I was hoping that the 17-year-old Chinese girl Hou Yifan would win outright in Gibraltar. She has played astonishingly well, beating a string of super elite chess grandmasters of both sexes in the strongest chess open tournament in history. But she lost to Nigel Short in a mini-match play-off to decide the outright winner.
It’s an emotional climax. I watched Nigel play less formidably when he was in London in December for the London Chess Classic. But he always does well in Gibraltar. I suppose the sea-side atmosphere and the sunshine suit his relaxed and risky style. I have a soft spot for Nigel because I love the way he writes.
It may seem strange to like a chess player because of the way he writes but I think the two are connected. When he writes, he always finds a fresh angle. He can turn an idea as well as a phrase. His vocabulary is extensive. He often plucks an unexpected word out of the air and nimbly slots it into exactly the right context. When he plays, he favours old-fashioned romantic openings like the King’s and the Evans Gambits and isn’t afraid to try something swashbuckling in even the most tense of situations.
In London he played a weird kind of French Defence that goes against all classical principles. Viktor Korchnoi, who was in the commentary room at the time, screwed up his face in disgust. Someone pointed out that the variation had been recommended in a book called Dangerous Weapons: The French. Levon Aronian, who was also playing in the tournament but had a day off and was watching the game, immediately quipped: “It should be called endangered species.”
Nigel won that game but his eccentric tries don’t always work out so well and he fared badly overall in the London tournament.
So I am very glad to see him win in Gibraltar and at the same time very sad to see Yifan pipped at the post after such a brilliant and sustained performance.
In a way it’s heart-warming to see that a middle aged old gent who enjoys a generous glass of wine after a game can still pull out all the stops and quietly deflect the seemingly unstoppable onslaught of a feisty young fighter like Yifan.
Now I am looking forward to reading Nigel’s next column in New in Chess magazine and, of course, to his detailed analysis of his games, both in London and Gibraltar.
Just in case you were wondering what I’m reading.