In a column earlier this month, Double Rooks bewailed the entry of “the politics of hate” into the unifying arena of chess. This depressing episode took place at the Corsican Chess Festival when GM Ehsan Maghami of Iran refused to play against his fourth round opponent FM Ehud Shachar of Israel.
Maghami, representing one of the Middle East’s most radical Islamic regimes, didn’t have to give a reason for his adamant decision; however unfortunate, it was just another demonstration of the irreconcilable hatred existing between these two peoples from time immemorial.
The real tragedy is that this ancient conflict should now introduce a discordant note in a centuries-old sport which has developed into a world-wide movement for enhancing amity among individual players, peoples and nations. But such is the viseral aversion existing between countries of the Arab world and Israel that the guiding spirit of chess, “gens una sumus”—we are one people—apparently has no meaning or influence whatever among them.
Instead, the chess arena has now been turned into something of a competitive farce by these two countries. Apart from tournament hostility, it seems they are now engaged in a ridiculous rivalry to outdo each other in setting world records for simultaneous exhibitions.
Getting into the Guinness Book of Records has long been an alluring challenge for many GMs, and one popular way has been to exceed the existing record of participants in simultaneous exhibitions.
These phenomenal marathon “exercises” not only tax the powers of concentration, memory, stamina and skill of the performing GM, but the herculean effort also brings a measure of pride and glory to their respective countries. Early in 2009, the Bulgarian GM Kiril Georgiev eclipsed Susan Polgar’s 350 world record by playing against 360 opponents, defeating 284, drawing against 70 and losing six games in a session lasting 14 hours.
A few months later Georgiev’s feat was surpassed by 29-year-old Iranian GM Morteza Mahjoob who took on 500 players, scoring 397 wins, 90 draws and losing 13. The effort lasted over 18 hours and was closely and proudly followed by Iranian television.
In October last year, Tel Aviv newspapers trumpeted the story in blaring headlines: “Israel destroys Iran —on the chessboard” after GM Alik Gershon posted a new record by facing a total of 523 opponents and scoring a winning result of 86 per cent.
The sequel to this Israeli rejoicing should be easy to guess. Earlier this year Iran struck back when Ehsan Maghami, nine time national champion, set a new world simul record of 604 boards.
The exhibition, staged at the sports stadium of Tehran University, lasted 25 hours with the final result: 580 wins, 16 draws and eight losses. How far will this simultaneous rivalry go? Double Rooks and the chess world await the Israeli reply.