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Strongest, Best, Greatest...

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Etc. Not to start up the "definition of greatness" debate again, but this mainstream paragraph on the EU Championship (aka the Liverpool International) caught my eye.

One of the favourites to win the tournament is Nigel Short, the second strongest British player of all time, who challenged legendary Russian legend Gary Kasparov for the right to be crowned the world's top player in the early '90s."

Nigel has mentioned this in passing several times, never coming out and saying "I'm the greatest" but often enough to make it clear to that it irks him Mickey Adams' higher rating is often given precedence over his 93 world championship challenger status. I'm not debating the item itself, although even "strongest" can be tricky. Short hit #3 on the rating list, something Adams never quite managed (he hit #4). MIckey's seven years of top-ten consistency speak for themselves. Elite tournament wins would probably go to Nigel. Discuss.

As for the event, I had zero recollection of this European Union Individual Championship, but it did happen last year as well, in Cork. Gyimesi and Bartel shared first. Short is the top seed this year and McShane makes an appearance. It's a ten round swiss system; the first round is Wednesday the 6th. The event was launched in a pub, a fine tradition to start.


I wonder if by any chance they might be considering Staunton to be the greatest, & Nigel after him?!

Waaaaayyy too much emphasis is given to ratings.

Nigel Short belongs to a tiny and elite club of players who have played in a World Chess Championship match.
Howard Staunton is the only other player from Great Britian who might be able to make that claim (tho I think Staunton's claim falls short).

If Bobby Fischer had been psychologically unable to go thru with his 1972 match against Boris Spassky, then history could not record Fischer as one of the game's greatest players of all time.

Ratings are nice to have around for general purposes. But modern conditions have forced players to alter their tournament entry decisions just to protect their precious rating. Boo.

WCC Match Challengers:
The elite 13 who never became champion
(maybe in October 2006 -- Topalov ?)

Gene Milener

a short adams match should be organised, that would be fan. matthias mig is obviously much stronger than 1823.

Adams is stronger than Short (I like Nigel's contributions to chess more, but head-to-head I'm afraid Mickey would take him)

About the EU Championship, according to the rules "All entrants must be members of a national chess federation of a European Union country affiliated to FIDE".

One entrant is listed as SUI (Switzerland) by FIDE.

So looks like you can be a member of a federation (pay subscription to ECF, likely with some nationality or residence constraint) and a member of another federation (through FIDE) yet still take part.

Another example for those who wish to close the US Championship to only those affiliated with USA federation through FIDE.

Grudge matches are what makes chess interesting. What was great matches? Fischer v Spassky... the whole cold war thing... Karpov v Kasparov.... I think two great matches would be Short v Adams and Nakamura v. V. Georghiev.... Or Gormally v Aronian, or Gormally v Akobian...Grudge matches is where chess will get public interest, because there is a story behind the story.

In terms of actual pure strength overall, it's probably fair to say that Adams is the stronger, because chessplayers increase in 'strength' and accuracy as time goes on generally. Having said that... Short probably has about as much talent as Adams, and has arguably done more to promote English chess.

I think both players are very honourable good representatives for chess as well, and probably amongst the strongest naturally born European chess players ever.

"In terms of actual pure strength overall, it's probably fair to say that Adams is the stronger, because chessplayers increase in 'strength' and accuracy as time goes on generally."


--> http://members.shaw.ca/redwards1/

Each generation of chessplayers are going to be stronger than the last. Comparing a few peak representatives isn't the best comparison. There's inflation, but that doesn't mean play isn't getting more accurate and knowledgeable. What may come close to reversing this historic quality trend is the change to faster time controls. If you look at the games from the KO events, for example, or the most recent Olympiads, all played at the new FIDE semi-rapid control, they simply look worse than those from the Olympiads of 20 years ago.

Trollery and responses deleted. Please don't feed the trolls. Their amusing fascination with my high school USCF rating is to be pitied, not encouraged. Thanks.

For what it's worth, Wikipedia is calling it for Nigel:

"Nigel Short (born June 1, 1965 in Leigh, Lancashire) is widely regarded as the strongest British chess player of the 20th century."

Hope that cheers him up. :-)

I think most would agree he wasn't one of the stronger WC challengers, so I don't know how much that should count.

Right now Adams is certainly stronger, and that definitely makes it difficult for Short, with the argument going: "how can he be best of all time if Adams is better than him right now?"

How course that's a bit unfair on Nigel, but pretty inevitable.

I think its close, but Ill give it to Mickey. I think he will be in the top 10-20 for a few more years now too. His longevity and number 4 ranking are pretty impressive. Who is to say he wouldnt have reached the final of the candidates matches if they were running more frequently during his prime?

In any case I think it's close and an argument can be made for both sides.

I guess it depends on what "stonger" is supposed to mean. As far as ratings are concerned, "strong" makes only sense in valuing ones play against others. And that doesn't change each generation. Of course, play evolves, new concepts and opening ideas are found, but that doesn't mean that the players are actually playing stronger.
Cross-generation comparisons are always a bit shaky, but saying that todays chess players are stronger than those of 30 years-or-so ago is like saying that Einstein was smarter than Galilei - and I (and Einstein probably as well) would seriously doubt that.

The use of the word stronger is interesting and has its own semantic implications.

In terms of actual objective chess accuracy of the moves, Adams probably plays stronger chess than Short. That is helped by the fact that he is at his peak when more chess information is available, stronger computuer programs too, and a greater number of strong tournaments.

If you were to use the word 'successful' it would be more difficult to judge :).

I really liked Nigel Shorts first game in his match against Kasparov. basically Nigel had a difficult won position and declined a draw offer from Kasparov with no time left on his clock. Nigel lost on time by a few seconds.

That game seemed to take the starch out of Nigel. He was never the same after that game. Had he won that game, he would have instead received a boost of energy that might have carried him to the title.

I like Nigel. I like his use of vocabulary. He makes very interesting reading.

I have always thought that Nigel seemed to just drop off the charts after that loss. I think it took him a long time to recover from those few seconds of missing the clock. a real shame.

Mickey, I suspect has been too much a lover of the English love of the Pub. Top athletes in sports and chess do not drink at all today. Vishy Anand and Topalov are both known to avoid the drinking. Mickey is well known for indulgence.

So both players could have reached higher highs. one lost a key game and lost his energy. the other liked other pursuits in the Pub more than a dedication to being the best that he could be in chess.

for me I like them both. it reminds me of my mother who always said she loved all her children equally.

I know some personal stuff about Nigel that would have your mouths open but i won't spill...

Any mention of "Strongest, Best, Greatest...", it would seem, MUST be referring to THIS -


- the topmost item, the annual Russian High League Championship, perhaps the toughest Swiss System, bar none, in the known universe.

Sit back in your chair, close your eyes for just a second, and imagine, just imagine, trying to place in the top seven of this field:

Malakhov, Najer, Zvjagintsev, Dreev, Motylev, Timofeev, Kobalija, Alekseev, Sakaev, Volkov, Inarkiev, Ryazantsev, Khalifman, and Tkachiev....

62 players altogether, with those fifteen at the top of the list. No way you get into the top seven (to qualify for even MORE punishment in the SuperFinal over New Year's) without beating at least two of them. Which two you gonna take? Hmm?

And to think: These guys plan on it EVERY YEAR. Now THAT's professionalism.

As far as I know, Marshall and Janowski weren't exactly among the strongest of all time, as both were regularly hammered by the likes of Lasker and Capablanca in their best days.

In my opinion, Short is stronger. He has consistently shown more "champion-like" character than Adams. He beat Karpov in a match -- when Karpov was still Karpov! That's something Adams would never have managed. Also, Short managed to beat Kasparov in a handful of games, which again Adams has never managed to do.

Short suffers in the comparison merely because they met at different points in their careers. By the time Adams hit his peak, Short was well past his and was clearly no longer taking chess as seriously as before.

Frank H.,

In the 1940 NFL the game the Bears beat the Redskins 73-0. The Redskins coach was asked how the came might have been different if his player hadn't fumbled a ball near the Bears' endzone on the opening drive. "We would have lost 73-6."

Legendary Russian legend? Is a legendary legend more legendary than a mere legend? How does one get to the status of legendary legend? Paul Bunyan made the great plains with one swipe of his ax but is just a legend. I congratulate the legendary legend Garry Kasparov for rising above the ranks of mere legends.

another interesting match would be morozevich-topalov.

Nosher and Mickey. Both triffic.


what I don't like with that logic is, that it would mean that at some point (probably long past) in time, the "average" GM would be considered stronger than, say, Lasker or Alekhine in their prime. Simply because our GMs have access to milions of games played, can use engines for their prep etc.

And I would think that this is simply wrong. Resurrect a Lasker/Alekhine-in-his-prime, give him Fritz and ChessBase 9 and a month time to prepare, and I'm pretty certain that he would'nt be bothering long with a 2550 GM.
Of course, "strong" in this sense is even more subjective than in any other, but I guess it's the only sense that would do them justice.
(I dimly recall Kasparov stating that he consideres the "strength" of the games of his first (or second -- don't remember clearly) WC match with Karpov to be the highest. Not in terms of opening handling, of course, but in terms of thought process, decision making, finding the best moves in a position etc.)

Or, to put this point differently: Resurrect Alekhine and give him a Chess960 position against the average GM. Do you really want to bet on the GM?

I think it only matters how well you perform at your own time. I believe that for sure Nigel Short is one of the chess legends just like Victor Kortchnoj - he played Kasparov for the world title - Michael Adams didn't. You could say that Adams is just not quite good enough to be considered a true legend in chess.

Having said that, of course Adams is strong, but it takes more to be chess legend than just merely being strong. You just got to have something more than just mere skill to be a world championship challenger. In that sense, Nigel Short is the greatest British player of all time.

What about Tony Miles ?

if we ressurect alekhine and lasker we should ressurect morphy too.

Of course if you could somehow resurrect past chess players they could possibly be stronger if given access to modern technology and tournaments, conditioning etc. But until that happens players now with these advantages will be stronger.

There's a difference between 'strength' and 'talent'.

Shouldn't Paul Keres be in that list of (13) who never-became-worldchampions?

Nigel Short said Anand could sadly end up like PK after Anand lost the 95 match loss to Kasparov and Laussane match loss to Karpov...

Of course whether Anand should be in that list himself after winning the FIDE KO is a question better not discussed here..

Interesting thoughts...

When Short loses his first and only world championship match, do we take it as a sign of Short's weakness or as Kasparov's strength? Is Short a very strong player, as proven by him winning a classical match-tournament cycle, who then lost to somebody who at the time was heads and shoulders above everybody else? Or is Short's blowout an indication of the fact that he didn't have the mental fortitude or the chess skill and Kasparov was playing somebody who was not as good as other challengers to the title have been?

It's rather amazing how much credit in our evaluation of a chess player we give to a single world championship match. Timman probably gets more respect than Short and he never made it this far. Meanwhile somebody who manages to get lucky one year and win the title, jumps up ten paces in everybody's estimate, not because he played terrific chess or all of his other accomplishments of his career or his contribution to theory but because once upon a time he won.

To be fair Mickey did play a match for the world title - one of Kirsan's Mickey Mouse ones, anyway - and came within a rapid game of achieving it. As indeed did Timman, shurely, against Karpov in Kuala Lumpur (or wherever it was).

Presumably Keres wasn't on the list of 13 because he never played a match for the title.

I imagine the reason Short is perhaps slightly underrated is that most people in British chess regard him as a complete tosser. This has a tendency to warp one's judgment.

I would be inclined to say Short was right, though. Actual rating numbers mean nothing - the system has inflated over time for various reasons. If it's right that Nigel was third in the world and Mickey fourth then according to me even ratings favour Nigel, and his match successes are also very significant in my opinion. Longevity is another thing, of course. I wouldn’t put it as high as some people do.

And of course Nigel will be remembered in chess history for a supporting role in wrecking the world championship structure for the sake of personal gain. That’s something to be proud of, at least.

There is no single right answer to these 'who is the greatest' arguments. The greatest president, university, beer, actor/actress, etc. - it may be fun to argue but there is no point demanding a consensus.

Also, I do not think much of these 'give Morphy todays knowledge base and computers and he'd beat everyone today' kind of arguments. Or Capablanca or Alekhine.

Today's top players have to be serious about years of hard study. It needs a different type of person to those of before. Lazy players like Capablanca would never have made it in the current situation.

It seems to me that a simpler argument is more to the point. Morphy, Capablanca et al were the best of their day in a fairly small talent pool. Kramnik, Kasparov, Karpov, perhaps one day Carlsen and Karjakin, are the best of their day in a much larger pool. The odds are therefore that the top players of today are more talented and that if the top players of yesteryear were transported to today and given the necessary time to reach their peak with modern assistance, today’s top players would still beat them.

Of course it could be said that Morphy and Capa represented peaks over a considerable period of time whereas today’s top players may not do so. But even if allowing for that I still think the pool you are drawing from today is so much greater that the chances are that Morphy and Capa would find themselves as average 2700 punters.

Having played them both (Short half a dozen times in 1979-85 and Adams a couple of times in the late 80s/early 90s) I would say (as an IM rated around 2400 at the time)that I always felt I had a chance against Short (I won one and drew a couple) whereas with Adams he would just grind you down without you really being aware of having made any significant mistake.

So from that purely personal perspective I felt Adams was stronger, but there is clearly very little in it based on their overall records - almost a matter of taste given their different playing styles rather than something you could decide objectively.

I do recall that they played a semi-final match in the KO World Championship in around 1997 which went to rapid tie-breaks before Adams squeezed home, suggesting that he might have a slight edge but by then Short was past his best. Also I recall that Short won a similarly close English championship match vs Adams in around 1990, but of course Adams was not yet at his peak then.

To decide this question they would really have needed to have played a classical time control match with at least 10 games in around 1993-95 when they were both close to their peak - I suspect it would have been a very tight match but we will never know now.

Adams is simply a stronger player and would definitely beat Short in a match . But I think in terms of World Championship/Elite events Nigel has the better record. Anyone who beats Speelman, Gelfand,Karpov and Timmnan in matches to win a world championship match has proved themselves. Adams as a match player has been quite frankly appalling.

So to sum up, Adams is stronger but Nigel is the greatest !!

That's interesting to hear, jch. It's nice to get the perspective of someone who's actually played both of them (and had a non-zero chance of winning).

I wonder, though, if it's just a stylistic thing. Short is much more of a risk-taker, and has a grittier style, and hence perhaps exposes himself more to upsets vs. lower-rated players. Whereas Adams is a classical positional player, and less likely to take risks -- which also increases the perception of 'invincibility.'

Yuriy: becoming the challenger is *extremely* significant. It means that at that point of time, you were #2 in the world!

It also means that you possess a champion-like character. You are able to find the psychological strength to rise to the top, you don't have any "nemeses" who paralyze you, etc. It is a sign of tremendous mental fortitude.

There are many players who are extremely strong (Adams, etc.) but somehow lack that extra edge needed to win decisive matches.

I apologize for the spam, but I wanted to add -- we shouldn't begrudge Short getting crushed by Kasparov. Frankly, Gazza was a ruthless killing machine for 20 years. The only two remotely capable of standing up to him were Kramnik and Karpov.

It’s the same in any sport; in the end players’ reputations turn on how they do at one or two critical moments. Euwe wasn’t really any stronger than Flohr, or Smyslov than Keres, but we remember the one far more than the other because when their chance came they seized it.

Not that I wish to detract from Smyslov's greatness in any way, but do we really remember him far more than Keres?
(It is also a bit strange to talk of "remembering" Smyslov while he is still happily alive.)

"And I would think that this is simply wrong. Resurrect a Lasker/Alekhine-in-his-prime, give him Fritz and ChessBase 9 and a month time to prepare, and I'm pretty certain that he would'nt be bothering long with a 2550 GM."

It's not wrong, not at all. The modern GM IS stronger. It's not right either. It's just how things work. And if you bring them from the past and give them Fritz and all that, now you're not talking about Lasker's actual "chess power" any more, but artificially increasing it. By this argument, some goat herder in central Africa from before chess even existed might have been the strongest player of all time, given the tools and training you describe. Give me a break.

Lasker's actual, real strength was weaker than that of the top players today. Period. But that's a CREDIT to him, not an insult. It's in large part because of what he did, that this is the case. He made that happen. I think he'd be mighty disappointed if he learned that the modern top 10 was no stronger than the 1910s top 10. That would mean chess had stagnated and gone nowhere, and that he had contributed nothing to the growth of chess.

I kind of decided to not reply anymore because I can't see this discussion reaching a result, but this

"now you're not talking about Lasker's actual "chess power" any more, but artificially increasing it."

is simply incorrect. By giving him access to all that, I make up for the 80-or-so years of theory he passed upon while dead. Theory is something there to know, to reproduce, not to reinvent. By supplying that to Lasker, I simply give him the chance to fight on equal grounds with a present-day GM (who doesn't have (nor could!) to 'invent' all of this opening theory himself again and again for every game - he simply remembers it).

I can have a whole library on the french advance var. - anyone over 2000 Elo would probably still beat me comfortably, even if he had to play OTB and I would have correspondence chess time for each move. He is stronger, because he can outplay me in the middle game and the ending, even if I played the opening perfectly.
Same holds for Lasker: If the GM can only win because of his shiny openings, then I would definitely say that Lasker is of equal strenght - he's just got a lousy repertoire. Just as we occasionally talk about Kamsky...

But that's not Lasker any more! His actual strength is what he had, with the theory and training and sources of his time, and nothing more. Those and his mind and talent and will and other factors are what combined to make up his ultimate playing strength.

When we talk about actual strength, we are talking about just that, ACTUAL strength, not imagined or "what-if" strength. And Lasker's ACTUAL strength contained only what he had at hand, not imaginary or future stuff.


There are some strong goat herders in Central Africa. (smile)


I actually cheered for Short against Kasparov and loved all those sacrifices, but I believe Adams is stronger. Look at the games. Adams' depth and efficiency is brutal.

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