12th Monarch Assurance Isle of Man International
27 Sept - 5 Oct 2003
Thursday, October 9, 2003 12:44 PM
by John Saunders
Well, what a tournament that was! In some ways it never quite recovered
from its explosive start, with the exit of top seed Nigel Short and its
repercussions. But there was some tremendous chess played, with worthy
winners emerging at the end.
prize-giving took place on 5 October at the Ocean Castle Hotel, and it
was a very emotional occasion for various reasons. The absence of Tony
Bridson (who died on 2 October after a long illness - photo shows him
on the left, with Dennis Hemsley in 2001) meant that there had to
be a new master of ceremonies. Tony is a desperately hard act to follow
as he is someone who can have an audience rolling in the aisles when he's
on form. His brother-in-law and business partner Arthur Kincade stepped
into the breach at zero notice and did a splendid job. Tony's absence
was keenly felt but his wife and children were brave enough to put in
an appearance just three days after his death. When they were introduced
to the audience, everyone stood up and applauded them as one: that's the
sort of warmth and admiration that people have for Tony. It was a very
Also, chief arbiter Richard Furness was suffering from a bad cough and
was unable to take his usual place at the podium to announce the prize-list,
and interpolate his martini-dry shafts of wit, although he was present
in the room. His arbiting colleague David Sedgwick took his place and
did a great job. In some ways this worked out very well: David took the
opportunity to pay tribute to Richard's handling of the incidents of the
first day, and it was quite apparent from the warmth of the audience's
reaction to David's comments that their sympathies and support were with
don't propose to run through every prize and award given out on the day,
but will confine it to the big ones. The tournament winner, on tie-break
from Smbat Lputian of Armenia, was Norwegian grandmaster Simen
Agdestein. His speech went down very well indeed. Not only is he a
former professional (and international) footballer and a superb chess
player, he might consider a career as an after-dinner speaker. Standing
in front of a row of Manx government officials (including the First Minister
and the Minister for Tourism, incidentally), he started with a territorial
claim. "We Norwegians used to own this place!", quipped
the grandmaster, pointing out that Norse sovereignty over the Isle of
Man only came to an end in the 13th century. Simen gave the exact year
(I think it was 1286) so he had either looked it up, or the date sticks
firmly in the Norwegian mind. This comment was greeted by laughter, particularly
from the large contingent of Norwegian youngsters that Simen had brought
over with him. One of the most extraordinary aspects of his achievement
was that he was effectively acting as head of the Norwegian delegation
during the tournament - but still found the time to win it. I recall Andrew
Webster doing something similar at Jersey, but it's fair to say that Simen's
rivals were stratospherically stronger than those in the Channel island.
Simen then made an oblique reference to the incident on the first day,
without mentioning any names. "I understand there were some problems
at the beginning of the tournament". He paused slightly to make
sure we all knew what this ironic understatement was referring to. We
did. He then linked this to a very pertinent comment originally made by
Artur Yusupov. "Every grandmaster should try to organise a tournament
at some time in their life". Yes, we understood that one, too
- this reference was greeted by more applause and laughter from the audience,
and was another clear indicator of where the audience's sympathies lay.
There were surprises in store for both sponsor and tournament organiser.
British Chess Federation president Gerry Walsh had been a guest of the
tournament for some days, and was in the Isle of Man to make some announcements
about future chess events on the island. There will be another Monarch
Assurance tournament next year and the year after (as the sponsor reassured
us last year and this), but immediately following the 2004 Monarch will
follow the inaugural World Senior Team Championship in Port Erin, and
plans are being put in place for the 2005 Smith & Williamson British
Championship to be played in the Isle of Man as well. These two particular
enterprises started as Tony Bridson's 'babies' and it would be great if
Tony's name could be remembered through them (the name of a trophy for
the World Senior Team event?).
Gerry had a third trump up his sleeve, one about which tournament organiser
Dennis Hemsley knew nothing. He announced that Dennis Hemsley was
the winner of the 2003 BCF President's Award for his services to
British chess, and that he had come to make the award in person. It was
a lovely moment, and a very unusual one in that it left the organiser
speechless: "I'm gobsmacked!" was about as much as he could
get out at this stage.
was good to see the Manx tourism minister, David Cretney (on the right
of the photo), come along in person to pay tribute to the tournament
and its sponsors and organisers. It is appropriate to comment here how
helpful and efficient his department is - I'd like to pay my own thanks
to them for making my stay in the island such a pleasant and trouble-free
one. Mr Cretney also had a surprise up his sleeve. He presented the managing
director of the tournament sponsors Monarch Assurance, Mr Patrick Taylor,
with the Department of Tourism's "Merit Award" for 2003.
This is a richly deserved award for Patrick Taylor, who has been such
a generous sponsor and friend to Manx chess for the past 12 years. Also,
it is a great fillip for the game of chess itself to be treated as such
an asset to the Isle of the Man by the Department of Tourism. Mr Taylor
was surprised and delighted: "Thank you very much. I can only echo
what Dennis just said - I also am gobsmacked!"
CARRY ON MONARCH ASSURANCE
Dennis Hemsley soon rediscovered his power of speech to close the prize-giving.
His main thoughts were for the late Tony Bridson - "I have lost my
right arm" - and he also paid tribute and made gifts to many others,
including his team of officials, plus hotel manager Jean Depin and the
staff of the Ocean Castle Hotel. Having run the tournament in tandem with
Tony Bridson at the Cherry Orchard Hotel, Dennis has decided to take a
back seat whilst a successor steps in. His will be a hard act to follow
when he retires, but such is the momentum and goodwill that the Monarch
Assurance International has built up, thanks to Dennis and Tony and the
sponsors, that I am sure it will go on for years to come. That wasn't
quite the end of the presentation as there was an unexpected intervention
from Chris Bridson, son of Tony. He is clearly a chip off the old block
with the same charm and swagger as his father. Chris reassured us of the
continuation of his dad's company, Mann on the Ground, and that he and
his uncle would be carrying on the good work started by Tony Bridson.
A suitable and optimistic note on which to finish.
WHAT A CARRY ON!
Reflections on Nigel Short's Withdrawal
No Short, No senko: photo of the game that never happened *
As promised, a few more words about the incident on day one of the Monarch
Assurance tournament when top seed Nigel Short decided to withdraw from
the tournament. BCM, acting as official website, published the bare bones
of this matter at the time. At that point we went quiet about it, because
we were aware that Short, having gone home, was in the process of demanding
his fee and expenses from the sponsor. Since then the statement agreed
between Short and the sponsors has been published. But ChessBase (click
here) then rather muddied the waters with what they described as the
'inside story'. It's still worth reading what they have to say, but please
then come back here and read what the BCM has to add: we were, after all,
on the spot.
Here are a few questions and observations about the ChessBase piece,
in no particular order:
- " Did they ask permission to use the photographs on the British
Chess Magazine which are copyright to me? No - though I would probably
have allowed them to, had they had the courtesy to ask. They can make
up for this lack of netiquette by putting this version of events as
their top link for a day or two.
- " Did they ask me any follow-up questions about what happened
last Saturday? No - in fact, no one from ChessBase has been in contact
with me at all regarding any aspect of this.
- " Did they ask the organizer any questions in putting together
the story? No.
- " Did they ask any of the arbiters about what happened or for
any comment? No.
- " Did they ask any of the players what they thought? Apparently
yes, but they haven't named any names.
- " Have they quoted the most relevant passage from the FIDE rules?
No (OK, that's my opinion, but we'll get to that presently)
- " Have they said anything about the other players in the tournament?
Two names get mentioned in passing, as well as the unnamed witness to
- " Who or what were the sources for their version? In the first
instance, the BCM website (thanks for popping in, whoever you are, and
thanks for linking to the site); an unnamed eye-witness (who seems to
think Short sat at the board for a whole hour - really?); and Nigel
- " Was it really an 'inside story'? Well, Nigel was an 'insider'
but he wasn't inside for very long...
I don't want to be too hard on ChessBase. Their stories tend to be frothy,
tabloidy and celebrity-orientated and that's OK as far as it goes (and
they at least linked to the official site). They help to popularise the
game. Natalia Kiseleva's photo-shoot on the Isle of Man was quite delightful
(as is Natalia herself - not for nothing does her 4NCL match captain refer
to her in writing as 'kiss all over'). This sort of thing ChessBase does
very well. As well as producing top-notch chess software. But maybe they
should stick to what they are good at, and be a bit more careful with
serious chess stories.
Well, then: would you like to hear a little bit more about what actually
happened in the Isle of Man? Yes, I thought you might. Are you sitting
comfortably? Then I'll begin...
SHOW ME THE RULES
Let's consider the bare bones of what happened: Short was asked to comply
with a rule of the competition requiring him to be re-paired with another
player after it was clear that the original player wasn't coming - the
legality of which rule he disputed at the time but now concedes was legal
under BCF rules - and refused to accept the decision of the arbiter. He
then made no attempt to proceed to the next step in such matters - to
seek an appeal - but simply absented himself from the venue and the competition.
All the above is cut and dried, and Short does not dispute it other than
to quibble about the prior posting of the rule about re-pairing. ChessBase's
account of where the notice was placed had me falling about laughing -
"a notice to that effect posted somewhere in the hall". Somewhere
in the hall?? The re-pairing rule was posted right by the door
as you went in, on a piece of paper right next to another sheet showing
the pairings. Clearly printed in black and white. You see the pairings
and you move your eyeballs a few degrees to the right and you see the
rules. There was only one door, and only one notice board. Somewhere
in the hall... I wonder: did ChessBase make that up or were they quoting
RE-PAIRING THE RIFT
Another highly significant point: is Short claiming that he didn't know
that re-pairing is standard practice in British tournaments? It might
be true of less experienced and/or foreign players, who may be unused
to the concept of re-pairing. It is not the practice in most foreign tournaments,
where the players have to register in person and then the draw is hastily
assembled based on who is actually present and ready to play. But Short
is British, and he's very, very experienced. He has played in lots of
British tournaments where this rule is applied, over a period of 20 or
more years, most recently the Gibraltar Masters in February 2003 where
the arbiter was Stewart Reuben. Not to mention his two previous appearances
in Monarch Assurance tournaments. Even if he has never been re-paired,
Short surely must have seen it going on around him at some point in his
career. His claimed ignorance of this procedure is very hard to believe.
The reaction to Short's withdrawal by those involved in the tournament
was very negative. Though it is true to say that a handful of players
in the Isle of Man voiced sympathy with Short over his dispute with the
arbiters, the vast majority of those whose opinions I have canvassed condemned
his behaviour in withdrawing and then expecting payment.
Within a day or so of his departure, it became apparent that he was firing
off angry emails, demanding the payment of his expenses, his appearance
fee and (at one stage) even asking for a slice of what he might have won
had he continued in the tournament. He also took issue with journalists
who had been critical of his behaviour and contacted their editors. He
didn't bother doing this to me, incidentally, probably because he knows
that I am a director as well as editor of BCM.
O LUCKY MAN
Here's where Short got rather lucky. He has played in the Monarch Assurance
twice previously, and he knows that the Isle of Man is a very laid-back,
peace-loving place with lots of old-world charm; and he knows that the
sponsors here are very generous people. He took a bit of advice from an
older, wiser head and eventually it seems that his (originally) unbelievable
terms of settlement were toned down to something less outrageous and an
It is important to stress that this agreement was made between the sponsors
and the player, and not between the tournament and the player, and that
the money was paid as a gesture of goodwill between the sponsors and Short.
This means that the agreement cost the tournament nothing in terms of
money; in fact, it is better off, as what would have been paid to Short
(had he played on to the end) remains in the tournament's funds to be
carried over to next year. By the same token, the agreement was made without
prejudice to the actions of the tournament's organisers and arbiters.
It cannot be stressed too strongly that the actions of the organisers
and the arbiters were completely fair, unbiased and in accordance with
the rules set for the tournament, and that Short's much-trumpeted deal
with the sponsors should not obscure that fact.
But it is hard to agree with the writer of the ChessBase piece that this
was a 'happy ending'. It concluded the business part of the transaction
but leaves a rather nasty taste in the mouth. Unlike most high-profile
sports, chess has inadequate machinery for dealing with disputes or infractions
of the rules. Footballers who defy referees' decisions can usually expect
some form of retribution, but chess is different. In some circumstances
high-profile players can wield greater power than the tournaments or federations
with which they take issue. Often a lid is placed over the problem and
life goes on. This can be an effective solution but at times resentments
breed and fester, and break out again at a later date.
I'M A CELEBRITY - GET ME OUT OF HERE
Lots of words have been written over the years about the devaluation
of the grandmaster title. Some have suggested and used the phrase 'super
GM' but I would suggest that perhaps we should introduce the title 'celebrity
grandmaster'. This could be used to describe the elite players who are
known to the general public, popular with sponsors, and a draw to spectators.
Very few players fall into this category but it includes all the old-time
undisputed world champions and their challengers, and perhaps a sprinkling
of other top GMs of 2700+. We can argue over fringe names amongst the
10-15 members of this elite group (which isn't necessarily anything to
do with the current FIDE Rating List), but, make no mistake, Nigel Short
is in this category, with two 'norms' - 1993 challenger to Garry Kasparov's
world title, and current rating of 2701.
the term 'celebrity' helps to make the chess hierarchy a bit more comprehensible
to the outside world and put it into context. Also, it might help us to
understand the difficulties which led to Short's exit from the Monarch.
Being a celebrity can sometimes be a tough gig, as we know from endless
stories about actors and sportspeople in the media. With fame comes responsibility,
and it is perhaps more problematic when you put a celebrity into an event
alongside non-celebrities. In the Isle of Man, Short was the one and only
celebrity grandmaster (maybe footballing grandmaster Simen Agdestein is
in his own country), and it was assumed automatically that, when the Lieutenant
Governor and his wife were presented to the players, Short it was who
would meet and greet.
To give him credit, Short carried out this extra responsibility extremely
well. In some ways it was very convenient that his original opponent wasn't
there; it meant that he could spend more time chatting to the dignitaries.
It is something he has probably been called upon to do hundreds of times,
and he does it well. In this respect it is perhaps reasonable to argue
that he earned at least some of his appearance money.
MAN AT THE TOP
he was then required to throw a switch in his mind, stop being a celeb
and become a chess player. At this point he was effectively reduced to
the same status as the humblest amateur player in the tournament, and
comes under the arbiter's jurisdiction. Those of us who are not celebs
will probably never have this experience, but do know about pre-game nerves.
I imagine that this must be significantly more stressful to the celeb
player, who doesn't get the chance to quietly compose himself at the board
(as many ordinary players do). Something similar also applies to the officials,
who must handle every player equally and be seen to do so. And, by the
way, they were seen to do so, by me and by all other witnesses
to this round.
I also imagine Short must have been suffering from jet-lag. Three days
prior to the first round in the Isle of Man, he had been playing in the
last of a number of exhibition events in China. This involved playing
in three different cities, eating lots of food, and his own Sunday
Telegraph column for 28 September cites exhaustion as one of the factors
in the declining results of his team there.
The Chinese exhaustion factor is significant in another respect. The
women's world champion, Zhu Chen, had been originally invited to play
in the Monarch Assurance tournament but had not been able to confirm because
of her involvement in the same Chinese event that Short had played in.
Short had become her replacement at the Monarch. In retrospect, Zhu Chen
may have made the more realistic decision of the two. Short may have been
less well-placed than the Chinese player in order to gauge the extent
to which he would be exhausted when he rolled up in Port Erin.
So, at the moment when the arbiter approached him to ask him to play
a replacement player, we can take it that Short was tired and under some
stress. None of us make entirely rational decisions in such circumstances,
and perhaps that goes a long way to explaining why he took umbrage, refused
to play the game and went straight home without exploring a better solution
to the problem. However those factors do not apply to his later actions.
At first he concentrated his guns on the arbiters but was later persuaded
to make his peace with the sponsors and that part of the business is now
closed. But there is still no evidence that he has ever truly assessed
the situation from a viewpoint other than his own, or that he has expressed
a degree of regret for his treatment of the organisers and arbiters. Until
he does so, I'm afraid that wounds will fester.
© 2003 British Chess Magazine. Written by John Saunders. We reserve
the right to mock, deride and otherwise cruelly vilify anyone infringing
copyright of text and photographs on this page.
* believe it or not, the picture of the empty top board Short v Nosenko
is a genuine shot taken before the beginning of the round, and not set
up afterwards. I'm not sure why I did it. Perhaps I have psychic powers?!