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Russian Chess Crisis

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The dismal, horrible, really, really bad result of the Russian men's team in Gothenburg last week even made it into the English versions of the Russian papers. Kommersant has a long piece on the crisis facing the traditional power, only exemplified by their 14th-place finish in Sweden. Finishing with silver in the Olympiad last year was considered a shock. But 14th?

Since Russia was the top seed anyway, perhaps they are right in not taking any players to task. Grischuk and Morozevich have apparently said they'll play in the world team event in October. Aside from the "Russia - World" rapid match, Kramnik hasn't played for Russia since 1996. Kasparov has been lamenting the lack of young Russian stars for a while now. The World Youth events showed that there are still some strong kids, but they are far from the dominance of the old days, when there would be two or three Russians at the top of every boys' category.

In the article, Yuri Razuvaev has a complaint recently leveled at the US team: not using these competitions to bring up young talent. Plucking the best by the rating list is conveniently objective, but is also short-sighted when it comes to the reserve boards. Few will duplicate the sensational results Kasparov and Kramnik had in their Olympiad debuts, but they bring energy to the team and a foundation is built for the future.


This is the composition of the team and their ratings and performance ratings:
Rating Performance Rating
SVIDLER 2738 2750
DREEV 2698 2664
BAREEV 2688 2545
MOTILEV 2674 2467 (16 years old)
TIMOFEEV 2661 2550 (20 years old)

Apart from the crisis and its possible causes, on a board by board overview, Svidler's performance was maybe a little higher than expected. This particular team lacked Morosevich and Grishuk so it might be argued that they were badly needed at board 2 but dreev's performace was reasonably good. It was the two young players, specially 16 years old Motilev, who played below expectations but the point is that they were indeed using the traditional strategy of including young players. One of the things that did change with respect to tradition was that they did not have ultra-strong players on boards third, fourth and fifth, to pick up the easier points... Anyway, for the president to be claiming that they did not follow the traditional strategy sounds like something prepared for public concumption...

Mistake: Motilev is 20 years old and Timofeev is 25 years old. Anyway, the thing is they did include young players, they did not present their strongest team and that mentioning Ukaraine as a case in point and then excusing their "poor" performance is just doing political spin on Razuvaev's part.

Perhaps something has changed in the russian chess-education also, in the wake of all the political issues in general?
For example, is it possible that the atmosphere in Russia has westernized to the point that it's not so benevolent anymore for chess geniuses?

ps. Mainly i of course mean the rise of capitalism and it's generally destructive influence on intellectual culture (no, i don't want to start debating whether or not this particular statement has been found to be true by american sociologists or not...from my perspective, it's inarguable).

Motylev is a former champion of Russia and is 26. Timofeev is 20 and rated 2661. These players aren't young by the standards under discussion. Karjakin was 13, Kasparov 17, Kramnik 17. The main point was that they weren't in the rating chain. Exceptions were made specifically to bring young talents into the team. Of course doing this doesn't guarantee victory, but it rarely costs points in the present and invests in the future.

Yes, Mig, I got their ages wrong again, and yes, it is not the same age range anyway. In this particular case, not bringing their top team perhaps was the main reason the Russian team did not win but the competition was unexpectedly tough. As it is, maybe you are right in that bringing some teenager perhaps would not have been much worse...
I do feel somewhat like sacateca does in that some of those top players do not seem to care much for the team especially in view of the catastrophic result from the Olympiad... If money or politics are the first consideration things are not likely to improve and morale will continue to go down.

Dear Mig,
You are wrong when you state the Russian "dominance of old days". Those were Soviets who dominated, and not just Russians.
Tal was Latvian,
Petrosian was Armenian,
Kasparov _was_ from Azerbaijan when he became famous. These are only World Champions.
Even not mentioning the current immigration issues (look at names in USA, Israel, other European teams), you have to remember that there are 15 independent states who more or less inherit from chess traditions of former USSR. Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan are among them.

I wasn't talking about the Soviet teams. Prior to last year Russia had won six consecutive Olympiad gold medals. That is dominance. They also took gold in the last Euro Team, in 2003, one of two golds and a silver in their three participations before Gothenburg.

Well, Mig, you were talking about "the dominance of the old days, when there would be two or three Russians at the top of every boys' category."
Now these former SOVIET boys are members of 15 ex-Soviet, and many other national teams. How does this relate to Russian Euro and Olimpics gold?

Well, Vlad, you were talking about Petrosian and Tal and Kasparov.

I'm still talking about Russians playing for Russia. Ten, twelve years ago players like Morozevich, Grischuk, Svidler, et al were playing in youth events for Russia. 1992 was a long time ago. Of course the Soviets did much better, but Russia did better ten years ago than it has been doing for the past three or four years.

"For example, is it possible that the atmosphere in Russia has westernized to the point that it's not so benevolent anymore for chess geniuses?"

Chess, as a marginal intellectual activity, doesn't mix very well with cynical market forces, no.

Mig, I can't believe you mean 1991 as "old days", but even if this is the case, there was no such dominance.
Just look at list of winners:
Under 20 (Junior):
2004 Harikrishna, Pentala IND
2003 Mamedyarov, Shakhriyaz AZE
2002 Aronian, Levon ARM
2001 Acs, Peter HUN
2000 Bruzon, Lazaro CUB
1999 Galkin, Alexander RUS
1998 Sadvakasov, Darmen KAZ
1997 Shaked, Tal USA
1996 Sutovskij, Emil ISR
1995 Slobodjan, Roman GER
1994 Gretarsson, Helgi ISD
1993 Miladinovic, Igor YUG
1992 Zarnicki, Pablo ARG
1991 Akopian, Vladimir ARM

Under 16 (Cadets):
2004 Rodshtein, Maxim ISR
2003 Predojevic, Borki BIH
2002 Pantsulaia, Levan GEO
2001 Shanava, Konstantine GEO
2000 Izoria, Zviad GEO
1999 Kritz, Leonid GER
1998 Kramrakulov, Ibraghim UZB
1997 Vajda, Levente ROM
1996 Gershon, Alik ISR
1995 Stevic, Hrvoje CRO
1994 Leko, Peter HUN
1993 Dao Thien Hai VIE
1992 1-3: Svidler, Petr; Fridman, Daniel; Har Zvi, Ronan RUS, LAT, ISR
1991 Kumaran, Dharshan ENG

I can't find crosstables for under-10,12,14, 18 right now, but even results provided clearly show were Russian boys dominating since 1991 (when USSR disappeared) or not.

The Russians have never put much stock in junior events - I thought that was well known. Russia may or may not be losing its supposed dominance of chess (I see a lot of Russian-sounding names on the leading teams), but looking at U-20 results demonstrates nothing.

In 1991 I did my graduate thesis on the Soviet Union's use of chess as a tool to fulfill its political ends. One of my predictions at the end was that there would be a gradual, real decline in chess dominance over the coming years, and I predicted that a non-Soviet would win a world title within the next decade. Only a year later Xie Jun won the women's world championship. I was quite proud to point that out to my instructor.

Anyhow, I think it is obvious that chess dominance should decline as capitalism gains strength in any country. To be so dominant, chess must be completely supported by the state to allow players to focus solely on chess as a profession, backed by government money and top trainers. Once capitalism takes root it becomes nearly impossible to maintain such a system. Once players are on their own dime to improve, chess becomes far harder to maintain as a profession.

Knight Tour: Very interesting. (The fall of Russian intellectual culture can be seen in other areas as well, like the quality of Russian cinema, and i'm sure also literature..)

Btw, does this not also explain why chess geniuses from America have always been eccentrics, Fischer as an extreme example couldn't give a damn about society and also Nakamura doesn't seem like the most mainstream type of character, either?
Whereas Russians, in the times of Soviet, were less eccentric?

Probably. I think that to be successful in chess in the US (as a native anyhow) you must either have a ton of money (so you can support yourself solely on chess) or you have to start very young and be very successful quickly. Even then I don't think you can rise to the very top unless you are completely obsessed like Fischer. I have seen many US players who probably have the talent to be top-flight players, but they never had enough money to be able to devote enough time solely to chess.

My one personal experience with this is when I started myself. I was 16 when I learned to play (already too late!) and at exactly the same time Tal Shaked started playing. We both seemed to have about the same skill (We broke even against each other in our first ten games), however I had to go to college and work full time, while Tal was able to be supported by his wonderful family (His dad, Moshe, is terrific!). I don't begrudge him this at all. It is just the way life works in a capitalistic society. But it does show that only those who can focus solely on chess can really make it. Tal had too many other interests, in my opinion, to make it to the very top, though I think he had the talent to go all the way. Soviets had the distinct advantage of being able to focus only on chess, and beyond that could get top-flight training for free. Americans stand almost (I only put in almost because of Fischer) no chance against that. If the Chinese were not so in love with Chinese chess, I think they could do the same thing the Soviets did.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on August 9, 2005 5:54 PM.

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