by Ian Rogers
*Cover photo – Karsten Wieland/ http://www.schachfestival.de*
In bridge in years past, it was not unusual for an Australian team in a major competition to consist of a group of high level players plus a sponsor. In return for his or her funding, the sponsor would take the place of a better qualified player.
While noone regarded the situation as ideal, the argument in favour was that otherwise a team might not have the funds to participate at all. (In contrast to chess, Bridge Olympiads do not pay the accommodation and food costs for competitors.) More recently, funding for such events has been received from the Australian Bridge Federation rather than private sponsors and the era of playing sponsors appears to be gone.
Chess has largely been spared such moral dilemmas, though Eddy Levi until recently made his sponsorship of the Australian Masters, an individual round-robin event, contingent on him being granted a place in the tournament.
Chess ‘purity’ is in part because because sponsors generally know that, lacking a partner who can pull them out of a hole (as in bridge), they would likely humiliate themselves should they try to participate in the team they are sponsoring.
The most infamous example came at the 2002 Bled Olympiad, where Indonesia’s team sponsor insisted on playing board one; he failed to trouble the scorers.
However this month history repeated, with England probably costing themselves a gold medal at the World Seniors Team Championship by including their millionaire sponsor and captain Terry Chapman in their team.
England should have been hot favourite for the 50+ division, having big names Nigel Short, John Nunn ( Bottom left) and Jon Speelman (Bottom right) on the top three boards. Thanks to these three the English team were ranked 88 Elo points on average above the second seeds, Germany.
However with board four Keith Arkell misfiring and Chapman unable to be used in the big matches, England faltered against main rivals Slovakia and Germany, to find themselves fighting only for the bronze medals.
Meanwhile Grandmasters Glenn Flear and Jim Plaskett were scoring well in the England B team and would probably have made all the difference had one of them replaced Chapman in the A team.
Of course it is true that without Chapman’s sponsorship Short’s sizeable financial demands could not have been met. However that is a reflection on the motives of the sponsor, who undoubtedly knew that the team he was assembling around him have better medal chances with a Grandmaster on board 5.
Chapman was banking on Short, Nunn and Speelman being strong enough to carry him to a team gold medal and world title. Few will be upset that the steady Slovakians, with Australian youth coach Lubomir Ftacnik (top/cover – left v Short) at the helm, proved too strong.
It should be noted that World Seniors Championships have recently been split into two divisions – 50+ and 65+, with the top seeded Russian team being untouchable in the 65+ section of the 2015 65+ Championship. However in Dresden only 16 nations were represented and both divisions were padded with large numbers of local teams, some extremely weak; a move which helped the budget of the event if not its credibility as a serious World Championship. Though, as the organisers pointed out, “The 3rd World Senior Team Championship is still a test event hosted by the FIDE to reach optimal modalities for playing senior chess.” There is clearly some way to go.
GM John Nunn (left) and GM Jon Speelman (right).