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5 Times That Trash-Talking Backfired In Chess

5 Times That Trash-Talking Backfired In Chess

NiranjanNavalgund
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There's a famous story in basketball featuring Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird. Before the first-ever Three-Point Shootout in 1986, he went into the locker room, asked who was finishing in second place and walked out. He won the contest.

There's nothing quite like trash-talk paying off if you're the one dishing it out. Of course, if you're the one hearing the trash-talk, there's nothing like seeing it backfire on your opponent. Throughout chess history, that latter possibility tends to play out more often.

While games like basketball or cricket have more scope for trash-talking than chess, that doesn't mean it can't happen in the royal game. It's especially common at clubs, parks, or coffeehouses. In my early years of chess life, I used to go to a club in my town and I can still recall being told during some games to "run, run, run with your king now."

On the professional or competitive level, players used to occasionally undercut other players in a tournament bulletin or newspaper column. These days, Twitter is the preferred medium for pre-match and post-match trash-talking.

Here are five times that trash-talking backfired in chess:


Maurice Ashley In The Park

We begin with a more classic example of trash-talking in chess. In the video below, we see GM Maurice Ashley both receiving and dishing out some good old fashioned trash-talk:

Ashley met not just a trash-talker on this day but a hustler who tried to take both of Ashley's knights on the same move (slow motion replay at 2:30). Throughout the game, Maurice gave as well as he took on the talk. The chess hustler's trash-talk definitely backfired, as the game was no contest—Ashley won easily.

Vera Menchik Club

Vera Menchik (left), Albert Becker. Photos: Wikipedia.

The famous Carlsbad tournament in 1929 featured some very strong players of the period, and it also included Vera Menchik. Prior to the event, Albert Becker, a Viennese master, made fun of the fact that she was invited and proposed the following: 

“Gentlemen, I have a great idea. I suggest forming a club named after Vera Menchik. Those who will manage to lose a game to her will become full members of the club. Those who draw will only be considered as candidates for membership.”

Menchik won the game, making Becker the first member of the "Vera Menchik Club." Not only did she beat him, but she did so handsomely by dominating the game both positionally and tactically. If you have ever been a victim of trash-talking in chess, I am sure you know how satisfying it is to punish it over the board. I can only imagine what it feels like to punish a trash-talking misogynist by running over him.

On the other hand, if you do decide to go the trash-talking route to try to gain a psychological edge, make sure you are prepared enough for it not to backfire—and never belittle another person because of their gender.

Double The Prize

What if you had to win a chess game to save your life? Well, that was exactly what Russian-French player Ossip Bernstein had to do. He was on the verge of being executed by a firing squad. On the day of his execution, one of the officials recognized his name as he was a chess lover himself. The verbal confirmation wasn't enough, and the official asked Bernstein to prove it by beating him in a game of chess. 

Bernstein won the game and was released. He eventually moved to France and continued his work as a finance lawyer and also kept in touch with chess.

At the age of 72, he was playing in a round-robin tournament. His opponent in the 16th round, GM Miguel Najdorf was leading by half a point. He underestimated Bernstein and believed that he could easily beat him and win the event. He went on to convince the organizer to double the prize money as he was very confident of his victory.

What followed next was an extraordinary display of great chess skills by Bernstein as he won the game. It is considered as one of his best chess achievements, and you can enjoy his impressive victory over his loudmouth opponent in the video below:

I'm sure that Bernstein's victory was that much sweeter after Najdorf had thrown shade (to put it mildly) at him. I also wonder how he spent the extra money he made thanks to his no-doubt embarrassed opponent.

Capablanca's Dry Style Of Play

GM Efim Bogoljubov made some nasty remarks about Jose Capablanca's play in the bulletin of the Moscow 1925 event. Apparently, what many people admire about Capablanca's playing style, making chess seem simple, was not to Bogoljubov's taste.

Capablanca defeated Bogoljubov in their game, but Bogoljubov went on to win the tournament. Their game in particular was discussed heavily, and there were some strong disagreements about the evaluations among the annotators. Edward Winter compiled them all in a wonderful article titled "Analytical Disaccord."

Source: Edward Winter.

Since Bogoljubov won the tournament, one could say the Cuban master won the battle but lost the war. That would have been the case if the story ended there. However, we would not be talking about it unless the trash-talker ultimately ended up losing the war, too.

A few years later, Capablanca defeated Bogoljubov in an instructive endgame and proved his strength once again. Defeating someone who has talked trash to or about you publicly can be a satisfying experience indeed.

Trash-Tweets And Social Media Trolling

Trash-talking now often begins on social media, and is even fueled by fans and the press. One episode that deserves an article in itself is the funny tweet exchanges between World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen and GM Anish Giri.

The story of Carlsen and Giri's constant exchange of "compliments" is perhaps one of the best-known and most well-documented in chess, thanks to their inclination to take matters to their social media channels.

It all started back in 2018 when Giri joined GM Vladimir Kramnik's team to help him prepare for the Candidates tournament that year. Carlsen took this opportunity to take the first public jab in the Dutch grandmaster's direction.

Some players would let this sort of remark coming from the world champion go, but we all know Giri's witty sense of humor. After a few tweet exchanges between the two players, things escalated when Carlsen posted the following message:

The social media war of words between Carlsen and Giri reached its pinnacle prior to the Chessable Masters event online. Giri defeated Carlsen in berserk mode, tweeted about it, and even made a video trolling the world champion.

He also won with the black pieces on demand in the event, and that created a lot of buzz on social media. Ultimately, Carlsen clinched the online event. Giri came incredibly close to winning the game, but he missed Carlsen's resource on the 35th move:

As the tweet flattery between the two has not come to an end, it is impossible to say who will have the last laugh. Regardless, it is fair to say that their Twitter interactions, which have since become more light-hearted, do make us giggle.

The next time you think about trash-talking your opponent in any setting, remember what you read in this article. It could backfire. 

Have you ever played a game where trash-talking occurred? Does the trash-talking give the player an extra boost to do their best? Are you aware of other famous instances where trash-talking backfired? Let us know in the comments below!

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