Keeping two thoughts in your head at the same time

I have tried to not be involved in the conflict that arose in the chess world due to Magnus Carlsen’s decision to pull out of the Sinquefield Cup this year. With Magnus giving so little explanation for his behaviour, I feel the shadow fell squarely into his corner. Hans Niemann was accused of cheating without a shred of credible evidence. And the way the accusation was put forth, made things even worse. Whatever the hidden facts Magnus implies being part to, this is not the right way to act. It is, however, the wrong way. He makes a terrible example for all his young fans. I am appalled by this.

That is one side. The other is that Hans Niemann has cheated in the past, and that his attitude towards winning suggests that he finds the possible punishment for cheating the main reason for not doing it. Short version: he does not come across as very sympathetic, and I would have understood if Carlsen had said that he did not want to play in a tournament against him. Because, cheating is a real threat to competitive chess, and professional players fight every day against the notion that this is something normal; something that happens on a regular basis. They fight it not only in public, but also in their minds. It is an easy road to take, to become suspicious of your opponents, and when you open that door, there are a thousand things that trigger your suspicion. There have been times when I left the breakfast table I shared with other grandmasters, due to the uncritical circulation of unfounded rumours of cheating. Although such idle talk is not as bad as cheating itself, I believe it paves the way for more cheaters. We risk ending up in a situation similar to the one the competitive cycling world found themselves in a few years back; where cheating became normal at the top, since many of the elite cyclists considered it to be normal and thought they would be unable to win unless they cheated too. (I am aware that this is a somewhat simplified version of the facts.) It is very hard to prove that someone cheats in chess (if they do not get too greedy), and banning those that do cheat is one of the few things we can do to discourage potential cheaters from not doing it. Still, there are also disadvantages to hard punishments, especially for youngsters who might be derailed for life almost before it began. I do not want that.

So, I too have my doubts about Hans Niemann, though my doubts have not become more serious after what Magnus said. That would be wrong. Niemann admitted to cheating as a teenager. Compared to me he is a kid, and there must be a place for change, growth and redemption for young people. I believe what he did was serious; perhaps more serious than he himself believes. I think it is wrong though refuse him a second chance based on a hunch, even if the hunch comes from a World Champion. (He insinuates that he knows something more, but his arguments are clearly hunches). New evidence could change the way we look at things, but it will not change my opinion of how Carlsen dealt with it.

Being true to my idol, Egon Friedell, who being paradoxical, I will end with a game by the GOAT himself. At this moment in history, I clearly prefer his games over his statements.

Don’t try this out at home

Öbro International started the day after Smuk GM ended. From where I live in Malmö, it is just about a 75 minute train trip to the part of Copenhagen where Öbro skakforening is situated, so I had decided to travel back and forth every day (and do some of my preparations on the train). The first round started quite late in the day, and I got a well deserved half-day off, spending the time, mostly, reading at my favourite café Söderberg & Sara. I felt like almost a new person when I arrived for the game.

Entrance to Öbro Skakforening

The first three rounds went better than I expected, with two wins with White (which I had not managed to do in more than ten games!), and in the fourth round I was paired with the lowest rated player in the tournemant, Mogens Thuesen. At some stage in the beginning of the game I did have a sizeable advantage, but Mogens consistently pushed to make things complicated, and managed to scare me enough, that I played it badly, and it was a miracle that I survived it all with a draw. I was not happy with my game, but perhaps, at that stage, I should have been more happy with the draw than I was unhappy with my play.

H.C. Andersen used to take a break under the sycamore outside the club.

The next day we played two games, and in the early round I played GM Eduardas Rozentalis, from Lithuania. It was not a bad game, if you look at it from the sidelines; it seems like I know what I am doing, and that I just loose track of the right way to continue around move 35. The reality of things were more that I did not make a single informed decision during the game, that every good move I played was played from pure luck, and that my positional intuition failed all the way. So, I lost that game. Now I faced one of the winners of Smuk GM, Kassa Korley, a player I know to be systematic and consistent. I knew that my only hope in this game was to press the chaos button, fast, and hope that my chaos-intuition would carry me through the game:

After scoring such a lucky win on top of my lucky draw in round 4, I was able to get myself together and finish with 7/9, which was enough to share the first prize with Eduardas Rozentalis.

The bar

Smuk GM, part 2

The tournament was, for most of the part, a race between Yuri Solodovnichenko, Sergei Ovesejevitsch, and Kassa Korely. I stayed at the same place as Kassa, and I know he was less than happy with his play in the beginning, but in the end he collected a few good wins. In the 6:th round he won a game against the Indian youngster Aarav Dengla in such a simple fashion that I just had to go through the game to understand what happened:

Smuk GM Skanderborg

I had an experimental summer, playing five tournaments in less than 2 months, and two days after arriving from Chennai I went to the idyllic town of Skanderborg to participate in a closed GM-tournament. I was perhaps not in my most inspired mood, and I tried to make the best of circumstances by studying new stuff and expanding my repertoire. We played at Skanderborg Kulturhus, a lovely venue overlooking the lake. During the one and a half month before I had only had a few hours at home with my piano, and I was starting to suffer from something close to abstinence. I am thankful that the organizer put in a good word for me so that I was allowed to practice on the Steinway (once owned by Mercer Ellington) that was sitting in the concert hall.

I spent hours at the piano, and got back some of my inspiration, although my attention to detail and focus never quite caught up. My game against Nicolai Vaesterbaek Pedersen was symptomatic for my tournament as a whole: