The Case of the Snookered Grandmaster

In the hopes of one day proving competitive with an acquaintance who’s so far plastered me on the chessboard (D., give me another month), I’ve been playing quite a bit more chess than usual, and, as a corollary, reading books on strategy and following weekly chess columns in newspapers. Compare, if you will, two tellings of this week’s scandal, French grandmaster Vlad Tkachiev’s drunkenness during the Calcutta Open:

The first, from New York Post chess columnist (and grandmaster himself) Andy Soltis:

Snooze and You Lose: A Russian-born grandmaster scandalized an international tournament in India this month by passing out drunk during a game.

And this got the chess world arguing about a technical point:

Was it ethical to wake him up?

Vladislav Tkachiev, ranked 58th in the world, fell asleep during his third-round game at the Calcutta Open. His opponent, Praveen Kumar, didn’t want to win the game on forfeiture and asked tournament arbiter R. Anantharam to wake up Tkachiev.

But after more moves, the 35-year-old Tkachiev fell asleep again. Other players took turns waking him, but to no avail. After his allotted 90 minutes had expired, Tkachiev had played only 11 moves and was declared lost.

After photos of the sleeping grandmaster appeared in Indian newspapers, Anantharam came in for a torrent of Internet criticism for allowing the farce to get that far.

But he said he was just following world chess federation rules. “The scene of many players coming to his board and watching him sleeping was a disturbance to the nearby boards,” he wrote.

Nonsense, responded GM Nigel Short. Tkachiev should have been woken up only to remove him from the playing hall where he was “causing widespread public embarrassment.”

What an idiot, right?

However, take another look, from the Financial Times‘ Leonard Barden (no slouch himself):

The Kalkota (Calcutta) Open this week made news headlines when the French champion Vlad Tkachiev appeared comatosely drunk at the board and lost his third round game on time.

Attitudes have changed. In 1935 Alexander Alekhine was the worse for drink in some world title games, while in 1949 Sweden’s No 1 Gideon Stahlberg drank a cognac at the board before sacrificing a knight for a winning attack.

The shocked reaction to the Tkachiev episode was in line with a current zealous environment where a master can lose on time if a few seconds late for the start of play. Tkachiev soon recovered and the drunk game was his only loss in seven rounds.

(Emphasis mine.)

Quite the difference between the two, eh? One has a drunken player disrupting the entire tournament with his enduring shambolic behavior, the other noting arbiters can end a match if it’s a matter of “a few seconds” before the start. Nevertheless, knowing he went on to win the rest of his matches makes quite a difference in the quality of the story.

Further, Barden writes in the Guardian: “In Tkachiev’s case, jetlag was probably a factor as he flew to India with hardly a break after winning the French championship, and the drunk game was his only defeat in Kolkata.”

This isn’t the first time Tkachiev has made headlines, and certainly won’t be the last. It will probably be the only time I resort to a chess media compare and contrast here, though.

1 thought on “The Case of the Snookered Grandmaster”

  1. And the morbid headlines emphasize the fact that he is a Russian-born player and not a French champion and Grandmaster who chose his new country by his own election and free will. Get drunk and make a mistake and they will remember you’re a rusky.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *