Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Inner Game

This account of the 1993 world championship match between Kasparov and British challenger, Nigel Short, makes a great companion to Fred Waitzkin’s Mortal Games, which describes the 1990 match between Kasparov and Karpov. Where Waitzkin writes as an insider to the Kasparov camp, this book comes from the opponent's side.

It begins with Short’s qualifying victories against Gelfand, Karpov, and Timman, then describes in intimate detail each of the 20 games of the match with Kasparov. Though the champion retained his title with a decisive score of 12½ to 7½, the contest was far from dull. “Unlike almost all previous world championship matches, every game had been fought, as Kasparov himself put it, ‘to the last pawn.’”

Some highlights:

Game 1 – Short, ahead by a pawn, refused the offer of a draw mere seconds before running out of time.

Game 2 – Short playing white ”let slip the one clear winning opportunity...and the position ebbed away toward a draw.” Short said afterward, “I can tell you, he was frightened. When I doubled my rooks against his king I smelt it.”

Game 3 – “Its climactic moments were of a complexity and ferocity that reduced the gasps of astonishment.”

Game 4 – Short unveiled “an unexploded bomb from Kavalek’s work as Bobby Fischer’s coach in the 1972 match against Spassky.” For the second time he refused a draw and lost the game.

Game 5 – “Short, armed with a brilliant new concept in the Nimzovitsch defence, had achieved a draw using only twelve minutes, while Kasparov had sweated at the board for one and a half hours.”

Game 6 – Early in the game Short played a move so surprising that American champion Patrick Wolff literally fell off his chair. Kasparov appeared to have the advantage but had eventually bluffed his way out of defeat to a draw. “The audience burst into thunderous applause.”

Game 8 - After an “improbably violent sequence of moves” Short had a winning position but was pressed for time and Kasparov was able to gain a draw by perpetual check. “A standing ovation.”

Game 10 – Short dug himself out of a hole with a queen sacrifice, then missed the win because once again he was pressed for time and had to offer a draw. From this point on (i.e. the last 11 games of the match) Short and Kasparov were exactly even with one win and nine draws each.

Game 14 – Kasparov again bluffed his way to a draw. “I had suffered enough in this game. It was very unpleasant for me. I was losing at one point. A draw is not a bad result.”

Game 16 – Kasparov’s “pawn structure looked as though it had contracted dry rot.” Short’s only win of the match.

Game 17 – Short employed a “very well-camouflaged trick, resting on a spectacular geometric sequence of moves which was particularly hard for the human eye to anticipate, but, once seen, was completely obvious, and, somehow, very funny.” Short refused Kasparov’s offer of a draw and played on for another hour “while I still had some chances to torture him.”

The Inner Game

The book's title refers to the psychological aspect of chess which, in a world championship match, is 90% of the game according to one GM quoted in the book. Here's an example:

Kasparov...developed the intimidating stare into something approaching an art form. His technique differs from that of his Soviet predecessors. While Tal specialized in straightforward aggression, and Karpov in "look no hands" brain-scans, Kasparov's gaze is designed to humiliate.

The best example, or rather the worst, that I actually witnessed was during the eleventh game of his 1987 world championship match against old snake-eyes himself, Anatoly Karpov. Karpov fell for a sinister little one-move trap which allowed Kasparov to turn a terrible position into a winning one. When Karpov fell into it, Kasparov could have flashed out his prepared winning reply. But he did not. Instead he gazed across the board with undisguised contempt.

At that moment Karpov must have realized what he had done: his right hand, which was writing down his own last move, suddenly froze in mid-hieroglyphic. Kasparov, savouring the moment, slowly lifted his own right hand from the table, and with a sweeping gesture, like a matador putting on a cape, played the killing reply. He then sat and stared at Karpov, while clapping his now free right hand over his mouth, as if to stifle a giggle.

Unfortunately for Kasparov such tactics would not be available to him a few years later in his match against a steelier opponent, Deep Blue.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Corvette Navy

True Stories from Canada's Atlantic War

This is a collection of anecdotes and observations about the Battle of the Atlantic, most of which the author spent on the "triangle run," escorting merchantmen between Halifax, New York, and a meeting point south of Newfoundland.

Corvettes were scrappy vessels, the waist of the main deck only a foot or two above water. When at sea they were "semi-submerged," yet able to survive violent storms that sank larger vessels. "Theirs was the immunity of the cork..."

Initially regarded as a stop-gap measure and "unworthy of commands for Canada's few, and precious, trained naval officers," who were sent ashore to await the completion of more powerful vessels, corvettes were crewed by kids straight out of high school and commanded by naval reservists.

But a funny thing happened to the regular navy while it waited for the Big Ships that were to fight the Big Battle. For as the years wore on, it became clear that the little battle, the U-boat thing, was in fact the Big Battle after all, and the little ships that were fighting it were all that were going to matter.


The "stories" in this memoir are not discrete tales with a beginning and an end. Rather, the 13 chapters are organized thematically with titles like "Characters" and "Ports of Call." In them you'll find:

A beloved groundhog mascot who was "as sea-wise as any shell-backed sailor."

A one-eyed chap with a pocketful of glass eyes, which he changed periodically when drinking, each one becoming more and more bloodshot.

A "short-arm inspection" during which sailors were ordered to peel back their foreskins "with a click."

A rather astonishing account of a Walrus (an ungainly amphibious biplane) being catapulted from the deck of a British battleship.

A ship in St. John's harbour that had been torpedoed at the waterline, leaving such cavernous holes that motorboats were able to take a shortcut through the ship.

A man who died at his post of exhaustion (naval genius Frederic John Walker), and brief descriptions of many more ghastly ways to die at sea.

The Corvette Navy was first published in 2000, and such was its popularity that it is now in its third edition.

The Last Corvette

The book cover reproduces a painting called "Ready, Aye, Ready," by Yves Berube of Lunenburg. The corvette shown is the HMCS Sackville, the last of its kind. It is docked at the Halifax waterfront and open to visitors in the summer.