I know, I know. Oxymoronic construction. But if you’re into it, earlier this month there was an achievement of historical proportions in the Sinquefield Cup tournament played in St. Louis in late August through early September. By the way, St. Louis has become the center of American chess and is home to the World Chess Hall of Fame. Who knew?
I would say that it was a feat comparable to Joe Dimaggio’s 56 game hitting streak. But “…one grandmaster, in complete earnestness, likened it to pitching 100 straight innings of no-hit baseball…” according to Seth Stevenson in his article for Slate. Here’s what happened. The tournament field was made up of six of the top ten players in the world including number one, Magnus Carlsen, who is probably the only grandmaster to ever sign a modeling contract. But that’s not the feat I’m speaking of. Fabiano Caruana a 22 year old American from Brooklyn, ranked number 3 in the world, started out the 10 game round robin tournament with seven straight victories. In light of the fact that a grandmaster can usually figure out how to wrangle a draw if he gets in trouble and that his victims included Carlsen and that the World Champ finished second with a recored of 2-1-7, this is a spectacular feat. The upstart cooled off in the second half of the tournament and finished 7-0-3, giving him the highest tournament rating of all time. He also moved up to number 2 in the world.
Of course you’ve already seen this news splashed across the nigh time news and through his appearances on all the late night talk shows. Oh, you haven’t? Because of course it didn’t happen. Let’s take a poll, raise your hands if given the choice you’d rather watch grass grow than watch a chess match. I thought so. Watching a chess game is pretty much watching two guys sitting in chairs staring at the board with looks of intense concentration.
Plus, it’s nearly impossible for anyone other than another GM to figure out what the hell is even going on. I play chess. I always have a couple of correspondence games going on line at Chess.com. I would be wildly exaggerating my skill if I said I was a mediocre player. My ranking is around 1300 online. That’s probably comparable to a golf handicap of 20, maybe more. Who knows? I don’t even play golf. A GM is more than twice that and the difference in rating points is like the Richter Scale, the skill level probably doubles for every 100 points. I could play a GM a thousand times and never come close to winning unless he knocked his king over as he collapsed from boredom.
Another thing that I found amusing about Stevenson’s article was the disfunction in the FIDE, the world governing body of chess. Remember all the ruckus about FIFA during the World Cup? Those guys have nothing on FIDE. Now it makes sense that the president of FIFA is a Russian, given the countries century old dominance of the game. And no one would probably be surprised that there might be some back room shenanigans going on to bring the world title back to Russia. That’s just run of the mill corruption. But this guy, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the president, is something else. And that something else is a wack job. He claims to have been abducted by yellow suited aliens and that the game was invented by aliens. He also firmly believes that there is a secret code embedded in chess, siting the fact that there are 64 squares on a chessboard and 65 codons in human DNA. By the way he’s a pal of Vladimir Putin. I’ll bet that makes you feel safer.
And just remember, a pig on the seventh is a good thing.