You don’t have to be a Grandmaster to cover chess championships for the media. But when reporters pretend to be one and start preaching to world champions, chess aficionados can be pushed to their wit’s end.
Yet, this is what I had been seeing in The Hindu during the recent championship in Chennai which saw Magnus Carlsen dethrone Viswanathan Anand.
One of its reports went like this: “It is not as if Carlsen’s game is without flaws. His openings are less than perfect; he may take quite some time before he could achieve the theoretical mastery of Anand or Garry Kasparov.”
Interesting that a journalist thought it fit to offer sermons to a world champion with the highest-ever rating for any player of any era!
Masters of Every Trick: That is the problem with journalists, they consider themselves masters of every trick there is and audaciously take upon themselves the right to write about anything under the sun with a degree of misplaced authority, even arrogance.
Having started my career as a journalist, though long ago, I still carry with me pleasant memories of not just the experience I gained but also valuable pieces of advice I received from my bosses.
Once my news editor told me that “just because journalists get to talk to and write about prime ministers and presidents they should not assume they are bigger than them.” There have been journalists who command respect, for their intellect and integrity, from the high and mighty. But they are a vanishing breed now.
Back to the chess coverage…
Sacrilege on Fischer: The reporter, while playing the game of adulation and singing the glory of Carlsen, seeks to run down someone who is arguably the greatest ever chess player. Here is how the report goes:
“Carlsen is playing at a level that we have not seen since Bobby Fischer, who didn’t possess the level-headedness that Carlsen has though. The American didn’t just lose his grip on the crown, but on his game and his mind as well. Fischer had the potential to dominate world chess for a long time after being crowned the World champion in 1972, but he didn’t even turn up to defend his title.”
The reporter is not raking up polemics with the above comments, he is merely betraying his ignorance, perhaps even idiocy.
First, Fischer did not lose his grip on the crown. He gave it up on principle! And it is not just that he did not turn up to defend his title. He declined to play on principle. He had put forth some conditions that the Federation did not accept. Fischer stood his ground and walked away from the game. But then principles are not something journalists stand up for!
And what the heck did the writer mean by saying that he (Fischer) lost his game and mind? He quit the game as a champion, not a loser! Fischer was a rebel, a maverick and temperamental known for throwing up tantrums during his world championship match against Spassky. But that does not make him a crackpot!
In another report in the same newspaper, it was argued that Fischer wanted to be at the top for 30 years but could not. When Fischer himself walked away from the limelight how could he have wanted to have a long reign!
Chess is a game that not every Tom, Dick and Harry journalist can cover. I am not saying this because it is too cerebral a game for journalists to ace. People who may not have ever picked up a tennis racquet can write eloquently for the media from the centre court in Wimbledon. Love for the game, a basic understanding of the rules that govern it, sharp writing skills and a good equation with the management can get you there.
Twenty years after he went into near seclusion, Fischer came out to play a repeat match against Spassky and won it – in embargoed Yugoslavia, something that led him to hop from one country to another with the U.S. constantly hounding him and being on his trail!