I did not pay $99 for Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao and wouldn’t pay 99 cents for Mayweather-Pacquiao II. I would, however, pay good money — well, I don’t know about “good money,” but certainly “some money” — to see Magnus Carlsen vs. Fabiano Caruana.
(Chess was my best sport as a kid, but then I was told it was not a sport. Then poker became my best sport, but again I was informed it was not a sport. So now I’ve settled on Rack-O, which is a sport every day and twice on Sunday. Back off, haters.)
I’m biased here — I always have believed there should be more billiards and bowling on TV, and, well, chess deserves camera time, too. All three are cheap to produce and all three are easy to watch. Frankly, you don’t need a single replay in any of these pursuits, unless you are obsessed with seeing “knight to d5” in slow motion.
Alas, here is the thing I learned about chess by the time I was a teenager: Everyone better than me, I was never going to beat. It’s that simple; this makes chess a tough, long-term pursuit. I knew that if I chose the Caro-Kann Defense and my superior-skilled opponent countered with the Advance Variation, my bishops would be in a body bag by dusk.
To be honest, the entire chess world can be divided into three broad classes:
● Schlubs such as myself.
● Really good players.
Schlubs never beat really good players, and really good players never beat grandmasters.
But what fascinates some of us is when grandmasters — geniuses of their generation — clash. So Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky (the 1972 “Match of the Century”) or Carlsen-Caruana is like Alexander Hamilton dueling Aaron Burr to the death, except with pawns instead of pistols.
In the case of Carlsen and Caruana, they have contrasting playing styles. I don’t want to bore non-chess aficionados, but it’s sort of the difference between Tony Bennett and Bon Jovi.
Anyhow, Carlsen-Caruana could be the next great rivalry, this era’s Ali-Frazier, Bird-Magic, Borg-McEnroe.
Carlsen, a 24-year-old Norwegian, is the reigning world chess champion. Caruana, 22, is the No. 2-ranked player in the world.
I’ve written about Carlsen before — I believe my Dec. 22, 2013 column on him is being turned into a major motion picture starring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman — so let me concentrate here on Caruana.
Born in Miami to Italian-American parents in 1992, Caruana relocated with his family from Brooklyn to Madrid in 2004 to pursue chess professionally. In July 2007, at the age of 14 years 11 months 20 days, he became the youngest grandmaster in the history of Italy and the U.S.
With dual Italian and American citizenship, Caruana has played under the Italian flag for the past 10 years. But, in May, he announced he was switching to play for the U.S.
How did we get Caruana to come back to the Stars and Stripes again? Easy. The old-fashioned way — we paid somebody off. For real.
In recruiting Caruana, the U.S. Chess Federation gave the Italian federation a transfer fee of 50,000 euros (about $55,000), plus the game’s governing body, the World Chess Federation, got 5,000 euros — sort of a processing fee, I guess.
(That’s American ingenuity at its best — we’ll outwork you and outperform you, but if we can’t do that, we’ll just buy the guy who is outworking us and outperforming us.)
Why is this important to you, Couch Slouch readers? Because this comes just in time for next year’s biennial Chess Olympiad in Azerbaijan — and I know U.S. sports fans love their Olympics! From 1931 to ’37, the U.S. won four consecutive Chess Olympiads. Then the Soviets took over the game and, of late, it’s been all China.
But with Caruana in tow, we’re about to kick the red menace all over that black-and-white board.
Then afterward, Caruana can turn his attention to Carlsen; it will be epic. I’ll have it on the big screen, with Yuenglings on ice, and if Floyd Mayweather wants to come over, I won’t charge him a dime.
Q. Ever seen anyone tank a match as badly as Australian pro Nick Krygios in his fourth-round loss to Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon? (Todd Himmel; Chicago)
A. This is going to sound like sour grapes, but I sensed my first ex-wife was tanking less than a month into our marriage.
Q. Alex Rodriguez was not named to the American League’s All-Star Game roster. Major oversight or minor injustice? (Robert Webb; Minneapolis)
A. In my world — which, admittedly, is far removed from anyone else’s — A-Rod should not even be allowed to watch the All-Star Game.
Q. If DeAndre Jordan is not a man of his word, then is he a man at all? (John Schwartz; Albany, N.Y.)
A. Hey, I know something about cold feet, and when your feet are as big as DeAndre Jordan’s and get cold, they get icy cold.
Q. Is it possible that the ongoing Greek financial crisis is due to the fact that they were previously married to other countries? (Roger Strauss; Silver Spring, Md.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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