I have to intersperse my first chess-related post today. The Chess Masters tournament in Bilbao has just ended, with a great success for the Bulgarian grandmaster Veselin Topalov. This tournament may be compared to the upcoming Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, where I will put my hopes on my fellow countryman Roger Federer.
Congratulations to Topalov, although I had rather hoped for Vassily Ivanchuk to win the decisive last-round game. And of course, as everyone else, I was curiously following the results of the possibly most amazing chess prodigy ever, the 17-year old Norwegian Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen was leading the tournament and the inofficial live world rankings sometime during the tournament, but then fell back a bit. Well, he is young and will have many more chances to seize the number 1 position.
As it turned out, Topalov will probably be the new number 1 in the official rankings as of October 2008. He surely is one of the best active players, but unfortunately he also falls into the category of chess players that sometimes seem to lose their sense of reality. This happened to Topalov during the 2006 world championship match agains the great Russian player Vladimir Kramnik. Topalov, or rather his manager Danailov, accused Kramnik of cheating by using computer assistance on the toilet, leading to the horrible "bathroom controversy". An ugly story indeed. But unfortunately not the first time that psychological warfare was used in chess world championship matches .
As often in such controversies, it is difficult to be sure who is right and who is wrong. One indication that I tend to consider is how the parties behave. Are they still open for a fair discussion and rational arguments? Do they treat the other side with respect? A telling incident with regard to the latter happened early this year: The "handshake controversy". Ivan Cheparinov, another Bulgarian grandmaster managed by Danailov, refused to shake hands with English GM Nigel Short. Whatever the background, this is not a decent behavior of a sportsman. It shed a dim light on the Bulgarian chess elite.