Zurich, home to the oldest extant chess club in the world, is celebrating the club’s 200-year anniversary with a magnificent display of chess, featuring, among else, a simultaneous exhibition by 7 world champions and the Russian-turned-Swiss grandmaster Viktor Korchnoi. Each grandmaster was playing against 25 amateurs, quite a few of whom rated at 2000+. No easy feat, especially since the event took place inside the main hall of Zurich main station with hundreds of spectators huddled around the boards.
Now, it so happens that I live in the vicinity of Zurich, and of course I couldn’t miss out on watching eight chess greats in action simultaneously! What was fascinating to observe was how the eight champions approached the simul differently and how each displayed his very own gamut of gestures, facial expressions, pace and gait. Here goes the gallery of greats:
Ruslan Ponomariov, youngest world champion in history at the tender age of 18. Now at age 26, he’s still going strong, scoring an impressive 25-0 against his 25 contenders.
Viswanathan Anand, current world champion. Perhaps the nicest chess grandmaster ever. He and Kramnik seemed like super best friends. Anand’s score: 21 wins, 4 draws.
Anatoly “the Python” Karpov squeezing twenty-five little mice. As you can tell by the belly, some of them have already made it into the digestive tract. Karpov’s result: 17 wins, 1 loss, 7 draws.
Topalov looked very fancy, and was also a sweet-heart to the fans, signing tons of boards, books and pictures for the eager crowd. His game didn’t go quite so smoothly: 20 wins, 2 losses, 3 draws.
Spasski donned a badass black suit and sunglasses upon arrival, but eventually the sweat got to him. He entertained the spectators with a running commentary on most of his games, but was reluctant to attend to the autograph hoardes in the end — understandably, I guess, after walking in circles for five hours. His result: 14 wins, 11 draws.
The Krammeister taking on some Swiss jailbait. I must say Kramnik’s attitude was magnificent. He was relaxed and cordial, encouraged the amateurs with soothing words and even dropped some analysis here and there. His geniality was on par with his performance: no loss, 3 draws, 22 wins. Not the least impressive because he finished his simul first, a good three (!) hours before Kasparov. Asked by the host how to explain this performance, he quipped that it’s his long legs that give him an advantage over the other players.
Viktor “The Terrible”, taking a break from battling against Swiss cows. Korchnoi seems like an affable guy as long as you let him win. He was all sneaky smiles when on top, and a rather grumpy old man when not. His performance was impressive nevertheless: 21 wins, 1 loss, 3 draws.
However, the most fascinating player — and the most popular among the attending audience — was Kasparov. This man is pure eye candy. And very, very serious about his chess. Prior to the simul, while most of the other grandmasters were indulging in friendly chit-chat, Kasparov was pacing up and down behind the fence like a tiger in a cage, only to be unleashed into yet another cage full of tasty amateurs. Perhaps he came out there wanting to prove something, to assert his position as the foremost chess master in history once and for all among his peers.
Kasparov had such a multifarous display of frowns, head-shakes, glares, stares, rubs, lip-bites, gestures and expressions that eventually I gave up on taking pictures and made a video instead. As you can see, Kasparov was snacking on some Swiss chocolate — clearly a performance booster, judging by his result: 21 wins, 4 draws. An astonishing result considering he’s the only retired grandmaster besides Spassky.