Two giant chessboards are part of the equipment for the Volvo of Washington Chess Match, which will be going on through May 14, in that company's showroom on Wisconsin Avenue. One stands on a tripod; the other (metal, with magnetized pieces clinging to it) is wedged into the back of a station wagon in front of six rows of spectators.
"These are the strangest surroundings I have ever seen for an international chess event," remarks spectator Kevin O'Connell. He should know; he is England's, and perhaps the world's, leading chess journalist.
One giant chessboard shows the current status of a game in progress; the other is used to explore alternate pos-
Mark Diesen of Potomac, former world junior champion, stands in front of one board, his hands moving the pieces swiftly as he explores knight is uncomfortably placed. Once in a while Mike Ciamarra, official monitor of the match, comes over to register a real move on the other board.
Wrapped up in the two demonstration boards, firing questions at Diesen, the spectators (many of whom are chess masters) hardly notice a thin, tired-looking man neatly dressed in a blue-and-white summer-weight suit, who has come out of an office.
He is Lubomir Kavalek, currently rated as the strongest chess player in the United States, one of the 25 strongest in the world. His mind, in the specialized discipline that dominates his life, is one in considerably more than a million. He wants to bum a cigarette. O'Connell gives him half a dozen.
Kavalek's opponent is Ulf Anderson, Sweden's strongest player, who also is Kavalek's houseguest during the match. Asked whether it would bother him to beat a man and then go home and eat his bread, Anderson says simply, "That has nothing to so with it."
Kavalek is more voluble: "When I was a young player in Prague, chess players were very private, very isolated. If you beat a man, he might not talk to you for months afterward. With the new generation of grandmasters - Ulf, Karpov, Timman, Ljubojevie - it is very friendly. You might play Ping-Pong before a game - even five minutes before a game - then you go to a classboard and kill one another. Then afterward, you are friends again."
Grandmasters look like everyone else; Kavalek could be a Volvo salesman (an overworked one; the kind whose name, engraved in bronze, can be seen on the "Salesman of the Month" plaque mounted on a showroom wall). Anderson probably couldn't be a Volvo salesman; his hair is too long, at the moment he needs a shave, and he doesn't talk much.
Kavalek and Anderson play in the manager's office where it's quiet and they can't hear Diesen telling the spectators what they might do next. The office has a big window, and curious fans look in at them now and again.
As far as the assembled experts can recall, this is the first international chess event played in an auto showroom.
The reason it is happening here is Ilya Chamberlain, a retired Oxford biochemist who lives comfortably on the royalties of a soybean-fermenting process and sells Volvos to diplomats because he likes them (the cars and the people). He also likes chess ("reading a good chess game is like listening to a symphony").
In his office, Chamberlain huddles with O'Connell, polishing the details of a dream: next year, he wants to hold the world's strongest chess tournament in Washington, and he wants Volvo to pay for it. O-connell thinks it will cost $100,000; Chamberlain estimates $125,000 to be comfortable. Meanwhile, he has persuaded Harry Martens, owner of the L.P. Steuart dealerships, to put up most of the $7,000 expenses for this match, and Volvo of Washington manager Lenny Schnurmacher is turning his showroom into a temporary chess studio.
The first games in a grandmaster chess match are sometimes like the opening rounds in a havyweight fight - light sparring, skirmishes, each player examining the other for possible weaknesses and blind spots. This game is like that; it takes three hours, but when the players agree to a draw, only 16 moves have been made and only two pawns are off the board.
Once the draw is registered (with groans from the spectators who, like fight fans but less physically, want to see blood), the slow cautious moves give way to the lightning variations of post-mortem analysis; knights and bishops fall by the wayside, pawns are gobbled, and then the position is set up again to try another variation.
"There was not much blood in this one," he tells a fan as he and Anderson go off to dinner together, "but Thursday there will be blood."
He turns and smiles at Anderson.
"Good Swedish blood."
The grandmasters are helping with the fund-raising, too. At 1 p.m. Saturday, in the Interamerian Development Bank on 17th St. NW, they will play a joint simultaneous exhibition against 50 Washingtonians who will pay $15 apiece for the game. "Simuls" are fairly common in Washington (two top Russians have played her in recent weeks), but this will be something new. Anderson will go around making the first move against each opponent, and then Kavalek will go around for the second moves; they will not discuss any of the games. The usual system is hard on the grandmasters' feet; the new system will allow them to get a bit of rest but may cause nagging aches and pains in the tactics. Next Sunday morning, some lucky Washingtonians may be able to claim that they beat Kavalek and Anderson simultaneously. As for the grandmasters, if they lose any games, each will be able to blame the other.
The remaining games in the Kavalek-Andersson match will be played in the showroom of Volvo of Washington, 4800 Wisconsin, Ave. NW, beginning at 4 p.m. on May 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 14, with analysis and commentary by Mark Diesen. Spectators will be admitted for a charge of $2.