Random walk in the chessoblogosphere

by admin on February 22, 2010

As you know, the kind of chess blogs I tend to read the most are the ones written by average to good players, like me. They are the easiest to relate to. However, it is worth noting that there are more and more blogs out there by grandmasters.

For instance, just a couple days ago I visited Hikaru Nakamura’s chess blog for the first time. It’s not bad! My biggest concern with a GM blog is whether it is just going to be a vehicle for self-promotion, or whether he will really let you in on his personal thoughts. Nakamura does show us his human side. He has always been known for his willingness to mingle with “ordinary players” at chess tournaments, and so it is no surprise to see that in the blogosphere, too, he is willing to be just one of the guys.

Hikaru does not update his blog as often as one might like, but of course that is an eternal struggle for us bloggers. I’m just guessing that the life of a top-50 grandmaster is a little bit busy. Also, another mild criticism is that he seems to start almost every entry with “Hello” or “Good morning” or “Greetings,” as if it were a phone call. Earth to Hikaru! You don’t say “Hello” in a blog, except maybe in your first entry. It sounds dorky. You can take my word for it, because I’ve been blogging a whole three months longer than you have.  😎

In a recent entry Hikaru wrote something that piqued my curiosity (and some other readers too, to judge from the comments). Commenting on his recent loss to Sergei Karjakin in Wijk aan Zee, he writes:

Sergey and I are certainly no strangers as we have played several times in the past. Before I discuss the game, I would just like to point out that despite my sometimes controversial style and comments in the past, I have not intentionally insulted someone in public. In many ways, I found Sergey’s comments on chesspro to be incredibly disgusting and insulting. One can only hope that people grow up much like I have since my younger days.

Does anyone know what Hikaru is referring to here? I like a little gossip as much as anyone, and plus I can understand Russian, so I went to ChessPro to see if I could find out what the commotion was about. But I didn’t see anything there that would have gotten him so steamed. I found an archived interview of Karjakin from around 2005, where Karjakin talks about his disastrous match with Nakamura in Mexico. Karjakin says that he was winning in almost every game, and blames a couple of his losses on jet lag, but this is just normal chess player whining. It’s also too long ago to precipitate Hikaru’s outburst.

However, it could be that the Mexico match started a grudge between them, because until that point Karjakin appeared to be on the future-world-champion track (youngest GM in history, etc.) But future world champions don’t lose matches 4½-1½ to someone who is basically a contemporary, so this must have gotten under Karjakin’s skin a little bit.

Another interesting post on ChessPro came a month ago in their open forum, in a discussion page devoted to Nakamura. Mostly this is a fan page (yes, Hikaru has fans in Russia), but one subscriber named “Zeppski” posted on January 16, “Once more I have heard about the ‘dirty and repulsive’ conduct of Nakamura on ICC. This time in a ks-conference with Karjakin. What in the world is he doing? Calling him a yellow earthworm?”

OK, obviously there is something going on here. But I don’t know what a “ks-conference” is. Who started the name-calling? Who called whom a yellow earthworm, and why?

By the way, the fan discussion on Nakamura also included a link to this great article (in English) from the Los Angeles Times on the Nakamura-Carlsen game, which took place a few days before Nakamura-Karjakin. This is really cool — an ordinary sports reporter writing about how dramatic a chess game is! He plays up the rivalry between Nakamura and Carlsen as potential world championship contenders in the future. But I wonder if he was writing about the wrong rivalry? Carlsen, at #1 in the world, may already be a little bit out of Nakamura (#28)’s league.

Another GM chess blog that I just visited for the first time is Natalia Pogonina’s blog, which is written simultaneously in Russian and English. It’s attractively formatted, but does not give a lot of insight into the person writing it. In fact, a lot of the entries seem to be written by Pogonina’s husband, Peter Zhdanov.

However, I did find this item to be interesting: Who are the strongest chess couples in the world? In this entry, written in honor of David Vigorito’s wedding, I talked about chess spouses and gave a link to an article by Bill Wall. Zhdanov goes one step farther and ranks the world’s chess couples by total Elo rating. He claims it is a complete list of couples rated over 5000 (!). Heading the list are:

  1. Ivanchuk — Galliamova (5341) (X)
  2. Shirov — Cmilyte (5267) (X)
  3. Grischuk — Zhukova (5238)
  4. Lautier– Skripchenko (5185) (X)
  5. Fressinet — Skripchenko (5174)

Note: (X) denotes couples that are no longer together.

The list makes for fascinating reading! First, it is noteworthy that a high chess rating does not necessarily make for a happy marriage, as three of the four highest-rated couples are now divorced. As I wrote in my entry, it’s possible that marrying a non-chess-playing spouse is a better idea. That seems to be the route taken by most world champions. Nevertheless, judging from the list, an amazing number of top players seem to think that couples who play together, stay together.

Of course, it’s hard not to notice Almira Skripchenko, who has been married to two of the four top French players. Although Lautier may have had a peak rating higher than Fressinet, currently Fressinet is ranked higher. (Lautier is #4 in the country, Fressinet is #3.) Next up: Etienne Bacrot (#2) or Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (#1)? But I have to think that she might be a little bit old for them. Skripchenko is 33, and Vachier-Lagrave is 19.

I was also curious whether there would be any couples on the list where the woman outranks the man. There is a close match between GM Kosashvili (2549) and GM Sofia Polgar (2540). However, those must be peak ratings, because their current ratings are 2521 and 2457 respectively, meaning that they are no longer over 5000. The champions with male < female seem to be GM Bellon (2510) and GM Cramling (2550). Their current ratings are 2440 and 2528 respectively, so it’s possible that someone else has passed them, although I would have no idea who.

An honorable mention would have to go to Zhdanov and Pogonina themselves. They are currently rated 2012 and 2501 respectively — too low to appear on the over 5000 list, but perhaps one of the largest differences in the world between a female chessplayer and her lower-rated husband!

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter Zhdanov February 22, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Hello Dana,

Thanks for reviewing Natalia’s website.
Yes, some entries are written by her, some are co-authored, others are by me or guest writers.

Lautier was a more elite player than Fressinet (if you look at the world rankings). Now Joel has practically retired from chess, so it hardly makes sense to compare their ratings.

I think our difference is far from being the greatest in the world: Natalia is a grandmaster, I am a candidate master. I am sure that many female strong players have husbands rated in the 1x00s. 🙂 However, I will try to improve anyway.

Regarding Nakamura: Karjaking gave an interview for Crestbook.com, here’s a quote (in Russian):

nucler: Как складываются Ваши отношения с Накамурой? Памятные партии с ним? Что он вообще за человек (шахматист)?

Когда-то проиграл ему матч с крупным счетом, но все же тогда я был слишком молод. Как человек, это две разные личности, одна – в Интернете, другая – при личной встрече. Ð’ ICC он ведет себя просто грязно и отвратительно. Последний раз я его обыграл в матче и поставил в censor . 🙂 А при встрече он ведет себя вполне адекватно, видимо чувство опасности у него все-таки присутствует . 🙂

That’s what Naka probably referred to.


admin February 22, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Cool! I didn’t expect an answer so fast. For readers who don’t know Russian, here is my rough translation of Karjakin’s answer:

“One time I lost a match to him by a large margin, but at that time I was simply too young. As a person, he has two different personalities — one on the Internet, the other on personal acquaintance. On ICC he conducts himself simply dirtily and repulsively. The last time I beat him in a match and put [him] on censor. But in person he conducts himself completely adequately; apparently he does after all have a sense of danger.”

Well, this would explain the source of the “dirty and repulsive” quote. It doesn’t identify the “yellow earthworm” part.

As noted before in this blog, I do not subscribe to ICC, so I don’t know how Nakamura behaves there. I wonder if there was some trash-talking that got out of control, or was misinterpreted due to cultural differences.

Peter, good luck with your goal of improving — I hope you and Natalia will someday appear on the over-5000 list!


Chessperado February 22, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Glad you mentioned Bellon and Pia.
They are a very famous around there. I have met, played (and lost every single game) to both of them in rapid chess tournaments. And they are both very nice. I still remember once when Pia gave a “simultanea” in my hometown, the only one able to do something (a draw) was my grandfather, I was still a kid…


Howard Goldowsky February 25, 2010 at 10:19 am

I don’t see anything wrong with starting a blog entry with “hello,” especially if that’s your style.

#1 vs. #28 may seem like a lot, but it’s only about 80 rating points. Nakamura could be top 10 in a year or two, with proper dedication.


Chess Sets and Boards March 4, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Great blog post. I look forward to seeing a lot more from you. I love reading about chess, different tactics and the great players of the game.


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