Tuesday, September 7, 2010

On Throwing Stones

There is a poker saying that it takes a better hand to call a bet than it does to make a bet. This is similar to politics where the apostles of negativism constantly criticize but offer no solutions. In other words, it is a lot easier to sit back and throw stones than it is to try to actually solve problems.

In this regard, it was heartwarming to see Obama yesterday delivering a greats stump speech on Labor Day in Wisconsin. He departed from his prepared text to deliver the line that "They treat me like a dog". If he will do this between now and election day, a la Truman in 1948, the Democrats might have a chance to hold onto the Congress.

The lesson learned in the 1988 debacle, when George H.W. Bush ran his despicable campaign against Michael Dukakis, and Dukakis declined to respond forthrightly and promptly to the allegations, was that allegations need to be met head-on. Clinton took this lesson to heart and in the 1992 campaign his staff had responses ready even before the allegations were made, understanding the Hitler maxim that a lie repeated often enough will be accepted by people as the truth.

These thoughts came to mind yesterday as I was working on organizing my chess materials from past decades. I came across a newsletter sent me by Don Schultz in 1988 about his dispute with the right-wing, represented by GM Larry Evans.

To set the stage, the 1980's were a horrible time in U.S. chess politics. In fact, "chess politician" became a disparaging way of referring to those who had decision-making power in U.S. chess. I argued that "chess volunteer" was a better term, as we were talking here about those who donated their time and energies to chess, not paid staff people.

Don Schultz was one of these people, a distinguished gentleman who I encountered at the 1984 U.S. Open in Ft. Worth. He served for over 30 years as a chess volunteer, and for much of that time served as a USCF delegate to the world chess federation (FIDE). Larry Evans was an American GM who had a Q&A column in "Chess Life" for many years, but who never held any office. His thing was to sit back and criticize the powers that be, and he sure did plenty of that.

The ugly politicization of American chess had been going on for many hears, probably dating back to an Interzonal in the '60's when Bobby Fisher played and accused the Sovets participants of throwing games to each other to ensure that Americans would be excluded from the list of qualifiers for the next stage of the world championship cycle.

To set the stage, I quote from a mailing I received from Evans, dated 2/13/87: "It is no secret that FIDE president Campomanes has exerted intense pressure on American officials to fire the current editor. He has been trying to get the job done for 2 years. But we all believe American chess policy should be made in America--not in the murky intrigues of faraway places like Dubai, where Campomanes virtually bought an election with Arab money behind him, This was revealed in Chess Life, March 1987, page 23. Don't be fooled. If Larry Parr goes, we won't be getting this kind of honest chess journalism anymore in Chess Life."

The actual facts are these: Campomanes worked night and day to make chess a truly worldwide sport, and he did everything he could to reach out to Third World counties in this regard. The fact that he didn't cater to American wishes is taken by people like Evans to be a sign of weakness, when in actuality it was an asset.

The Chess Life editor in question, Larry Parr, was blatantly political in his reporting and editing, and in the worst way, in that everything was tainted with a right-wing bias. For example, he published an article alleging that Karpov was a member of the KGB. This was blatantly false, and is a pretty good example of how low USCF sunk during those dark days. Karpov's "crime" was that he was declared world champion when Bobby Fischer refused to take part in the 1975 world championship match, for reasons to be discussed shortly. His further crime was that he was a Soviet citizen, anathema to folks like Parr and Evans. Evans writes that "Larry Parr is the best editor Chess Life has had since I started writing for it six editors ago". This is totally ludicrous; Parr created more enemies for US chess and published more false and libelous articles than the others put together.

Another issue complained of by Evans is the FIDE decision to raise all women's ratings by 100 points. He writes: "The USSR was embarrassed to discover that their women's world champ Maya Chiburdanidze was rated behind Hungarian prodigy Susan Polgar. How to solve the problem? Simple. Vote to raise all women's ratings by 100 points--all except Polgar, who was frozen at 2495 while the Soviet star surged past her." He then compared this to the action stripping Bobby Fischer of his crown in 1975.

The "Great Debate", as it was called, took place in early 1988 over the Leisure LINC, apparently an electronic town meeting type of thing which pre-dated the Internet as we know it today. In his opening statement, Evans repeats the same garbage he had been spouting for years, stating, "I'm concerned about America's lax moral leadership and puppet role in FIDE....I submit that our editor was fired for reporting facts instead of suppressing them. His ouster is another victory for Campomanes, another ignoble surrender to he Soviet-dominated world body that stripped away Fischer's title." Rather than reporting further, suffice it to say the dialogue is a really dreary give-and-take with previous false assertions being made again by Evans, and Don trying manfully to set the facts straight. But like the Tea Party folks today, these people really do not care about getting the facts right, it is a certain emotional state which drives them.

When Eisenhower was asked why he did not respond to McCarthy's allegtaions, he responded, "I refuse to get into the gutter with that guy." So which is best, responding, which Ike certianly could have effectively done and ended McCarthy's reign of terror much sooner, or ignoring? I doubt there are any easy answers here.

There have been long, mathematical analyses published of the title match issues surrounding Fischer's abandonment of his title. I'll try to give a thumbnail sketch. Until 1963, a world champion who lost his title had the right to a rematch the following year. In addition, he kept his title in the event of a drawn match. This meant the challenger had to win two matches to wrest the title away, a huge advantage for the champion. (One of my favorite chess trivia questions is, "of the five title matches which Botvinnik played while world champion, how many did he win?" The surprisng answer is none of them. He drew two matches, keeping his title, lost two and then regained it each time in the rematch, and then finally lost to Petrosian after the rematch provision was eliminated.)

When Fischer won the title from Spassky in 1972, the match consisted of 24 games. Fischer insisted that a better system was to play untl one player won a certain number of games; he preferred 10, though precedent was for 6. FIDE went along with this and voted in the 10-win condition Fischer wanted, but what they didn't go along with was Fischer's proposal that the champion would keep his title in the case of a 9-9 tie. This meant that the challenger had to actually win by 2 games, 10-8, and seemed too much of an advantage. Fischer abdicated his crown over this issue.

For 1978 the 6 win provision was enacted, but the rematch clause was reinstated, allegedly giving Karpov "a bigger edge than anything Fischer had sought", according to Evans. This system blew up in FIDE's face when in 1984 neither Karpov nor Kasparov could win 6 games, and Campomanes stoped the match after 48 games, as the match had turned into a bad joke. FIDE then went back to the 24-game match system, which provided good drama in succeeding matches.

A "review of the bidding", as we say in bridge, shows that FIDE made many concessions to Fischer to accommodate him. He did not even qualify for the 1972 world championship cycle, as he had not participated in his Zonal, which was the U.S. Championship. FIDE ruled he could still play in the Interzonal if one of the three American qualifiers would give up his spot, which Pal Benko magnanimously did. Then when the match with Spassky came about, Fischer made numerous demands which were accommodated. The most noteworthy is that after Fischer forfeited the second game becuase he felt the cameras were making noise, FIDE could have declared the match forfeited then and there; noise meters were put in the playing room and registerd zero--there was no noise whatsoever from the cameras. Yet, the cameras were removed and the match was able to be continued. These are examples of many concessions made to Fischer, both before and after he became world champion.

Despite all this, the American mindset is to blame the Soviets and worship Fischer as a hero. He is anything but a hero, though certainly was a great player, and neither the Soviets nor FIDE is to blame for Fischer's peccadilloes. It is time the US stops playing "the ugly American" role and starts respecting other points of view. This is what our FIDe representatives tried to do, at that time Don Schultz and the highy respected Arnold Denker, and what did they get for it? Nothing but stones thrown at them. For shame.

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