Chess without a king?
March 11, 2005 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Kasparov retires. Garry Kasparov, ranked the #1 chess player in the world (and who's at least among the top three players all-time) said the 2005 Linares tournament will be his last as a professional player. It seems this announcement leaves professional chess and FIDE, at least, in a bit of a bind. Although he's not an official champ, he's still ranked as the strongest player by FIDE. If he really is gone, how much legitimacy will any successor as "unified champ" have? Or does it really matter? How many people on Metafilter care about this, and is it more or less than those who worry about the hockey strike?
posted by Leege (36 comments total)
Are you making fun of sports in the process of making a chess post?
posted by xmutex at 12:28 PM on March 11, 2005

posted by sharpener at 12:37 PM on March 11, 2005

It seems like the trouble with professional chess is what drove Kasparov to retirement, which is really sad. There's no world championship cycle anymore, FIDE determines its champion in a rapid knockout tournament, and Kramnik, the person that beat Kasparov in a match, is ducking any opportunities to play him, not to mention that Kramnik plays way too many draws. As for the future, Anand is so naturally talented but he moves so quickly and carelessly sometimes (such as in the Vallejo game where he barely escaped with a draw), while Leko and Kramnik produces mostly snoozefests. I'm looking forward to see what the next generation of Carlsen, Karjakin, Nakamura, and Radjabov can achieve.
posted by gyc at 12:41 PM on March 11, 2005

Chess, like hockey, is not my idea of a spectator sport. If I had to choose to attend either, I'd probably choose chess as you are less likely to get beer spilled on you.
posted by acetonic at 12:43 PM on March 11, 2005

I didn't know that there was a hockey strike. Thanks.
posted by R. Mutt at 12:45 PM on March 11, 2005

I lost a bit of interest in championship-level chess after Kasparov got whupped by Deep Blue. Honest. I still like to play (very badly), but I don't give a hoot about Kasparov.

So less than the hockey lockout. Much, much, much less. I can duplicate the excitement of Kasparov-Kramnik in my living room. I can't say the same for an Avs-Wings playoff series.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:45 PM on March 11, 2005

Hey, whatever happened to the defender-of-humanity thing?

So long Garry, and please don't become an international antisemitic tax-fraud eccentric in your later years.
posted by soyjoy at 12:49 PM on March 11, 2005

xmutex, not trying to downgrade either sport, just playing off of the popular image of (at least in America) public indifference to the professional levels in each sport. As it turns out, I'm a fan of hockey and an even bigger fan of chess.

gyc, I absolutely agree with your analysis. I can't believe FIDE doesn't see the inherent marketability of two players going head to head for the title - the way it had been determined successfully for more than 100 years before the Kasparov/FIDE split.
posted by Leege at 12:50 PM on March 11, 2005

How many people on Metafilter care about this, and is it more or less than those who worry about the hockey strike?

I had to re-read that a couple times to realize it might not be a troll.

I suspect the answer is less. I care about it in theory, which is to say that I think that it's important news but I've never really followed chess, so I'm not sure I understand the significance all that much.
posted by shmegegge at 12:56 PM on March 11, 2005

When did chess become a sport?
posted by xmutex at 12:56 PM on March 11, 2005

Of course now that Kasparov is retired, there must be a chess-loving billionaire somewhere that would put up a huge prize fund that neither Kasparov nor Kramik could refuse for a proper world championship match. Remember that Fischer got many such offers to come out of retirement.
posted by gyc at 12:59 PM on March 11, 2005

Xmutex's question brings to mind something I've always thought about; what is the difference between a game and a sport? To me, chess is clearly a game. That is not in any way derogatory nor to imply it is on some lesser level than sports. But, to me, a sport is defined as involving physical activity. If the action is almost entirely mental, it isn't a sport.

Something you can do while sitting completely motionless apart from occasionally moving one arm can't possibly be a "sport".
posted by Justinian at 1:05 PM on March 11, 2005

I'd say that a sport has to have some element of physical competition and that's what's so often engaging about professional sports: athletes doing things with their bodies that we cannot.
posted by xmutex at 1:06 PM on March 11, 2005

I care about this, and about the hockey lockout, so I suppose that's a wash if you're counting. I also care more about this than about the hockey lockout.

For background on the history of the world chess championship, including why there are two people considered by some to be world champions--one selected through the more traditional "challenger must defeat the current champion" format, and one selected annually through an elimination tournament, see the Wikipedia World Chess Championship article.

However, although Kasparov is the strongest player in the world, he is not currently the world chess champion under either system. The current champion under the elimination-tournament format preferred by FIDE is Rustam Kasimdzhanov, but that barely matters for future championships, as the current champion gets little to no special consideration in the following year's elimination tournament.

As for the traditional challenge-style match championship, Vladimir Kramnik won the title from Karpov in 2000, and defended it in 2004 against Peter Lékó. Most chess fans who defend the traditional championship format consider Kramnik the current world champion. (There may be a small number of fans who still consider Kasparov the champion on the grounds that he held the traditional title and that the 2000 match was irrelevant as it was not sponsored by FIDE. But Kasparov himself considers Kramnik to have won the title from him in the 2000 match.)

So whichever championship system you believe in, Kasparov is not the current champion. Even if he were, it wouldn't necessarily be a major issue. Alexander Alekhine died while world champion in 1946. FIDE organized a world championship tournament in 1948 among five of the world's strongest players, and the winner of that tournament, Mikhail Botvinnik, is considered as valid a world champion as any other.

There is an issue if the challenge-style match championship is held without any overseeing body, however. Without any governing body to force the champion to defend his title against the strongest challenger from time to time, the champion can pick when he defends his title and who he defends it against. If the champion is reasonable about accpeting challenges, it's not a huge issue--the championship was held without an overseeing body until 1948. But if he's not reasonable, there's no entirely clear point at which he would cease to be champion, and there would probably be a further bifurcation in who people consider to be champion.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:10 PM on March 11, 2005

This is not without precedent. Look at boxing, when Rocky Marciano or IIRC even Lennox Lewis, who all retired as #1 and the sport went on.

Probably other examples around as well. It's more a testimony to Kasparov's skill and less an indication of the demise of chess competition.
posted by xmutex at 1:15 PM on March 11, 2005


Would you accept the notion that chess is like a sport but with your mind? Because, quite frankly, I can't do with my mind what Garry Kasparov can with his.

(Sidebar: I'm reminded of two exchanges from different versions of the musical Chess:
From Broadway
Reporter: Freddie, do you think chess should be made an Olympic sport?
Freddie: What, and do it for free?

From the US Tour:
Walter: Ladies and gentlemen, the world chess champion has arranged for an demonstration of his amazing mental powers. He's going to defeat the unbeaten Textron chess-playing computer in less than twenty-five moves.

~sigh~ I'm a geek.)

posted by graymouser at 1:15 PM on March 11, 2005

soyjoy, to answer your question, Kasparov plans to be a defender of democracy:

[Kasparov] said Friday he wanted to concentrate more on politics in Russia. He has emerged as an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin and is playing a leading role in the Committee 2008: Free Choice, a group formed by prominent liberal opposition leaders.

"As a chess player, I did everything I could, even more. Now I want to use my intellect and strategic thinking in Russian politics,' Kasparov said Friday in a statement cited by the Interfax news agency.

"I will do everything in my power to resist Putin's dictatorship. It is very difficult to play for a country whose authorities are antidemocratic,' he said.

On preview: DevilsAdvocate, good points on Kasparov's status regarding the championship and title oversight.
posted by Leege at 1:16 PM on March 11, 2005

Something you can do while sitting completely motionless apart from occasionally moving one arm can't possibly be a "sport".

Car racing? Target shooting? Hunting? Is it the frequency of arm movement that differentiates these things from Chess, in your view?

to me, chess is clearly a game. that is not in any way derogatory nor to imply it is some lesser level than sports.

It may not be so for you, but I think that for most people games are more trivial than sports. We play games, our heroes play sports.
posted by Hildago at 1:19 PM on March 11, 2005

graymouser: Sure, but I think you're just saying that chess is like a sport of the mind, but still not a sport. I can't do what Kasparov does either and I am in awe of him as well but it doesn't make what he does a sport. Maybe that makes it better, maybe it makes it worse, maybe it has no bearing at all. That part's up to the beholder.
posted by xmutex at 1:20 PM on March 11, 2005

My favorite quote from Newsroom (sorry but I can't remember the character's name) seems particularly apt here to settle the "what's the difference between a game and a sport?" question:

Any game, where you can make a goal, between another guy's legs, is not a sport. Foo'ball - now that's a sport!
posted by soyjoy at 1:26 PM on March 11, 2005

It indeed a shame that there is no "head to head" championship as that would certainly be an obviously marketable commodity. Most good head on matches seem to be exhibition-only stuff.

But will people care? 14 million people watch Wheel of Fortune EVERY day - the largest market share of any game show in syndication. And almost every one of those viewers would be buying vowels to spell "Kasparov".

Perhaps the unemployed hockey folks could come in and consult. So Anand decides to trash talk you at the board, pull that v-neck sweater over his head followed by a good crowning. Don't like the move "Blue" made against you... pick up a mallet and smash its chips in. Chess is all about domination right?

Now that would get the Wheel of Fortune crowd.
posted by somnambulist at 1:26 PM on March 11, 2005

Justinian et al,

I'm more concerned about the rapid disappearance of sportsmanship today than the blurring distinctions between "games", "sports", "motorsports", etc.

What is a sport, anyway? To me it seems to be any activity that serves as a civilized outlet for our competitive passions that would otherwise be expressed violently. This applies at the individual, clan and national level. Central to this is the fraternity and respect that opponents strive to maintain between each other.

It seems that this concept seems to be lost on today's athletes, in both amateur and professional leagues. Rather than "it's not who wins or loses, but how you play the game", the prevailing attitude seems to be "winner takes all, at any cost." Hence rampant doping, cheating, hostility and general incivility. How sad.

By this criterion, chess is more sporting to me than hockey ever will be.
posted by randomstriker at 2:00 PM on March 11, 2005

posted by swift at 2:31 PM on March 11, 2005

posted by speicus at 2:46 PM on March 11, 2005

It seems that this concept seems to be lost on today's athletes, in both amateur and professional leagues. Rather than "it's not who wins or loses, but how you play the game", the prevailing attitude seems to be "winner takes all, at any cost." Hence rampant doping, cheating, hostility and general incivility. How sad.

I would say this is an outdated notion, but I don't think it ever honestly existed save for motivation for children and, well, poorly skilled competitors. It is about winning. That's why you compete. Playing the game well and civility are nice touches, but if it gets you nothing but losses, it's a failure. It's almost irrelevant.

I could care less than the QB or centerfielder on my favorite team is a complete asshole. If he's out there winning, he's doing what I hope of him. Same goes for Bobby Fischer being a psychotic lunatic, etc etc etc. I watch and respect them because they win.

There's a difference, though, between saying it's all about winning and endorsing cheating like steroids, etc. It's all about winning within the rules of the game.

Ty Cobb. One of the meanest bastards to ever put cleats on his feet, and one of the best ballplayers that ever lived.
posted by xmutex at 3:19 PM on March 11, 2005

Chess has always relied on the greats for their wit & 'charisma' (as much as a chess player can have). Much like boxing did before Don King.

I fear the rise of a Don King type in chess.

...but it's pretty much a baseless fear.

Those Icelanders love the chess, hey?
posted by Smedleyman at 3:21 PM on March 11, 2005

I should say that I realize Cobb was a hell of a dirty player as well, and for that he ought to be chastised, but if you take that away he was still a great ballplayer and his... personality traits... are simply peripheral interests and, now through the lens of history, colorful and almost funny.
posted by xmutex at 3:22 PM on March 11, 2005

How many people on Metafilter care about this, and is it more or less than those who worry about the hockey strike?

I'm pretty sure the number of Canadian MeFites is significantly greater than the number of adamant chess-watching MeFites, which leads me to guess that the hockey strike is a far bigger deal. If this thread doesn't bear that out, I'd be willing to further guess that it's because most Canadians would assume the very question was a dry joke unworthy of serious reply.

Speaking for myself, the overwhelming majority of the "professional" chess I've watched being played was in the film Searching for Bobby Fischer, whereas NHL hockey brought the city I live in (Calgary) to a standstill last spring and inspired a sort of sporadic two-month Mardi Gras. So, you know, not much of a contest there.

randomstriker wrote: chess is more sporting to me than hockey ever will be.

I've got to assume you've never been much of a hockey fan, don't watch much of it, and arrived at your conclusion based on the one or two incidents (Todd Bertuzzi's suspension perhaps?) you've actually heard about in recent years. 'Cause I can't imagine that anyone who watched young, hungry kids like Kiprusoff and Iginla carry the Flames to within one game of the Stanley Cup - or, to be nonpartisan, Martin St. Louis' magical stickwork in the Cup final, or the Canadian women's team's passionate run for gold at Salt Lake in 2002 - could make it fit into that boilerplate big-time-sport-has-no-soul argument you've employed.

(Now, if you'd tried to make the argument that the hockey strike indicated that greed and corporate hubris was killing the NHL, you'd've had the start of an argument, at least.)
posted by gompa at 3:30 PM on March 11, 2005

I care about neither this, nor the hockey strike. And I like both chess and hockey.
posted by kyrademon at 4:54 PM on March 11, 2005

Something to consider regarding the whole "chess as game or sport" debate: There is a certain amount of physical stamina and health required for the game, especially at its highest levels.

Consider that most official FIDE tournament and match games (traditionally) give each player two hours to complete 40 moves, another hour for an additional 20 moves, then a half hour or so "sudden death" time period. So, your're talking about a game that could easily last four, five hours and not even be completed until the next day. Tournaments and world championship matches can last for several weeks at a time. The amount of physical and mental stress that comes such mental concentration over a long period of time has to be seen to be believed.

If someone is in poor physical condition, they will not be able to apply themselves properly in such a situation. Alexander Alekhine lost the world title in 1935 because of his problems with alcohol, then regained in in 1937 when he got sober. Mikhail Tal lost the world title in 1961 right after he lost a kidney. In recent years, many of the top chess players have had fitness programs: Fischer was a jogger long before it was fashionable, and I understand Kasparov had a weightlifting program.

Whether chess is a game or sport is still open to question or interpretation, but it certainly has a physical as well as mental element to it.

Once again regarding DevilsAdvocate's post: the Wikipedia article is one of the most thorough explanations on the championship history.

I certainly recognize that no one regards Kasparov as the world champion currently. However, there is something of a difference between Kasparov's situation and Alekhine's when he died. Alekhine was nowhere near his peak at the end of his life and almost certainly would have lost to Mikhail Botvinnik if they had played a head to head match. Meawhile, Kasparov certainly is at or very near his peak right now, given his #1 ranking and his recent tournament performances. I also think it was a shame that he never had the chance in recent years to regain the title due to chess politics and various intrigues. One of the reasons he quit was because he was tired of all of these delays.

So, in that respect, I think something is missing in the chess world now that Kasparov is gone. On the plus side, maybe this will spur all interested parties into finally setting up a championship tournament or match series to finally settle who the undisputed champ is. I'd personally root for either Vladimir Kramnik, Alexei Shirov, or - why not Judith Polgar? That would get some press.
posted by Leege at 8:05 PM on March 11, 2005

Whether chess is a game or sport is still open to question or interpretation

Since when?
posted by AlexReynolds at 8:55 PM on March 11, 2005

ok, but will it all devolve into Chessboxing?
A Sport? A Game? How about a Spame?
posted by edgeways at 10:51 PM on March 11, 2005

Less than hockey. chess like giving birth is not a spectator sport (billy Connollyism). on the other hand we have hockey players unwilling to accept something like $12 mill salary cap. sorry about no caps, hard with one finger. did dollar sign with pen in mouth.

chris p.a.l.s. in alberta
posted by Ranger03 at 4:04 PM on March 12, 2005

Is chess a game? Is it a sport? Oh what would Wittgenstein say?
posted by painquale at 5:08 PM on March 12, 2005

1 Everything in sport is sport
7 If it doesn't involve kicking a ball, I'm not going to talk about it.
years pass
1.0 Think of a chessboard.
1.0.1 As I move a piece I say "I move a piece"
1.0.2 What if I then say "I kick a piece"?
dies. in a notebook we find
When we ask "is chess a game?", what is the meaning of "is"?

(so i don't really think he'd help much)
posted by andrew cooke at 7:10 AM on March 13, 2005

Whether chess is a game or sport is still open to question or interpretation

Since when?

Leege posts a thoughtful, informed comment, and you respond with this snide dismissiveness. You're a dick.
posted by Hildago at 11:23 PM on March 21, 2005

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