Not again!?

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
Europe-Echecs interview DanailovPerhaps it was because I'm currently reading The Age of Empathy - Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society, Frans de Waal's latest book on how and why humans (and other primates) are capable of showing empathy and solving moral problems - that I found myself shocked by the recent Europe Echecs interview with Topalov's manager Silvio Danailov. Topalov's match against Anand hasn't even started yet, but the first provocations are already in the air again.

Photo: Europe-Echecs

Tiebreak in ElistaFrans de Waal is one of the world's leading primatologists and has written an impressive body of work about the similarities between apes and humans. In his latest work, he hands us a toolkit on how to improve our society by looking at (human) nature. Empathy and morality are not only human affairs, but also play an very important role in other species, such as chimpansees and dolphins. De Waal argues that the election of president Obama is a clear sign that the 'nightmare' days of Reagan and Thatcher are over and that perhaps it is time to transform society into a more empathic place. Well, I think it's time to end the 'nightmare' of Toiletgate and start a new era where chess professionals actually show some empathy and respect for each other instead of constantly trying to provoke the opponent.

In the video of the interview, Danailov talks about whether the 'Sofia rules' apply in the upcoming Topalov-Anand match, to be held in Sofia next month. They will not be applied - at least not officially. But that's no problem for Danailov:

If one player doesn't offer or accept draws they will apply. Vishy [Anand] doesn't agree but he will be forced, because Topalov will not offer him a draw and he will not speak to him. So, what to do? He will be forced. This is the best. This is the best, otherwise... I don't know, there's people who are absolutely conservative, they are against these rules, but this is the future of chess. This is for sure. Everybody now understands this. Of course, I understand there are some players, old players, who don't want to work... they like short draws and whatever. They like to offer them, but this is finished. Chess ... we need a professional sport, and in professional sport, we cannot do this.

It's a remarkable statement: Anand - forced against his will to comply to rules that are not official; this is the future of chess, no matter what 'old' chess players say - their opinion clearly is unimportant and shouldn't be respected. But the most remarkable is that Danailov says that Topalov will not only refuse to offer any draws but also will ignore his opponent altogether: "He will not speak to him." In other words, he will drop all courtesy and normal etiquette and create a 'non-speaking terms' atmosphere in a match in his home country, against one of the most relaxed and friendly chess players in the professional chess scene.

And why? Because of 'professionalism', that vacuous word all too often misused by people who refuse to acknowledge that most if not all work requires empathy and social skills - in other words, people who haven't the slightest idea what 'professionalism' really means. (Here's how one competency library actually defines 'professionalism': "Thinking carefully about the likely effects on others of one's words, actions, appearance, and mode of behavior.") To exclude all social elements from a profession is in fact the ultimate un-professional thing imaginable.

It's a fallacy Frans de Waal convincingly demolishes in his book, showing how cooperation and social interaction are absolutely crucial to succeed in any job and society, and are in fact measures by which we judge people and choose them as colleagues, friends or mates. Not so for the Bulgarians, who've created their own rules and apparently don't mind to be social isolates in the chess world, as long as the results speak for themselves. What an utterly unprofessional attitude!

In a similar vein, we've argued before on this site that shaking hands before and after a game shouldn't actually be incorporated in the rules of chess, but instead should be respected even though they're not in the rules - because, as De Waal shows, that's how empathy and social skills work: intuitively, without explicit rules, automatically. And that's why apes and other animals are capable of displaying them, too, without being able to read lawbooks or guides on ethical behaviour. It's a thing of nature. It's in our genes.

Tiebreak in ElistaThe sad thing is that we've seen this all before, four years ago in Elista. There, the Bulgarian team made themselves ridiculous in the eyes of world by accusing Vladimir Kramnik - without a shred of hard evidence - of cheating. They even published a childish book on it - still lacking any solid evidence - to prove their point, which I reviewed back in 2007. Perhaps it's worth recalling how Topalov accused Kramnik of unfairly using his 'home advantage' up till the Kremlin in order to "keep the title at any cost" and that he (Kramnik) "will not balk at violating ethical principles."

In his book, Topalov wrote that it was naive of him to agree to the match against Kramnik being played on Russian (well, kind of) ground, because such a match obviously couldn't be fair. Well, it's four years later and look who's playing on home ground this time. Will Topalov and Danailov return the compliment and agree if Anand claimed a match in Bulgaria couldn't ever be fair because of some kind of home advantage? Frans de Waal devotes an entire chapter on the 'walking in other man's 'shoes' concept, but looking at the interview of Europe Echecs, I have my doubts if Danailov has read it. Note how he laughs during the entire interview, routinely dismissing dissenting views and announcing how the reigning World Champion will be 'forced' to do this and that. Does that sound like someone showing any kind of empathy or 'ethical principles' at all?

Silvio Danailov has recently announced his candidacy for president of the European Chess Union. Heaven forbid someone who doesn't understand the first thing about 'professionalism', baselessly accuses some world class players of unethical behaviour and laughingly tells others what to do, ever gets to play such an important role in European chess, even if he did show some good initiatives like the exciting M-Tel tournament and his passion for more fighting chess. This kind of destructive madness really can't be tolerated in our beautiful chess world. Frans de Waal ends his book The Age of Empathy (I am quoting from the Dutch version) with the following words:

We must rely on our intellect to figure out how to balance individual and collective interests. One instrument we have and which enriches our thinking enormously, has been selected over ages, meaning its survival value has been proven time and again. It is our capacity to show a sense of oneness with others, to understand them, and to place ourselves in their situation.

We can only hope this message will reach the Bulgarian team before the Topalov-Anand match starts.
More from CM ArnieChipmunk
Why chess will never be popular

Why chess will never be popular

In praise of draws

In praise of draws