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Features Sep 30, 2014 | 12:50 PMby Colin McGourty

Three must-watch chess videos

In the run-up to the Baku Grand Prix it’s been a quiet week for top-level chess, but that’s meant a chance to catch up on some essential YouTube viewing! For this selection we’ve picked a wonderful 1986 documentary which includes Boris Spassky and Viktor Korchnoi poking fun at Anatoly Karpov, a hilarious parody of World Champion Magnus Carlsen and a trailer for a documentary film on Boris Gelfand’s assault on the World Championship crown.

1. Chess – A State of Mind

What is it?

A 1986 documentary by British IM William Hartston, which looks at the World Chess Champions from Paul Morphy to Garry Kasparov, with the focus firmly on Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi.

Why should I watch it?   

It’s absolutely jam-packed full of gems! 

Mikhail Tal's famous hypnotic stare

For instance, Mikhail Tal’s stare (7:39), Bent Larsen describing how he read Fischer “New Adventures of Tarzan” when seconding him for a Candidates Tournament (8:10), Fischer explaining why he fell out with his Russian heroes and Ray Keene trying to jog alongside Korchnoi (22:43).

Viktor Korchnoi with his seconds Michael Stean and Ray Keene

Perhaps the highlight of the film, however, is the description of Karpov. First Tony Miles explains how it feels to sit opposite him at the chessboard:

Once he realises what’s going on in a position, he seems to grasp it completely, and he’ll just churn out move after move very quickly. It’s as though everything’s completely sorted out in his head and he doesn’t have to work out anything at all. He just walks round and comes back and plays the move. Fantastic speed of play, very frequently, even when he has a tiny advantage – nothing really significant.

What’s unmissable, though, are the next two contributions. Boris Spassky describes Karpov’s “very original character” and “very thin voice” before launching into a hilarious parody (17:37).

Boris Spassky needed to pinch his throat to perfect Karpov's high-pitched voice

Viktor Korchnoi, meanwhile, shows true comic timing in a gloriously unfair profile of his nemesis:  

His name is Karpov – of carp, fish, and he’s cold like a fish. And his mind is very exact, precise… like, well, like a fish! He doesn’t have a tendency to underestimate, or even to overestimate. This is his best chess quality. He’s not creative in chess – he’s not creative in openings or endings. He is exact like a good pupil. That’s all.

Kasparov makes only a brief cameo at the end, describing his surprise at how tough his first World Championship match was. We also see the debacle as then FIDE President Florencio Campomanes brought the first Karpov-Kasparov match to an abrupt and indecisive end. The documentary ends with Kasparov as Champion, with the voice-over musing:

But now it’s his turn to suffer the anguish of waiting to be knocked off his throne… into dignified retirement, or the tormented world of so many champions before him.

2. Magnus Carlsen Impersonation

What is it?

Haakon Lange stars as Magnus Carlsen in a short sketch from “Livets glade gutter” (Life’s Happy Boys) recorded in Veiholmen on July 11, 2014.

Why should I watch it?

Magnus Carlsen’s facial mannerisms at the board invite comparison with Garry Kasparov, while he’s been known to take slouching to contorted extremes. 

Lange comes close to capturing it all, and the bell is also a touch of genius!

Next please!

If you liked that…

Magnus is famous enough to have been impersonated more than once – sadly not by other elite chess players yet, but you might like John Brungot’s performance on TV2, even if it makes a few more demands on your Norwegian language skills…

If that still wasn’t enough we have this inside glimpse into how chess stars are produced in Norway!

3. Album 61

What is it?

Halil Efrat directs a 70-minute documentary telling the story of Boris Gelfand’s challenge for the World Championship title, using the Israeli player’s father’s photo albums.

The young Boris Gelfand's physical, emotional and intellectual biorhythms plotted out on a graph

Why should I watch it?

The film is a reminder that not only the Polgar sisters had a fanatically devoted father. As the jury of the Jerusalem International Film Festival describes it:

A wonderful display of the documentary director's art. Turning the world chess championship into a nerve wracking drama and a careful examination of the impact of parental ambition.

The short trailer has some cringe-worthy moments (“The story of the battle between the two smartest men in the world”), but more than makes up for it with footage of the nerves and then joy of Gelfand’s early coach Tamara Golovey and other supporters as they watch him win Game 7 of the match against Anand.

Moscow 2012 came close to the fulfillment of a lifelong dream for Boris Gelfand and those who supported his career

See also:

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