They are tired
In 1946, freshman at the Law School of the University of Amsterdam, Hein Donner went to Groningen at the Staunton Memorial. Student Donner was rarely seen in university auditoriums: captivated by chess, he sat in the chess cafes of Amsterdam from morning till night. And even played in January in Wijk aan Zee in this tournament – the third group C, gaining fifty percent of the points.
Donner knew that not only western, but also the strongest Soviet grandmasters arrived in Groningen, demonstrating, as everyone said, new, ultra-modern chess. And the most powerful of them is Mikhail Botvinnik.
“I don’t remember how I got to the hall where the tournament was played,” Donner recalled thirty years later, “only a huge space remained in the memory, in the center of which they were sitting. THEY ARE! GIANTS !! Demigods !!! In utter silence, they thought over their fantastic, inaccessible to mere mortal plans. It took ages until I dared to consider them properly. The first person I recognized was American Denker. The white-toothed giant was about three and a half meters tall.
Then I noticed Euwe. Once he honored me in Amsterdam with a short conversation, which confused me incredibly. And not so much by his friendliness, as by the fact that the celestial came down from the sky-high peaks to descend to such a miserable little game.
And suddenly I saw BOTVINNIK! Perhaps he was lower than the others, no more than 2.75 meters, with a stone face and eyes hidden behind the eyepieces of glasses. The deepest thoughts plowed his forehead. Yes, HE stood there. GIANT UNKNOWN GOOD! ”
And so on, all in the same style very characteristic of the Dutch grandmaster.
At a tournament in Groningen, chess for the first time after the war got the opportunity to see firsthand the best of the best. Then the January Hoogen Tournaments (now Tata) began to take place in Wijk aan Zee. Only much later did the fall Interpolis tournaments appear in Tilburg. But all over the world tournaments of this caliber were then once or twice and miscalculated.
Now is a different time. From the number of competitions (including at the highest level) ripples in the eyes. Chess giants today work non-stop, like on a conveyor belt, flying from continent to continent and from one tournament to another. But such a schedule of performances has obvious consequences. When the author watched online the games of one of such recent tournaments in St. Louis, his memory took him to the distant past.
In the bathhouse on Nekrasov Street in St. Petersburg, where I went as a teenager, one could see the most outlandish tattoos. Today, the presence of a tattoo is an ordinary occurrence. And they are so common among athletes that their absence is most striking. It was different in the days of my youth. Holders of tattoos either belonged to the naval fraternity, or to the thieves, often just to the underworld. I remember the tattoo of a middle-aged man, busily pouring water from a basin that was vacated on a stone seat. The tattoo on his feet read: THEY ARE TIRED.
They are tired. The participants in these tournaments are tired. This was especially noticeable at the beginning and in the middle of the competition in St. Louis, when most of the games ended peacefully, and this result could be predicted long before the fortieth move. The game of many grandmasters made a forced impression. Is it amazing? The day before yesterday – Abidjan, Moscow and Zagreb, yesterday – Paris, then Riga, St. Louis, but Calcutta, Hamburg, Tel Aviv are still to come … Grand Prix tournaments overlap Grand Chess Tour tournaments. And what is the current World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk? And the tournament on the Isle of Man that begins almost immediately after it? And what about the various team and show competitions? One tournament replaces another, and to say that the schedule of their performances is full, to say nothing.
Mikhail Botvinnik, the genius of preparation and self-programming, argued that you should go to the next game as a holiday, and approach each new tournament with a sense of renewal and freshness. Today’s elite simply does not have time for rest and full preparation. What freshness, here only to get away from the jet! And then again on the road, in order to see the opponent for the fifty-sixth time, with whom he played a few days ago, albeit on another continent.
Today’s chess, of course, differs from the chess of the Botvinnik era: the computer helps in obtaining information, in analysis, and in preparing for the game. But after all, not robots are still fighting over the board, but people who are just as tired, also experiencing physical and psychological stress, and whose body needs to be restored in the same way.
“We, experienced matadors, snuggle up to the bull when the horns have passed, and it seems to the public that we are putting our lives in danger,” Boris Spassky used to say, exchanging sixty.
I often recall the words of the tenth world champion when I follow the flow of games in these tournaments. Their participants are reminiscent of a circus tent moving from city to city, and even the audience sees that often they simply imitate the struggle.