There are many ways to understand a sport, and one is to contrast two different disciplines by making the two confront one another somehow - the differences ooze out and define the two.
Hungary is one of the top chess playing nations. Its top two players, Peter Leko and Judit Polgar, are in the top 20 in the world and are nationally recognized figures. Polgar is also the greatest woman chess player in history.
The third highest player in Hungary is the discreet and not so well known Almasi, rated 29th in the world, or just 10 spots lower than Polgar. To give an idea of what that means, he is currently higher in the rankings than Anatoly Karpov, the former world champion, or Victor Korchnoi. Garry Kasparov is inactive, so no longer on the top rating list of the FIDE, the chess governing body.
Almasi was junior, under 20, world champion at the age of 17. He has been Hungarian champion several times, and he currently plays for national chess teams such as for the Croatian national club team and last year also for the Monaco chess club. Two years ago he played in the world individual championship knock-out tournament, beaten in the fourth round by the eventual winner of the tournament, who thereby became world champion and today has only one more rating point than Almasi.
This week Almasi is playing in the world rapid championships in the Chess Classic Mainz, in Germany, and at the same tournament in the so-called Chess960, which uses a new system of chess based on Fischer Random Chess. Almasi is also very good in Chess960 - where he is rated 13th strongest player - and which is essentially the creation of Bobby Fischer and depends less on memorization of openings and more on creativity.
All of which is to show just how highly rated this Grand Master is. There are only between 800 and 900 Grand Masters in the world out of the millions of registered chess players, and Almasi is the 29th strongest at the moment.
Chess and Formula 1 Differences and Similarities:
But Almasi is also a fan of motor racing, and Formula 1 in particular. In some ways, Formula 1 and chess are diametrically opposed sports - the one being slow and the other fast - and in other ways, they are similar - as strategy and tactics play a strong role in both.
Watching Almasi meet the motor racing elite at the Hungarian Grand Prix was an experience that I will not soon forget, as I myself am a fan of both chess and racing. Almasi attended the race every day, from the Thursday to the Sunday. He visited from one end of the paddock to the other, and even took a tour of the mobile offices of the Formula 1 paddock newspaper, the Red Bulletin.
He spoke about the similarities and differences between his sport and that of Formula 1.
"It's a little bit similar to the chess world with the top players, these top drivers," he said. "It is similar in that just a few people can be inside, in this circuit. Only 15 or 20, like in the chess world. With the high category tournaments it's always the same 15 or 20 top players in the world."
Beyond that, most chess players have to teach the game for a living and play on national teams where there is little money if the teams are not at the highest level.
On the other hand, Almasi pointed out that it was also necessary to be one of the top two or three players in the world to earn anything like the millions that several Formula 1 drivers earn - and even there the top drivers earn far more.
Almasi also said that the wealth of the paddock itself, the multi-million-dollar F1 motor homes and hospitality suites and operations were unique to racing.
"This money is incredible, what's inside of Formula 1," he said. "I think in chess this will never happen, unfortunately."
He said that chess was just too slow as a spectator sport, except for the rapid kind of chess he is playing this week, which is more spectacular - but also less serious.