Nigel Short in New in Chess (being opiniated)

Nigel Short is one of the greatest characters in the Chess World as well as one of the truly great players of the last 20 years. On top of this his writing has at times been some of the best seen in chess. First for various newspapers and more recently with always interesting and thought-provoking columns in New in Chess Magazine.

I am actually such a great fan of Nigel that I asked him to be the patron for the chess club I run at Fettes College in Edinburgh, the Nigel Short Chess Society. In the near future I hope that he will come to give simuls and lectures in Scotland, partly sponsored by QC.

One great thing about Nigel is that he does not seek agreement or appeasement. I am continuously frustrated by the way people take personal offence, just because you inform them that their opinions are rubbish! Nigel does not belong to this camp, as you can see through the way he writes about friends and foes alike, criticising what he finds worthy of criticism wherever he finds it.

However, I have taken objection with a few of his “Short stories” columns in New in Chess. One had nothing to do with me, but was distasteful in my opinion, while the most recent one actually mentions me by name, although I have to add, as a positive! Still I feel it allows me to comment on it.

The article is a mix of oldie goldies from Nigel, about British Chess and so on, with an added bit about the referendum. It is also full of plain nonsense.

First of all, there is something particularly funny about a citizen of Athens, Greece, commenting on the actions of a Londoner’s (Jonathan Rowson) actions during the Scottish referendum. I would have preferred that both of them stayed the f… away, since they have chosen not to suffer the consequences of an independent Scotland. Probably Nigel and I are on the same side there.

We are also on the same side when it comes to the odd situation of British Chess having five (5!) Olympiad Teams and federations. It is the way things turned out, is the only real argumentation for it. But it is certainly not the fact that Scotland sends GMs to the Olympiad that drags the level down there. Nigel’s old view is that he would have liked Rowson in his team and to have played for Scotland. But in identity, Nigel is British and Jonathan Scottish. Funny that, the English who took over the Scots feel we are one land, while the Scots see it in a more dualistic light.

My real objection comes when Nigel displays his inability to do research. He misspells the name of our First Minister Alex Salmond (pronounced, not spelled Alec), he claims Scotland is not a Nation, displaying a lack of understanding between the difference of a nation and a nation state. Add to this low-blow insinuations that the Scottish players are jealous of the English prizes at the British Championship, without actually talking to us about the history behind the departure from the tournament after 2007 of all top Scottish players (by no agreement between us). Finally, a completely underfunded Commenwealth Championship in Glasgow is criticised for not inviting enough English players, when in reality hardly anyone of any nation were invited. If you go back to previous Scottish Championships, you can see a plethora of English players. I feel a need to defend Alex McFarlane here (yes, pronounced Alec), who works for no money organising and arbiting at both the Scottish and British Championships to the benefit of myself, Nigel and many strong players from all of Britain.

I am tempted to say that it goes on and on, but luckily the article is only two pages. But this does not free it from its main crime. It is slightly boring and not up to usual standards, as anyone can see if they go to previous issues. And in reality, this is the only crime that matters – and I am sure – the only criticism Nigel could ever feel worthy of taken personal. Maybe he will review one of my books in a future issue, immolating me with his withering wit?

57 thoughts on “Nigel Short in New in Chess (being opiniated)”

  1. Well, it is clear that Nigel should probably stay with chess and not write about things he is not so well informed.

  2. I think Jacob has missed my main point completely with his remarks on the British and Commonwealth Championship, but I am not going to enter a lengthy argument here: he is entitled to his opinion. Several other people have complimented me on the article, so it is clear there is nothing like a consensus. I am happy that the issues are being discussed.
    Incidentally, when New in Chess conducted an extensive online poll last year, they discovered I was simultaneously the most popular and unpopular writer in the magazine. That’s absolutely fine by me.

  3. Sorry in advance for my english ; I enjoy your column very much. It is a pleasure to read witty, opinionated, often well-researched papers liker yours. It is uneven, though : I have been appalled by the column dealing with religious beliefs, as I could not imagine such an obviously clever person as you could be content with those binary thoughts (“atheism is rational, uh ; faith is unrational, which means idiotic, uh ; another beer, please”).

    That only means that we all have our bad days πŸ˜‰

  4. Do not make fun of religion. It is based on ever-lasting truths that change their origin and explanation for every scientific discovery.

  5. @Nigel Short
    I actually think it would be great if you would explain the point of the article, because, yes, I did not feel it was making a coherent point.

    The only thing I got to was that the British Chess Scene was divided. It was insinuated that it was the fault of the Scots somehow, or not. It really was not clear enough.

    Some of the stuff was pretty poor though:
    As the main one who was fucked over by the ECF I do find it bizarre to refer to “jealousy” as the reason why Scottish players do not want to play in a British Championship where all conditions and most prices were exclusively for English players, while it is some sort of Anti-English racism when there is no funding of the Commonwealth in 2014, after year upon year where lots of English Grandmasters have played under equal conditions in the Scottish Championships. The sore healed years ago and does not itch, but I do remember where my ambitions in chess died and who killed them. So it does offend when Alex MacFarlane is indirectly slandered after all his great efforts. He did not deserve that and I hope he does not hear of this article.

  6. @Jacob Aagaard
    Which religion are you referring too? There are so many religions that they can’t all be based on everlasting truths, given the fact that many of these ‘truths’ are contradicting each other. Anyway, of course everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, as long as me being an atheist is also respected.

  7. Pierre :
    Sorry in advance for my english ; I enjoy your column very much. It is a pleasure to read witty, opinionated, often well-researched papers liker yours. It is uneven, though : I have been appalled by the column dealing with religious beliefs, as I could not imagine such an obviously clever person as you could be content with those binary thoughts (β€œatheism is rational, uh ; faith is unrational, which means idiotic, uh ; another beer, please”).
    That only means that we all have our bad days

    I actually though the article about religious beliefs was great! Another great and highly controversial one was the one telling us about chess players adventures with young ladies in exotic countries during tournaments, gold stuff!

  8. And yeah, Nigel is definitely my favorite columnist at New In Chess. Also the best live commentator during chess events imo.

  9. I will quote the most contentious section, although one will have to read the whole article for the context:

    “A lack of co-ordination was also responsible for the dearth of English players at the Commonwealth Championship in Glasgow this year. And the Scots have been miffed for a while that financial conditions are not available to their players at the British Championship. These antagonisms and petty jealousies serve no one’s interest.”

    The essence of my argument is as follows: an intellectually flawed decision was made by FIDE in 1932 to allow Scotland to be become a member. This was particularly so when the BCF was already a member. FIDE has, in effect subsequently acknowledged its error by , but not corrected it, by, in the 1970s changing the regulations to the status quo ante. However those federations that were erroneously admitted in the intervening 30+ years have been allowed to remain. Hence the current anomaly.
    I have stated clearly that the lack of a national federation serves no one’s interest in Britain and I gave some of the reasons for it. The examples I mentioned above were in no way intended to apportion blame, and it is simply false to ascribe to me the motives that you do. I was not, in way, judging the rights or wrongs of the above issues. My position is essentially much simpler: it is inevitable that there will be misunderstandings, resentments and/or jealousies when you have two (or more) separate federations within the same country (the UK). Some people will take the (not unreasonable) view that why the hell the hell should we bother supporting people who have nothing to do with our federation? Others will take a liberal, fraternal view of relations between fellow British citizens. Basically, there are bound to be serious disagreements sooner or later. This situation is certainly not good for England and I don’t believe it is good for Scotland either.
    I will leave it here, because I could also take you up on your pedantic point on nations and nation-states. In focusing narrowly on semantics, you are ignoring the wider issue altogether. But that is for another day…

  10. I might add that you are in the company of a deeply obsessive former psychiatric patient in writing a whole article and describing my “Braveheart” piece as “boring”. So boring. apparently, that people cannot stop discussing it…

  11. @Nigel Short Would you please do more online commentary? I thought your commentary (alongside Lawrence Trent) at the London FIDE Candidates tournament a couple years was one of the best. Also your commentary with Dirk Jan at Norway Chess was great too!

  12. Thanks James. I enjoy commentary and would be glad to do plenty more. Unfortunately I don’t think I am going to get too much work at FIDE events, but at least there are other options…

  13. Nigel, for someone who litter criticism freely everywhere, you do take offense quite quickly it seems, despite all the positive things I said, and the fact that I said that I agreed with the overall frustration with the state of chess in Britain. But throwing epithets. Really?

    The mistake of nation and nation state is really important though (and you have committed it before): There are peoples divided into several countries (Germany/Austria, Moldova/Romania and so on) and there are countries that connect several peoples, like the UK or Spain. There is commonly a tendency for the majority parts in such unions (English, Castiles) to see everyone as the same (British, Spanish), while the majorities do not see it this way. When you cannot see the difference between a state and a nation, you say that you cannot see the difference between the English and the Scottish or that you really believe there is none. Seen from Scotland, I can tell you that this is not the way the “Scotoriginals” see it. Not at all. And they voted in a great majority for this foul idea of independence, while the rest of us voted overwhelmingly against. Understanding of the Scottish Nation is seriously lacking in England and this is a part of the division.

    So, insinuations, of jealousy and psychosis are laughed off, but the article was still old complaints mixed in with a low knowledge of the recent history of chess on the British isles and, it seems, Scotland in general.

  14. @Nigel Short
    As even Bobby Fischer remarked, Nigel “can say whatever he wants”. I enjoy his column in New in Chess, as I did his earlier one in the Telegraph, and his commentary, and his various forum contributions. Even on the latter, I thought his contributions on the World Senior were illuminating, showing the difference in drive between someone who has played a match for the world championship, one of only 2 people (I think) to beat Karpov in a match, and a 2450 GM in the world seniors.

    One thing I’ve always wondered -somewhat related to this Scottish column- is what a Lancastrian (using his description from a tweet) like Nigel makes of Greater Manchester as a chess county. If one looks at football (eg Manchester United are memebers of the Lancashire football association) or cricket (Lancashire County Cricket Club), the concept of Greater Manchester as a sporting county does not seem to exist – only in chess. And one does not really see “new county” metropolitan associations elsewhere – eg there is no “Greater London” chess federation competing in county chess.

  15. Gilchrist is a Legend

    I am no historian, but I think that Greater Manchester only started in 1974, after Manchester were split from the rest of Lancashire due to size of the area, as well as Liverpool, which also in 1974 was split into Merseyside, otherwise Lancashire would have still encompassed both places. So it is a bit different, since 1974 is the year that the restructure happened. This is different to the UK as a whole though. I have lived in Manchester, and the “correct” county on addresses and post is “Greater Manchester”, but often I have had post with the address showing “Manchester, Lancashire”. Apparently some still are not used to the changes or still forget.

  16. @Jacob I am not going to get into a punch-up with you, because I both like you and respect you too much (the same is true of Dr Rowson, by the way). Of course, people in Scotland feel differently from inhabitants of Middlesex. The same is also true of people in the north of England (where I am from), I might add. There is a strong sense of local identity and, rightly or wrongly, northerners also feel that there is a southern (Westminster?) bias in many areas. That doesn’t mean the country ought to break up – just that these concerns are both heard and addressed.
    And I am sorry to repeat, but your point about nation or nation-states really is pedantic. It is absolutely clear what is the intention of the FIDE statutes, and that is also exactly why Scotland does not have an independent voice in the United Nations. Why have the same passports: why should we have different federations on the international stage? It is not as though the UK is the only country in the world with a unique history. The same principles should apply to all. If you want me to concede some minor point about my slightly imprecise usage I will do so. But honestly you are starting to sound like Stewart Reuben who once took me to task for incorrectly describing Jersey and Guernsey as being part of the UK. He has been crowing about winning that schoolboy debating point ever since, but still cannot explain why British Crown Possessions should have their own federations – which of course would open the floodgates if the same principles were applied elsewhere.
    Incidentally, despite the somewhat provocative tone of my article, I am not at all anti-Scottish. I would love to see a thriving chess community there. Hopefully, I am allowed to be deeply upset by the referendum: I think there is something profoundly wrong when a country of 64 million could possibly have lost 32% of its territory by the votes of c.2 million. My entire family, who are of very different political persuasions (mostly left-wing, if they have an interest at all) rejoiced as one when the final result came in. The Scots nationalists may have made the most noise, but they were not the only ones, in the British Isles, with a stake in the outcome.

  17. @Paul
    Thanks. It was very clear that my thoughts were not at all appreciated by the vast majority of people. As Matthew Sadler said, a player sometimes has the choice whether to go for it and move to the next level, or stay where he is. Keith chose to stay where he is.

  18. @Paul I tend to think of myself as a Lancastrian, although the county of my birth is officially Greater Manchester. However I regard the infamous court case brought by some Lancastrians, against the creation of the (chess) county of Greater Manchester, as a ridiculous waste of time and money. I must say that I never understood the rivalry/animosity between Lancashire and Yorkshire either. I think these two great counties have far more in common than they have separating them.

  19. @Nigel Short I think the rivalry between Lancashire and Yorkshire dates back to the War of the Roses. The Tudor Dynasty helped to bring the two houses together to an extent but the rivalry will always be there. I’m referring to the general historical rivalry, no idea what the chess rivalry is like between the 2 counties.

  20. @Nigel Short
    I tried to explain why the point was far more than pedantry, but OK, you don’t win them all :-).

    What I do like about Nigel’s articles and other writings is the way that he disagrees with opinions in a time where people are incredibly loyal to their friends and will defend any old rubbish. I really feel something has been lost overall in the ability to be friends and disagree about something.

    So, not repeating any points, I think I will turn on C24 and consider this debate closed…

  21. Reply to ‘Paul’: The fact that Nigel Short has historically been a much stronger player than me doesn’t mean he has a stronger ‘drive’ than I have.

    And Nigel, if gaining 55 rating points in the last 4 months of a year in which I became European Senior Champion and tied for 1st in the World Senior( later getting silver on a random tie-break) is not ‘going up a level’ then I think you must be overestimating the level I was at before this year.

  22. To clarify, I don’t thing that Nigel’s quote by Sadler refers to me, but is a very wise generality. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to Matthew lately, particularly about senior chess.

    He is a lovely guy and has been incredibly supportive about my achievements this year. Just take a look at his awesome blogs! Of course, there is a long way to go for me, as I anticipate that the World seniors will get stronger each year.

    If Nigel Short’s comments are meant constructively then I thank him and hope to come back stronger next year, and take it as a complement that he ( from his lofted position in the chess world) judges that perhaps I could have done better than 1st outright in the European Seniors, followed by ( from a chess point of view) 1st = in the World seniors.

  23. Allow me to gush. How exciting to have two GMs for whom I have profound respect engaged in a civil and gentlemanly exchange here. I, too, have enjoyed Mr Short’s witty and insightful commentary, and I hope he does more of it. I am always surprised, as a low level patzer who came to chess in middle age, that when I investigate a certain problematic line that when I find (or am sent) a game with a sympathetic solution, the player is often Nigel Short and the line is associated with him. Often these solutions have an impressive mix of strategic logic and vision, and flexible creativity (the logic inherent in the position, e.g., the Short variation in the Advance line of the Caro-Kann, or certain long castling lines as black in the French Advance as in Khalifman-Short, 2001.) My son is a “fresher” at the U of Edinburgh and we followed the Scottish vote with great interest (I as an Anglophile with mostly English and Scottish blood). It was difficult to decide the issue on the merits. I certainly can understand the emotional appeal for the Scots, and unlike Mr Short, as a far left winger I liked the idea of embarking on a more communitarian path free from the influence of the City bankers. On the other hand, there didn’t seem to be a plan with a clear vision of concrete issues, e.g., health care, currency, etc.. There is an emotive appeal on the other side—regimental histories and military ties, shared experience over all of these centuries. I concluded that it would be easier to stay in (less disruptive of daily life), but I would not have found the other path unacceptable. There was some discussion of this long ago in the 80s when I was a student at Cambridge, but then, Scotland was too economically dependent to entertain such thoughts—North Sea oil revenues changed that.

  24. @Mark Moorman
    I think I probably never said this clearly enough. When you try to write about big issues, you run a risk of getting things wrong. Which only means you need to keep trying.

    QC does not have an official political opinion. We vote for more or less all parties, I think. However, to me personally, it seems odd that the SNP has managed to brand themselves as a left-wing party, while slashing schools, colleges, the NHS and providing tax cuts. But if they had even more absolute power, who knows, maybe they would be left wing at last?

  25. Well, I was unaware of those particular facts. Thank you for apprising me of them. I did sign up for a series of online lectures and debates put on by the U of E to hear both sides of the issue and I did read a good bit of a book about the issue that I stumbled across in London in May. So, the SNP may well be hypocritical—I guess I was just speaking of a general trajectory of a people—more along the lines of Scandinavian social democracy and less like the Thatcher/ Reagan policies.

  26. @Mark Moorman
    Being from Denmark I can assure you that you do not want what they have. More bureaucrats? Why? Welfare, hospitals, roads, schools and so on are not essentially better. Obviously we can make a better society, but I think we are doing so every year, no matter which government we have actually. I am personally a bit scared of a Tory/Ukip coalition. It could be destructive, but generally our country works quite well.

  27. I am well aware from past experience that we do not want to get TOO political here. I have a longstanding relationship with Denmark since 1977. I have spent A LOT of time there and have a lot of close Danish friends (including the best man at my wedding). I think it is, for me, a matter of perspective, or where one is sitting. So, on this side of the Atlantic, living with the aftermath of Reagan in a “bootstraps society” — a “battle of all against all” with little value placed on community, mercy, and fairness—I can see the virtues of Denmark and Sweden. When over there I do see some excesses of control, taxation, and “nanny state-dom” that need reform. However, I do not think this means a “meeting in the middle” I think the solution (if ever than can be one that is not itself in need of revision) lies more towards the Danish end of the spectrum. It is no accident that it is one of the happiest and most just nations on earth. A side point—isn’t it interesting that the more secular a nation is the more just and humane, and the more religion is still extant—the less just and more barbaric. (The aside points over to some remarks on religion in the Short thread). Now—THAT is s controversial as I am going to get on a CHESS forum.

  28. Yes, the Soviet Union was, and the Peoples’ Republic of China and North Korea still are, among the most just and humane nations ever seen on the face of the earth.

  29. @Mark Moorman

    Pointing to religion, indeed a side-point. Reminds me of the typical 1500 amateur blaming his losses to not castling a move earlier.

    And preferring one country over another, is a matter of taste and perception. Idolizing Scandinavian countries reminds me of Kotronias’s insightful forward comparing the Slav to the KID. Just look at predominant issues, so boring and trivial. I rather battle for my own happiness then realizing one day I have lived the happy life society has dictated.

  30. @Mark Moorman
    To call the Soviet Union or China, with their totalitarian systems for atheist is ludicrous. The basis of theism is that there are absolute truths that cannot be questioned, but just have to be believed. That there is a father figure that looks after you, but also has the right to burn you at will.

    Of course North Korea is a special case. The founder is still the president. Nekrocracy? Certainly not secular.

    To me there is more in common between those “atheist” countries and for example Iran, than there is in common with Denmark, the UK or the US. Anyone looking at this without an agenda would certainly agree?

    The argument is like saying that only facism and socialism exists and this is the debate, ignoring democracy and freedom as an option.

    The countries that are democratic and largely atheist in the World, are the societies with the least crime and the greater tolerance. They also largely have some sort of redistribution, public service, as well as a great amount of personal freedoms.

    Where you want to be in that spectrum is an individual choice and taste. I am personally more for the UK version. Others more for the DK versions. Clearly two ends of the spectrum.

    Btw. regarding Danes being the happiest people in the World. Yes, tests show this. It also shows that it lasts generations after they have moved to an entirely different place, like the US. It is genetics mainly, is the theory. In other words, the Danish welfare state, for its merits and faults, is not responsible either way.

  31. There is no sense in saying countries are atheist ; which is true, however, is that democratic countries are laic (hope this is the english word).

  32. @Jacob AAgaard You directed this at me and I did not mention those countries or make that comparison. A few points that I need to make.
    @ Many (1) Please nobody blame ME for this turning political, etc.. Please scroll up and see that religion and Scottish independence were in the thread long before I arrived. We got to “Scandinavian social democracy” because I raised one of the arguments mentioned in the online lectures and panels by the University of Edinburgh that argued that Scots (or barely most Scots) had a different vision of the kind of society they wanted. I mention this because I have been assaulted ad hominem here by right wing Americans who start by insulting Paul Krugman out of the blue—I chime in to defend AND THEN people turned and said: “I am here to talk chess!! Why is this guy allowed to post this stuff!” Unjust and incautious reading by those in charge here ended up with some unfairness to me so I left for many months. I am happy to do so again.
    (2) Stalinist derived states are not the kind of atheist, secular humanist Western societies I am talking about. I would argue they have a lot in common with religion, they have catholic values (I use that word not in reference to any particular religion). They make a religion of the state and a cult of the leader.
    (3) Surely, favoring certain nations is a matter of personal taste. Having lived on both sides of the Atlantic I prefer the European model and way of life (yes there is diversity in that continent). If you don’t fine. If you say that having never experienced life elsewhere I would say that you might be dogmatically nationalistic—a disease in the US—lazy self-love and unwarranted pride that springs from ignorance. Yes, it is your choice to so think.
    (3) My point was if we take the most humane and happy nations on earth, e.g. the Scandinavian nations, the Netherlands and such—religion is a cultural relic—venerated as such, that is the architecture of the Cathedral, or the triptych on the alter are valued, BUT only 4% of the people believe the metaphysics or practice the religion. The more religious a society the more unjust. This flies in the face of much religious dogma which holds that religion is somehow necessary for morality. I think religion renders moral action impossible. If you act from fear of hell or desire for heaven you are NOT acting from the love of your fellow man. Yes, THAT is a Christian idea—the cultural artifacts of Christianity have some living value. Socrates taught the love of wisdom, and Jesus the wisdom of love. We need both.
    (4) Finally a Rawlsian thought experiment. You have a baby you must give up for adoption. You can send it to Italy (still largely Roman catholic), the USA (chock full of born again Christians who somehow mix the Sermon on the Mount with a love of war and hatred of the poor), an Sweden. Your baby will face the odds present in the adopting nation. So, if 28% of Americans live in poverty, or the top 1% has 70% of the wealth—well you baby has a 28% chance at poverty. No rational person would choose any nation other than Sweden. You can put together France, germany, UK and as a unit if you think size is an issue. BTW—I was NOT arguing that there is a provable, necessary connection between secular humanism and human well being vis a vis religion. I simply was pointing to an interesting anecdotal appearance.
    Ok—-I a ready to leave again.

  33. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I have the feeling tha countries with totalitarian regimes tend to produce more good chess players per capita then democratic countries (and sportsmen in general), e.g. look at the Soviet Union before 1989 and China and Cuba at the moment. And in other sport, the former East Block countries like the DDR also excelled in (olympic) sports. Maybe it’s because they are on the top of Maslow’s pyramid and can therefore avoid to spend more time on self-actualisation πŸ™‚

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top