A Response to Radio Jan and My Thoughts on World Chess

A Response to Radio Jan and My Thoughts on World Chess

Hikaru Junction

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A Response to Radio Jan and My Thoughts on World Chess

Radio Jan’s commentary at the wrap-up of the Sinquefield Cup last week was very entertaining, and, as several have pointed out, true in sentiment. It is undeniable that many top players don’t necessarily begin their games against other Super-GMs aiming to win them, or go into tournaments with the intention of providing entertaining spectacle for the fans. The commentary, by the way, is below.

However, several of Radio Jan’s claims are false, from his assertion about Nakamura (“Now look at him: he’s playing the Catalan…” ) to his claim that Anish Giri “[would] have to play a lot of draws to get those forty rating points back and I don’t see it happening.”

So let’s start out by taking a look at the percentage of Catalans Nakamura has played in the last eight years.

2016: Bilbao vs Giri is the only one so far. He’s played 78 games as White, which lands him with the fraction 1/78, or 1.282% since the beginning of 2012.
2015: Sinquefield Cup vs Anand, London Chess Classic vs Anand, London Chess Classic vs Aronian for 3/63 or 4.762%
2014: 0/90, 0%
2013: 0/67, 0%
2012: US Champs vs Kaidanov, Tal Memorial vs Carlsen for 2/71 or 2.817%
2011: 0/59, 0%
2010: US Champs vs Onischuk, Tal Memorial vs Eljanov gives him 2/68 (2.941% )
2009: 0/59, 0%

Obviously, Nakamura doesn’t play the Catalan very often. However, it’s more stark than that: He’s played the same amount in the last four years as the previous four. In the long term, his rate of Catalanage isn’t increasing, and in the short term, he’s played a much lower percentage than last year so far. Only in the medium term, looking at the last four years, is it possible to make a claim that Nakamura’s Catalanage is increasing. Thus, the comment “Now look at him: he’s playing the Catalan” is simply unfounded– he doesn’t play the Catalan very much, and the rate at which he does so is not increasing: there is no obvious trend of any type.

Nakamura Catalan Graph

Now, we will move on to the claim against Anish Giri: that he “[would] have to play a lot of draws to get those forty rating points back and I don’t see it happening.” Which forty rating points, I ask Radio Jan? Anish Giri only played in one event this month, the Sinquefield Cup, and has lost only fourteen rating points in this event. Granted, it could be a mispronunciation. However, even if he were meaning fourteen, he’s still incorrect: Giri would have to play about three draws against Carlsen, or five against MVL, which are both not unlikely scenarios; imagine four games, two against Carlsen, two against MVL. If Giri drew all four (which is very possible) he’d gain his fourteen points back easily. Not too many draws (and certainly not “a lot” ) involved.

Furthermore, I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure Maxime Vachier-Lagrave wasn’t only second in the world (behind Carlsen) for two weeks, as Radio Jan also claimed, and he hasn’t fallen off since the video’s publication date. In fact, chess24.com (Radio Jan’s platform) wrote in their article ‘Sinquefield Cup 9: Wesley wins it all’ that “[h]ad [Caruana] gone on to win, he would have knocked Maxime down to fourth in the world rankings while leapfrogging up into second place himself. Caruana went astray in time trouble, though, and that proved a turning point for [MVL]. MVL defeated Aronian in a nice game in the next round and, although he didn’t win another game and finished tied for 6th place, he hung on to his world no. 2 spot.”
And lastly, what certifies Radio Jan to be making these heretical claims? His alter ego, GM Jan Gustafsson, is currently outside the top one hundred players in the world, and has, in fact, played the players he heavily criticizes, with mixed results.

(Win–Draw–Loss) : 2-4-3
Jan vs Giri – N/A
Jan vs Svidler – 0-1-0
Jan vs Liren – N/A
Jan vs Nakamura – 1-0-0
Jan vs Vachier-Lagrave – 0-1-0
Jan vs Aronian – 0-2-1
Jan vs Caruana 1-0-1
Jan vs Topalov – N/A
Jan vs Anand – 0-0-1
Jan vs So – N/A

Jan Vs Svidler Bundesliga 0607

Jan Vs Nakamura 0809

Jan Vs Vachier-Lagrave Bundesliga 0809

Jan Vs Aronian
http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1397604 – GER-ch Internet g/5' (2004)
http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1480252 – World Chess Cup 2007
http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1480220 – World Chess Cup 2007

Jan Vs Caruana
http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1478777 – European Team Chess Championships
http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1672203 – Dortmund 2012

Jan vs Anand Bundesliga 0506

I don’t take chess strength as a measure of whether someone’s opinion is valid (otherwise I would not be criticizing a grandmaster for criticizing other grandmasters) and, for that matter, these are old games. However, (and here comes the but) perhaps Jan should hesitate as he may not understand the specific requirements of these other players, and the goals they may wish to achieve.

Again, with all that being said, in large part, I agree with him. I think that more top GMs should embrace these methods which are intended to help the public follow chess such as the confessional booth. I think that players should, if possible, when choosing their openings, try to choose more “exciting” ones, like the King’s Indian, or the Dutch Defense, or a defense to 1. e4 that’s not the Berlin. While it’s not their job to win, they do, at the minimum, have a large incentive to. If they encourage more viewership, and more enthusiasm, and more people going to watch them play, prize funds will increase, which is an indisputably good thing for them.

The reason this isn’t done is a sort of Tragedy of the Commons. What is this? It’s an economics term used to describe a lot of similar situations. Imagine if everyone takes their car to work– the streets are flooded. If everyone takes the bus, that’s a net positive– everyone gets to work quicker. However, the one fellow who takes his car also has a clear road, and can blast music and turn up the AC. This creates an incentive for everyone to hope others take the bus, but to ride in their car instead. Global warming is similar.

If only one player uses more exciting openings and tries the confessional booth and doesn’t ever take grandmaster draws, he gives a benefit to everyone else by increasing interest in chess. No one wants to be him, because he’s giving everyone else a free ride, and his rating points might take a slight hit as a result. I sympathize; it’s not their job to entertain us. But if everyone does it, everyone benefits. I think that tournament organizers and chess fans could demand more interesting play, but it all needs to be done as a team effort. One admittedly funny (and great in terms of chess content when not playing the role of Radio Jan) broadcaster saying that “Anish Giri, presently, he [couldn’t] even win a spelling bee for first graders…” does not an improved chess landscape make.

Thus I encourage you to fill out this form: https://saintlouischessclub.org/contact-us
to address any issues you might have with the Sinquefield Cup, and others like it, so that tournament formats can be improved, and that everyone has a better experience. Tell them Hikaru Junction sent you.

Lastly, we’ll pivot to another pressing issue: what in the name of heaven is going on with the World Championship? I’ve addressed this before in terms of detailing some of the corrupt things FIDE does, but this goes beyond corruption. It’s merely incompetence.

It had been previously announced, after the venue had finally been announced (three months before the games are to be played– why such a long wait?) that tickets would go on sale the 17th of August. Since then, under the ‘tickets’ section of their website (http://nyc2016.fide.com), the following statement has been posted:

“Tickets to the Match will go on sale through Ticketmaster soon. Single day, family and season passes will be available. Sign up for more information and updates.”

I, wanting a ticket, signed up over a week ago expecting a notification at the bottom of their website. Since then, I’ve received nothing. There’s nothing on Ticketmaster. On top of this nonsense, the following statement is in the ‘about’ section of their website:

“FIDE and Agon Limited will provide an exclusive live broadcast of the Match through its worldchess.com website. This is going to be the first Championship Match for the smartphone generation — a battle of minds witnessed and enjoyed by countless chess fans who play the game online every day.”

My issue with this is the “exclusive.” Nothing in chess should be exclusive. Even if FIDE has a brilliant broadcasting setup (which I am doubtful of,) chess moves aren’t proprietary, and it doesn’t make sense to be limiting your viewership by restricting the platforms on which your event can be viewed. The long-term consequences of these two seemingly small items– losing the American audience by not taking advantage of the NYC site, and simply not reaching enough people worldwide with FIDE’s flagship event. Even worse, FIDE must understand this: it’s not difficult to foresee that if this is implemented correctly, there’s a lot more to be gained that what they’re getting now in terms of chess fandom and audience.

I’m sorry that this post turned out so rant-like. I’ve written about seven hundred more words than I planned to thus far, but there are symptomatic issues plaguing chess and preventing its growth, and we need to get involved. That’s what the research to attempt to correct Radio Jan lead me to.

So please, do go here: http://nyc2016.fide.com/#contacts to ask FIDE what’s going on. I’ve filled out an accreditation form for media coverage if the World Championship ever actually happens, and hopefully if it’s accepted (which I sincerely doubt, but I thought it was worth a try) or if I can actually buy a ticket, I’ll be able to focus on the chess.

I anticipate this post will elicit discussion despite the lack of chess analysis, so here’s the customary thread: Thread 169906

I’ll see you next week with actual chess.


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Hikaru Junction
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