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Jonathan D Sarfati vs Boris Spassky
Plaza (1988), Wellington NZL, rd 1, Mar-15
King's Indian Defense: Kramer Variation (E70)  ·  1/2-1/2



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Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  Jonathan Sarfati: This was an international tournament in Wellington, 1988, with invited celebrities and leading New Zealand players (as cannon fodder, basically, although a great opportunity). I happened to be drawn to play Boris Spassky in the first round, and as the reigning NZ Champion, there was added pressure. In the game, Spassky misplayed the opening and I gained the advantage. But given that it was the first round, and I was moderately short of time, we repeated the position and drew. Most thought it was an achievement, but the late GM Eduard Gufeld, one of the leading experts in the King's Indian, berated me in his inimitable broken English, “You had complete win position.” Well, judge for yourself.

Spassky is widely known as a perfect gentleman, and I totally agree with this impression. He was completely friendly in the after-game analysis, not angry that he had drawn with a much weaker opponent.

Nov-11-06  Stanley Yee: Wow! A fantastic draw Jonathan, against a legend. Well done. Stan
Premium Chessgames Member
  ray keene: its very hard for white to break down this sort of position and very easy to overreach-eg reshevsky v bronstein 1953-or euwe v najdorf 1960. i think a draw is quite reasonable-against spassky i wd certainly have seized his hand with glee.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Jonathan Sarfati: Thank you for your perspective, Grandmaster Keene. It seems more sober than that of Eddie Gufeld's.
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  Richard Taylor: <JonathanSafarti>
I recall seeing the bulletin for this tournament -then I played Spassky in a simul - I lost as did everyone else! The draw is justified of course... I would have ripped Spassky's arm off!!

Gufeld was an amusing fellow was he not?
I saw the book he wrote.

Sep-11-13  Bobby22: That is impressive Jonathan! ... If you had to play on, what were your plans? Nothing as drastic as 21. f4!? Lazar
May-20-16  sigmastatistics: Hello. I assisted with that tournament by operating demonstration boards. I remember watching Jonathan Sarfati (who I knew while he still lived in NZ) playing Boris Spassky, and being disappointed that the game finished so quickly. After the game, the two players analyzed that Kings Indian game for a few minutes, using another set in another room. Directly afterwards, I bought that set from NZ Chess Supplies, and I have the board and pieces to this day. I, too, remember Spassky's politeness and modesty. I also recall saying hello to Susan Polgar as we both browsed chess books that were on sale in the foyer. She left me with a very positive impression of a friendly and genuine person (in addition to being a fearsome chess player!).

David Lillis

Premium Chessgames Member
  Jonathan Sarfati: Hello David; it's been a while. I've moved countries twice, first to Brisbane then to Atlanta. I didn't know that you have the set that Spassky and I analysed on. Yes, Susan Polgar is a friendly person, easily won the World Women's Championship, and now does a lot of coaching in the USA.
Oct-06-17  sigmastatistics: Hi Jon. It's been nearly a quarter of a century since we met and nearly 30 years since you came one Saturday night to the Wellington Chess Club, flushed with victory after wining the NZ Championship.

That Plaza tournament was tough on the NZ competitors, I'm sure you would agree about that!

I have listened to you and others from AnswersinGenesis, but I don't go along with any of it! I follow Dawkins and Hitchens. Please read the God Delusion and listen to Hitchens on religion. That should make you come to your senses!

By the way - is that guy, Carlsen, really better than Kasparov and Fischer - as some people say he is? I don't think he's better (probably as good, though), but he does have the most up-to-date resources. People forget that Fischer in 1968-72 and Kasparov in 1985-2005 were monsters.

Elos measured in different eras and different chess cultures fluctuate from month to month and have large confidence intervals, and precise ratings don't tell us everything about strength. Fischer played less in absolute terms,less frequently and in different settings, so he's hard to compare with the others. However, purely from his games we can judge his strength as equivalent to Kasparov and Carlsen (and Karpov).

Brisbane is OK, but I have never been to Atlanta. Enjoy!

Premium Chessgames Member
  Jonathan Sarfati: <sigmastatistics:> Hi again David. Yes, it has been a while. Actually you helped me out a few times, e.g. we stayed with your mum in Auckland for one chess congress, and gave good advice in countering my writer's block for my Ph.D. thesis.

You realize that I am well aware of Dawkins and Hitchens, even writing one book countering the former ( Dawkins' God Delusion displayed such incompetence in philosophy and history that evolution-defending philosopher Michael Ruse said it made him ashamed to be an atheist. As for the Hitchens, he was just a journalist, not any sort of scientist or intellectual, but I did counter one of his attempts to get into science (

I agree with you about trying to compare chess from different eras. Carlsen is stylistically like Karpov, Fine, and Capablanca, and he pulls it off extremely well.

Dec-25-17  sigmastatistics: Hi again Jonathan.

Coincidentally, I read Dawkins' book (The God Delusion) while on vacation with my 11-year-old son in Darwin, Australia. By the way - my son has no interest in chess, but has demonstrated talent in mathematics, in which he has won gold medals and very high scores in domestic and international competitions (e.g. ICAS).

To be honest - I enjoyed Dawkins' book and I found myself in agreement with him at nearly every point, though I wish he could be more diplomatic here and there. I did not notice any bogus scientific arguments, but I am not in a position to comment on his command of theology. Certainly, I do not believe in a 'young earth', and believe that nature has had billions of years to produce the wonderful diversity of life that we see around us.

I do believe in the evolutionary process and, for example, believe in Dawkins' logic of the evolution of the eye (and, of course, every other part of any living thing). These are not his own original ideas, but he articulates them compellingly.

It seems to me that people who disbelieve in evolution have not yet got their heads around the immensity of time (and the hundreds of thousands of generations) that is available for evolution to play out and enforce change in ways that are favourable for the individual and the species. Where things do not work out so well, first the individual and then the species may die out. Perhaps this picture is somewhat simplistic, but I think that it is largely true.

I believe that random effects play a significant part (i.e. a disease or natural disaster that knocks out the locally best adapted - but who said that life is meant to be fair?).

Nevertheless, I have read the first chapter of your book and some reviews, and am willing to purchase the entire book some time soon and read it with an open mind.

By the way, Hitchens was a scallywag and curmudgeon, but a very intelligent and articulate man, with whom I also find myself in agreement on most points. Like you, he takes no prisoners. It is a shame that he is gone. However, again I will read your responses to Hitchens with interest.

By the way - in 2014 I published my own book (on the subject of graphing). If you would like an electronic copy, please e-mail me at:

Best wishes for 2018.


Dec-25-17  ughaibu: <people who disbelieve in evolution>

Does anyone "disbelieve in evolution"? After all, without evolution there is no reason to expect one's progeny to be human, and as there's an infinite number of non-human things, a person who disbelieves in evolution would be doxastically committed to the stance that the probability of any animal having offspring of the same species, is zero.

Is there anyone who accepts this commitment? If not, then there are no disbelievers of evolution.

Dec-26-17  Petrosianic: <Jonathan Sarfati>: <Dawkins' God Delusion displayed such incompetence in philosophy and history that evolution-defending philosopher Michael Ruse said it made him ashamed to be an atheist.>

More specifically, Dawkins' book divides neatly into three parts. Like Gaul.

The first part is a ddfense of biological evolution, written from a scientific standpoing. Dawkins is speaking within his field here, and does quite a good job with it.

In Part 2, Dawkins tries to get into the philosophical side, and seems quite out of his league. For example, he seems to equate Anglicism with the entirety of Christianity. He seems completely unaware of even the concept that God is seen as standing outside of the physical world as we know it, and attempts to explain him as a member of that universe. He uses arguments without fully thinking out how they might apply to other situations, such as that the more complex something grows, the next step becomes less likely rather than being beyond our current understanding. He'd never apply that argument to cosmology.

Part 3 is a complete propaganda piece, and probably the part that Ruse was embarrassed by. Dawkins contrasts a theoretical atheist utopia with the real world. Everything wrong done by religious people is an argument against religion while evil done by atheists is discounted on the grounds that "We are not in the business of counting evils heads, compiling two rival roll calls of iniquity." Except when it pleases us to do so, that is.

Part 3 is a complete embarrassment and could easily have been written by an undergraduate.

<As for the Hitchens, he was just a journalist, not any sort of scientist or intellectual,>

I'd object slightly to the term "JUST a journalist". Hitchens was extremely astute about the political scene, and able to discuss religion from that angle. He knew very little about philosophy, however, and seemed totally at sea when he tried to debate William Craig. I can't imagine why he even attempted it.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Jonathan Sarfati: <ughaibu: <people who disbelieve in evolution> Does anyone "disbelieve in evolution"? After all, without evolution there is no reason to expect one's progeny to be human>

Not serious. Evolution is supposed to be about *change*, specifically goo to you via the zoo. The creation model is about no change from one kind to another, just variation within the kind. So of course we expect humans to beget humans, pigs to beget pigs, diplodocids to beget diplodocids, etc.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Jonathan Sarfati: <sigmastatistics: Hi again David.

I didn't realize that the page on my game with Spassky was to become a debate forum.

I didn't know that you had any children. But this son seems good value.

Dawkins totally botches the evolution of the eye. E.g. for decades he has been whinging about the backwardly wired retinal wiring. But ophthalmologists have long known that this was necessary to bring the metabolically hyperactive photoreceptor cells in contact with the retinal pigment epithelium. A forwardly wired design would have the blood supply blocking the photoreceptors. And the most acute eyes are the verbrate eyes, not the supposedly correctly wired cephalopods which actually have single-lensed compound eyes. And recent discoveries show that the backward wiring allows the Müller glial cells to act as a fibre optic plate, improving both colour reception and acuity, collecting more light, and reducing stray light. See

My book also discusses dating methods. Dawkins is out of his depth here too, e.g. claiming that C-13 has a half life too short to be useful, whereas it is stable.

Both Dawkins and Hitchens seriously thought that blind fish in caves are a problem for creationists. In reality, my book documents that creationists have for many years used the same explanation as Dawkins in "Greatest Show". Evolutionists don't have a monopoly on natural selection—creationists both before and after Darwin understood this as a culling force as it is, not the creative force Darwin and Wallace claimed it to be.

Oct-28-18  sigmastatistics: Hi Jon.

I have only just seen your last response, having just reviewed several games from the Plaza tournament.

OK. I was aware of Dawkins' take on the eye and had not spotted any issues. I will look again in the light of your own comments.

Generally, I tend to agree with Dawkins' views on evolution etc, but feel that he and others are excessively aggressive and sometimes scorn people of different beliefs.

I am an athiest, but I do respect the intellect and debating prowess of people such as John Lennox, who I judge to have 'won' debates with Dawkins and other anti-theists, not so much in that I buy his arguments but in that he presents his case most articulately and never engages in argumentum ad hominem.

Meanwhile, we await Carlsen vs Caruana. The latter has nearly caught up and clearly is a very strong player, whereas the former may have lost some of his aura over the last year. I still think that Carlsen will come out on top.

Good luck.


Oct-29-18  ughaibu: Sigmastatistics:

Are you looking for arguments for atheism? Evolutionary theory contains lots of conflicting ideas, and as they say "it's just a [bunch of] theor[ies]". The phenomena of evolution are the same for theists, atheists, agnostics and the uninterested, so I don't think any of this is particularly interesting apropos the existence question about gods.

Oct-30-18  sigmastatistics: No - I am not looking for ideas one way or the other. As a trained physicist, with a lifelong interest in evolution, who has had no encounters with a deity or detected evidence for one (as yet), I guess that I tend to see the universe as a physical entity that emerged and developed in the absence of a creator - but I keep an open mind.

I have known Jonathan Sarfati off and on for many years. We studied at the same university (Victoria University in New Zealand) and took similar majors - he in chemistry and myself in physics. He is a Christian and I am an athiest. He is a much stronger chess player than myself but, more importantly, has a fine scientific mind and deep knowledge of several sciences, so I respect Jonathan's views and intend to think more about them.

Whether our brief discussion is interesting to anyone else is moot?! I hope it is of interest, but it's up to the reader.

However, I regard evolution theory, though incomplete and possibly embodying a few conflicting ideas here and there (I am not sure which conflicting ideas you are referring to), as robust and supported by a wealth of evidence, including fossil evidence and evidence from dating, geological and genetic evidence.


Oct-31-18  ughaibu: <I am not sure which conflicting ideas you are referring to>

For example, the universal common ancestor hypothesis can be adopted or excluded from a theory, it's a matter of choice.

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  woldsmandriffield: I’m just wondering what you analysed with Spassky on that chess set that was later purchased.
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  areknames: <its very hard for white to break down this sort of position and very easy to overreach> Agreed. After 21.f4 followed by Nd4, b4 and so on White appears to have a slight advantage, but it's a far cry from what Gufeld called a "complete win position". Agreeing to the draw was an excellent decision.
Jan-05-20  Carrots and Pizza: I don't care what anyone would have said. Given the chance, I would take a draw with Spassky any day! Great game.

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