Posted by David Smerdon on Feb 4, 2015 in Non-chess
One of my New Year’s resolutions (actually, if I’m being honest, a regular, unsatisfied customer on the list) is to do yoga. But this time, I’ve tried to make the resolution a bit more specific and quantifiable: I have to complete 8 weeks of consecutive once-a-week classes of ashtanga yoga. The rules are that only unavoidable excuses can permit missing a class, and will in any case result in two more weeks of classes being added to the sequence.
Stupid? Possibly. Attainable? Certainly; readers will know how (obsessively) seriously I take my NY resolutions. I’m off to a good start, and last night was my third class. It’s quite clear that I am the worst in the class, both in terms of technique, flexibility and, apparently, breathing. (Never before now did I know I was so terrible at breathing – I would have thought this would be something I’d mastered after 30 years and approximately 355,765,000* single practices to date. But alas.)
Nonetheless, I’m sticking with it. It’s quite a workout, despite being a slow-paced 75 minutes of posture-holding. I’m enjoying the stretches and I’m sure my complaining body will thank me one day.
But there’s one part of yoga that I just can’t get. Try as I might to open my mind, some of the more allegorical aspects are just too far advanced for my caged economist’s brain. In fact, many of the common phrases of vinyasa yoga seem to supersede the figurative and almost border on the metaphysical. I’m still flummoxed by several of the instructions our charismatic yoga instructor commanded me to perform – and unfortunately, Google Translate is yet to include “Yogi” in its list of languages to help me out. Things already got off to a strange start when the instructor announced that we really shouldn’t have been practising yoga last night because it was a full moon, “…so, you know, just keep that in mind.” But then the emblematic orders began, and I was not only lost without shoes but also without a yogi dictionary. Any advice or suggested renderings for these pearls of flexible directives from last night’s class would be most welcome.
“Look to the tip of your nose [so far so good, but…] and then shift your gaze to your third eye in between your eyebrows.” – (…am sure I did this one wrong, as I looked like I was about to be carried away by men in white coats)
“Create space within yourself” – (…conjures up several unfortunate images, most appropriately from my ill-fated 2007 trip to yoga’s birthplace in New Delhi)
“Allow yourself to be” - (…because without this permission, presumably, I would not have been. Really wished Descartes was in the class beside me for this one.)
“Make your breath like the sound of the ocean” - (…in principle, this one was less ambiguous. But I guess the sounds of Surfers Paradise beach on a Saturday night were probably not what they were after.)
“Make your muscles strong, but soft” – (…like a hard-boiled egg.)
“Breathe through your spine” – (…it’s been a while since high-school biology, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works.)
“Be at this point, at this time” - (…according to Einstein, I fulfilled this one by definition.
It begs the question (doesn’t it always): what would Gandhi think? Fortunately, the internet provides the answer.
Looking forward to the next class – another week, another point of the space-time continuum.
*I got this estimate from CalculatorPro’s ‘Beats and Breaths’ calculator. the Indian medical side MedIndia.net estimated 223,715,000 – that is, 37% (or a whopping 132 MILLION) fewer breaths in my life. However, it came with the bizarre disclaimer that its estimates “are not 100% accurate”. Mind-blowing.
Posted by David Smerdon on Jan 26, 2015 in Non-chess
Australia Day has taken on an extra special meaning ever since I moved to Europe. The fine Australian tradition of the 26th of January is just one more element of home that I miss, and so every year our household tries to bring a little bit of the holiday to Amsterdam.
Our past Australia Day parties have been quite a success, despite the freezing (and occasionally snowy) conditions. Our multinational guests have really gone all out, with some fabulous Australiana costumes, delicious efforts at Aussie baked goods (pavalovas, lamingtons and an exceptional kangaroo-shaped pie come to mind). The ‘Aussie Trivia’ competition is always a bit of a hit, while the participation in backyard cricket games (ankle-deep in snow and surrounded by parked cars) have been admirable, if understandably somewhat brief and marred by confusion. Needless to say, these occasions have gone a long way to easing a homesick Aussie’s winter blues, even without another creature from Down Under in sight.
There’s one special Australia Day tradition, however, in which I can directly get involved, even from my distant Dutch departure. Every year, the Australian radio station Triple J organises the world’s largest online music poll, collecting over a million votes for the top songs released in the past calendar year. The ‘hottest 100’ are then played on the (non-commercial) station on Australia Day from around midday. (Conveniently, this gives me a chance to download the list in time for the Amsterdam Australia Day party. Well, there have to be some perks, right?)
I have a confession to make: I’m a bit of a new-music junkie. This might come as something of a surprise for an economist/chessplayer, but there it is. Each year, I put in my votes and, in the past couple of years, I’ve badly masqueraded as a music critic with a sneaky little post about my votes. 2014 was a strange year for my music tastes; the list is a mixed bag of styles and genres, with my standard indie rock stirred in with some dance tracks, a touch of boppy instrumental, smooth grooves and even a throwback to eighties funk. I present: my eclectic top-ten for 2014.
(10) Duke Dumont – I Got U
An atypical entry from the overdone ‘Eurosummer dance’ genre, but I just couldn’t help myself. There’s something about the cowbell-like resonance of the drums that conjures up beach images, even without seeing the quirky music video. The lyrics are rudimentary and repetitive like so much doof-doof Eurotrash pumped out in the midyear, and deliberate misspellings of song titles (or, even worse, artists’ own names…) seriously annoy me. And yet, the song’s simplicity is somewhat compensated by the feel-good vibes. Plus, for nostalgia’s sake, this song guaranteed its inclusion by virtually playing on repeat throughout the Portuguese radio stations during our trip there in October.
(9) OK Go – I Won’t Let You Down
I’ll be honest up-front: this some is good, but not great. However, the one thing that kicks this song by the immensely talented OK Go is the video clip. For the unaware, this band is known the world over for its absolutely incredible music videos, beginning with the infamous one-take treadmill clip for “Here it goes again”:
Since then, their music video ideas have continued to up the stakes, continuing to impress and surprise me with their clips that are invariably shot in just one take. Check out the unbelievable video to their latest song, with its beautifully quirky Japanese themes, athletic camera work and sophisticated use of speed-up techniques. But be warned: Once you start watching one OK Go clip on YouTube, you’ll invariably be sucked into a vicious vortex of vids that’ll chew up an hour or more…
(8) Meghan Trainor – All About That Bass
Oh boy. I don’t know what this says about my music tastes, but “All About That Bass” is so ‘pop’ that it wasn’t even listed as a voting option for the Triple J countdown. It is true that this super-catchy tune has saturated the charts this year, and I’ll be the first to admit I’ve jumped on the bandwagon. The lyrics preach a positive body image message, but the song stands alone as an upbeat, skip-in-the-streets tune with an unavoidably catchy chorus. And, naturally, the bass line is a smooth walk behind the scenes. It’s pop, it’s uncharacteristic for me, and it’s completely anti-Triple J, but I’m hooked regardless.
(7) Bag Raiders – Nairobi
The first of a series of beat-driven chillout music, motivated by a strong instrumental focus and heavy on the percussion. The hit Bag Raiders track “Shooting Stars” made a seriously good impression on me; make sure you check out this incredibly entertaining dance rendition on Australia’s Got Talent by notoriously cool Byron bay local Tommy Franklin.
This year’s track Nairobi is a decent rival to that first smash, with a thick jungle beat and a serious focus on percussion. I’d wager it makes great safari-driving music, in case that’s for some reason what you’re after.
(6) Ten Walls – Walking With Elephants
A purely instrumental track with a phenomenal visual effect. Yes, visual. Listening to the first minute – a pseudo-‘Bittersweet Symphony’-like intro – one might be lulled into boredom, if not slumber. But this is purely the stage-setting for the elephants. Yes, I said elephants. After sixty-five seconds of calm, wind-whistling-through-the-reeves nature music, the percussion arrives, and boy, does it arrive. Try to listen to this and NOT think of elephants – I dare you. Better yet, close your eyes and imagine that you’re one of the majestic, lumbering beasts yourself. You won’t regret it.
(5) Chvrches – Get Away
Chvrches (pronounced “Churches”) was a big success in the 2014 Hottest 100, snaring three spots. As is so often the case after a huge debut album, this group has struggled somewhat to live up to the high water mark of their first efforts. However, their single “Get Away” is a notable exception. The song echoes the familiar feel of Chvrches’ earlier hits, leaning heavily on strong, emotive female vocals and a smooth melody. It’s in some ways a throwback to the good stuff of the last countdown, as well as steering me back to a more familiar chilled indie-rock genre for my list.
(4) Montaigne – I’m A Fantastic Wreck
Montaigne, for me, was one of the great finds of the 2014 talent pool. The Aussie artist was the winner of the Triple J 2013 ‘Unearthed’ competition, an annual search to uncover hidden Australian music talent. This year, Montaigne (Jessica Cerro) released her first album, a rich array of soulful yet upbeat ballads that go a long way to raising the lyrical sophistication average of the list to date. It was a tough choice to pick from this one, “I am not an end” and a brilliant cover of “Chandelier” live on Triple J’s ‘Like A Version’. In the end, the chirpily ironic lyrics of this song – combined with an outstandingly weird video clip – won me over.
(3) Mark Ronson (feat. Bruno Mars) – Uptown Funk
One thing that can be said for Mark Ronson: his collaborations are never boring. The present is no exception. There is only one word that could appropriately describe this song, and you’ll have to listen to the tune to fully appreciate this: Funky. It’s eighties style, narcissistic extravagance at its best. It’s brightly coloured leather, oozingly shiny hair it’s a tantalising bridge build-up to a crescendo of a chorus that channels Michael Jackson meets James Brown. It’s, simply, cool.
(2) Sia – Chandelier
Sia is without a doubt one of the greatest singer-songwriters to come out of Australia this century. Not only is Sia an outstanding performing artist in her own right, but she also writes incredible songs for many of today’s most popular artists, including several for Rhianna.
That being said, she seems to have saved her best for herself, releasing this absolute beauty that is surely a top contender for the number one spot. The story goes that the lyrics to Chandelier – a vivid description of a woman’s struggle with depression, told in the first person – was written by Sia about her own struggles with the effects of fame and the music industry. Whatever the motivation, the truth is that the result of this project is a stirring ballad with loud vocals and a catchy, skin-prickling melody. The resulting emotional effect is so powerful that it that leaves the listener angry, sad and energised, all at once. It was certainly a strong candidate for my top vote, but in the end was narrowly beaten out by a song that could not present a stronger contrasting effect.
(1) The Avener – Fade Out Line
And my number one song for the year is…unexpected. What to say about this soul-smoothing song? It’s not the tune to get the party started, nor to conjure up images of European beaches or African wildebeests. On the contrary, think a café in the sun, a country drive with the top down or dark glasses and outlandish hair styles. The downtown bass line spells cool even before the smooth, deep female vocals come in. The lyrics are poetic and intriguing, though barely whispered through the music, while the bridge raises the tempo by just the right amount to keep the temperature at ‘pleasantly mellow’. I was utterly captivated by this song on my first listen – a rarity for me – so imagine my surprise to find out that the über-hipster film clip heavily features chess. The vid is subtle and arty enough not to detract from the gloriously groovy beat, but the chess theme is, perhaps serendipitously so, a cute complement.
With such a deadly combination, there could hardly be any competition this year for the top spot in my list. However, being aware of the rather heavy focus I’ve placed on music videos in this year’s review, I would like to point out that Fade Out Lines still wins the crown as a stand-alone song, hands down. It’s definitely my favourite song to enjoy for the year, and the act of letting this baby roll on repeat is a real experience. You will need: shades, skinny jeans and a second-hand sofa. Turn down the lights, and turn up the tune. Enjoy.
After a long hiatus, the blog is back. I decided to trial a Christmas/New Year period offline, coinciding with a much-needed trip back to Australia. I was fortunate to be invited to play in the Australian Open chess championships in Sydney, which provided the perfect escape from my annual European Winter chills.
The tournament, my first in Australia since I left in 2011, was what might be called a mixed success. I’ll hold off from a full report for now, consistent with a new philosophy of keeping the ‘chessier’ posts separate from my other rantings. In the coming weeks, in keeping with the tradition of davidsmerdon.com, I’ll also write my two regular January posts: my 2015 New Year’s Resolutions, and my top ten songs for 2014 as submitted to Triple J’s Hottest 100 poll.
For now, as I write this from a plane flying back from Brisbane to Singapore, I’ll leave you with three quick and amusing anecdotes from this trip, highlighting what it’s like now that I visit Australia as a ‘tourist’ rather than ‘coming back home’:
In Agnes Waters, Tristan Stevens and I wandered into a quaint little ‘hippie clothing’ store:
OWNER: Where are you boys from?
ME: One of us is from Gladstone and the other is from the Netherlands.
OWNER: [Cue dry Queensland drawl] Ah yeh?
ME: Yep. He’s from Gladstone and I live in Amsterdam.
OWNER: Yeh nah, I thought you had a foreign accent.
As my boarding pass was being scanned at Brisbane Airport before boarding the flight:
ATTENDANT: Have a pleasant flight, Mr Smerdon…Smerdon? Are you the chess-playing Smerdon?
ME: Uh, yes. That’s me.
ATTENDANT: No way! I saw you at tournaments when I was in school. Have a pleasant flight…
(If you find that snobbish and self-aggrandising, read on…)
Before the first round of the Australian Open in Sydney, while browsing the starting list of participants. Two spectators are doing the same.
SPECTATOR 1: Hey, are you playing in the tournament?
SPECTATOR 1: Do you know who the players are? We’re trying to spot one of the top guys.
ME: Um, sure, yeh.
SPECTATOR 2: We wanna see this top Aussie guy; his name’s Smer…Smer…
ME: [Sheepish grin] Ha, yeh, actually…
SPECTATOR 1: …Smirnov. Anton Smirnov. Do you know him?
ME: [The grin fades] …Oh. Right, yeh. He’s over there. [Walk away in anonymous shame]
It’s this time of the year in Amsterdam – when the temperature hovers around zero during both day and night, when the wind slices your face as you cycle through the horizontal, unforgiving rain – that I start my annual pine for Australia. Fortunately, I’ve only got two weeks to wait until I head back for the Australian Open, but I have to say I’d really prefer to be in Melbourne today.
This is not only because it’s my favourite city in the world, and not only because this is my favourite time of the year to be there – and, even, not only because Melbourne has recently been voted the world’s most liveable city for the fourth time. No, this time it’s because I’m very interested in checking out the Australian Masters GM Norm tournament, which begins tomorrow.
Grandmaster norm opportunities are few and far between for Australians. We only have three active grandmasters in the country (two, if you consider me an expatriate), but a huge range of talent at the International Master level. So what gives? Well, there are simply very few tournaments in Australia that fulfil the requirements for a Grandmaster norm, and those that do are realistically implausible on account of being large open events. Generally, Aussies have no choice but to try their luck overseas, typically in Europe, and that isn’t cheap. I basically lived on a shoestring while norm-hunting in Europe in 2007; believe me, a regular diet of canned tuna and rice gets a bit tiresome after a while.
That’s why I’m very happy to see that a targeted GM norm event is happening in Melbourne. The ten-player round-robin format is ideal for norm-hunters, and the three invited, foreign GMs are also the ‘right’ sort for such events: not unbeatable for IMs, but having high enough ratings to keep the required norm scores reasonable. Of course, ‘theoretically beatable’ is quite another matter to beating a GM in practice…
My three compatriots from the Olympiad are at the top of the race of the norm-chasers. Max’s rating has exploded so far that he’s actually the third seed, ahead of Kazakhstan GM Rustam Khusnutdinov. Joining them are IM Bobby Cheng, Kiwi FM Luke Li and the not-for-long-untitled Karl Zelesco. In short, it’s a very impressive talent pool, and I don’t envy the poor grandmasters’ task of preserving ELO on their trip down under. The candidates all need 6.5 points from the nine games, with the exception of ‘poor’ Max – his high rating means he’ll need an extra half point to grab a norm. On the plus side for him, he’s the only player who will manage to avoid playing against the dreaded Max, I suppose.
It’s hard to guess how likely a norm is to emerge – there’s a poll at Australia’s ‘Chess Chat’ forum, but it only answers who is most likely to win the event, which is not so informative. Max is surely favourite to be the best-placed Aussie, but the requirement for him to score seven points means that probably one of the others is slightly more likely to score a norm. This morning it occurred to me that five candidates could theoretically score GM norms, while my far-cleverer-than-I girlfriend pointed out that even six norms are possible, if we exclude Max. I think most of the Australian chess community would be happy even with one, but we’ll see.
The tournament’s being run by Aussie IM Leonid Sandler, who has managed to pull off what so many organisers have tried before. He’s also running an IM-norm event alongside the champagne tournament; all games are apparently going to be streamed on the Box Hill chess club website. That means anyone can watch it from anywhere in the world, be it Auckland, Angola or chilly Amsterdam. Convenient, but I’d still rather be watching with a flat white in my hand from a cafe in Melbourne. Soon.
Posted by David Smerdon on Dec 12, 2014 in Non-chess
Here’s a quick little puzzle that’s kinda cool:
Imagine that someone (or, probably many people) managed to tie a rope around the entire world, lying it on the ground across the equator. You could say that the rope literally hugs the whole earth, kind of like the seam of a cricket ball. The question is: How much extra rope would you need to raise the whole thing a metre off the ground around the entire globe?
What’s your first instinct? If you like, write down your guess in the comments. To hide the answer from you, you’ll have to scroll down. But to make sure you’re not disappointed, here’s a cool little clip of an intersection in a street in Germany, where pedestrians can play ‘Pong’ with the pedestrians on the other side while they wait for the lights.
Okay. The answer is: 6.3 metres of extra rope. The question is mathematically straightforward – the extension of the radius (1 metre) has to be multiplied by two times pi – but far more interesting is how our first instincts are (usually) so far off. What was your first guess? Mine was one kilometre. Whoops.
Check out this new YouTube channel by a mate of mine, “The Best Chess Puzzles”. Each one is quick and pretty, and uses subtitled commentary instead of audio so that you can sneakily watch them at work. Recently, he posted a vid of one of my favourite chess puzzles ever:
I’ve had a reasonable start to my German chess league (“Schachbundesliga”), although not as impressive as my team as a whole. Werder Bremen (the mighty Green-and-White) currently sits equal first on the ladder with the behemoth Baden-Baden on 100%.
For some reason, perhaps because of the novelty of being Australian, I got a small write-up in the German chess press. (One astute reader has noted that the last three photos published in chess reports has featured the same dingy green hoodie, suggesting that it could be time to go shopping. To this, I say: Angus Young hasn’t changed his outfit in 40 years, so I’ve got some way to go…) My German still isn’t good enough to read articles without a handy online translator, but one thing that comes across clearly is a bizarre new nickname: Joker Smerdon. No explanation or context is given for the pristine nomenclature. Am I somehow considered mercurial in Germany? Is my joviality unusual for the Deutsche chess scene? Am I a wildcard for having played on the Sunday but not the Saturday? Am I to be compared to the late Australian actor Heath Ledger, “The Joker” from the batman movies (and, incidentally, a schoolboy chess player)? Does my chess style resemble amateur chess player Novak “The Djoker” Djokovic?
I honestly have no idea. In any case, the report features my comfortable win against German GM Alexander Naumann. Unfortunately, leaving out the background is a little unfair to my opponent. Poor Alexander had played a seven-hour game the day before, and had expected to play one of my teammates from Werder Bremen’s Saturday match. On the other hand, I came to the game fresh and armed with tricky, targeted opening preparation. Here’s the game:
The critical match for our club against Baden-Baden isn’t until February. It’s a shame it isn’t now, seeing as their top two players – Anand and Aronian! – are currently unavailable. On the other hand, at full-strength their line-up also boasts Svidler, Bacrot, Adams, Shirov, Naiditsch and Kazimdzhanov – a team strong enough to beat any national team in the world. No joke.
The build-up for the world championship rematch is reaching fever point. Magnus Carlsen, the undisputed world number one, and reigning classical (as well as blitz and rapid, by the way) world champion. Vishy Anand, the three-times champion, coming off the back of his best six months of tournament chess in several years.
Magnus, the young, hip, fresh new face of modern chess. From oil-rich Norway, the 23 year old has very much been enjoying his crown and all the attention it garners: Taking the celebrity kick-off in a real Madrid match (locker-room photos with Cristiano, Zidane and Gareth Bale); starring one again in a G-Star Raw catalogue; celebrity games with Bill Gates and Stephen Colbert; featured in Cosmopolitan‘s “Sexiest Men of 2013″; starting his own company “Play Magnus”; a very public spat with FIDE, numerous interviews, a couple of biographies and, possibly, an acting cameo in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming epic Interstellar. He’s been busy.
Vishy, the ‘veteran’ at the ripe old age of 44. The husband, the father, the inspiration to tens of millions of aspiring chess players from developing countries, and to hundreds of millions of Indians in general. The unassuming gentleman; the humble champion. Politically neutral, publicly conservative, competitively interminable. A doyen of six(ish) world championship matches, and one of the most accomplished match-players in modern chess.
With such a contrast, coupled with the attention from the last match between these two, it’s no surprise that people are getting excited. Pre-match articles are being written everywhere, with opinions by grandmaster commentators being thrown around all over the place (e.g. see here. By the way, despite the fact that Chessdom is one of the few chess websites I haven’t worked for, I have to say that it is a really excellent website, especially for following live chess with analysis).
The general consensus among grandmasters and other experts seems to be that, although Magnus is to be favoured, we can expect a much closer match than the 6½–3½ drubbing last time around. The theories go like this:
Anand is a better learner from match experience, and will come with more aggressive, smarter opening preparation
Magnus now has the pressure to retain his title, whereas Anand has the luxury of being ‘only’ the challenger
Magnus has had an uncharacteristic form slump (and rating drop) over the past few months; Anand is in superb tournament form
The one sole GM-dissident seems to be Levon Aronian, who thinks that Carlsen will probably win before the full twelve games (as in 2013). He thinks that Magnus is just too strong at pure playing strength and, moreover, has a clear psychological edge over Vishy.
And now for my tip (if this is what you were after in reading this, well done in making it this far). Despite the very fair arguments above, and despite the fact that I highly admire what Vishy has done/is doing for chess in developing countries, I’m firmly of Lev’s opinion. I see Magnus as an overwhelming favourite to win the match. I’m not so sure that the match will be won before round 12, but I feel that Magnus will likely be leading going into rounds 11 and 12.
Having said that, there are plenty of things to get excited about. I agree with the sentiment of others that Vishy is likely to bring some stimulating new opening ideas from his home kitchen, so I’m looking forward to the theoretical goodies. Moreover, a FIDE World Championship match in Sochi (Norwegian and Russian chess federations aren’t on the best of terms these days), between these two great rivals (“I am not his friend” – Vishy) has all the ingredients of a controversy or two. It’s been eight years since the infamous Toiletgate world championship, and the public wants drama. Bring on Saturday!
(…and now some shameless self-promotion. I’ll be doing live video commentary with American GM Larry Christiansen for Game 9 on Thursday 20 November on the Internet Chess Club’s ChessFM. I’ll also be doing one recap show for Chess.com; details to follow. More importantly, perhaps, is that super-GM Hikaru Nakamura will also be commentating for both sites: Game 4 for ICC, and the rest day on November 13 for Chess.com . I can’t wait to see what he’s got to say!)
I wonder if the famous “Pyjama Girls” of 2013 will be supporting again?
When you’re a kid playing chess in Australia, you hear these stories about this magical, mystical place called ‘Europe’. A place where some people’s houses are older than the first Australian colonies, where soccer is actually considered a real sport, and where chess players can frolic freely from country to country, from tournament to tournament, and where chess leagues actually exist.
Chief among these chess fairytales is the legend of the German chess bundasliga, considered the highest, most exclusive chess league in the world. It’s a mystical competition in which the world’s very best chess players fly from around the globe to compete in a super-mega-strong event, with teams sponsored by super-mega-rich German football clubs. As a junior, I always thought of it as the holy grail of chess leagues.
Well, after travelling to forty countries and having lived in Europe for a few years, most of the magic of my childhool dreams of ‘overseas’ has faded somewhat. It seems that people everywhere in the world aren’t really that different, that soccer isn’t such a silly game after all, and that there isn’t a castle to be seen in all of Amsterdam. But the myth of the Bundasliga lives on. And last weekend I finally got my first chance to play in the league.
I am now an official member of the Werder Bremen chess team, which is indeed sponsored by the Werder Bremen football club, one of the biggest in Germany. We play our home matches in the soccer stadium in the town of Bremen (not on the pitch, I was sad to discover), and even have to play our games in the Werder Bremen soccer uniform (which is a rebelliously delicious white-and-green). We may not look like a typical football team, but I must say I feel very cool in my new Nike stripes (see how happy I look, on the far right).
This pic is of our first division team, but there are several other teams in the other divisions, and a strong junior arm of the club as well. The depth of the club is rivalled by its strength at the top, and actually I don’t even make the first team when we have our full-strength lineup (with an average rating around 2650!). This pales in comparison to some of the other clubs, however, with the monstrous behemoth of Baden-Baden sporting an average rating of 2750 in their top team, featuring Anand, Aronian and Svidler. Scary stuff.
I have to say, the only thing I knew about Bremen before I arrived on the weekend was its reference in the famous Brothers Grimm tale of the Bremen town musicials – the donkey, dog, cat and rooster. That’s the reference to the title pic, in case you’re confused. It’s a classic tale, so go read it if you haven’t, and a tourist highlight for the town. Ironically, however, the town of Bremen doesn’t feature at all in the tale. Confused? Read the story! What, you don’t know how to use Google? Fine, I’ll give you a link: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm027.html
I really enjoyed the comradery of the team, and getting to practice my limited German, and of course the cool sportswear. Did I mention that already? But of course, in my first ever game for the club, I almost suffered from the ‘Werder curse’ and should have lost. How fitting, seeing as the Werder Bremen football team got smashed 6-0 by Bayern Munich at exactly the same time. I got into a hopelessly depressing endgame, and I would have felt even worse had I known at the time that I was playing one of the students of the great modern endgame master, Karsten Mueller. Luckily my talented opponent, playing for Hamburg, let me off the hook with a draw, and I recovered to win my game on the Sunday. Still, the endgame is kinda cool and pretty instructive, so I’ve annotated it below.
Unfortunately, I still don’t know the name of a single player on the Werder Bremen football team, but I’ve decided that I’m morally obliged to follow them in the football Bundasliga. So, go you Green-and-White! Lebenslang Grün-Weiß!
My friend recently showed me the latest edition of the New in Chess magazine. The Olympiad edition. In it is several articles that are highly critical of the Norwegian organisation of the event, and particularly the ‘horrific’ playing venue and ‘appalling’ accommodation conditions. This echoes a couple of other high-profile Olympiad reports that have been floating around on the net since August.
I’m sorry, what? Was I at a different Olympiad?
Was there some rival tournament with a blisteringly hot (or, depending which report you read, freezing cold) playing hall? Was the food inedible? Were we really treated like animals, left to slum it for a fortnight?
Personally, I thought the Olympiad was absolutely fine. Perhaps not the best, and certainly not the worst I’ve been to – and I’ve attended the last six. But, more importantly, this sort of damaging criticism isn’t warranted. I want these enthusiastic Norwegian organisers to keep organising tournaments, so let’s focus on the positives.
First, I thought that the accommodation was superb. The majority of participants were put up in high-class hotels either within walking distance or a short bus ride from the venue. A particularly nice feature was that both the venue and the hotels were in the centre of town (quite a change from Istanbul), meaning that the participants could freely enjoy beautiful Tromso at their leisure. And the food? Supplying three meals a day for thousands of participants is no easy task, but I have to say, a wonderful job was done. There were some complaints that the food tasted repetitive after 15 days. That’s not surprising, and has been the case at every Olympiad or World Youth event I’ve attended. I must confess I was also sick of the food by the end, and I even splurged on the last night and ate out in hyperexpensive Tromso. (I bought the most expensive burger I’ve ever purchased, at 30 euros. It was, well, good.) But it wasn’t like we had a fixed menu – we were offered a large and hugely diverse buffet for each mealtime, one of high quality Scandinavian cuisine. Fresh salmon, caviar, as well as international options including Asian and African foods. The lunch buffet at our hotel, for example, would normally have cost 40 euros.
And secondly, the playing venue. It’s true that it wasn’t the prettiest of buildings. But – we were playing chess, not hosting a gala ball. The portable toilets were probably the worst feature, but after the second day the organisers hugely increased the frequency of the cleaning, which made a big difference. Players were offered free water, soft drinks, juice, tea, coffee and biscuits during the games. The volunteers were plentiful, helpful and extremely friendly. And I really don’t understand the criticisms about the room temperature. I have heard these reports about it being either too hot or too cold, but I can’t say I experienced anything like this – and our team played all over the hall. One special feature was that the second floor contained a fully equipped press studio, where journalists broadcast from the playing hall to the main Norwegian television channels. In fact, at least an hour a night of coverage was broadcast on Norwegian television, with many more updates throughout the day.
Perhaps small things could have been improved, but I hardly feel that the event was organised “not in accordance with the status of an Olympiad” (Evgeny Najer), “far from ideal” (Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam) or “far below what it should be” (Alexandra Kosteniuk). Or perhaps I really was at a different Olympiad, at least in a sense. Still, one thing is for sure: the Norwegian organisers pumped tens of millions of euros into organising the largest chess Olympiad ever held. They helped promote chess to levels never before seen in mainstream European media. I don’t care about the politics, the personal vendettas or the interfederation fights. I just hope that the Norwegians keep organising and promoting chess. And personally, I had a great time.