Grandmaster Clash
September 21, 2014 7:51 AM   Subscribe

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.
Caruana started the tournament with a win, then another. Then another. And another. And another. At the halfway mark, when each player had faced all five of his opponents exactly once, Caruana was 5–0–0. To you and me, going unbeaten and undrawn in five straight tournament games sounds impressive. But to chess aficionados, Caruana’s performance is nigh on miraculous.
posted by Golden Eternity (27 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
That's some good writing.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:25 AM on September 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

Very interesting (and well written) article. That's some fascinating chap at the head of FIDE.
posted by parki at 8:51 AM on September 21, 2014

No one noticed because most people do not care about chess. Or probability.
posted by spitbull at 8:56 AM on September 21, 2014

> Chances are you didn’t tune in to the live stream of last year’s title fight between Carlsen and Anand.

He don't know us very well, do he?
posted by benito.strauss at 9:13 AM on September 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Boy, what a great article. I love movies and other fiction that are structured around a Street-Fighter-like tournament where each character has a very different personality.

The writer has an interesting style. He uses several unfamiliar idioms that come up with only urban dictionary hits ("swamp fever", "goat rodeo").
posted by painquale at 9:22 AM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

That was a nice article. For all of us here, who were watching/commenting on the Anand/Carlsen match last year - who is going to be excited by a rematch? Not me. I cannot imagine a worse choice. But then, as the article makes clear, FIDE is corrupt as all getout.

Caruana is someone to watch, but he needs to prove himself over the longer term before we hail him as one of the all-time greats. Sure, it's a great result, but in chess as in other sports, there can be a unique golden time for a given player, a confluence of peak form, distracted opposition, luck and everything-falling-into-place. No doubt he's an excellent player - you have to be, to reach the ranking he has - but it's a bit early to put him at the very top of chess pantheon.
posted by VikingSword at 9:23 AM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

FiveThirtyEight also covered the tournament.
posted by zug at 9:29 AM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

swamp fever

Whoops, I meant "fever swamp."
posted by painquale at 9:33 AM on September 21, 2014

"jen shahade's memoir 'chess bitch'"

sounds like a must-read
posted by bruce at 9:44 AM on September 21, 2014

Look forward to reading the article.
I thought about posting about it as it was happening, but I kept waiting to see if he'd keep winning. I knew he wouldn't beat Carlsen a second time. But it wasn't just that he won--it's that he won in so many different ways, and not because any of his opponents were making huge blunders. His quick destruction of Aronian was the highlight of the tournament. His 'performance rating' was up there with the best chess programs.
I think we all know Anand will lose to Carlsen again, BUT I'd like to think he'll make it closer this time, knowing that his status as a legend will be tarred if he gets outplayed so badly again...especially after that snoozefest where he barely beat Gelfand in the WC prior to that. I'd MUCH rather watch someone else have a go at Carlsen (either another old favorite like Kramnick or a young gun like Caruana, though I suppose Caruana, So, and Giri will all have their chances at some point....but Carlsen just has the number of so many of the top players like Aronian and Naka and Topa).
posted by whatgorilla at 10:10 AM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

So Caruana is cheating?
posted by nzero at 10:28 AM on September 21, 2014

So Caruana is cheating?

In retrospect, it's a wonder they ever bought that story about how he always asks the spirit of his dead wife, "Siri," what move he ought to make next.
posted by yoink at 10:37 AM on September 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Well, let us remember Caruana is only a couple of years younger than Carlsen. That is significant. He doesn't have the track record that Carlsen already had by that age (roughly 2 years ago). Now, there are some similarities between chess, math, physics and like prodigies, in that mostly they do their very best work before the age of 30. Caruana is an excellent player, and his ranking reflects that, but he's had a slightly later start at the very, very top compared to some past prodigies including Carlsen. Now, it's possible that he'll blossom from here, but it's also possible that this was his golden moment.
posted by VikingSword at 10:38 AM on September 21, 2014

A fascinating read indeed. Chess and chess professionals are...fascinating.
posted by davidmsc at 10:38 AM on September 21, 2014

A performance rating of 3098? Wow.
That should put him close to Carlsen in the world rankings.
posted by MtDewd at 11:02 AM on September 21, 2014

I thought the headline read "Most amazing feat in cheese history." Wonder what that would be?
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 11:05 AM on September 21, 2014

human milk roquefort
posted by bruce at 11:24 AM on September 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

That's a fantastic article. However, it confirms that I made the right decision when I decided that competitive chess was not for me after going to my first tournament with a family friend when I was 12 or so.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:47 AM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

The author seems to have begun the painful work of moving beyond the delusion that somehow, there's a magic formula that will work to make tournament chess a popular sport (or whatever it is). "This is amazing and no one cares" is pretty much the deal, as far as I can tell, at least in America. If it weren't for Sinquefield, the U.S. Championships probably would have been held at a Denny's for the last 5 years.
posted by thelonius at 11:53 AM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

"but it's also possible that this was his golden moment."

-- Yeah, Caruana's next year or two will probably determine whether he can compete with Carlsen or whether he's just another wunderkind who never gets to legendary status(*). Carlsen may dominate the sport like Fischer or Kasparov; or like Karpov, someone might rise up as his sole serious challenger and eventual successor (Kasparov).
* -- Some wunderkinds have had long chess careers (most of the chess players in the top 50 come to mind--from Adams to Kamsky) and some had pretty short runs (like Josh Waitzkin of "Seaching for Bobby Fischer" fame, and Gabriel Schwartzman--who was the youngest GM in the world in 1993, and won the US Open in 1996, the youngest winner since Bobby Fischer).
posted by whatgorilla at 11:58 AM on September 21, 2014

I used to play chess a lot. Daily. I played the same guy mostly and he mostly cleaned my clock. It was something we did while we watched soap operas. I never understood what this guy got out of playing me, since he won like 90% of the time. I played him because when I won I knew I'd done something! To me it was wonderful even when I lost, because I would take some pride in not being crushed. We played fairly fast and sometimes could get in two games in an hour. We also had a standing board that we'd move on whenever we liked. I'd come in, look at the board, it he'd gone I'd look and think and move. Sometimes days went between moves.

We also played other people, but mostly it was just he and I and mostly he crushed me.

One day I was in public, playing "Magic: The Gathering" and we were in the same space as the chess club. Some guy says, "You should try a real game." I tried declining politely, but he was needling, and finally he pissed me off. So I played him —in between tapping mana and blocking and attacking and drawing cards— and I utterly humiliated that guy. He was routed and I killed him.

I watched him make the same mistakes I often made and I'd had those lesson jammed in my face enough times I learned. He tried to get me to play him again. "Come on! I wasn't playing attention. "I didn't know you could actually play!" I told him I would, but I was there to play a real game: "Magic: The Gathering"

I think that was the closest I've ever come to being hit by a chess nerd.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:50 PM on September 21, 2014 [42 favorites]

I've read Chess Bitch by Jennifer Shahade. It's good, and if the topic interests you I'd definitely recommend it. It's also a bit scattered and gossipy and uneven, so my recommendation is a bit mixed, but I don't know anything better to read about women in chess than that book right now so hey, it's great!

I've been trying to understand better why women are under-represented in eSports like League of Legends or Starcraft. Chess is another great example of a non-physical sport where it's not obvious that men have some natural advantage over women. My main takeaway from Chess Bitch is that men dominate chess mostly for cultural and historical reasons leading to lack of support and encouragement in contemporary times. Interestingly Shahade has moved on to poker, a sport-like game that is also male dominated but not nearly as overwhelmingly.
posted by Nelson at 12:58 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Every time a pro sports person like Caruana has an outstanding performance like this my first question is whether they were cheating. I mean, we all knew Lance Armstrong was too good to be true, right? There is plenty of cheating in professional chess, mostly illegal consultation with computers. But AFAIK there have been no allegations of cheating against Caruana. I want to believe!
posted by Nelson at 1:00 PM on September 21, 2014

The author seems to have begun the painful work of moving beyond the delusion that somehow, there's a magic formula that will work to make tournament chess a popular sport (or whatever it is)

We could start another cold war, but that's a lot of work.

What we should all be doing is paying more attention to the Arimaa World Championship anyway.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:22 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

No one noticed
I noticed, but Neat, but not really enough for a Mefi post. It was super exciting to watch it happen live, and I would have loved to have talked about it with you all here as it unfolded.
posted by unliteral at 1:49 PM on September 21, 2014 [12 favorites]

Huh! I've recently had my passing interest in chess re-sparked with Chess 2 and Shogi (specifically the full-size variant of Let's Catch the Lion, Doubutsu Shogi in the Greenwood), so this sounds like a pretty intriguing way to feed that.

Also, I encourage everyone to try shogi in some form or other (the aforementioned Let's Catch the Lion is deliberately beginner-accessible and comes in smartphone app form as well as adorable board game form). The captured-piece-redeployment makes it a wildly different beast from chess.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:54 PM on September 21, 2014

... it confirms that I made the right decision when I decided that competitive chess was not for me...
While I'm sure you made the right decision, I don't see what the article has to do with any competitive chess you may have envisioned for yourself. The USCF has 80,000 members and very few of them have to deal with Ilyumzhinov or being interviewed by Slate. They are also mostly not concerned about the lack of media attention to chess (although some are), because they enjoy playing it more than watching it.
posted by MtDewd at 5:24 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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