10 June 2020

Space Attacks!

Eteri Kublashvili’s report from the Moscow Museum of Cosmonautics about the anniversary chess match Space to Earth

Having struggled with the pandemic for six months now, Planet Earth is getting used to new realities. Although life is gradually returning to normal, everyone should take care as the virus is not over yet. However, judging by the number of vehicles and people on the streets, Moscow is nearly back to normal, and its inhabitants are back to their day-to-day affairs and concerns. Lifting self-isolation and canceling travel passes will quickly finish this job. 

Your correspondent had her first business trip on a milestone date: June 9 marks the 50th anniversary of the first chess match Space to Earth. My destination was the Moscow Museum of Cosmonautics. The Museum is fascinating, and I recommend that everyone who has not been there visited it by all means when the self-isolation is lifted. This is all the more so that it will open its doors for visitors before long. You will find pictures of the Museum's first hall in the gallery below this report.

It was only recently that Elon Mask's Dragon cut across the expanses of the Universe and docked with the ISS, bringing the theme of space back to everyone’s lips once again. The anniversary match Space to Earth has been a big event with many and lengthy the preparations preceding it. The “space duel” organizers – the Chess Federation of Russia, the Roscosmos State Corporation, and the Moscow Museum of Cosmonautics – had a series of events in honor of the match organized back in April. Among them were the Roscosmos employees tournament, schoolchildren’s competition, and simultaneous games with Sergey Karjakin and Alexander Morozevich. Social network VKontakte has joined the event as a co-organizer. The total number of views of the "VK" broadcast has amounted to 800000 persons. 

The Earth representative on the June 9 match was Sergey Karjakin. His opponent, playing from aboard the International Space Station, was pilot-cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, Hero of the Russian Federation. Anatoly Alekseevich’s colleague, test cosmonaut Ivan Vagner, also participated in the match from abroad the ISS, answering questions posed by the program hosts during the game.

The ISS had only 15 minutes for the entire game, but the broadcast of the match itself lasted nearly an hour, and it merits saying that it was an extremely exciting show indeed. It happened largely thanks to the excellent coverage by the famous commentator Dmitry Guberniev, and head of Museum’s press service Daria Chudnaya. The English-language broadcast of the event was provided by grandmaster Evgeny Miroshnichenko, who was translating from the Russian language.

Dmitry Guberniev started by delving into the history of the first-ever Space-Earth match of June 9, 1970, and Daria Chudnaya taking the audience on a tour of the Cosmonautics Museum.  

Dmitry Guberniev read out a greeting from Dmitry Rogozin, Director General of the Roscosmos State Corporation. During the broadcast, video clips were shown with welcome speeches by the Minister of Sports of the Russian Federation Oleg Matytsin and Director of the Cosmonautics Museum Natalya Artyukhina. They showed an interview with the many-time world champion Anatoly Karpov, in which he spoke at length about his meetings and communication with legendary astronauts, as well as a historical tour from the FCR Chess Museum’s curator, candidate of historical sciences Dmitry Oleynikov. He recalled the story of how the space chess set came into existence. 

Historical Background. It took Soyuz-9 spacecraft 20 minutes and seven chess moves to fly over the entire USSR from its western border to the Pacific coast, at which point it departed for a new circuit of the orbit. Representing the Earth from the Flight Control Center were Nikolai Kamanin and Victor Gorbatko. Representing Space and playing white in an attacking style were Andriyan Nikolaev and Vitaly Sevastyanov. Pilot-cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky was in charge of the game coverage. The astronauts had unique chess set at their disposal. Space chess set, constructed by an engineer Mikhail Klevtsov, was designed to take zero gravity into account. They needed such a chess set, the pieces of which could in no case come off the board (“Lest,” – joked Sevastyanov – “a flying piece happened to find its way into a sleeping astronaut’s mouth.”) Any magnet designs were ruled out because of sensitive instruments, but Klevtsov came up with an unsophisticated and original system of notches and grooves.

The hosts introduced Sergey Karjakin, who greeted the audience and admitted being in a state of high emotional excitement. The grandmaster also added that his wife Galiya’s grandmother had been part of Sergei Korolev’s team. 

A connection with the ISS was set up exactly on time, and the cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner showed up on the screen for everyone to see. It was as though the footage was being shown of a science fiction film, not like the Space Odyssey, but a very joyful and positive one.

Anatoly Ivanishin: “This day is special for Ivan and me because today marks exactly two months since we left the planet with the highest concentration of chess players in our galaxy.” 

Having said this, Anatoly Ivanishin demonstrated the audience his tablet PC and opened a chess program. The game has started, let’s go!

As the battle was underway, Ivan Vagner was busy answering questions from the program hosts. We have learned that it takes the longest for cosmonauts to get used to the objects flying around and that they have dreams in space. American colleagues knew about the event and stood behind the camera and rooted for Space while the game was underway. We have also learned that cosmonauts are free to discuss any topics among themselves. Ivan also said that he had taken along with him the figure of Master Yoda, which his wife knitted for him.

Meanwhile, the game developments were taking a serious turn. After move 20, the opponents started repeating moves, and a draw was agreed soon after.  

Ivanishin and Vagner thanked the Earth for the game, the audience for watching the match, and wished everyone success in all areas of life.

Anatoly Ivanishin has noted that it was a great honor for cosmonauts to hold their ground against a grandmaster. 

Sergey Karjakin has shared his impressions of the game: “In this game, my emotions ran higher than in any game played by me in the world championship match. This is because when you play against team Space, you have no idea what to expect. The game was very interesting and sharp, and, at the same time, quite a correct one in terms of chess content. A human brain seems to function exceptionally well in space”.

When the game was over, the commemorative card cancellation ceremony was held in honor of the 50th anniversary of the match. Sergey Karjakin and Dmitry Guberniev took part in the ceremony.

This is how the anniversary chess match Space to Earth came to its conclusion. I encourage our readers to take a look at the picture gallery and wish everyone good mood and high spirits. After all, if we manage to run such matches in this turbulent time, there is little doubt we will sort things out in other areas of life as well.