On Radjabov, Beating World Champions, the French Defense and Destiny
Teimour Radjabov, #12 in the world as of May 2019.

On Radjabov, Beating World Champions, the French Defense and Destiny


This blog is full of free associations. I was thinking today of Radjabov's win against Kasparov from a Black side of a French Defense in 2003, when Radjabov was only 15 years old! This brought other thoughts to my mind, some of which have been hovering for a few weeks, as I reflect and react to different chess news and comments by chess fans.

I was born in 1956, so I am indeed from a "previous" generation. When I started reading chess books in 1972, they were all in descriptive notation. I grew up in Puerto Rico which, as a chess country, remains quite undeveloped, even to this day.

My first books were Alekhine's Best Games, the Zurich 1953 Candidates' Tournament, and My System, plus some books about Soviet Chess Championships (those from 1960 and 1969 stand out in my memory). I remember enjoying the games of players like Spassky, Bagirov and Geller. I was basically self-taught in chess, and my chess OTB experience was basically from 1972 to 1978, at which point I stopped to pursue music studies.

It is my impression that at different ages in life, we have different needs. For example, I started playing chess because a "bookworm" beat me at a casual game. I took one look at him and said to myself, "these guy is not smarter than me'. So my first motivation in chess was to prove myself against a certain opposition, and it became a vehicle for self-transcendence, for progress.

In that sense, I am envious of the Soviet players, who had coaches who taught them with love, and who transmitted to them a love for the game. Smyslov was extremely fortunate; his father was of Master strength, and had a good chess library. So Smyslov's chess culture is very deep, and his love for chess lore is full of respect and inherited wisdom, the wisdom of someone who learned from his elders.....

Going back to Radjabov....when I looked for his 2003 game against Kasparov, I was surprised that there was some controversy, as it was awarded a Beauty Prize for the tournament. Kasparov protested loudly, stating that he lost because of a blunder, etc.... This brought other thoughts to my mind. First of all, that some World Champions had gigantic egos! Capablanca, Alekhine, Lasker, Botvinnik, Fischer, Kasparov all come to mind.

Other World Champions. like Smyslov, Petrosian, Spassky and Tal had a more noble nature. I can relate to these players more as human beings; as chess players I can relate to all! There is a dichotomy here- you can have a great player who has an abrasive ego, and another great player who is naturally modest and humble.

Among the players who did NOT win the World Championship, but had that noble spirit, Keres and Bronstein, along with Rubinstein, top my list. Following Simaginfan's advice, I will add Schlechter!

Let us see the Radjabov game.....(2003). Radjabov was 15 years old at the time!

11 years later, radjabov beat Magnus Carlsen, the reigning World Champion, at the Gashimov Memorial, again with the Black pieces!


Geller, on playing against World Champions
(from his book, "The Application of Chess Theory")

Against World Champions

"How does one defeat them? This question has always been of interest, both to experienced chess maestros, and to those who are merely taking their first steps along the wonderful and fascinating road of chess. After all, World Champions are distinguished by something special, otherwise they simply would not be champions.

"It seems to me that World Champions can be defeated, provided that three essential conditions are satisfied.

"The first is that you have to play against them. Perhaps not in a match for the World Championship, perhaps not in a major international tournament, but at least in a simultaneous display.

"The second is that, when playing against them, you must always remember that they are Champions, and give every effort to the game, without thinking about the following day.

"The third is that, when playing against them, you must completely forget that they are Champions. This will enable you to avoid being "hypnotized" by the opponent's personality, and will maintain your cheerfulness of spirit and clarity of mind.

"The reader will realize, of course, that the content of these "rules" is not very serious.....But in every joke there is a dose of truth. If you play at full intensity, if you do not tremble before th formidable name of your opponent, and if, finally, you work seriously at chess, then you can hope for the most serious successes, and for the most joyous victories.

".....Against the majority of them I have s successful record. If draws are discounted, my score against Botvinnik is 4-1, Smyslov 10-7, Petrosian 4-2, and Fischer 5-3. I have a 1-1 score against Euwe and Karpov, and only with two World Champions do I have a minus score: against Tal 4-6, and against Spassky 6-9."

The following game is an amazing win against Karpov, in 1976, a year after Karpov became World Champion!


(You can see the Geller-Karpov game, with Geller's comments, here:
Right now a bug does not allow me to transport the game with comments to this blog post.)

Finally, just a word or two on destiny. We cannot see behind the veil, we do not know why God grants one human being success, and another one failure. I remember Gelfand, who had lost a World Championship match to Anand, when he was commenting on another WC match, he mentioned that sometimes one is not "destined" to win that title....and I believe that to be true. Each person needs a different experience.


(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
If- read by Federer and Nadal....