Saturday, December 10, 2016

Chess: A State of Mind (1986)

This BBC documentary was made just after Garry Kasparov won the world title, which he was to hold until the year 2000.

Many of the people interviewed here - Bobby Fischer, Viktor Korchnoi, Bent Larsen and the first British grandmaster Tony Miles - have since died.

Michael Stean had already retired from chess by the time it was made and Boris Spassky is now an old, old man.

Chess: A State of Mind also offers unexpected treats in the shape of a glimpse of an 11-year-old Nigel Short and of Ray Keene jogging.

One quibble... Bobby Fischer certainly was an oddball, but he did not take part in the 1965 Capablanca Memorial Tournament by telex out of eccentricity. He did so because the US government would not allow him to travel.

And I am not sure Korchnoi is right when he says you have to hate your opponent to play well.

Because the best chess he played during the time when he was Karpov's closest rival was in a match against Spassky, whom he liked and respected. He seemed to relax and the moves just flowed from him.

Finally, a word in defence of Anatoly Karpov. Yes, Korchnoi and Spassky mock him here, but for the decade before this film was made he had clearly been the world's best player.

Then a serious rival arose in the shape of Garry Kasparov, who would be many people's choice as the strongest chess player ever. Yes, he took Karpov's title, but over the course of five matches Karpov all but matched him.

You sense the current world champion, Magnus Carlsen, also needs a great rival to make him lift his game. At present he gives the impression that he always does just enough to win but no more.

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