Thursday, June 4. 2009

Chess and Prime Ministers, by James O’Fee

World Champion Vishy Anand, of India, and Peter Leko, of Hungary [ or, in Hungarian, Lékó Péter] are currently contesting a chess match in the city of Miskolc, Hungary.

A few years ago Peter Leko played a drawn match for the World Championship against the then World champion, Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, and Leko remains one of the world’s chess elite. But the current match is at Rapid Chess, that is, in each game the rivals have only 30 minutes in which to play all his moves, and the entire game lasts no longer than one hour. So that no title is at stake, just honour and the prize-fund. And certainly not the World Championship crown which Anand will defend in earnest later this year.

Nonethless, Hungary’s new Prime Minister, Bajnai György Gordon, paid a surprise visit to the opening ceremony. And not in any starring role, just to meet and become acquainted with the participants. ChessBase explains –

A surprise visitor: the Prime Minister of Hungary Bajnai György Gordon . This disconcertingly young politician (initially we though it must be an aide) became prime minister when the Hungarian parliament passed a constructive motion of no-confidence against Ferenc Gyurcsány on 14 April 2009.

It’s good to know that the Hungarian Parliament understands how to dump unpopular Prime Ministers! And this reminds me of the involvement in chess of the UK’s former Prime Minster, Mrs Thatcher [Mrs T is reputed to have read the Bible three times while in office, but whether she ever pushed a pawn in anger while PM seems doubtful].

Ray Keene has organised three World Championship matches in London, in 1986, 1993 and 2000, as I discussed in the post Mrs Thatcher and chess (Friday, July 20. 2007). I referred to Ray Keene’s SPECTATOR column of 21 August 2007 where Ray wrote –

In 1986 the Kasparov v. Karpov World Chess Championship was to be held in London — specifically at the Park Lane Hotel. This was the first contest of such a calibre to be held in the capital since 1866 when Steinitz challenged Anderssen for an early version of the world chess title. However, we would need a suitably prestigious VIP to make the opening move — it had to be the PM — but how to get her to do it? Cue Jeremy.

Cautiously approaching the PM in the voting lobby, he enquired whether she might like to make the ceremonial first move — only to be greeted by the prime ministerial riposte: ‘Now why on earth should I want to do that?’ Quick as a rapier Jeremy came back with — ‘Because, Prime Minister, you will be on the front page of every newspaper in the USSR the very next day.’ To which, ‘How can I resist?’ led to Mrs Thatcher declaring the 1986 World Chess Championship in London well and truly open.

Meanwhile today, in London, Gordon Brown contemplates the final days of his Premiership and chess is the last thing on his mind.

Mrs Thatcher and chess (Friday, July 20. 2007)

Ray Keene’s Spectator column of 21 August 2007

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