“I am nothing special, of this I am sure. I am a common man with common thoughts and I’ve led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten, but I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul, and to me, this has always been enough.” (From The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks)
Each time someone enquires why I continue to play chess in the face of local insurmountable administrative difficulties, I recall those haunting words of Nicholas Sparks. They fit, although the author was referring to Noah and Allie, a couple who loved each other exquisitely, satisfying their innermost desires until they passed this life. In similar fashion, I adore the game of chess like no other, and my devotion to it, is fulfilling. I join tens of millions of devotees who find the game fascinating.
Last month, at 85, Viktor Korchnoi played chess two days before he died.
Mikhail Tal escaped from his hospital bed to enter a blitz tournament and in the process, won some wonderful games. He died soon after.
As he was dying, Dr Alexander Alekhine composed a chess puzzle which he asked to be placed on his tombstone for others to solve.
Bobby Fischer analyzed positions during the final days of his life in Iceland.
The list of players who are supremely dedicated to the game goes on.
Some people theorize that the game was devised other than by humans. It is not unusual to listen to sparing views which contend that chess was invented by a supreme being. President of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is on record as saying that he believes “the game was invented by extraterrestrials,” as quoted by Dylan Loeb McLain in the New York Times of October 28, 2013. Other publications also carry similar views about Ilyumzhinov on the subject. In this instance, however, I have no reason to doubt the FIDE president’s reasoning. Earthlings could have carried a chess game to another planet as when Neil Armstrong piloted the human race, figuratively, to the moon, and landed there July 20, 1969 at 4.17 pm and uttered the now famous four words: “The eagle has landed.”
Our earliest earthly records go as far back as AD 600 in India where the game was invented. The game has no ruler. Players come and go. The nature of the game boggles the mind. How can someone, with whatever enormous brain he possesses, create hundreds of millions of possibilities in a single game? It remains problematic to conceptualize.
The influential Slate magazine of September 18, 2014 in an article headlined ‘Grandmaster Clash’ by Seth Stevenson, quoted Ilyumzhinov as insisting “there is some kind of code” in chess. There are 64 squares on the chessboard and 64 codons in the human DNA. In addition to this fact, the chess world would have noted that Fischer lived for 64 years, the same as the number of squares on the chessboard. Some claim it was destiny. I don’t know. What I do know is that all the secrets of the ancient game have not as yet been disentangled. Chess is complicated. While we engage in speculation as to the origins of the game however, we have to address the perennial difficulty of making chess lucrative. Generally speaking, chess is hard to sell to sponsors especially with action sports as its competitors, namely, football, cricket, tennis and basketball among other disciplines. Tracing chess’s origins may be interesting and perhaps romantic, but doing so doesn’t put food on the table.
The following games were played at the 2016 Edmonton International Tournament in Canada. Samuel Shankland, US grandmaster, emerged victorious.
White: Samuel Shankland
Black: Surya Shekhar Ganguly
- d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nxc3 6. bxc3 c5 7. Rb1 Be7 8. Bc4 O-O 9. Ne2 Nc6 10. O-O b6 11. Be3 Bb7 12. Nf4 cxd4 13. cxd4 Rc8 14. Nxe6 fxe6 15. Bxe6+ Kh8 16. Bxc8 Qxc8 17. Qa4 b5 18. Rxb5 Ba6 19. Rfb1 Bxb5 20. Qxb5 h6 21. h3 a6 22. Qb7 Qxb7 23. Rxb7 Bg5 24. Rc7 Nb4 25. a3 Nd3 26. e5 Rb8 27. Kh2 Kh7 28. Kg3 Rf8 29. Rc6 Bf4+ 30. Kf3 Ne1+ 31. Ke4 Nxg2 32. d5 Nxe3 33. fxe3 Bg3 34. d6 Re8 35. d7 Rd8 36. e6 Bh4 37. Kd5 Kg8 38. Rxa6 Kf8 39. Ra4 Bf6 40. Rc4 Ke7 41. Rc8 Bg5 42. a4 Bxe3 43. a5 h5 44. Kc6 1-0.
White: Samuel Shankland
Black: Alexey Shirov
- e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 6. Ndb5 d6 7. Bg5 a6 8. Na3 b5 9. Bxf6 gxf6 10. Nd5 f5 11. c3 Bg7 12. Bd3 Be6 13. Nxb5 axb5 14. Bxb5 Bd7 15. exf5 Nb8 16. a4 Bxb5 17. axb5 Rxa1 18. Qxa1 Nd7 19. Qa7 O-O 20. O-O Nf6 21. Ne7+ Kh8 22. b6 Qd7 23. c4 e4 24. b7 Qc7 25. Nc6 Qxc6 26. b8=Q Rxb8 27. Qxb8+ Ng8 28. Qb5 Qc8 29. b4 Be5 30. Qd5 Qxf5 31. f4 exf3 32. Qxf3 Qg5 33. Qxf7 Qh4 34. g3 Bxg3 35. hxg3 Qxg3+ 36. Kh1 Qh3+ 37. Kg1 Qg3+ 1/2-1/2.
White: Samuel Shankland
Black: Sethuraman P Sethuraman
- d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 O-O 5. f3 d6 6. Nge2 Nc6 7. Be3 a6 8. Qd2 Rb8 9. Rc1 h5 10. Nd1 e5 11. d5 Ne7 12. g3 c6 13. Bg2 b5 14. b3 a5 15. O-O Ba6 16. Nb2 bxc4 17. bxc4 Rb4 18. Rc2 h4 19. Rfc1 hxg3 20. hxg3 Qb8 21. Nd3 Ra4 22. Rc3 Rc8 23. Bh3 Rc7 24. c5 cxd5 25. cxd6 Rxc3 26. Nxc3 Ra3 27. Bc5 Rxc3 28. Qxc3 dxe4 29. dxe7 exd3 30. Qxa5 Qb2 31. Rf1 Bb5 32. Be3 e4 33. a4 Bc6 34. fxe4 Qe2 35. Qd2 Nxe4 36. Qxe2 dxe2 37. Re1 Nc3 38. a5 Nd1 39. Bc5 Nc3 40. Bg2 1-0.