by Ian Rogers
One of the highlights of the 2016 Chess Festival in Prague was the premiere of the short feature film Chess Train.
The Chess Train has been travelling around central Europe each October since 2011. The five day trip begins and ends in the Czech capital Prague, and sees a rapid tournament played on the train each morning, with a new country to explore each afternoon and evening.
London-based Estonian film-maker Maris Flabba took a film crew with her to cover the 2015 Chess Train tournament, a trip which took in the Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Slovakia and Poland and coincided with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Europe, most notably for the Chess Train travellers at Vienna railway station.
During the trip Flabba and her crew conducted interviews with players of many levels – even Grandmaster Lubomir Ftacnik who met some passengers when the train dropped into his home town of Bratislava – and was shocked by some of the answers she elicited.
When one Czech player told her that she had taken up chess principally in order to travel outside Czechoslovakia during the communist era, Flabba exclaimed “So my mother was telling the truth when she said she wasn’t allowed to travel from Estonia! I never believed her.”.
Flabba’s film could have been a travelogue around central Europe but, forced to condense dozens of hours of footage into less than 20 minutes, she concentrated on just three characters from the tournament – GMs Lars Karlsson (left, below) and Julio Sadorra (2nd from left, below) plus English amateur Rajko Vujatovic (right, below). The three, while competing for the top places in the Chess Train tournament, explained their vastly differing attitude to chess.
For example, Sadorra is shown preparing seriously for his Chess Train games, while explaining that he has made sacrifices to become a GM. Juxtaposed immediately afterwards, his smoking, drinking, rival Karlsson – who won the event by swindling Vujatovic in the final round – is seen insisting that there is no need to sacrifice anything for chess.
While missing some of the atmosphere engendered as the train travelled to iconic towns such as Dresden and Wroclaw, the film shows the attractions of chess, if not enough of the attractions of the Chess Train. A director’s cut, offering more sights and sounds of the journey, would be a significant enhancement.