The Tortured Deep-focus Faces of Tournament Chess Players

In 1987, Russian grandmasters Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov faced off in Seville, Spain for the World Chess Championship. David Lloda, then a nine-year-old boy growing up the small northern town of Asturias, remembers being captivated by a newspaper photograph of the two chess geniuses. “Two grown men, playing a mysterious game, with those little figures carved in wood?” he recalls thinking. “That seemed interesting.”

A few days later, a teacher at Lloda’s school taught him the basic chess moves, sparking a lifelong passion for the game that has persisted throughout stints as a journalist, author, entrepreneur, and money manager—and, most recently, photographer. About five years ago, Lloda began traveling the world to shoot chess tournaments, who then hired him to help them get publicity.

Since then, he has photographed tournaments in London, Moscow, Sao Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, and Shanghai, capturing intimate portraits of chess players of every age and nationality. At first, he was only allowed to take photos for the first five or ten minutes of a match, but he’s been able to convince most organizers to let him shoot for the full duration. After all, he says, “if Federer can be photographed when serving for a match point in Wimbledon, why can’t chess players players? Chess is not the only sport that demands concentration.”

Lloda has included over a hundred of his portraits in his new book The Thinkers, which was published earlier this month by Quality Chess Books. Llada’s favorite photos in the book are the ones he took of his childhood heroes, Kasparov and Karpov. He particularly liked Kasparov’s picture: “I think it captured his soul, all that energy in him.”

Although chess might not appear the most exciting sport to the average viewer, Lloda captures the game’s intensity through the often tortured faces of its players. “Only those who have played it know how tense a chess game is,” he says. “You spend five or six hours ‘fighting’ with someone, but you can’t touch him, you can’t talk, you can barely move…. All that pent-up tension can be felt by the observer, and I thought it could be captured, too.”

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