Categories: Russian

Two cats and three computers: Sergey Shipov at work

While commentating on Game 2 of the Aronian-Kramnik match Shipov wrote: “I’m at home in Moscow in the company of 2 cats and 3 computers. I consult them constantly when studying a position, but I don’t trust any of them”. Evgeny Potemkin’s videos filmed during Game 2 of the World Championship match reveal those weren’t empty words.

Evgeny Potemkin is well-known for his roving video reports on Russian chess events. Restricted in his access to the players and commentators at the World Championship match itself, he hit on the idea of paying a visit to Sergey Shipov in his Moscow flat. What followed was an intriguing glimpse into the workshop of perhaps the world’s best live chess commentator.

Shipov gets some help analysing the position...

Despite the rigours of live commentary – you can read my translation of Game 2 here at Chess in Translation – Shipov managed to give a series of impromptu interviews, where he touched on topics ranging from the role of openings in chess to the question of having anti-draw rules in World Championship matches (Shipov: “there can’t be any limitations”). Below I’ve translated some of the highlights from Potemkin’s videos, which he posted at Crestbook’s KasparovChess forum.

1. Searching for Sergey Shipov

For those who’ve never been to Moscow (like myself!), Potemkin’s first video gives a real impression of the life of the sprawling metropolis. With exactly 21 minutes remaining until the start of the game – as he tells us in his running commentary – he rushes from the Yugo-Zapadnaya metro station in southwest Moscow towards the huge nearby block of flats where Sergey lives – he doesn’t actually get there in this video, but you certainly get a feel for the surroundings!

2. Three computers aren’t enough

After making it to the flat Evgeny conducts an interview with Sergey before the game begins:

It starts:

Potemkin (0:00-0.48): So then, I’m in the inner sanctum of the chess internet, in the commentary room of the extremely well-known grandmaster, and in my view the best commentator, Sergey Shipov. Why the best? I’m not saying that because I’ve come counting on a cup of coffee… although I am counting on one in any case. So Sergey, what have we got today? Today’s going to be a kind of experimental filming session. We want, or rather I want, to follow the birth of the commentary of a real commentator and not one, let’s say, like me or someone else.

Shipov (0.48-1.20): Well, everything in this world is relative. We’re all only “real” relative to someone else, but here’s how it happens. Three monitors, three computers, three mice, keyboards everywhere. I sit here and click something on each in turn. That’s how you get the commentary. There are lots of windows open on all the computers. By the way, I used to do commentary with a single computer and now I just can’t imagine how on one computer, especially an old one, especially a weak one, you could manage to do everything in time. Three aren’t enough for me now.

Sergey goes on to talk about the live commentary on the official website, which takes place largely without computers. Although he says it’s doable (he experienced it as the chief Russian commentator for the 2011 World Cup), he wonders if it makes sense, for instance, to have commentators discussing possible moves in openings they’re unfamiliar with – when it’s theory you simply need to know, and could quickly check in a database.

Sergey explained it's wrong if "every amateur with ChessBase" knows more about the opening than the commentators. Evgeny: "Every amateur with ChessBase?!". Sergey: "Every STRONG amateur" - and he makes the gesture you see above!

If you only watch one quick fragment of the above video I’d recommend the following moment when Sergey is about to take a sip of his coffee…

Potemkin (3:49-3:51): I’ll share a secret with you. I don’t know if you go onto the internet or not…

Shipov (3:53-4:00): I almost choked! Do I go onto the internet?? I don’t leave it. I go to sleep at night and I’m still on the internet.

Do I go onto the internet?

Towards the end of the video Potemkin asks about Fischer Random Chess and when World Championships matches will be held in that game. Shipov explains they’ve already taken place at the now-defunct Mainz Chess Classic, and notes they were won by very strong grandmasters (Aronian, Svidler, Nakamura…), before adding that it didn’t help when playing Garry Kasparov (for a time Shipov acted as a regular blitz sparring partner for Kasparov):

Shipov (6.04-6:12): I played a few games with Kasparov in Fischer Random Chess and realised that while I can struggle against him in normal chess in Fischer Chess it’s absolutely impossible.

3. Filming, welding pots and playing chess

After the game’s begun Potemkin continues to talk to Shipov. The video above starts with Evgeny saying, “No doubt that was Anand or Gelfand phoning you”! The game is still in its early stages and he asks how far ahead the players are looking, which soon leads into a wonderful monologue on the role of openings in chess:

Shipov (0.59-1.22): For now I don’t think either Anand or Gelfand are thinking or calculating at all. They’re recalling, choosing, considering – wondering where there might be an ambush, and which of the already prepared variations it’s best to choose. They’re watching each other carefully for reactions and so on. For now it’s a game of cat and mouse and there’s actually no calculation at all.

Potemkin (1.22-1.52): Can it be said that this chess is in no way the chess that was invented half a millennium ago. The game going on now is one of brains, of brain power, of memory power, of computer power, a game of that sort, but not the chess played by the Shahs of Persia or Iran.

Shipov (1.52-2.51): Yes, it’s a completely different type of chess, but it’s a question of craftsmanship. For instance, when you, an all-seeing eye, film a chess event using your magical camera you also have the same elements of preparation. You don’t think what button you need to push to turn it on, what you need to do to get a close-up or zoom out, what angle to use, where there’s light and shade, who you should talk to and for how long. Those are elements of craftsmanship, and you don’t think about it. It’s the same with chess players. In the opening for us some things are like that on switch, zoom and so on. We look on it as something we’ve known for a long time. And in any field, be it filming, welding pots or playing chess there’s always that element of craftsmanship and knowledge. It’s absolutely inevitable. You might regret if, of course – that we can’t sit down to play chess and start to create from the first move, knowing nothing – but such is life.

Demonstrating how a cameraman zooms

4. The Tower of Babel

The next video is perhaps of most interest for the start, which shows Sergey hard at work – who knows how long the commentaries would be if he didn’t only type with one finger of his left hand!

A Tower of Babel, but not yet the letter T...

Evgeny suggests a bet on whether Boris Gelfand will play 11.dxe5 or 11.exd5, but Sergey objects that he knows the position and there’s no point betting on theoretical positions. In his explanation of the current situation he already talks about a “Tower of Babel” (or Babylon) on the d-file, which was completely blocked with 8 pieces. That phrase made it into the live commentary on Game 4! Gelfand himself remarked on the “letter T” in the press conference after the game.

5. Boris earns his keep

This video takes place while Gelfand’s started to think about how to reply to Anand’s novelty, 14…Nf6. Shipov spends a while explaining the situation on the board (which mirrors his live commentary on the game), and concludes that Gelfand has a lot to think about. Flashes of the love of word play that is such a feature of his commentary (and a challenge/torture for translators!) then appear:

Shipov (1.12-1.15): Yes, there’s a lot to think about. It seems Boris Abramovich is going to have to earn his keep. (literally: “won’t eat his bread for nothing”)

Potemkin (1.16): He’s eaten it.

Shipov (1.17-1.22): Ah, instead of eating his bread, he’s earning his bread at the board. Or rather he’s ploughing and sowing his bread…

Sergey comes up with a better idea

Shipov then has difficulty working out what the times are and goes on to point out that the live coverage should show at least three things: 1) the position on the board, 2) the times on the clock and 3) the players at all times. Since Game 2 the first two problems have been resolved, though no doubt the majority of chess fans agree with Shipov when it comes to the long art interviews and advertising breaks that interrupt the coverage.

6. Kasparov puts on a show

Fifteen minutes later, with Gelfand still thinking about his 15th move, Shipov discusses the position and then reflects on the time different players like Gelfand, Kramnik and Kasparov take to make moves they’ve already looked at in their preparation:

Shipov (2:09-2:32): Now Gelfand is faced with some concrete problems. On the other hand, top-level chess players are such cunning creatures that you can never know for certain what they do and don’t know. For example, when in Kazan Gelfand thought for almost 40 minutes about one continuation in that game against Grischuk it later became clear that he’d looked at it all before. (the move in question was 17.Rd1 in the final encounter of the 2011 Candidates Matches – see Shipov’s commentary on that game)

Potemkin (2.34-35): He was pretending for 40 minutes?

Shipov (2.36-3.11): No, he was considering some nuances, subtleties. He’d looked at the plan itself, but perhaps he was clarifying some of the concrete details. That depends greatly on the chess player. Kramnik won’t, for example, think for 20 minutes never mind 40 minutes about something he’s already looked at. He’ll play quickly. Kasparov, on the other hand, might do that. With Kasparov a position could be absolutely familiar to him but he’d think for 20 minutes, look at it, make various gestures, and it seemed to everyone that Kasparov was creating and coming up with something at the board. In actual fact, however, it was a one-man performance based around the creative process.

7. For the sake of the spectators you sacrificed the title…

In this final video Sergey Shipov expresses his view that Sofia Rules have no place in World Championship matches, and that the players must totally ignore the audience. It starts, however, with Evgeny filming Sergey’s two cats.

A well-trained chess cat

The position on the board during this video is after Gelfand’s 19.Nd4. Anand eventually went on to play 19…Rfe8, with Shipov writing in his text commentary:

A surprise. I really didn’t think the Champion would allow his bishop to be exchanged. It’s a concession, even if only a small one.

In the video you can see that Shipov had indeed been sure that Anand wouldn’t allow his opponent a bishop v. knight ending, though of course the outcome of the game was unaltered:

Shipov (1.01-1.37): The bishop will now clearly go to g6. I suspect Anand is thinking here exclusively out of politeness, so as not to traumatise his opponent by playing too fast. It’s clear Vishy won’t give up the bishop for the knight. He’ll retreat the bishop, for example to g6. In general, I don’t see any real points of attack for White. The players no doubt see there’s plenty of time on the clock, and it’s no problem to play such a position – my prediction is that in about 15 or perhaps 25 minutes a draw will already have been agreed.

Potemkin (1.37-1.40): Sergey, I don’t recall. Are they forced to play 40 moves?

Shipov (1.40-2.23): No. The World Championship isn’t an exhibition match or a super-tournament for the spectators. This is a fierce fight for the title, so there can’t be any limitations. I think that if the participants in the battle for the title want to agree a draw on the 10th move, if they both consider that favourable, they’ve got the right to do that and absolutely – I’ll say a terrible thing – absolutely without thinking about the spectators, because it’s a fierce fight for the title. No prisoners are being taken, and just imagine – for the sake of the spectators you went for some unnecessary complications, lost a game and gave up the title. Then in your old age you’ll recall that for the sake of the spectators you once sacrificed the title. It’s hard to come up with something more stupid than that.

"For the sake of the spectators you once sacrificed the title..."

I’ll be translating Sergey Shipov’s commentary on Game 6 of the World Championship LIVE on Friday 18th May: http://www.chessintranslation.com/live-game/

mishanp :

View Comments (5)

  • A fabulously interesting article on Shipov's work. I haven't yet had time to watch the videos (I will, over the weekend), but I love Shipov's implicit response to the ADD-suffering "chess fans" who complain about the match being boring. I wonder whether it is mainly a generational thing or "cultural" thing (with the chess fans on the Internet being USians to a large extent).

  • Thanks Shipov for the superb commentaries and mishanp for the eminently enjoyable translations. I also hope that the translations on Dana's blog site could appear as and when Shipov commentates live to make it more exciting.