14 October 2010

The Market Demands It!

In a number of posts I've expressed my admiration for old BBC chess programming -- see BBC: The Master Game -- with special interest in shows that spotlighted the World Championship: Karpov - Kasparov (Moscow 1985, Game 16) and 1993 Kasparov - Short on BBC. After the BBC itself, the common denominator in the programming was one William Roland Hartston [Wikipedia].

In today's democratic climate, where the requirements for Grandmaster titles are much relaxed, Hartston would easily be a GM, but in the old days he had to settle for IM. The Streatham & Brixton blog did a series on Hartston a few months ago, starting with

  • Bill Hartston Speaks • 'Didn't They Use to Put Chess on the Telly? It was clearly our greatest era and nobody, aside perhaps from a certain R.D. Keene, could challenge Bill Hartston’s claim to be television’s “Mr. Chess”. Although no longer actively involved in the game, back then, some tournaments broadcast late at night on ITV aside, if chess was being televised Hartston would inevitably have his fingers in the pie. I caught up with him for a chat about his appearances on TV and why the game has all but disappeared from our screens. Our story begins, as many chess narratives do, in Reykjavik forty years ago...'

and continuing with loads of links to YouTube clips.

The Coda summarized 'The Master Game' with

It was a memorable show. I would always be amazed that my schoolfriends, who to my certain knowledge were not players, would watch the programme and then come to me and talk about it the following day. But that was an index of how good it was. The world has changed since then, but I do not see why something a little like it would not be good again.

Not everyone was so impressed by Hartston's work. Here is former World Champion Anatoly Karpov in 'From Baguio to Merano' by Karpov and Baturinsky, commenting on his 1978 title match against Korchnoi (p.73-74):

Many of those who came to Baguio as correspondents for their papers had altogether not the slightest connection with our game, and in fact this is one field where it is extremely difficult to get by without a minimum of specialist knowledge. [...] And those of them who had no knowledge of our game described in especially vivid terms and pronouncements by the grandmaster who had defected from the Soviet Union -- since this in itself was a sensation, and everything associated with it was readily published by the papers. But where does chess come into all this?

There is another, perhaps even more refined method of forming public chess opinion. Immediately after the match, in fearful haste dictated by purely opportunist considerations (the market demands it!) a whole series of books devoted to the match were written. The quality of the overwhelming majority of them leaves a great deal to be desired. [...] I made the acquaintance of an analysis of the match games in a book by William Hartston, and it immediately became clear why this player, who for a long time promised to become the first English grandmaster, continues to remain an ordinary master. The superficiality of his subjective comments is beneath all criticism.

What are the characteristics of superficial and subjective comments? I'm not sure I can tell, so in another post I'll look at notes by both Karpov and Hartston to some games from that memorable match.

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