Clock antics

'The introduction of a physical element—the clock—into an ostensibly intellectual activity is itself enough to disconcert some players. Common diversionary practices at battle-of-nerves time include panic-stricken staring at the clock face, bouncing up and down in the chair, and thumping the clock when a move is made. Several Grandmasters—Henrique Mecking, Walter Browne, and Viktor Korchnoi among them —indulge in exaggeratedly nerve-racking demonstrations during time trouble, which can have the effect of screwing up the tension and unsettling their opponents. Mecking, the Brazilian Grandmaster, was famous for holding down his hand so firmly during time scrambles that his opponent could not press the clock. Not to be outdone, Florin Gheorghiti, Romania's Grandmaster, executes baroque flourishes with his pieces when under pressure, brandishing them in the air before crashing them onto the board. Raymond Keerie once saw him hurl a rook so savagely that it ricocheted off the board and hit his opponent on the head!


The most extreme example of gamesmanship in a World Championship match occurred in the clash in the Philippines at Baguio City in 1978, between Anatoly Karpov, the golden boy of the Soviet establishment, holder of the Order of Lenin and World Chess Champion, and Viktor Korchnoi, the Soviet defector and genera] bad boy of international chess, whom the press in the Philippines nicknamed the Leningrad Lip.

In this protracted match of 32 games, the players hated each ¡»liter so much that it proved impossible to "bury the hatchel," so Irozen had the metaphorical ground between them become. Both sides employed merciless intimidation techniques. Karpov hired a so-called parapsychologist to sit in the front row of the auditorium and beam mind-bending rays at Korchnoi, or so Korcli noi claimed, while Korchnoi engaged orange-clad mystic gums from the banned Ananda Marga sect to levitate for victory for him and conduct regular morning chanting sessions. The sect members were on bail for attempted murder, which did not ease matters.

In the battle between astral gurus and crazed parapsycholo-gists, parapsychology ultimately won by six to five with 21 draws, and Karpov remained champion.

The staredown

In competitive martial arts the "staredown" has become almost da rigueur. Perhaps the greatest master was Muhammad Ali, the former heavyweight boxing champion, whose stare seemed to suck the life from his victims. In chess, World Champion Mikhail Tal cultivated a penetrating stare that many of his adversaries found extremely disconcerting. One of them, Grandmaster Pal Benko, tried to ward off the effects of lal's "evil eye" by wearing dark glasses during play.

While attacking, you should look as boidly aggressive as a beast of prey—without becoming reckless—in order to bring pressure at once upon the adversary's morale.

—Bruce Lee, Tao ofJeet Kune Do

The most intimidating player in chess history also happens !< be the best: Garry Kasparov. Fred Wait/kin describes Kasparov' presence at a simultaneous exhibition in France:

Kasparov moved swiftly from board to board as if someone were pacing him in a race, pushing pawns and pieces ahead. He is beautiful when he plays, a wild creature. His body is tense, his lace taut, punishing, at; times fierce, as if lie is about, to physically attack. 1 have seen top Grandmasters wither from his fury, becoming disheveled, alarmed (although others are caught in the jet stream of his energy and genius and play their inspired best against him). He paused at one board, bis bottom lip stuck out, mirroring an inner churning.

As he thought, there was a sway to his body, a connection between the mind that created games brimming with complexity so deep that few in the world could fully understand them, and the long graceful sweep of his arm moving a bishop across a diagonal, the athletic move from board to hoard. Indeed, he said later, he is a rhythm player, making better and belter moves when he is on tire beat: from game to game. . , .

Kasparov's intimidating physical presence at the board set. him apart from the other Grandmasters here. Confronted by his glowering look, an opponent lost confidence in his own ideas.


Beyond the staredown, true masters of the martial arts possess an overwhelming presence that defeats would-be opponents before the first blow is delivered- This confident radiance is effortless and unselfconscious, a result of decades of training mind, body, and spirit.

Before the struggle, victory is mine.

—Alkido Shihan. Mitsugi Saotome

Great things are to be won by resolute self-confidence and daring.

—Emanuel Lasker, World Champion for almost 27 years

One of the secrets of this indomitable confidence is to overcome the fear of death. For chess players the equivalent is to overcome the fear of losing. All the top players we know have a profound desire to win, and they hate to lose. But hating and fearing are different, and the distinction is critical Hating to lose keeps you focused, fear of loss is distracting.

The Samurai approach to chess urges you to let: go of the fear of losing and concentrate on playing your best. Cultivate a Zenlike detachment from the ego, focusing attention purely on the best possible moves. Musashi wrote: "Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death."

It is possible to misinterpret this as an exhortation to run berserk risks. On the chessboard this can be fatal. Musashi's advice is not intended to lure either the Samurai warrior or the chess player into insane folly in search of victory at all costs, but to suppress thoughts of victory and defeat while playing and to subordinate such desires to finding the best possible solution at every stage. It is difficult to achieve this attitude of mind, but it is well worth cultivating.

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