The Zurich Experiment

Writing about Zurich and chess I would usually fall into a dithyramb, praising Bronstein, his book and the great history that connects them. This year, however, the word “experiment” in the title was the most neutral I could think of.

The quirks of private sponsors are well known. And they have every right to be as whimsical as they want to – they pay and the players, if they agree to the conditions, play. The introduction of the “new classic” or “neo-classic” time control of 40 minutes plus 10 seconds to finish the game, followed by a second game with the same time control was imagined to bring more excitement without damage to the quality. I’ll come to the question of quality later, for now let me finish explaining the format of the tournament. It’s a double round robin, first the players play each other with 40’+10” and then they play blitz (I couldn’t find information on the time control for the blitz on the official site. And probably no mention of the quality of the games) with colours reversed. A win in the “neo-classical” part is worth 2 points (a draw 1, a loss is a zero) and in the blitz a win is 1 point (a draw is 0.5 and a loss is a zero). The winner of the tournament is the player with the most points combined. Phew, that was tricky!

It is common, though regrettable, for people who have reached the top in one sphere to think they know best in every other sphere – Kasparov and Botvinnik easily come to mind. The Zurich millionaire sponsor, Oleg Skvortsov, also seems to fall into that category, claiming to know how to make chess more interesting and dynamic and everything else. So he uses his resources to test his ideas (lucky him!). He even suggested FIDE to allow him to rate the games of the tournament, but for once we can be thankful for FIDE’s quick reaction (they never replied).

The players are professionals, they make living out of playing chess, so they have to play. Why should they care if they are used as mice in an experiment of an eccentric millionaire when they are being paid somewhere around 50 000 EUR to participate? And they can bring their families and chill in Zurich for 3 days. I’m afraid no new Fischer is going to appear, who will place principle before money.

Yes, I said I’d look at the quality. Can you imagine a player of Aronian’s level to play a game like this if he had enough time?

Cute, isn’t it? Where else can you see Aronian mated in 19 moves if not in Zurich? But wait, I said I was going to write about the quality. Let’s take a look at another example.

Giri making a one-move blunder. Perhaps his mistake was before the tournament, when he didn’t bring his family, like Anand, Kramnik, Nakamura and Aronian did?

Yes, quality. Somewhat short-sighted to expect it when some of the games started to be 5’+10” blitz games very early on, as the players need time to think.

That is chess, it requires thinking. The vast majority of people are attracted to it because of the intellectual stimulation it offers. And intellectual stimulation requires time. You simply cannot make it entertaining for the masses just by reducing the time allowed to think. There is blitz for that (or even rapid), inventing “neo-classicism” is just ego-tripping.

When people are saying the Berlin is boring they are shooting chess in the foot. I am surprised that even high-profile players like Nigel Short cannot see that. If we want to promote the game, we cannot say bad things about it. The Berlin is not boring, you only need a proper expert (Svidler) to explain it thoroughly. There is a lot of psychology behind the player’s choices of openings and moves, keep posting questions to Svidler when he’s online to explain those. We can make it so interesting and fun to watch, we don’t need “neo-classicism” or similar rubbish.

A final note on Anand. They say you sink (or rise) to the level of your surrounding. He sank to the level of a regular 2400-2500 open player when he played an open tournament. He rose to the level of a 2800-rated player when he arrived to a super-tournament in a 5-star hotel in Zurich. Kasparov’s wisdom comes to mind again: “Kasparov told me many years ago not to play tournaments with amateur conditions because then you will play amateur chess.” – Magnus Carlsen.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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  • […] best players dragged down and paid to perform to a whim. Does anybody still remember the “new classic“? That one was also inspired by the same ideals of making chess “more […]

  • […] to the tournament (so that I don’t repeat myself) I would refer you to my post on last year’s edition. The only difference this year is the change of the time control to 45’+30” instead of […]

  • Anonymous
    Feb 18,2016 at 2:05 pm

    "dithyramb". Nice! Anyway, interesting take on Zurich.

  • Feb 18,2016 at 1:40 pm

    I ja mislim slicno za Kasparova, zato mu ovaj nije dao tu sansu! A za Berlin, pa OK, meni je zanimljiv, jer ranije nisam nista shvacao sta se desava u tim pozicijama, ali naucio sam i sada mi je zanimljivo. Zato kazem, kad bi neko to objasnio kako treba, onda ne bi bilo tako lose. Ali u svakom slucaju, cak i ako jeste dosadan, trebalo bi da prestanemo da to govorimo u javnost. 🙂

    Da, Naka je dobar, ja mislim da ce biti ili on ili Caruana, ali videcemo. A Svidler, heh, sta da se radi, godine idu. Mada tip je ambiciozan, moze da iznenadi!

  • Feb 18,2016 at 1:38 pm

    It was his dream come true, 10 wins, unlimited match, no draws counting. Plus of course, he needed the money!

  • Anonymous
    Feb 18,2016 at 1:20 pm

    Thanks for the interesting report.

    Question: Based on which principle(s) did Fischer play his second match with Spassky?

  • Feb 18,2016 at 3:14 am

    Ne mogu da se složim da berlin nije dosadan,kladim se da Kasparov igra novi meč protiv Kramnika da bi ga rashodovao.Šah koji se danas igra je ziheraški do mučnine i samo par igrača zavredjuje pažnju za kreativniji pristup, Naka je jedini na turniru kandidata koji spada u tu grupu i zato navijam za njega.Svidler je nekada bio velika nada,sada možda može da bude solidan komentator kriketa i to je to.

  • Feb 16,2016 at 5:28 pm


  • Anonymous
    Feb 16,2016 at 3:00 pm

    Alex, svaka ti je na mestu. Kano u Njegoša.

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