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When an article about chess appears in the mainstream press, fans are usually so excited that they don't really mind that there is nothing new for them in the article. Occasionally an "outsider" author will cast new light on an old subject, but more often it's conventional wisdom with information gleaned from a few chess sites and a few cliches tossed in.

One positive is that most non-chess journalists have both knowledge of the trade and experienced editors. While this rarely results in fact-checking, it usually means they go after primary sources and interviews, something most chess writers never bother to do. Today's article in the once-prestigious American magazine The New Republic is a good example of the breed.

Titled "The Game of Dictators," it rehashes what most of us already know about Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and the debacle around his selection of Libya as the host nation for the 2004 world championship. (A story pursued closely here. Search for "Libya".) The piece includes useful comments from Israeli GM Emil Sutovsky (perhaps contacted by the author because of Emil's contributions here while the scandal was unfolding) and US FIDE delegate Bill Kelleher. I wrote in to correct a few factual errors in the piece and they made the corrections and responded with commendable velocity.

My letter also included several expansions and interpretations of items in the article. Most serious is the author's statement that interest in chess in the West, particularly in the USA, has waned since the end of the cold war. No supporting evidence for this is given, because there isn't any. Chess is more popular than ever in the US. I doubt they will publish it, but my letter is below.

1) There are only two claimants to the title of chess world champion, not three. Garry Kasparov has been the top-rated player for 18 years, but lost his title to Kramnik in 2000. The #1 player in tennis doesn't always win Wimbledon. While he questions the legitimacy of the two claimants, Kasparov, with whom I have worked closely for years, does not claim the champion's title.

2) Accusations about FIDE president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov destroying the game of chess are only partially based on corruption and his pursuit of fellow dictators for event sponsorship. Players and fans take more issue with how he has changed the format of FIDE chess events by drastically cutting the time allowed for a game (four hours instead of the traditional seven) and replacing the traditional three-year world championship cycle with a one-month knock-out tournament that is more lottery than chess event. Both policies have been disastrous but Ilyumzhinov continues on with them.

[For the record, I'm deleting from my original letter to TNR an erroneous 'correction.' A cooked cook, if you will.]

4) Top-level international chess is a full-time job. Chess is not a viable profession in the US. Top American junior players go to college instead. American interest in the game waned not with the end of the Cold War but when American world champion Bobby Fischer left the scene in 1975. America as a chess power has waned in the past decade as the once-steady flow of new talented professionals from the USSR has largely run dry. In recent years scholastic chess has flourished in the USA and there are currently more members of the US Chess Federation than ever before. This doesn't mean the US will produce world-class players because they can't make a living at the game.

As for the East having the top players you may as well ponder why the US has the best basketball players. (Not a particularly timely comparison, admittedly.) Or ask why the USA was terrible in soccer until recently. Chess is a tradition in Eastern Europe. They play more at every age level and a successful player can make a decent living from chess, unlike in the US.

5) Emil Sutovsky is not the 15th-ranked player in the world. He is 28th. Another Israeli, Boris Gelfand, is 15th.

6) The Tripoli winner and so current FIDE world champion's first name is "Rustam" not "Rasdam".

7) There is a typo in the penultimate paragraph. It should read "by virtue of having won", not "one".

[These last three items have now been corrected in the online edition of the article.]

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    About this Entry

    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on August 4, 2004 8:24 PM.

    CheckBack 1 was the previous entry in this blog.

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