Martin Kelner
Monday October 2, 2006
The Guardian

I do not know a great deal about sport – if you are bothered about all that, there are some red-hot experts elsewhere in this section I can heartily recommend – but I have over the years built up a level of expertise in the area of toilet facilities, so I may be just the man to deconstruct the dispute affecting the championship chess match currently taking place in the Russian republic of Kalmykia – Toiletgate, as this paper tentatively dubbed it on Saturday (that’s the dispute, not the republic, which may not be blessed with the world’s most advanced sanitation, but The Guardian would never be so rude).

The match, between Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov, is what boxers would call a unification bout. It is to determine the undisputed world champion (a term, incidentally, that the comedian George Carlin takes issue with: “If he’s the undisputed champion, then what’s all the fighting about?” asks Carlin). Topalov, as I understand it, complained after game four of the 12-game match that his opponent was visiting the loo too often – 50 times, he said, during six hours of chess.

He thought Kramnik might be logging on (you should pardon the expression) in the seclusion of the cubicle and using computer-aided expertise to plot his next move (on the chess board, that is, not in the toilet, where outside advice is rarely needed).

The match committee responded by closing the two toilets in the rest rooms, and designating a third for the use of the chess players only. That is, out of bounds to anyone without a domed forehead, unfashionable glasses held together with sticking plaster, a slight personal freshness problem, wearing a shirt with a frayed collar, and a tweed jacket with a row of ballpoint pens in the inside pocket. I joke, of course.

Do not send emails; I am well aware that using outmoded stereotypes is a facile way to get cheap and easy laughs. In fact, I am rather banking on it.

Anyway, Kramnik refuses to share a toilet with his opponent, and forfeited game five in the series rather than do so.

You can see his point. There is nothing worse than settling on to a disconcertingly warm seat when your posterior is conditioned to expect a bracing slight chill, and if Topalov is indeed in there long enough to establish a wireless broadband connection and search authoritative chess sites, well that is even more unsettling than seeing someone disappear into your loo with a copy of the Daily Mirror.

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