I don't know about you, but I'm sure relieved that they canceled the world chess championship. I mean, the suspense was killing me. I wasn't sleeping well; every night I'd toss and turn, wondering if this game might finally be the one to determine the champion. Sure, Kasparov had the Big Mo. Could Karpov hold him off? Ever since this match began -- June of 1977, if I remember correctly -- all I've thought about is chess. I know all the right moves: rook to king's two; pawn to queen's bishop; knight to hoosier's giomi, "get lost;" spassky to korchnoi over the telephone after sending his move in long-distance correspondence game, "Yo, vik, the check's in the mail."
Some people play chess.
I live it. Chess is my life.
And I know how tough it is. Granted, it's not falconry, but I'll tell you this: it's more strenuous than warming up soup. You play chess for 40 years, I guarantee you, you'll feel 40 years older.
Physically, it's one of the most debilitating sports there is. Oh sure, you hear people say that it's a noncontact sport. But you try sitting on your rear for months at a time between moves, then tell me how easy chess is. Maybe chess players don't tear up their knees like halfbacks, but how many potential champs have had their careers ruined by an untimely case of hemorrhoids? Or from elbow disintegration caused by prolonged leaning on the chessboard?
Mentally? Well, let's just say that if all the former world chess champions auditioned for "Taxi," more would have been cast as Jim Ignatowski than as Alex Rieger. Or, to put it another way, it'll probably be a while before anyone asks Bobby Fischer to sit in for Dan Rather on the evening news.
I know a lot of you probably think it's pretty cheesy of the International Chess Federation ("FIDE" -- but please, don't ask why) simply to pull the plug on the Moscow match. It sure as hell wouldn't have been stopped in Reno, or Vegas; we'd have made these guys play on until their eyes bled. I think we could agree that the call seemed to reward Karpov, the defending champion, for his recent incompetence -- he hadn't won a single game since Nov. 27, making him the Golden State Warriors of chess -- and penalize young Kasparov, whose strategic motto was: Maybe I can't beat him, but I can outeat him. (Karpov lost 22 pounds since the match began. Now, many of us would gladly pay beaucoup rubles to shed 22 pounds while sitting on our keisters, but had Karpov lost any more weight they could have wrapped him up and used him as a flag in the next May Day parade.)
But even if the motivation for the abrupt cancellation was strictly political, and was just a way for the Soviets to keep their golden boy Karpov from being shamed, what's the big deal? The match was a snorer, anyway. My car has rusted in less time than it's taken these guys to finish. As grandmaster William Lombardy said, "Even if Karpov needed only one more game to win, it might have taken another century."
(An interesting little bit of gossip here about Karpov. Soviet sources have been telling strange stories lately that might explain Karpov's rather erratic play. According to one tale, Karpov was at the Izvestia table at a Moscow Press Dinner. It seems he may have had a bit too much spiked borscht to drink, for he was overheard telling the one female member of the Politburo, "Hey, Olga, baby, loosen up -- you're too tight," and later was seen sleeping on the floor while the Minister of Tractors gave a speech about the new five-year plan. The other tale making the rounds about Karpov is that he was seen cruising around a randy area of Gorky Park talking to an undercover vice cop disguised as a hooker. They are sure it was Karpov because they recognized his license plate: "MR.MATE")
By far the most interesting aspect of this whole affair is the precedent it sets. From now on, there will be no reason to finish anything. If you're losing, you simply get someone -- an international official, a psychiatrist, your mom, Ted Baxter, anyone -- to cancel the game right then and there, bring the score back to 0-0, and start over again sometime down the line.
That's what they're going to do with the chess championship.
Start it over in September. From the top. (You like bored? You'll love numbed. Who says Moscow doesn't believe in tears?)
We did not realize it then, but in retrospect, by saying, "No mas," Roberto Duran was way ahead of his time.
Then, if you quit, you lost.
Now, if you quit, you get to play again.
If you have the authority, you can stop anything, any time. Say you're Pete Rozelle, and you hate Al Davis, you can stop the Redskins-Raiders Super Bowl at halftime and reschedule it for whenever Marcus Allen is on injured reserve. Say you're George Steinbrenner, and you hate Reggie Jackson, you stop the game with the Angels before Reggie gets up and reschedule it for after he retires. As Bob Uecker likes to say, "Bingo!" Using this revolutionary concept in sports, a team won't need to outscore opponents as much as outlive them.