Nigel Short’s greatest moment of the Olympiad – a match-winning victory over China’s Li Chao – almost turned to disaster. He received an official warning, but not a forfeit, for refusing to undergo a security check during the game. In this interview with IM Dorsa Derakhshani, the former World Championship Challenger vents his fury at those behind some of the new anti-cheating regulations, commenting, “they are ruining the very beauty that is chess”.
At 51, Nigel Short is the oldest grandmaster in the Top 100, and in Baku he performed above his rating, with his wins with the black pieces proving instrumental in England’s standout victories over China and Azerbaijan. The team could have taken clear 4th place with a final round win over Peru, but after a draw had to settle for 9th.
Nigel talked to Dorsa Derakhshani in the bar of the Boulevard Hotel after his loss to India's Sethuraman in Round 8. A glass or two of wine had been consumed...
Dorsa Derakhshani: How
many Olympiads have you attended?
Nigel Short: 17.
Consecutively. I’ve been to 18, but have played in 17.
How has the atmosphere changed?
Well, it’s a very good question, actually. If I can turn it around a little bit, I’ll say that this is a very well organised Olympiad in many ways - the conditions are really good. The main difficulty, I think, is with issues like security and the impositions from the organisers and arbiters, so in many ways it’s very good. We are in a nice playing hall, we are in a lovely hotel, they’ve done a good job in many, many ways. I think to come to this issue which you were going to talk about at some point, I think the world is too big and we have a situation where some people think it’s acceptable to interrupt players during play, and I don’t care whether that is only for 30 seconds or whatever, this is the most odious imposition on players. It is inconceivable that such a thing would happen in any other sport. It is fundamentally anti-chess, and I think the people who are behind this decision need their heads looked at! They are sick! They are ruining the very beauty that is chess.
You said during the round, what about the precautions before or after?
I’ve got no problem with that. I have no issue with that. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that computer cheating does exist, a very small minority of people take advantage of it, but this is highly corrosive and it’s very damaging to the game. I don’t particularly like being searched electronically, I don’t like going to airports, but you understand certain things are necessary. Before and after the game, if that’s what’s required - so be it. This is unfortunately a part of modern sport and that’s fine! During a game, this is totally wrong. Philosophically, this is wrong. This is anti-chess, this is anti-everything that I like about the game and what the game is about.
Could you describe what exactly happened during your game against Li Chao in the 7th round?
I can’t describe it. At some moment I went to the toilet as, of course, I do several times during the game, and then when I was on my way back - incidentally in time pressure, I say incidentally, because I have, probably, I don’t recall exactly, something like half an hour for the next 20 moves… if not time trouble, it’s definitely time pressure - and this idiot of an arbiter, this red-headed arbiter, Jamie Kenmure from Australia, tried to stop me, and I just passed him. I was so annoyed at this stage. Actually, he was lucky. If he had tried to stop me, he may well have been physically assaulted. I was so angry that anyone would try and interfere with something which I consider to be a sacred rite, that is playing chess, a game I love and respect so much. You’ve got some jumped-up little p---- of an arbiter and nobody, especially not a worthless individual who is not fit to lick my boots, should try to interfere with my game, in a very important round, just because he has been given the power, because he is part of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov‘s team, and now he gets invited as an arbiter to all these events.
Yeah, I was very angry indeed. People have said to me that rules are rules. It’s nonsense! When the laws make no sense they can go and f--- themselves! This is one example of regulations which make no sense. They are made by people who want to give power to themselves. When you have a group of arbiters they will never say, “oh, we should give ourselves less power!” They only give themselves more power and this is not to the benefit of chess. It’s hugely damaging for the sport. I’ve spent my entire life involved in something I really love doing and these idiots are attempting to destroy this. (huge laugh) That was my diplomatic answer! Do you want me to give my real answer?!
Were you worried that you might get a forfeit?
You know, as our team captain said, there are some things which are much more important than a point here or a competition there, much more important, and this is one example that is something which is so profoundly wrong, so anti-chess, that I don’t care.
So at that moment you didn’t care?!
Absolutely not! And I told the arbiter, because at the end of the game I had an official warning and I said, “next time don’t give me an official warning, next time, if you ask to check me during the game, just forfeit me, because I’m not going to do this.”
Did you have any contact with your teammates or your captain about the incident?Not during the game. After the game, because my captain came with me when I went for the electronic check.
What do you think the anti-cheating measures should be?
I think electronic cheating is a serious problem, so I think certain measures are necessary, and if they want to do electronic checks beforehand and also afterwards, if they want to have cameras in various places, they can do that. They can do all of that! But to disturb a player during play, that’s just outrageous, that is a gross insult and I can’t even express how wrong it is.
So you think the measures are an over-reaction?
Totally! They are idiotic, they are imbecilic, they are authoritarian, they are autocratic, they are from people who do not understand what chess is about.
So your suggestion to the anti-cheating committee would be that they can add more cameras and security?
They can do many things. They want checks beforehand, they want check afterwards? That’s fine. They want various measures, but you don’t disturb a player during play - under no circumstances do you disturb a player during the game. Only if there is clear suspicion of a player could it be considered, although lots of people might disagree with that as well. If you have clear suspicions, evidence or some strong reason for this you could perhaps have this regulation.
I’m from a country where we have a certain set of rules. So, for example, if you’re driving a car you will not be stopped unless they think you are drunk or you have stolen the car or whatever. The police have to have an actual reason to stop you. They can’t just stop you because they f------ want to! They cannot do that! They are not allowed to do that! Because that is harassment, that is intimidation. Now they can kind of make it up if they want to, but you have a society where if they are artificially inventing means to detain you, without good reason, they will be the ones who will suffer from this and I think this should be the case for this. If they have clear evidence or a very strong suspicion, then perhaps in those circumstances I could consider it, but even then I’m not so sure.
After the alleged cheating controversy at the 2015 Women’s European Individual Championship a rule was brought in which says that if the suspicion is wrong and the player is wrongly accused there will be consequences for those who made the accusation. Would you say such a thing should also exist for arbiters?
Well, a random check makes no sense at all. We have very, very strict security when you come in, which is actually harder than airport security! I came in today and I had no phone, no watch, nothing and still the thing was beeping (laugh) It’s worse than airports, actually. They check the ears and all. I’m just waiting for them to take the rubber gloves out to, you know what I mean (laughs). You have to pay extra for that treatment!
Did you go to the Bermuda party?
Yes I did.
How did you find it?It was very good. I’m guessing it was organised by the Azeris rather than the Bermuda people. There was lots of entertainment and it was so nice that it was free! It was a good party, I liked it a lot and I realised I was in the right room when Magnus Carlsen came in.
What were England’s ambitions going into this tournament?
We didn’t really discuss it because we normally do very badly here. My view was that a top ten finish would be a good result.
David Howell: Anything less than first is disappointing!
Did you have any kind of training camp?
Well, we went for a weekend retreat for team bonding – cocaine, drugs and hookers!
David Howell: That’s what China did wrong!
It was a joke. No, we didn’t have any training camp.
Were you expecting the 3-1 win against China?
Yes, for China! At some point I had a look and I didn’t like Luke’s position, David was fine and I had no worries. He drew quite quickly, anyway. Michael Adams was a bit better. I didn’t like Luke’s position, neither did I like mine, so I was praying - inshallah! - to make 2-2 and not lose!
So how did the 3-1 happen?
Well Luke drew and Adams is a very strong player, so he made the most of it and I played a hard game, and a very exciting game, actually! I managed to come through and it was just so great. We were so happy about the result. We haven’t managed to beat China since 1982! What were you doing then, Dorsa?!
Wasn’t even an idea. Which has been your favourite game so far?
A game that I’ve played here?
Definitely the game against Li Chao. Without any doubt.
1. d4 ♘f6 2. c4 e6 3. ♘c3 ♗b4 4. ♘f3 b6 5. e3 ♗b7 6. ♗d3 O-O 7. ♗d2 d5 8. cxd5 exd5 9. O-O ♘bd7 10. ♖c1 a6 11. ♘e5 ♖e8 12. f4 ♘f8 13. ♗e1 c5 14. ♗h4 c4 15. ♗c2 b5 16. g4 ♕b6 17. g5 ♘e4 18. ♘xe4 dxe4 19. ♕e2 ♗d5 20. ♕g2 ♕b7 21. f5 ♘d7 22. ♘g4 ♔h8 23. ♗g3 ♖ac8 24. ♕h3 f6 25. g6 ♘f8 26. ♖f2 ♖c6 27. ♖cf1 a5 28. ♖g2 a4 29. ♖f4 c3 30. bxc3 ♗xc3 31. ♗h4 ♕b6 32. gxh7 ♖e7 33. ♘e5 fxe5 34. ♗xe7 exf4 35. ♗xf8 ♗xd4 36. ♕g4 ♖c7 37. ♕h5 f3 38. ♖g4 ♗e5 39. ♗c5 ♕h6 40. ♕e8+ ♔xh7 41. ♕xe5 ♖xc5 42. ♕e7 f2+ 43. ♔g2 ♗c4 44. ♔xf2 ♕xh2+
Actually, at some moment I was losing, one move, and then later on another move, I made a mistake, and I was no longer winning, so it was ok. The number of people that have come up to me - strong players – and said, “Wow! That was an amazing game. That was really brilliant and exciting and we loved it!” That’s a thrill for me. I’ve been playing chess professionally for 35 years! It’s a long time, and when people can still say that they enjoy my chess, that’s great.
In Tromsø it seemed as though the chess politics affected your game - have you been able to focus more on chess this time round?
Yes, because I gave up being a delegate two years ago and that was a very big difference for my chess. In Tromsø I was trying very, very hard to play good chess, but the problem was I had so many things going on at the back of my mind that I couldn’t focus on it.
You won’t be attending the FIDE Congress at all?
Not at all! Malcom Pein will do that.
Are you following it?
I’ll follow it if there is some interesting development.
Do you think we'll have a new FIDE President in the coming days?I think the answer is probably yes, but I have no great excitement about it because the problem with FIDE is not one man only. The problem is the structure and a lot of corrupt officials, and if the basic structures remains in place, and Kirsan is replaced with someone else, I don’t see a dramatic improvement.
What do you think of the Association of Chess Professionals?
I don’t have a particularly high opinion of the ACP. I don’t think it’s representative of all chess professionals. I think it’s a small clique, which gives power to more cliques.
You're an outspoken chess player - are you interested in any kind of official role (in the ACP, FIDE etc.) in future?
I wouldn’t mind becoming FIDE President. I don’t want to be secretary of some subcommittee.
You're the only player over 50 in the world's Top 100. Why do think that’s so?
I think I like chess. That’s the main reason that I’m able to play at a reasonably high level - that I really love chess. Always have and always will (smiles). It’s the best game in the world!
Do you mean you don’t have any ambitions left in chess and you just play because you like the game?
I want to win and keep on wining tournaments in all countries. I’m hoping to win a tournament in Antarctica. I’ve won tournaments on six continents, so I’m hoping to score the 7th one! They will have tournaments because of me (laughs).
Would you say ageing affects chess?
Yes it does, adversely. The main thing is that you’ve got to keep on studying however old you are. You can’t just rely on your capital, so you have to try and keep up, and that is a difficult task.
How much has the computer changed the game over your career?
Dramatically! I think tactical skills are very much higher and of course opening preparation is much better as well.
Which current players impress you the most?
I can’t answer that.
You had some training sessions with
Karjakin. What do you think of his chances in the match with Carlsen?
I’d give him about 40%.
I think 60-40 is fair. I expect Magnus to win, but I don’t think it’s so certain.
Do you see anyone on the horizon who could not only win his title but become a better player than he is?
To be honest, I don’t think in these terms so I don’t look for it. I see a lot of talents. Today we played against India and they had this guy, Vidit, who is very strong and fantastically prepared with good technique. Is he a World Champion? Probably not, but there are many players like this.
Wei Yi? Praggnanandhaa, the Iranian youngsters?
They all have a chance but I’d like to see a little bit more. There are many talented players who do not produce anything later, so these guys - who I am aware of from their games – I’d rather wait and see how it develops.
Do you still work as a coach?
I don’t really coach very much. I do very little, although I have a coaching weekend in Marrakech next month.
One last question, what do you think is the difference between a good player (2650) and a top player (2750)? It seems hard to quantify.
Energy, work, it’s determination - many factors.
Thank you, and good luck!