, here we are at round nine, and it finally looks like we’ll have a match going past the first time control.  That’s right: not a single of the eight games have made move 40 yet.  The first six draws were yawnfests, and one of the games I commentated – a draw in under two hours and less than 20 moves – was absolutely pathetic.

These two players will share over two million Euros.  And no matter what your stance on chess as a game or sport, you can’t deny that professional chessplayers, like actors or tennis players, need to respect their fans and their trade.  And we’re getting neither of that right now.

The two decisive games finally came about in the last two rounds, but I’m still to be impressed.  Gelfand’s loss in 17 moves in Game 8 was amateurish, to say the least.  I’m glad to not be seeing the dreaded “1/2-1/2″ on the scoreboard, of course, but at least these guys could try to pretend to be world champion candidates.

Both these guys have beaten world champions; Anand’s even won the title.  Both these guys are super strong, and super tough competitors.  But right now, to put it plainly, they’ve just got to man up.

Oh, it looks like Gelfand’s just blown a win, and we’re heading towards a draw again.  I’m shocked.

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David Smerdon's picture
Author: David Smerdon

David Smerdon is a chess grandmaster from Brisbane, Australia. David attended Anglican Church Grammar School and Melbourne University. To qualify for the title of Grandmaster, a player must achieve three Grandmaster norm performances, and a FIDE Elo rating over 2500. Late in 2007, Smerdon achieved his third and final Grandmaster norm. In the July 2009 FIDE rating list his rating passed 2500, so he qualified for the title of Grandmaster. He is the fourth Australian to become a Grandmaster, after Ian Rogers, Darryl Johansen and Zhao Zong-Yuan. In 2009, Smerdon won the Queenstown Chess Classic tournament.

Source: Wikipedia

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Comments

Harvey's picture

Dear ChessVibes,
Please don't ask David Smerdon to contribute anything else to your site. Awful article.

Thank you.

Anonymous's picture

Good article, which will be applauded by a large majority of the chess fans: this was a truly disappointing match, certainly not worth 2 million bucks.

But apparently some people do not like free speech, which is an even more sad conclusion. We are in the free western world, not in North Korea.

Anonymous's picture

Really an amateurish article. Whether you agree with it or not, it reads like a forum post that someone spent all of five minutes thinking up and writing.

Where is the insight or depth of thought?

Sligunner's picture

I disagree. It's refreshing for a fellow GM to be unafraid to write the truth.

arkan's picture

Excellent article! I think Arne Moll will censor it

Anonymous's picture

Rather than just calling the article awful or excellent, I will comment on its contents. I enjoyed David Smerdon's columns on his own chess adventures, but consider him not the most obvious person to write about and completely condemn a world championship match.

Specifically:
- [Fischer-Spassky, Karpov-Korchnoi, Kramnik-Topalov] Personally I am glad that the cold war is over and the Soviet Union is history. I am also happy that Anand and Gelfand respect each other and fight only on the chess board (they did fight, even if little "blood" was spilled). At least I wouldn't blame them (or anyone else) for this.

- "every commentator independently has been calling for a Carlsen-Aronian match as a ‘real’ world championship". I would question both 'every' (some still think a challenger has to qualify, and a defending champion cannot be somehow deprived of his title unless he loses a match or dies) and 'independently' (a lot of copy-paste going on).

- "Hard-fought battles, never-say-die attitudes, ..."
Hmm, recently such players lost their WCh matches: Topalov twice, Kasparov against Kramnik. Their approach to chess may be more crowd-pleasing, but not the most promising at the very highest level?

David.Smerdon's picture

I guess I could expect mixed reactions to this article. I'll copy my reply to some of the comments on my website (by the way, my ChessVibes blog is just a cross-post from davidsmerdon.com, and I never directly write with ChessVibes in mind):

"Those are fair objections, and looking back on the article today, I was probably a bit harsh. I definitely didn't want to imply that neither deserve to be there; Gelfand earned his way to the challenger's spot (regardless of my objections to the candidates' system), and Anand is the reigning champion.

Of course, the primary goal for both players is to win the match, even if that means taking almost no risks. But in this internet age, where attention spans have fallen and information and media rush through to the viewers at a rapid rate, we need to make top level chess exciting to keep our sport popular. Again, I don't blame the players - it's the system's fault.

Regardless...the match has been pretty boring to date, and another 25 move draw today didn't help (even if the opening was far more interesting). Anyway, here's hoping for a fighting finish and perhaps some nail-biting tiebreaks!"

Anonymous's picture

Although the content of the article has been presented with extra vigour and emotion, I agree with many points in it. If a competitive system has come to such a stage where taking no risks is the best way to go on, then such a system has to be changed or it might slowly collapse. If the next two games go on without much fight and the next two world championship matches follow the same trend, it is not hard to imagine that none will be willing to sponsor large amounts of money for the match. In games where equality is a very acceptable result, it is common to see two approaches to the contest. 1) Play to win 2) Play to 'not lose'. It happens in football too. At this point, I would not hesitate to say that this world championship has gone the 2nd route. Although it is a perfectly acceptable approach according to the system, the system itself survives on a huge set of factors that eventually look for the first method.

With all the discussions going on about how this match is progressing I think only one of the following is true
1) The two players are indeed the best in the world, have displayed the best play here and any deviations from the lines they play are 'risks' that very likely lead to poorer positions. All other interesting chess games that occur are actually due to mistakes that these two players do not commit. If so, this is a indication of saturation and boredom in chess.
2) There are still games where risky lines of play still give ample opportunities for both white and black (dynamically equal) and the games are hard fought battles without compromising the quality of chess. If so, these players are not displaying such a level of play and one would surely prefer that to they style they have played.

I did like the battles in games 3 and 9 though. Thank God for those.

Robert S. Hedlerfog's picture

I propose a new rule making these draws impossible. Chess 2.0. Check my page for more detail about it: http://www.facebook.com/Chessprogress

Anonymous's picture

I totally agree on this posting and it will hurt chess very badly if this trend goes on. I think there is a cure. And my suggestion is the one I talk about on this page. Chess history have had rules changed before. Now there are computers to check theory etc...this rule will in one blow make the game more challenging, better in the aspect human vs computers and better as a spectator sport!

Sam's picture

If we do not enjoy the complexity of the moves, we better watch boxing or porn. That will be more interesting. You did not give any suggestion for improvement. Please stop complaining.

Lee's picture

I suspect the majority would agree that this has been a fairly uninspiring WCC match to date.

I think a great deal of the problem lies in the format. A short series of knockout candidates matches, Champion seeded to final, short 12 game Championship.

Chess administration needs to address the WCC process and make it more robust and interesting first and foremost.

Sam's picture

The question everybody asks is that WCC should be made interesting. How? No suggestions. May be we should arrange boxing in case of tie. Will that be interesting. Or have WCC a 2 min - 12 game match. Is that acceptable? Stop complaining and make some concrete suggestions. Whining does not help, So stop complaining. Author also should stop complaining and make some concrete suggestions for a change

Sam's picture

The question everybody asks is that WCC should be made interesting. How? No suggestions. May be we should arrange boxing in case of tie. Will that be interesting. Or have WCC a 2 min - 12 game match. Is that acceptable? Stop complaining and make some concrete suggestions. Whining does not help, So stop complaining. Author also should stop complaining and make some concrete suggestions for a change

Lee's picture

Take a deep breath there. I realise you're being facetious with respect to your boxing proposal, but there's not alot of point going nuts. We've seen enough of that drivel on chessvibes the past 2 weeks.

Rahmboy's picture

Time to reconsider 3 pts for a win and 1 for a draw? Favor risk taking and innovation! Or, maybe, 3 for a win with Black, 2 for a win with White. The earlier suggestion for 3-1 will make people play for wins in Swiss and Round Robin, but it won't provide incentive in matches; the 3-2-1 rule will.

Sergio's picture

No I think this would be unfair for players that are stronger with black, or that white players go for super solid lines to avoid a 3 point loss.

I think the best solution to avoid many draws to let players play say 5 wins. The player that wins 5 games (at the point they have both had the same amount of games with black and white) is worldchampion. The problem with this is practical, cause you can't plan how long a world championship match will take.

Chess Beginner's picture

No need for fans to critisize the players unless you're paying their prize money and board and lodging?

Anonymous's picture

Just like with football fans, right? :-)

Chess Beginner's picture

Only TV football fans. Live ticket paying and live stadium yelling ones can say whatever they want.

Anonymous's picture

Now I know why I've never taken time to read any of your "cross posts". I sensed they were rubbish. This write up confirmed my gut feelings.

Don't worry, will never click on your site again.
Good Bye,

kamalakanta@goldenboat.net's picture

I enjoyed this article because it is sincere, honest and direct. Smerdon spoke like a chess fan. While I admire the theoretical erudition and technical skill of Anand and Gelfand, the fact is that the games ARE boring. I cannot explain it....they remind me of Ms. Cunningham, a music history teacher I had at Manhattan School of Music. She knew her stuff, even brought musicians to play the music once in a while, but she was boring! Not sure if it was the tone of her voice (probably so)....in a similar way, the "tone" of this match is extremely sterile to me for some reason.

Mrugesh  Pankhaniya's picture

Dear ChessVibes,
Please don't ask David Smerdon to contribute anything else to your site. Awful article.

He should retire from writing .........NO respect for him as he has no clue what it takes to compete at world chess championship. plus he showed lot of disrespect to Gelfand. Throw Mr David Smerdon's wirting to garbage.
Thank you.

Mrugesh  Pankhaniya's picture

Dear ChessVibes,
Please don't ask David Smerdon to contribute anything else to your site. Awful article.

He should retire from writing .........NO respect for him as he has no clue what it takes to compete at world chess championship. plus he showed lot of disrespect to Gelfand. Throw Mr David Smerdon's writing to garbage.
Thank you.

Chess Tension's picture

If Smerdon had not conme from the chess backwater of Australia he'd never get to even play an Olympiad, he has not got a clue what strength it takes to qualfy for this match.

David.Smerdon's picture

You can certainly criticise my writing, my opinions and my rating (although the borderline racist Australian jibe was a little odd). But please don't accuse me of disrespecting Gelfand.

Boris has been one of my favourite players for a long time, and he certainly earned his spot by proving himself the best match player in the Candidates' system. And in fact, despite most pundits predicting scores of 5-7 or worse, he gave a fantastic account of himself, and to be honest I think he was the better player in the classical games. As much as I tried to remain impartial through the tie-breaks, if anything I was leaning towards his corner. Still, in the end Anand rose to the occasion, and I was very happy to see how exciting and fighting the tie-break games were.

Anonymous's picture

It is an unfortunate aspect of people to extrapolate criticism to disrespect and hatred. Perhaps my statement does the same too :).

Let us consider the tie break games. Shorter time controls, do or die situations, equal but dynamic positions swinging either way. There were mistakes from both players at some point but nobody criticized them harshly for it. On the other hand, the players could have let go of the positions much earlier claiming it was equal and they would be right. But they hoped that the other would make a mistake and wanted to push more. Three of them still ended in draws, but I understood the fight in it. That unfortunately, did not happen in the classical games and I wish it had.

Anonymous's picture

Dear Chessvibes,
This is exactly the sort of writing that makes it worth coming to the site. Please encourage GM Smerdon to share his honest opinions and keep writing. Thanks.

kamalakanta@goldenboat.net's picture

I could not agree more. Smerdon writes from his guts; honest, human reactions. If writing is going to become as insipid as chess games between the chess elite, then we are in big trouble.

Thousands of fans, and quite a few chess professionals were in agreement over the lack of exciting chess in this match.

We need more honest, human reporting. And THAT is the truth.

kamalakanta@goldenboat.net's picture

I could not agree more. Smerdon writes from his guts; honest, human reactions. If writing is going to become as insipid as chess games between the chess elite, then we are in big trouble.

Thousands of fans, and quite a few chess professionals were in agreement over the lack of exciting chess in this match.

We need more honest, human reporting. And THAT is the truth.

Horst's picture

If the problem is the system, then let's go for the Kasimdzhanov-system: if the game ends in a draw then after a short break a second game follows with a shorter time control and colors reversed, untill there is a winner that round. With a winner every round, there is a leader in the match at least every odd round of the match, so that the other player will try everything to level the score again. The audience would not complain if there would be a rest day between every round, they see blood every round and they would understand that a round of chess can be very exhausting. The defenders of "classical time controls" should not complain, because normal matches are often decided by rapid games anyway nowadays, as we have seen again in Moscow.
And the audience also loves to see rapid games: the tie break was arguably the most exciting spectacle of the Moscow match, and also the rapid game of the recent Aronian-Kramnik match was great.

Anonymous's picture

All the (heavy) bias and standard populistic junk aside, article contains simply false ´facts´ such as ´But the fact that every commentator independently has been calling for a Carlsen-Aronian match as a ‘real’ world championship battle...´. At least I had a good laugh @ ´I’ve always been a huge Gelfand fan´.

PS Please, Chessvibes, reconsider your decision to have Smerdon as a blogger here. This is exactly what we need not, too much (and too provocative) opinion without real content.You should try to educate rather than to amuse.

Kamalakanta's picture

Anonymous, I disagree with you wholeheartedly. Smerdon's style is refreshing; honest and direct. He shoots from the hip, without fear. You feel like you are his friend and he is telling you a story.

bronkenstein's picture

Kamalakanta, when writing an article here, one should be far above level. Also, the content was hardly ie new + based on some false claim(s) (BTW, any comments on that?) - we should leave such things to trolls and flamers, not the bloggers.

Just a simple parallel: one can(and many actually do), for example, describe Kasparov´s words on this WC as ´honest´ , ´from the guts´ ´without fear´ , but people knowing him better and having contacts with him would rather use terms such as ´narcissistic fool´ or ´cheap populism´. The guy is all made of ego and politics.

PS the post you replied to is mine, I don´t know why the name wasn´t shown properly.

bronkenstein's picture

The part ´´...one should be far above level. Also, the content was hardly ie new...´´ of my previous post should be read as ´´...one should be far above ´from the guts´ level. Also, the content was hardly ´refreshing´ ie new ...´´ , the words I have previously put into brackets simply disappeared!?

kamalakanta's picture

Hi, Bronkenstein! I did not see any false claims in his article, and he echoed what most fans feel about the match: That is was not exciting chess. I really do not have a problem with the way Mr. Smerdon wrote the article, and I even have a hard time understanding why some people are so hard on him.

I find it refreshing that someone will write like this. He speaks like a true chess fan. I don't need his articles to be authoritative...no one talks like that in real conversation. I don't expect him to be Leibnitz, giving me extensive references to every "claim"....so, really, I don't have a problem with the way he writes.

John C's picture

World Chess Champion - a hollow title. So, what's the big deal?

The current WC is not the strongest player in the world and not having to survive the grind of qualifying rounds for the new match has always given the WC a distinct advantage going into the contest.

Anand in reality is just another strong player and definitely not the most entertaining. The only big deal was the prize money.

Richard's picture

I'm disappointed too...with Smerdon's tasteless and shallow comments. The Kramnik interview after the match was much more insightful and respectful of the quality of the games.

Kamalakanta's picture

Most fans, GMs included, found the games boring. This does not mean that the technical aspect of the games was deficient. No! The games were of a very high technical quality.

But David Bronstein distinguished between "technical chess" and "artistic chess". This match was mostly played on the "technical" side of things.

This has nothing to do with the quality of play, which was very high. I don't think most fans were thinking at all about the prize money issue, if there was one.

Dave's picture

As far as Carlsen-Aronian being the true title match - its just a case of sour grapes. We've seen how sub-par their performance has been during Tal memorial.

And why isn't anybody criticising Carlsen for just 2 wins in 9 games? The stakes are nowhere as high in a tournament as they are in the WCC. So why didn't he fire from all barrels and give us some blistering results? Moro played that crazy brand - and look what happened.

Dave's picture

These critics are people who want "fast food" and loud music at royal banquets. Quick gratification is their mantra. Quality, hard work and gentlemanly behaviour are all alien concepts for them.

It is this same mindset that has lead to the global financial crisis. Such people just want to party and get their fix. Somebody else must clean up the mess left behind. Spend today, and preferably spend someone else's money. You can work for it tomorrow.

Anonymous's picture

Who cares Dave, this Smerdon guy is irrelevant anyway.

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