2 MAY 1992, Page 15


Dominic Lawson on the

significance of Nigel Short's famous victory over Anatoly Karpov

AS SOON as I entered Nigel Short's room in the Anibal Hotel, Linares — the host of his world chess championship semi-final match against Anatoly Karpov — the 26- year-old Englishman put his finger to his lips. Then he whispered to me, 'They've given me the room next to Karpov's. The walls are so thin I can hear him snoring at night. So he may be able to hear every- thing we say, all our analysis.'

`It doesn't matter,' I joke. `Karpov's probably bugged this room anyway.' `Perhaps,' Nigel replies wthout a flicker of a smile. 'But, I've swept the room for bugs and found nothing.' Then he sees my look of incredulity. 'Get paranoid, Dominic! This is the world chess champi- onship.'

In fact, as chess grandmasters go, Nigel Short is about as far removed from para- noia and superstition as they come. The same, perhaps, could not be said about his opponent, Anatoly Yevgenevitch Karpov, world chess champion from 1975 to 1985 and still, at the age of 41, ranked second in the world behind only the champion, Garry Kasparov.

Karpov turned up in Linares, not just with two grandmaster assistants (Vladimir Epeshin and Yuri Podgaets) and his Swiss lawyer, but also with a Mr Rudolf Zagain- ov. Mr Zagainov is Karpov's parapsycholo- gist. Mr Zagainov would sit in the restaurant in the Anibal Hotel rocking backwards and forwards making strange humming noises.

During the games, Mr Zagainov would grab the front row seat closest to Nigel Short and would stare uninterruptedly at his boss's opponent. Then, if Short so much as raised an eyebrow, or asked for a cup of coffee, Zagainov would begin fever- ishly to write in tiny Cyrillic characters.

In another room at the hotel, a clutch of grandmaster pundits would stare at a screen relaying the game via closed circuit television. Once, something strange appeared on the monitor. Where Nigel Short's pale young face should have been, the florid features of Mr Zagainov materi- alised, ludicrously perched on top of the Englishman's slim shoulders. 'My God,' exclaimed one of the watching chess mas- ters, 'Nigel Short has been taken over by an evil spirit.'

In fact, this apparition was nothing more than a trick by a bored technician. But it summed up Zagainov's intentions. Fortunately the elegant Mrs Rea Short had her own, effective means of counter- ing the Russian parapsychologist's suspect- ed attempts to infiltrate her husband's innermost thoughts. She sat behind Zagainov and tap, tap, tapped with her foot on the back of Zag's chair.

The less exotic truth is that Nigel Short's sensational victory over Anatoly Karpov was almost entirely due to his own inspired performance at the board. Nigel told me that it had never entered his mind that he would lose to Karpov. There were, however, few here who shared that view after the Englishman lost the first game, dithered in the second, and missed a clear win in the third, drained after almost ten hours of play. But in the end it was Kar- pov who collapsed psychologically, losing four games in a row with the black pieces. After each of these victories Nigel would go back to his room, take out his guitar, and celebrate with violent renditions of punk rock. His choice of music seemed well thought out, as one would expect. Before the tenth game, which Karpov des- perately needed to win to keep the match alive, Nigel howled, 'I Don't Care', a song by The Ramones.

But this was nothing to the din when Nigel won the most brilliant encounter of the match, the eighth game. Taking only one hour for all his moves, Nigel hurtled back to his room, grabbed the guitar, and produced a shattering performance of `Wild Thing' by The Trogs. I tried to imag- ine what the defeated Karpov, on the other side of the wafer-thin walls, made of it all, but gave up.

Meanwhile Nigel leaped up and down a few more times with his guitar and then, just as suddenly, collapsed in a heap on his sofa, groaning, 'I feel shattered,' and then fell, briefly, asleep. Stress affects different people in different ways.

To the British public it might seem that Short's emergence as a possible world champion comes out of the blue. While Nigel was always praised as a prodigy from the day when as a 12-year-old he trounced the ten-times British champion, Dr Jonathan Penrose, his subsequent attempts to challenge for the highest title were marked by disappointing losses to less talented players.

But two years ago Short made one of the most far-seeing moves of his career: he flew to America for a meeting with a man called Lubosh Kavalek. Kavalek was the chess champion of Czechoslovakia who fled to America in 1968. He soon estab- lished himself as the number two in that country, behind only Bobby Fischer. And when in 1972 Fischer took on Boris ,`Apparently she was absolute mustard at bar football.' Spassky in the world chess championship, he chose Lubosh to be his second. The job of a second in such events is exhausting and exhaustive. He must make studies of all opponents, dissect their weaknesses and present his man with a devastating dossier of prepared ambushes. He must also make sure his principal sleeps at night and fights during the day. Fischer trusted only Kavalek. And now the 49-year-old Kavalek works for Nigel Short.

Kavalek told me how Short approached him with characteristic directness. "Lubosh," I said, "I want you to make me world champion, like you made Bobby Fis- cher world champion." I gazed at him for a few seconds. Then we both laughed for the next five minutes. Then I said, "It will be great. Let's go for it!"' Karpov clearly recognised the signifi- cance of Kavalek in Linares. There was a revealing example of this in the critical eighth game, in which Short took a lead he never relinquished.

The British champion surprisingly offered Karpov a chance to repeat a move which, in an earlier game in the match, had given the Russian an excellent posi- tion. Usually, in such poker-like situations, Karpov would stare intensely at his oppo- nent, attempting to see signs of nervous bluffing in the eyes across the table. But this time Karpov did not look at his oppo- nent. Instead he swivelled round in his chair to face the audience and shot a truly paralysing glance at Kavalek. I know it was paralysing because I was sitting almost next to Kavalek. He stared back, with a hint of a smile? After three or four seem- ingly long seconds Karpov returned his basilisk gaze to the board . . . and played a different move, the one which Short and Kavalek were hoping for.

But why didn't Karpov play the tried and trusted move, which he knew inside out? `Karpov knows I don't bluff,' Kavalek told me, then began to laugh in a deep central European gurgle.

By the end of the game Karpov would have been wishing he had not tried eye- balling Lubosh Kavalek. His choice of move at that moment of living theatre led inexorably to his defeat, victim of the sort of remorseless attack for which Short is celebrated in the chess world, the English- man's pieces circling around his oppo- nent's king were like vultures over a dying animal.

Later, Nigel was higher than ever. 'What a game,' he whooped. 'I played like God.'

'No. Don't say dat,' Kavalek frowned. Then he gave another of his deep chuck- les. 'But you played like Bobby (Fischer) vich is der next best thing.'

In the circumstances the allusion to Fis- cher is appropriate. Karpov succeeded Fis- cher as world champion without ever play- ing the American, who abandoned both the match and his career. By defeating Karpov, Short has finally avenged the West's bloodless defeat at the hands of one of the most favoured sons of the former Soviet Union.

Since the retirement of Fischer in 1972, Karpov has played in every world champi- onship match, either as champion or, more recently, as seemingly perpetual challenger to his great rival, Kasparov. That is over now. Finally the Twenty Years War of Anatoly Karpov has been ended — by a Lancastrian who, when Kavalek was help- ing Fischer beat Spassky, was a six-year- old, just learning how the pieces moved.

Last Tuesday an even younger child was crawling over a chess board in Linares. Ten-month-old Kyveli Short, Nigel and Rea's daughter, was being carried around the grandmaster analysis room in the Ani- bal Hotel. While her tiny hands tried to grasp a discarded plastic chess piece, the closed circuit monitors showed her father closing in for victory in the final game against Karpov.

The leading Yugoslav grandmaster, Ljubomir Ljubojevic, safer here than in his own country, cleared his throat and addressed the little baby: 'Yong laddy,' he intoned, 'Your Deddy is ending an era. And you don't even realise it!'