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    Wednesday
    Dec192018

    Great Moments in Advertising: New in Chess Says Timman is Better Qualified to Write About Kasparov's Matches than Kasparov

    How can someone write such a thing with a straight face? Here's a bit of ad copy (received by email; I haven't managed to find it on the web) promoting Jan Timman's new book, The Longest Game: The Five Kasparov-Karpov Matches for the World Chess Championship:

    From 1984 to 1990 Garry Kasparov and Anatoli [sic] Karpov played five matches for the World Chess Championship. The matches lasted a staggering total of 14 months. The two K's played 5540 moves in 144 games, and in the end the score was only 73-71 in Kasparov's favour.

    It was front page news all over the world.

    I have always wondered why the fiercest rivalry in sports history had never resulted in a single book that told the full story and explained the chess . [sic]

    Now such a book exists, written by the man who is probably the best qualified person in the world to do so.

    In The Longest Game Jan Timman chronicles the many twists and turns of the fascinating saga, including his behind-the scenes impressions, and takes a fresh look at the games.

    Timman annotates 50 key games and 17 fragments, in a much more accessible and objective way than has ever been done before, Kasparov’s own forests of variations included.

    I'm sure it's a very good book - Timman's books typically are - and I intend to buy a copy. But saying that Timman is "probably the best qualified person in the world" to write about the Kasparov-Karpov matches is prepare-the-electric-shock-therapy crazy. (Alternatively, one might prefer the standard idiom these days, which makes reference to a flying mammal and its digestive processes.) One can reasonably believe that Timman will be more objective than Kasparov when it comes to evaluating some of the behind-the-scenes matters, like the stoppage of the first match, but it's also possible that Kasparov's knowledge of how things worked in the USSR gives him the better perspective.

    No doubt it will be interesting to compare their reports and opinions. But when it comes to the chess, Timman is the vastly inferior player, and it's absurd and perhaps even offensive to pretend that he could be the best qualified player for the most important aspect of the matches: the chess itself. Kasparov is past his prime, obviously, but he still held his own in rapid and blitz against the world's best players in 2016 and 2017. Even now he's still clearly able to play chess at a 2700+ level. Timman, by contrast, never got higher than a 2680 rating - in 1990 - and is presently 2540. The point isn't to insult Timman, who was one of the world's best players for a couple of decades and played for one of the world championship titles in 1993 (and an outstanding study composer as well), but to show that the ad copy is ridiculous.

    Two further peccadilloes: First, note the use of the adjective in the phrase "single book". Chess fans who have been around for a while know that Kasparov wrote three books on his games with Karpov, and the matches are distributed across the three books. But to younger players, or those who haven't followed chess literature very closely, they may read it as "there are no books on the matches that tell the full story and explain the chess". (Yes, he refers to Kasparov's analysis, but doesn't note that it's from a book or series of books by Kasparov himself. For all the reader knows, it could have been in ChessBase, or the Informant, or New in Chess Magazine, or somewhere else.)

    Second, the little dig at Kasparov's "forests of variations" also induces the grinding of teeth. Aren't they thoughtful? They don't want their poor readers to hurt themselves looking at deep lines. (Isn't it awesome that the analysis can be more objective than Kasparov's without Timman's needing to delve as deeply into the variations?) Poor wittwe weader might get a headache! (Maybe the concept can be improved even further - see this "review" of another book, and this fuller review of its sequel, for a promising suggestion.)

    It's condescending, and readers shouldn't appreciate it even if they prefer their annotations to be relatively light. If the occasional "forest" is required to get at the truth of a given position, so be it. I trust Kasparov (and Mozart) more than the ad man when it comes to the issue of "too many notes". The reader may not always want to bother with the full analysis and that's fine, but the analysis should be there all the same - especially for something as grand as the "fiercest rivalry in sports history", between two of the greatest players of all time. (If the ad man wants to say, "That's what Kasparov's books are for," then he's conceding that the Kasparov books are objectively greater (at least for the analysis), and Timman's is simply useful as a one-volume abridgement. And note that it is an abridgement, covering fewer than half of the games. While there were a few short and boring draws when Kasparov was in survival mode in the first match, very few of the games in the next four matches were of that sort. That it is an abridgement is significant, and one more reason why this book cannot claim to be "the full story".)

    I'd also add that the "forests" weren't as dense as the ad suggests. Yes, there are some games when Kasparov goes to town - though he's never Huebnerian (for those of you who get the reference) - but for the most part the lines are manageable, with a lot of talk. And for some of the games - some of the Zaitsev Ruys, for instance, like games 14 and 16 of the 1986 match - I don't see how one can even pretend to have covered those games without some deep analysis. (And if Timman does cover such games in the way they deserve, I wonder if New in Chess will have a little note telling the reader to take some aspirin or Tylenol while pleading for forgiveness.)

    So once again, let me say that Timman is a fine analyst and I'm very likely to get the book. But please, ad people, just tell the truth about the book. Timman was a leading grandmaster and remains a strong player and analyst, as his award-winning book from two years ago (Timman's Titans) will attest. There's no need for over-the-top claims that insult the reader's intelligence.

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    Reader Comments (4)

    "Anatoli [sic] "
    Dutch transcription, which is not perfect, but in this case still is closer to the original than the English transcription. Compare the Russian Wikipedia page.
    Unless you're an English language chauvinist of course and think the correct name of the Dutch capital is The Hague.

    [DM: The use of "sic" doesn't necessarily mean that it's an error, but does alert the reader that the unusual spelling or statement was produced by the person cited, not the one doing the citing. That said, the blurb and the book are both written in English, and as "Anatoly" is standard in this language I would consider "Anatoli" slightly incorrect, just as "Yusupov" should be written as "Jussupow" in German. (I know that German and Dutch are two different languages; I'm just using a German example because both the example and the language are much more familiar to me.)]

    December 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMNb

    The New in Chess website is promoting the book, and it even includes some sample (no pun intended!) pages, in which Games 2 and 4 of their epic 1986 encounter are examined. Offhand.......the book doesn't seem to have much going for it, for the analysis hardly goes beyond what's already well-known about these two games---especially if one consults Kasparov's book on the match (or was it two books that he wrote on K-K III ?).

    [DM: Kasparov wrote three books on his games with Karpov, and the five matches are spread across the books. No match is broken up into two books, however.]

    Yes, I get the "Huebnerian" reference---and you don't have to see a copy of his book on 25 of his best games, in order to do so!

    December 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHoward S Sample

    I gave up on Timman as an author after his Curacao book. In it he fails to highlight (or even much mention) the Petrosian-Geller-Keres drawing cabal. What use is analysis of games without insight into the context and background? The author of a book should provide this. In the case of Timman's Curacao book his banal, surface approach results not in 'objectivity' but in a distortion of the events. In any case, Timman as a writer entirely lacks the wit of a Donner or the style and depth of a Sosonko. Nowadays Timman seems to cosy up to topics that he thinks will guarantee a readership, without bringing anything new to the table. As regards his book on the K-K matches, it seems to me an abridgment of the matches is worse than useless to the serious reader. To follow a world championship match one needs to take in the ups and downs of every game, each seemingly insignificant draw builds the tension. For example, in the Botvinnik-Petrosian match of 1963, even the final series of short draws were an eloquent testament to Botvinnik's broken spirit and acknowledgement of defeat. Of course, you wouldn't get these in a Timman book!

    December 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterOliver Dunne

    Timman has the advantage of writing the book after Kasparov's book. So he can refer to Kasparov's book and used stronger computer programs that were not available for Kasparov. Whether he has made adequate use of these advantages is another story.

    [DM: It's possible that his book is better than the ones Kasparov wrote. (I don't know if it is - I still haven't bought it. But it's logically possible.) Is he "better qualified" than Kasparov to write the book? [Strong word] no. Kasparov is even more capable of improving on his analysis than Timman, and while Timman has a worthwhile point of view that can add to the overall picture, Kasparov's status as a participant is more valuable than Timman's.]

    March 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Karen

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