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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Timman-Karpov Match: A Psychic Battle

To a person not used to the game, a grandmaster-level speed-chess tournament can be mind-boggling to watch.


It means 20 grown men racing furiously against the clock to complete a game in as little as five minutes, deciphering positions and combinations that most of us would never understand if given all the time in the world.


For an average person - a person who cannot fix his car, or who reads detective novels and is fooled all the way to the end - this is something that can be intimidating, shocking and even a little bit frightening. It is, however, never dull.


At this week's speed-chess tournament in Moscow, the most intriguing thing to watch was the play of Jan Timman, the Dutch grandmaster who will challenge Anatoly Karpov in one of two world championship matches this fall. Timman lost his first four games and seldom played through to the end.


While other players were hunched over the play, whipping pieces all over the chessboard and whacking the time clock with desperate alacrity, Timman, 41, was leaning back in his chair or casually reaching his hand across the board to resign. In losing and on the few occasions where he won, Timman wore the same polite, dignified expression, marked by a slight smile that showed he was pleased to be where he was and very much interested in what was going on.


"I'm not fanatic enough to do all this banging the clock, watching the clock all the time", said Timman, laughing. "I just resign".


Timman said he does not consider chess a sport, although he reluctantly accepts the features of chess that make it a game, like time limits.


Unlike Garry Kasparov, the current world chess champion whose blood-thirsty competitiveness and intimidatory tactics are legendary, Timman is much more a theorist, a person who takes greater pleasure in solving problems than in defeating opponents.


But on the eve of his greatest challenge as a chess player - the autumn match against Karpov - Timman is forced now to go beyond solving the problems of positions and endgames Against a player as strong as Karpov, he will likely have to try to solve the problem of his own character, which many, including Timman himself, say is flawed by its excessive introspection and lack of competitiveness.


"My main weakness is that I'm not confident sometimes", Timman said. "I don't play confidently during the game. I'm a very optimistic person in life, I would say, but this is not reflected during the game".


Karpov concurs. "I've always considered Jan Timman to be a very strong player", the former world champion said this week. "But he was a player who was always held back by problems that I would characterize as more psychological in nature".


Timman is handsome, composed, eloquent and has a genuine sense of humor, hardly fitting the stereotype of the myopic, single-minded chess player. He is a hero in his native Netherlands, where for over a decade he has been the nation's leading hope - in fact, the best hope of the entire Western world - to take the chess championship from the Russians, who have dominated since world champion Bobby Fischer, an American, gave up the title in 1972.


But Timman has suffered through some unfortunate disappointments, most recently this year in his match with Britain's Nigel Short, who beat him and won the right to challenge Kasparov.


"In the Netherlands, there is always some negative reaction when I lose a match unnecessarily, as in the case of the Short match", he said. "I sometimes lose interest".


To get past Karpov, whom Timman characterized as "at least one class higher than Short", Timman may have to make some changes.


The former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad All used to talk about having to "get evil" before fights. Timman may need to do the same thing before his match.