If you heard that Sergey Shipov’s sixth letter from Aix-les-Bains was about an ex-World Champion and bathroom visits… you’d come to completely the wrong conclusion! Shipov talks about the European Championship venue, and the down-to-earth reality of grandmaster life.
What the press don’t write about
It turned out that the place where he was playing really was similar to a crypt. In front and behind of Alexander were playing tables, to the right – a window, and to the left on the way to the emergency exit was an obstacle in the form of a chair with Gallagher, a very solid chess player.
The distance between the tables is terribly narrow and the players are literally resting their backs against each other, so that getting past unaided is absolutely impossible. You have to ask to be let through – first to be able to get out and walk around, and then in order to get back to your table. Too much hassle!
We all know that the ex-World Champion doesn’t like to spend all his time sitting at the board. It’s simply essential for him to occasionally get up and walk around. And here, as you can imagine, you’ve got such an unpleasant and basic problem. More is not merrier.
Well, let’s suppose that the first two hours of this arrangement of rubbing up against your neighbours might still pass without any great harm, despite the mutual irritation continuing to build. But what can Khalifman do when Gallagher gets into time trouble? And let’s say Alexander has an urgent need to go – then it’ll no longer be a laughing matter. You’re stuck!
By the way, on that urgent need…
It’s not customary for the press to write about it. We all talk only about the sublime and the beautiful. We successfully pretend that certain problems don’t exist. But in actual fact chess players are nevertheless living people, and games sometimes go on for a heck of a long time. And time trouble is a factor.
Khalifman himself, on this topic, recalled a situation in a game he played against Beliavsky in the early 90s. There were about twelve moves to the time control, and on his clock he had a couple of minutes. But Alexander Genrikhovich, having used some opening preparation, had an extra hour and therefore was calmly analysing the position. What should you do? Rush to the toilet? But then, if your opponent makes a move quickly your flag is bound to fall. It’s tough to keep suffering. And unpromising. What if Beliavsky suddenly decides to think for another half an hour! To cut a long story short, Sasha took the decision to leave the playing hall. Fortunately, his opponent was a solid character. A serious chess player, and not a little scoundrel. Khalifman managed to return in time and continue the game without exceeding his time.
And that made me remember events from the turn of the millennium. Back then, if you recall, the FIDE hierarchy introduced a time control of one and a half hours to the end of the game (I particularly emphasise that point) with a 30-second increment after each move. That had the very same flaw: once time trouble had begun it could last for a very, very long time. On account of the added time you ended up with chess players being forced to sit without breaks at the board – with the looming threat of their flag falling. For many, that resulted in great physiological discomfort. You might even need nappies!
It was back then that one well-known player (perhaps it’s best not to be more specific), while talking in a private conversion about an audacious game he’d won, expressed himself in categorical terms: “I had a choice – to go for a bold attack or…”. There followed a down-to-earth Russian verb. In general, there was a risk of being embarrassed at the board. That was precisely why he chose the bold sacrificial attack! Fortunately, he was in time for everything – both to finish the game quickly and to rush off to the appropriate place.
Just look at the spicy details you can find. The life of a humble chess player is tough and unappealing.
By the way, in the casino hall for players on boards 101 to… in general, to the very last board of the tournament – there are luxurious playing conditions. All the tables stand at a respectable distance from each other. You can calmly move about without bumping into each other.
Khalifman noted that he’d even subconsciously striven to make it into that hall for the outsiders! It requires almost nothing at all – just to lose your next game.
So I don’t really know what result I should wish him…
P.S. Yesterday a well-known guest arrived at the European Championship – Garry Kasparov. I saw him and we had a talk. But more about that next time.
Stay tuned for more of Sergey Shipov’s letters from Aix-les-Bains. For now, I have to note that the playing venue of the casino doesn’t quite match up to its impressive exterior!