The World Chess Championship 2012 is being staged in the Tretyakov Gallery
in Moscow, between the current World Champion Viswanathan Anand of India and
the winner of the Candidates tournament Boris Gelfand of Israel. The match is
over twelve games and lasts from May 11 to 30. The prize fund is US $2.55 million,
the winner getting $1.53 million (60%), the loser $1,02 million (40%).
Before we come to Steve Giddins' musings here the official press release (and
pictures) sent to us by the organisers after round four of the World Championship:
The opponents continued their Slav Defence duel that started in the second
game of the match. White was the first to deviate from the previous game and
managed to get the so-called two-bishop advantage in the middlegame. After
a series of exchanges, the game transformed into an ending with somewhat better
chances for White. In the resulting technical position, the game could have
had either of two results: a draw or a victory for White. It turned out, however,
that the white pieces were not sufficiently well coordinated and that the
bishop’s advantage over the knight was not enough for a win: with precise
play, Viswanathan Anand built a “fortress” and deflected all threats.
A draw on the 34th move.
Fighting for the tiniest advantage: challenger Boris Gelfand
During the press conference, Boris Gelfand noted that there were no critical
moments in the game as such, but the question was whether White would manage
to gain an advantage or Black would find a clear way to equalise. The opponents
considered the possibility of going into a knight against bishop endgame after
32. Rc6, but concluded that the white king lacked the tempo to occupy square
d4, so White’s chances in this variation were also minimal.
The challenger showed the position after 18…h6, which produced a great
aesthetic impression on him. At that moment, each square on the d-file was
occupied by black and white pieces, Black’s rooks were on squares c8
and e8, and the whole array resembled a T-shaped figure that is rarely seen
on a chessboard.
Still trying each other out – World Champion Vishy Anand
Assessing the situation in the match after the first four games, the world
champion said the match was just developing and the rivals were still trying
each other out. “You don’t really want to start doing evaluations,
but so far it’s a pretty tough match,” commented Viswanathan Anand.
Boris Gelfand refused to give any assessment of individual parts of the match
and stressed that any analysis was pointless until after the 12th game.
Asked by a journalist what scenario the players would have preferred during
the game and if something had gone wrong at some point, Gelfand answered jokingly:
“Well, of course I would have loved my opponent to choose some doubtful
variation that I know well. Then I would have used a strong novelty and won
the game, say, by the 20th move. I would be too naïve to count on that,
however, so of course one has to be ready for any course of events.”
four reflections – it's the computers!
By Steve Giddins
Several friends have reacted to my blog post regarding the tedium of events
in Moscow. A brief flurry of excitement on Monday was followed by another bore-draw
I should perhaps make clear that I am not blaming the players. They are just
reacting to the circumstances they find themselves in, and are doing what they
think they have to do, to have the best chance of winning the match. Likewise,
nor do I give any credence to the claim that all would be rosy, if only the
match organisers had imposed the infamous "Sofia rules", to prevent
early draw agreements. Having Sofia rules in place for the first two games in
Moscow would have forced the players to play another 20 or so moves, before
agreeing a draw, but all that would have meant was two largely contentless 40-move
games, instead of two largely contentless 20-move games.
It is true that the shortness of the match contributes to the problem, by making
the players even more cautious than they would otherwise be. With so few games,
a player cannot afford to risk even one loss. Therein lies part of the problem.
But even that is only a small factor. The real problem lies elsewhere.
That problem is that computers are killing the game. They have already killed
correspondence chess, in all but name, and now classical chess is heading down
the same twilight path to oblivion. The computer is now so powerful, that it
becomes impossible to out-prepare another top player in the opening. In pre-computer
days, Kasparov could analyse so much better than the other top GMs that he could
routinely uncork novelties that refuted entire opening variations. Nowadays,
though, that is just impossible – everybody is analysing the same opening
lines, using the same powerful computers and programs. As a result, everybody
is coming to the board, with much the same opening preparation, with the result
that nobody can get a serious opening advantage any more.
Imagine the following experiment. Lock Anand and myself in separate flats,
for a week, on our own, to analyse a certain opening variation. Even if I work
every bit as hard as Anand, or even harder, at the end of the week, he will
have analysed the line much better than me – he sees tactics faster, his
positional judgement is better, etc. There will be a large gap in the quality
of the analysis we each produce.
But now repeat the experiment, only this time, give each of us a powerful laptop
and the latest version of Rybka. By the end of the week, Anand's analysis will
still be better than mine, but I can assure you that the gap will be very much
smaller, especially if the line we are analysing is something fairly sharp and
tactical. Despite the enormous disparity in talent and ability between myself
and Anand, if I put in the work and use the computer fully, he is not going
to be able to out-analyse me to any huge extent, thanks to the levelling effect
of the computer.
And this is the crux of the problem in world championship matches. There, we
are talking about a very small disparity in strength between the players, which
makes the problem even greater. Against me, even if Anand gets nothing from
the opening, he will still be able to outplay me over the board, and win. But
he cannot do that to a top-class GM, who is only marginally weaker than himself
anyway. If he gets nothing from the opening, he will have huge trouble beating
a player like Gelfand, and vice versa. The result is a whole series of effectively
contentless games, where the players are just checking each other's computer-aided
preparation. Once in a while, they will hit on a gap, and get some advantage,
but most of the time, there will just be what we have already seen in Moscow
– 15-20 moves of preparation, 4-5 more accurate moves, a dead position,
and a draw.
So, what is the solution? Sadly, I don't think there is one, at least not without
abandoning traditional chess, in favour of Fischer-Random, and I hardly know
anyone in the chess world who wants to see that (I certainly don't). It grieves
me to say it, but I think classical chess is in its last days.
Giddins' Chess Blog
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