03 December 2011

When Vishy Met Bobby

An article yesterday on Guardian.co.uk has been getting mentions on chess blogs everywhere -- not too surprising in that it features the current World Champion talking about one of his greatest predecessors: Vishy Anand: I found Bobby Fischer surprisingly normal and calm. Here's the portion that relates to this chess960 blog.
Q: The BBC are currently showing the documentary Bobby Fischer, Genius and Madman. You met Fischer in 2006, a couple of years before he died. What was he like?

A: I found him surprisingly normal. Well, at least not very tense. He seemed to be relieved to be in the company of chess players. He was calm in that sense. He was also a bit worried about people following him, so the paranoia never really went away. But I am really happy I got the chance to meet him before he died in 2008. It was weird as well because I kept having to remind myself that this was Bobby Fischer sitting in front of me!

Q: Were you tempted to whip out a pocket chessboard and challenge him to a quick blitz game?

A: No, because he whipped out his pocket chess set first and we started to analyse some recent games I'd played.

Q: Really?

A: Yes, I showed him some of my games from Wijk aan Zee and tried to share some interesting developments. He was sort of able to follow everything – he hadn't lost his sharpness for chess – but his methods were a bit dated. In that sense he had fallen behind.

Q: How do you mean?

A: Well, he had some suggestions, and he was sort of in the ball park … but when I would tell him that the computer says white is winning here, for me that was a sign to move on – but for him it was a starting point to argue with me! [Laughs]. I found it difficult to say to him 'No, no, no – these computers are really strong. You shouldn't be arguing with them!"'

Is it a coincidence that, as I recounted in 'Hardly Ever Played Chess960 Before', Anand first played chess960 the following year? Whatever the reason, another account of the same meeting appeared in October 2008 on Chessbase.com -- Vishy Anand: 'Chess is like acting' -- which featured an interview with Anand from Der Spiegel:-

Q: The American Bobby Fischer, who died at the beginning of the year, was chess crazy, paranoid, misanthropic. You met this chess genius two and a half years ago in Iceland, where he was living in exile. How did that happen?

A: I played in a tournament in Reykjavik and the Icelandic grandmaster Helgi Olafsson asked me if I would be interested in meeting Bobby Fischer. Olafsson picked him up from his flat, while I waited in the car. Fischer probably wanted to avoid my knowing which apartment was his.

Q: What did you talk to him about?

A: Fischer told me how he sometimes rode around Reykjavik with the bus, in order to see the city. He complained that he could not get Indian balm [Amrutanjan] in Iceland. Suddenly he wanted to go to McDonalds. So there he was, this legend of the chess world, asking me if I took ketchup.

Q: Did you talk about chess?

A: Of course. We were standing in a park and Bobby pulled out an old pocket chess set and we analysed a couple of games between Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi in 1974. He wanted to prove that all world championship games after his victory were prearranged. He did not convince me.

Q: Why did Fischer specifically want to meet you?

A: Perhaps he felt an affinity. We are both from countries in which chess was not popular until we came along. I am not Russian and Fischer felt persecuted by the Soviets in the past. And there is evidence to suggest that Soviet grandmasters actually ganged up against him.

Q: Fischer proposed a new variation of the game, which is called Fischer Random Chess. He wanted the pieces in the starting position to me shuffled before every game. Would that not be a more creative form of chess?

A: I do not think much of a random placement of the pieces. That is perhaps something for people who were previously active and now have very little time. They don't want to study openings theory. But the opening systems are part of chess.

Looks like we won't be seeing Anand anytime soon in another chess960 tournament. In fact, that assessment complements an item posted by Thechessdrum.net just after Fischer's death in January 2008: Fischer wanted to play Kasparov, Anand.

A story from the Iceland’s Morgunbladid has stated that Bobby Fischer desired one last match with Garry Kasparov and/or Viswanathan Anand. [...] In interviews he stated that he would only play Fischer Random, but there was keen interest in a match with a top player. [...] Anand had been asked about a match with Fischer and expressed keen interest in the possibility.

It's not clear from that account whether Anand's 'keen interest' for a match applied to chess960, or was reserved for traditional chess, where he would have trounced Fischer. The Chess Drum's post leads to another account of the Anand - Fischer meeting, this time preserved on video -- Fischer Remembered | Macauley on blip.tv -- where Anand speaks about the Reykjavik meeting at both 5:50 and 7:40 into the clip.

[NB: I could be wrong, because I haven't seen either documentary, but the Guardian's reference to Bobby Fischer, Genius and Madman seems to be the same film as the Liz Garbus effort titled Bobby Fischer Against the World. To be confirmed...]


HarryO said...

If I could just debunk another myth on Fischer Random Chess that is being spread by Anand and his buddy Kramnik. This duo think that if you change the start position it's a different game. That is rubbish.

They are confusing the idea of a game with the idea of scientific inquiry. The only difference between traditional chess and 960 is that traditional chess has a huge opening database of accumulated "facts" that support the theories on best practice.

But since when has chess been about scientific inquiry? That is just one aspect of it. Chess is a game that is all! It is good to have theories that are tested over the board on the spur of the moment but that have no substantive fact to back them up. It's just a game!

Aronian said it perfectly the other day in an interview. He said he "loves the geometry and the struggle for plans" in Chess. That is a quality of game playing, not of scientific inquiry. Think about it! Neither an appreciation for the geometry of chess nor the struggle for plans actually needs a nice cosy database of "facts" in order to experience.


HarryO said...

To answer my own question above "since when has chess been about scientific inquiry?". Here is Kasparov's ideas:

Kasparov moves for scholastic chess in Turkey....

14.12.2011 – "We would like to think of chess not as a game but as a special learning tool that improves results. We focus on the word ‘education’ and not the word ‘chess'

Ok so the big question is whether Chess960 is also a learning tool with an equal focus on education?

To me, Chess960 is more beneficial than traditional chess because it still involves scientific inquiry with computers, but there is a lot more room for the imagination during the opening phase. Kids not only learn about discovering the optimal path, but having to deal with non-optimal strategies that are present from the word go. That is very much like the real world they find themselves in! And anyway, after the opening Chess and Chess960 are the same!

Whatever. Have a great Christmas to all Chess960 Fischer Random fans!