The Sean Marsh
A Return To The Bog Standard
The recent World Championship reunification match may have finally created an undisputed champion for the first time in 16 years but the fact remains that it came mighty close to setting the chess world back even more.
Believe it or not, controversy is nothing new to World Chess Championship and there have been several potential cancellations over the years.
The first of the famous Karpov - Kasparov title bouts was called off after 48 games for a number of reasons (not all of them in the public domain, methinks) but none of them concerned toilets. Korchnoy walked out midway through his 1978 match with Karpov but came back and almost won. Spassky could have easily won against Fischer in 1972 if he hadn’t been such a gentleman (or too confident…?). Before that, one has to go back to the 1921 Lasker - Capablanca match, which Lasker resigned before the regulation number of wins had been notched up. Lasker didn’t want to play anyway, and had already resigned his title to the Cuban some time before they sat down to play.
Topalov and Kramnik (or their managers and teams) fell out over the use of a private toilet. Kramnik even defaulted a game as the arguments raged. Only desperate actions and lengthy meetings saved the match.
The closest thing to this particular fiasco came at the 1977 Candidates’ Final between Spassky and Korchnoy. Spassky, the last line of Soviet defence trying to stop the dreaded defector from reaching Karpov, started the match very badly but produced a number of tricks designed to distract his opponent. Spassky created the habit of retreating to his rest room and only coming out to play his moves before dashing back again. He had sight of a demonstration board and used it to analyse as the games went on. Korchnoy promptly hit a bad run of form and to try and reverse the trend he decided to copy Spassky’s antics. The audience must have felt bemused and somewhat cheated as the only glimpse of live Candidates they witnessed was when one of them dashed in or out of his rest room. Korchnoy lost four games in a row and it was only when he reverted to normal methods that he was able to clinch the match.
Controversy and rumours are rife regarding what was said behind closed doors as the Kramnik - Topalov saga raged on.
Perhaps the discussions went along lines such as these…
FIDE President Ilyumzhinov: Gentleman, gentlemen…let us try and solve the problem, put all the differences behind us and continue this vital match. Vladimir, please tell me….what prompted you to resort to such childish behaviour?
Kramnik: (Points to Topalov) Ask him - he started it.
Silence for some moments. And then…
Kramnik: We are perpetually kept in the dark over the machinations FIDE. We keep hearing that the highly respected chess diplomat Bessel Kok is to be elected, or at least taken on in an advisory capacity. Yet time and again such talk comes to nothing.
FIDE President Ilyumzhinov: Do you really think that if Bessel was here he could solve the problem of the overabundant toilet trips?
Kramnik: But it’s confusing. It seems one minute it’s ‘Kok in’ and the next it’s ‘Kok out‘.
Topalov: That’s precisely the problem!
FIDE President Ilyumzhinov: Gentlemen, we must all be prepared to make concessions if the match is to continue. Vladimir, tell me…what is the main sticking point for you?
Kramnik: Without question - the matter of the defaulted game. I cannot be expected to play on this match having missed a White game.
FIDE President Ilyumzhinov: Would you willing to play the game in lieu?**
Topalov: Whose side are you on!?
FIDE President Ilyumzhinov: Wait - I have the answer! All you need to do is ensure that the match is tied after 12 games. It doesn’t matter how you do it; contrive to blunder, stick to the Slav to make rehearsals - err, I mean preparation - easier…anything you like, but just make sure we can get to the play-offs. As you know, they will be Rapidplay games. Then we can unlock the toilet door, safe in the knowledge that nobody can spend too long in there. Everyone’s happy!
Topalov: Well, I suppose we have an even chance then…
Kramnik: And I suppose I could always sue FIDE if I end up losing after all…ok, we can do this!
FIDE President Ilyumzhinov: Then all I can say is – take a few days off and then carry on, at your convenience!
(At this point, Kramnik stood up to leave, but appeared to be in pain as he made slowly to the door.)
FIDE President Ilyumzhinov: Vladimir, you seem to be in some discomfort! I think it must be your arthritic condition playing up again.
Kramnik: No, I’m afraid to say you are wrong.
Topalov: Perhaps all this sitting around has brought on that terrible curse of the chess player - the cramp?
Kramnik: No, I’m afraid to say you are wrong also.
FIDE President Ilyumzhinov: Then tell us Vladimir…what exactly is the problem?
Kramnik: Well, let’s just say…all this time and my toilet is till locked….hmmm…I thought I was going to break wind, and I’m afraid I was wrong!’
…and with that, the World Champion shuffled gingerly out of the meeting…
…But then again, perhaps it never happened like that at all…
(** In the interests of honesty, I have to say that this particular pun is courtesy of my sister. Honesty…and the fact that it’s Christmas soon…)