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Memorializing Alekhine in Style

  • ThePoet1800
  • | Apr 29, 2013
  • | 8388 views
  • | 34 comments

It’s been several decades since the last time Paris has been the site of a top-tier chess tournament. The French city of Lyon played host to Kasparov’s title defense match against Karpov in 1990, but other than that, nobody here can seem to remember the last time the top players in the world were playing an event on French soil. Perhaps not since the days of Alekhine himself, the Russian-born Parisian World Champion who changed the game of chess forever with his innovations. He is buried in the Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris, and so it was fitting that the first half of his memorial was played here, with the second half traveling this past week to St Petersburg, in his native Russia. I was lucky enough to be in Paris for the first half of this historic tournament, and to cover the rounds live for Chess.com.

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The event featured and all-star field, including current World Champion, Viswanathan Anand, world number two, Levon Aronian, and former world champ and current world number three, Vladimir Kramnik. Also on hand were last year’s world championship challenger Boris Gelfand, Chinese national champion Ding Liren, and the two highest rated players in France, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Laurent Fressinet. And in case that wasn't enough, the rest of the lineup included superstar world title contenders Michael Adams and Peter Svidler, and this year’s Gibraltar champion, rising star Nikita Vitiugov. The organizers pulled out all the stops to make this a memorable event. Not only did they attract the top talent in the world, but the conditions at the playing site were simply beautiful.

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Jardins Tuileries, photo: Sylvain Despretz

The Paris part of the tournament was situated in the fantastical Tuileries Garden, which stretches from the Louvre museum on one side to the Place de la Concorde at the base of the Champs Elysees on the other. There aren’t too many places in the world where the view gets much better. With funding from private philanthropists, such as the Timchenko family, as well as sponsorship from the Russian Chess Federation and the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce, the organizers were able to construct a fully furnished pavilion in the public gardens. And inside, the attention to detail was luxurious. The building featured a grand playing hall, with a stage for the participants and a large seating area for spectators, where several hundred seats were easily filled each day. There was also a backstage wing where the players could retreat during the rounds, and even a privatized section of the garden in which they could get some fresh air without being disturbed.

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There were IM and GM commentators on site, in multiple booths, working in several languages, including world number eleven Alexandre Grischuk who provided commentary in Russian. The local French commentators operated live in the open lobby, with a large video feed of the games they were discussing. Spectators who chose instead to enter the playing area were offered headsets through which they could listen to that commentary while they watched the players live. Doors were opened and closed for visitors and players alike by courteous, formally dressed ushers. Full kitchen and toilet facilities had been constructed on the site that didn’t seem the least bit temporary. No expense was spared on the quality of any amenities, from the hand soap dispensers to the custom signage that helped visitors find whatever they might be looking for. The lobby also featured several chess sets and chessboards at which the public was welcomed to analyze, discuss, or play games with each other throughout the event. Conditions like this would not have surprised me in a high-end hotel, but to consider that the site was built from the ground up in a public park was quite impressive.

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Mark Glukhovsky, press officer of the Russian Chess Federation, hosted visiting journalists in a combination media center and VIP lounge, where we were offered and endless and varied array of hors d-oeuvres and beverages served by an impeccably mannered and attired wait staff. The room featured several big screens on which we could follow the live video feed from the adjacent playing room as well as current game feeds from all the boards. Journalists had access to super high-speed wireless Internet (uncommon at public wifi hotspots in France) as well as Ethernet connections, more than ample electrical outlets, spotlighting for interviews and a comfortably furnished meeting area, where we could talk to players, fellow journalists, and the several chess celebrities in attendance.

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Fans filled the spectator area each day of the event

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photo: Leslie McAllister


Like the rest of the Paris chess fans, many of whom waited in line to fill the spectator area when it opened each day, I was thrilled at the opportunity to see these luminary players grace our city with their presence. And it was hard not to be a little bit star-struck. I’ve proudly worked with this website for several years now, covering many prestigious events and meeting many of the players I admire. But never before had I had the opportunity to conduct live interviews with some of the top players in history. I’d been watching these players, and their games, for years. Covering their tournaments over the Internet, discussing their moves. Always wondering what they were like in person, wanting to ask them questions, trying to imagine what made them tick. Fortunately for me, most of the players took a great deal of time with the media after their games, so I had several chances to ask them the questions that had been on my mind, as well as a handful suggested by our viewers here on Chess.com.

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I got to interview Vishy about the preparations for his title defense against Magnus Carlsen, the highest rated player in history. I got to ask Levon about his memories of being coached as a child by our friend, and chess.com/tv host, GM Melik Khachiyan. I got to talk to Vladimir about tournament strategy, and to Maxime and Laurent about the French chess scene and the excitement of playing on their home turf. I came away filled with admiration for these characters behind the moves. I found out how sweet and generous Vishy is, how suave and attentive Vlad is, how funny and charismatic Peter Svidler is. In fact, Peter even joked that he was hogging the mic during his post-mortem with Nikita Vitiugov, and so we didn’t get to hear as much from Nikita. Maybe next time! I also learned of Laurent’s refreshing humility and Maxime’s dedication to fitness. I noticed how shy but intently focused the young Ding Liren is, and how Boris Gelfand tends to make himself scarce during photo sessions. I regret that I didn’t get to talk to Michael Adams, as several of his games went so long that we were out of the press room before he finished. But I greatly enjoyed watching him play, and Leslie got some terrific photos of him.

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On the last day in Paris, I got to spend a few more minutes alone with world champ Anand, and asked him some additional questions. Unfortunately, there was a technical problem as we began filming and we weren’t able to get his answers on tape. But I’ll take this opportunity to share our conversation with you. Vishy had just finished beating Ding Liren quite soundly on the white side of a Caro Kann, in which he seemed to have been on the attack from the very beginning of the game. So I asked him if he found it easier to prepare for the opponents with whom he had a lot of history, or for the ones he’d never played before. He responded that it was much easier to prepare for the players he knows well, but then he smiled and added that it was much easier for them as well, so it cuts both ways. He went on to say that this tournament was particularly interesting to him because he was playing against some of the players for the first time (including Ding Liren, as well as Nikita Vitiugov and local hero Laurent Fressinet) and he was enjoying the preparation for those games.

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Vishy Anand was easy to talk to

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Photo:Leslie McAllister


I noticed at that point that some other journalists and tv crews were lurking in the background, waiting for their chance to talk to Vishy. So, not wanting to keep him too long, I asked him as a last question whether all the extra media attention he gets as the world champ is a difficult distraction at tournaments. He answered, as I’m sure he has many times before, that it’s par for the course and that one gets used to it. Then he paused, opened up another wide smile and said, “Let’s put it this way; I don’t think that I would have the right to complain.” At this, we shared a laugh, I thanked him for taking the time, and he was off in another blur of camera flashes and interview requests.

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The Paris leg of the tournament ended in celebratory style for the French players, as Laurent and Maxime both pulled off huge wins with the black pieces. Laurent sac’d a piece early on and scored an impressive win against Kramnik. When he entered the media room after the game, he was greeted by a long ovation. Even Russian star Alexander Grischuk, who had been commenting on the game, came in to give him a congratulatory handshake and ask some questions during the post-mortem. Laurent graciously thanked his second, Richard Rapport, for helping to research lines for him while he got some much-needed sleep the night before. He told me that to beat Kramnik, one of the best players in history, and to do it in Paris, had made him “incredibly happy.” Then, just moments later, France number one Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, who had been pressing a positional advantage, got Peter Svidler into time trouble and converted a full point of his own to take the clear lead in the tournament headed into the second half in Russia.

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Maxime Vachier-Lagrave was all smiles, in clear first after 5 Rds

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Photo:Leslie McAllister


I asked both players about the significance of this event for French chess, and mostly they responded by saying that what mattered was finding organizers and sponsors who care. And those are the people behind the scenes, who rarely get public credit, but without whom we wouldn’t have the opportunity to bring these great players together from around the world and revel in their brilliancies. It’s true that money isn’t everything; and it feels almost dirty to talk about the important role that money plays in our sacred royal game. But money does buy plane tickets that unite players from China, India, Russia, Israel and Europe. And it buys good chairs and lights. Electronic boards that relay moves to viewers, fans and aspiring young players around the world. Cameras and microphones that allow journalists to share the experience of these games with communities far and wide. Internet connections that transmit live games and interviews to anywhere on earth in mere seconds.

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In the end, the French players ran into difficulties in St Petersburg. Maxime lost his lead, suffering back-to-back defeats in the final rounds, including a last-round loss to tournament winner Levon Aronian. But nothing can erase the memories that were created here in France, the looks on the faces of the Parisians in the audience, both young and old, watching the heroes of chess play live before their eyes. And that thrill was evident in Laurent Fressinet’s voice when he talked about the meaning of winning such a big game in Paris. There is a quote, from the great Alexandre Alekhine himself, that appears on the cover of the event’s program: “To me, chess is not a game; it is art. Yes, I consider chess an art and accept all the responsibilities that art places upon its devotees.” It is clear that Mark Glukhovsky, the Russian Chess Federation, and their team of sponsors and organizers, have accepted the responsibilities of putting on a great chess event, and thus have turned that into an art as well. The city of Paris is thankful to them, and so are we at Chess.com. I look forward to reporting from more of their events in the future!

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Our video report from Round 3

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.Our video report from Round 4

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Our video report from Round 5

Comments


  • 14 months ago

    ThePoet1800

    Thanks, Knight and Queen! I appreciate it!

  • 14 months ago

    knightknocker

    poet I enjoyed reading your cover story ; very well written thank you!!

  • 14 months ago

    QueenHJM

    Awesome article! Smile

  • 14 months ago

    ThePoet1800

    Just like I said in the article, 7beau. Magnus is the highest rated player in history. I didn't say he was the highest 'metric'ed' or the highest 'simulated'. I didn't say he was the best. I just said he was the highest rated. Which, by the system that does the official rating, is absolutely correct. And when he broke that record, it was Kasparov's, not Fischer's, anyway. So as much as I appreciate all the attention being paid to the article, there really isn't any controversy here. You're right that many people consider Fischer the best of all time. And if you watch my interview with Anand, I even asked him whether he thought the ratings were naturally inflating over time or whether Carlsen was really playing the best chess ever. So I understand that there is an interesting question there. But not everyone agrees that the Chessmetrics system is an accurate way to compare players from different eras, so citing that system as fact would be controversial in its own right and would not be accurate, responsible reporting. What I cited in my article was the rating system recognized by FIDE, which is entirely factual and not any kind of 'error'. I hope we can now stop squabbling over that whole issue. As for JCPRio's comment about Alekhine's political affiliations, I understand and respect your concern. I decided, in this case, to keep chess and history separate. But I agree that anti-semitism should never be tolerated or condoned.

  • 14 months ago

    dmvdc

    "Although it is well-known that Chessmetrics' evaluations are not an OFFICIAL ratings list...."

    Which makes it kind of silly for you, or anyone, to continue banging on about how Fischer is/was rated higher than Carlsen. He wasn't. Official statistics are what matter for the purposes of records. When FIDE officially adopts Chessmetrics' system, then you'll have a case. Until then, you sound like a fanboy.

  • 14 months ago

    cimzowitsch

    Very Informative,,,Great,,

  • 14 months ago

    jmil89

    @Fooliot

    "I got to interview Vishy about the preparations for his title defense against Magnus Carlsen, the highest rated player in history."

  • 14 months ago

    Fooliot

    @ 7Beaufeet7 

    Couple of things... I believe that number you pulled out has been adjusted, which is fine - we always like a good comparison and Fischer was a very respectable player - but secondly, and most importantly, I believe that no where in this article is Magnus Carlsen claimed to be highest rated in history (which I believe he is, some one may want to corrobate that statement) and the article is simply commentating on the return of major chess events (or so we hope) to France. It seems like you are just resenting the breaching of Fischer's record, which I think many of us would rather you do so on some other forum, where such comments are welcome.

  • 14 months ago

    JCPRio

    dmvdc:

    Agreed... 

  • 14 months ago

    dmvdc

    JCPRio:

    "His politics cannot and should not erase his amazing contributions to chess, but his brilliance cannot erase what he did on a far more important battlefield."

    Although not quite to the extent of evil that collaborating with the Nazis represents, similar sentiments could be expressed about Botvinnik, too. Being good at chess doesn't guarantee that you're a good human being. Being a terrible human being doesn't mean you'll be bad at chess. Alas.

  • 14 months ago

    JCPRio

    Excellent reporting and writing. Well done. The only problem I have is not related to the tournament reportage, but to the honor bestowed on Alekhine. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest chess minds of all time, but his active collaboration with the Nazis, and particularly his vile attacks on Lasker and "Jewish chess," should not be overlooked. His collaboration was certainly performed under great pressure, but it was his choice to aid rather than resist the occupation forces in France. He subsequently denied that he had written those cruel articles and claimed that the Nazis had simply put his name on them. Sadly, though, the manuscripts of those articles -- in his own handwriting -- were found after his death. (See David Shenk’s The Immortal Game and numerous other sources for verification.) His politics cannot and should not erase his amazing contributions to chess, but the memory of his brilliance cannot erase what he did on a far more important battlefield. 

  • 14 months ago

    HaydenPanettiere

    Alekhine a great Super GM !!!!!!

  • 14 months ago

    TerryMills

    The article made me wish I had been there - j'aime Paris et les échecs.

  • 14 months ago

    Ironknight777

    Brilliant cover... 

  • 14 months ago

    ThePoet1800

    Thanks so much, everyone! I'm touched by the positive feedback. I hope I get to cover the next tournament in France and write some more! As for 7beau's comment, Chessmetrics is not actually an official rating list, it's a new tool that one person invented to try to retrospectively simulate a correction of ratings inflation. It is not officially sanctioned by FIDE or any other chess-governing body. Fischer's official ELO rating during his playing career was never 2895.

  • 14 months ago

    Lawdoginator

    Great article Poet!  I feel like I was there.  You're good with prose too. 

  • 14 months ago

    -_KNiGHt_-

    Very great article.  Was up to par.   =) 

  • 14 months ago

    Peter_Aus

    Yes, great article and I am not surprised that the detail of the conditions was above par as that IS what I would expect from the French. Attention to detail and style. Congratulations to all concerned for the effort to host such a contest in what has been described extremely well in this article.

  • 14 months ago

    SourPower

    nice article Poet

  • 14 months ago

    RussBell

    Excellent article!  Good behind-the-scenes perspective and insight.

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