Vladimir Tukmakov – A Feast of Chess in Time of Plague – Candidates Tournament 2020 – Part 1 – Yekaterinburg – ISBN 9789492510921 – 160 pages.
In the middle of the last century tournament compilations were extremely popular. After every major chess event a compendium would appear in print. Naturally, the Candidates Tournament was no exception. For instance, David Bronstein’s book “Zurich International Chess Tournament, 1953” was carefully and thoroughly studied many times in my youth. To this day I can still recite some of its more memorable passages. Gradually various textbooks and publications, but mainly theoretical manuals, completely replaced that particular type of chess literature. Nowadays even the world title match is not always worthy of its own publication. This is probably a direct result of the rapid increase in the number of international tournaments currently contested on the world circuit. The close-knit circle of leading grandmasters has turned into a sort of wandering circus troupe, globetrotting with practically the same act. One competition seamlessly transitions into the next, making it hard for the average chess fan to follow this infinite flow of events.
At first the same could have been said of the 2020 Candidates Tournament. However, the balanced flow of the normal chess calendar was unexpectedly interrupted by a frightening occurrence. Seemingly harmless at first, the coronavirus pandemic overtook more and newer countries by the day and gradually became pretty much the main, and only determining factor in life. The Candidates Tournament was threatened as well. Whether it would be held at all was pretty much in doubt until the very last few minutes. Even the grandmasters, who had already gathered in Ekaterinburg, had reason to doubt that they would have a chance to sit at the boards. In the end, having indeed commenced, the tournament planted in me a vague notion of writing a book about it.
The title of it was born first. It flowed naturally out of a name of one of Alexander Pushkin’s four Little Tragedies “A Feast in Time of Plague.” Surely, the situation in which the players would need to compete called for some dramatic associations. Certain parties opposed to holding said tournament also used this expression implying a kind of cynicism and impropriety of celebration during such tragic times for humanity. Yet the great poet had something entirely different in mind. That particular work was written in 1830 during the second cholera pandemic and Russia was right in the midst of the suffering. Finding himself in mandatory quarantine Pushkin’s little masterpiece praised the virtue of the human spirit, ready to resist any calamity or misfortune.
Your author remembers another cholera outbreak in which he was a direct participant. Chess had its role to play in that story too. News of the cholera pandemic having invaded Odessa reached me in Buenos Aires in 1970. The articles in every paper were terrifying and I was convinced that it was unlikely I would see my hometown, friends and the love of my life who would later become my wife, any time soon. Yet having concluded the tournament successfully I was surprised at the ease with which I returned to Odessa. The city greeted me in a very uncharacteristically collected and somber manner. There were no crowds of wandering tourists and the street sweepers scurried about nonstop. I had never seen such a clean and desolate summer in Odessa before or after. The natives of Odessa, normally carefree and full of life, were not despondent even in those dark times. Not many local restaurants chose to stay open in those days, even while the wine flowed like water. People enthusiastically believed the advice of doctors who claimed wine helps avoid misfortune. Today those days are long gone even if still remembered as
a symbol of love of life and optimism.
As the tournament which we shall discuss commenced in such an interesting and energetic manner this timid idea of writing a book soon morphed into a very persistent desire. Th erefore, the book which you are holding before you bears witness to my solidarity with my younger colleagues. The talent and bravery demonstrated by the best players in the world in this time of global calamity is a testament of their fortitude and commitment.
As usual I was assisted by my old and proven “Iron Friend” whom we otherwise know as the computer engine. Without him none of this could have ever been accomplished with such swiftness. At the same time, my silent assistant was only accountable for the pacing, whereas the bulk of responsibility regarding the quality of execution rests entirely on the shoulders of the author.
~ GM Vladimir Tukmakov