14 December 2009

The Azmai Affair

From 'Five Crowns' by Seirawan and Tisdall, an account of the fifth Kasparov - Karpov match (New York / Lyon, 1990), here's another angle on World Championship Opening Preparation:

A note on the violent side of chess: a remarkable story surrounding the match was reported in the days leading up to play, by the Soviet wire service TASS. According to them, Kasparov second GM Zurab Azmaiparashvili was approached by a man claiming to be a Latvian businessman, Artur Ionis. Forces high up (?) were greatly interested in taking some of the wind out of the controversial champion's sails by relieving Kasparov of his title, Azmaiparashvili was informed. He offered Zurab a $7.000 advance to sell Kasparov's opening secrets.

The Georgian GM would get $50.000 if his employer managed to beat Karpov anyway, or $100.000 if Karpov won. When Azmai turned the offer down, Hollywood style mafiosi tactics followed, with the Georgian being warned about his health and particularly the safety of his loved ones. Later his mother-in-law in Tbilisi received a fire-bomb through the letter box. The incident resulted in slight injuries, according to the TASS report.

This kind of skullduggery has been absent from chess since the heated political days of Viktor Korchnoi as far as I [Tisdall] know. In Merano 1981 I remember the hall being swept for explosives every day and all sorts of fanatical mail coming in to the organization.

It is difficult to know what to think of the TASS story.

The Kasparov camp confirm it, but say they do not wish to associate Azmai's ordeal with the Karpov camp in any way. Karpov and company dismiss the whole idea as fantasy. The whole thing has overtones of the black-market thrillerdom that is an essential in the massive conspiracy theories that proliferate around the match -- but more of that later. I leave it to the reader to decide whether this bizarre jaunt into the criminal side of life is true or false, motivated by political terrorism or by crooked bookmakers trying to orchestrate a gambling coup. [p.5]

It is also difficult to know what to think of this story as written. Did anyone follow up with 'Latvian businessman Artur Ionis'? Re 'the Kasparov camp confirm it, but say they do not wish to associate Azmai's ordeal with the Karpov camp in any way', to whom else would the sale of opening secrets confer an advantage? To 'crooked bookmakers' making book on which opening will be played in the next game, like in The Dorfman Affair? If so, why the extra $50.000 if Karpov won? Surely this implies that Kasparov's opening secrets would somehow reach the ex-World Champion. It doesn't add up.

And what about 'the massive conspiracy theories that proliferate around the match', promised for later? Looks like I'll have to read the book carefully and report back when I understand more.


Later: About those 'massive conspiracy theories', here is part of the commentary for game 11, the fourth consecutive draw.

There is a growing cynicism that the match is no longer on the level. The conspiracy theorists are out in force, claiming that the players have decided to draw out and leave New York at 6-6, guaranteeing both sets of sponsors full value for their money. [p.16]

This sounds like something that the attendant journalists, having too much time on their hands between games, would invent.

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