Psychological Warfare in Elista

9/29/2006 – After a dramatic start of the World Championship the play on the board has given way to heavy psychological warfare. Our past three reports bear testimony to that. In Elista our correspondent Misha Savinov saw it all developing, including the monitoring of the player's rest rooms and the restrictions of toilet use. Pictures and impressions.

Veselin Topalov vs Vladimir Kramnik

Twelve games, played from September 23 to October 12 in Elista, Kalmikia. The games start at 15:00h (3:00 p.m.) local Elista time, which translates to 11:00h GMT, 13:00h CEST, 12:00h London, 7 a.m. New York.

Live coverage is available on the official FIDE site and on Playchess.com (with live audio commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan for ten Ducats per day). You can buy them in the ChessBase Shop.

Psychological Warfare in Elista

A report by Misha Savinov

The thrilling first two games are almost forgotten already. The fighters stopped exchanging powerful crosses and uppercuts. It is time now for jabs and clinches. Kramnik leads after four rounds, however, his opponent is not shaken. Topalov recovered from starting disappointment, and showed his teeth in a hard positional struggle. Just as Kramnik proved his capability to survive a tactical storm, the Bulgarian showed that he can fight on Kramnik’s territory of subtle maneuvering against positional weaknesses.


The venue of the match in Elista, Kalmykia

Apart from pure chess ideas, both sides are beginning to get involves more and more in psychology, from bluffing at press conferences to writing protests and threatening to quit the match! I think we should enjoy this part of the event, too. Chess is essentially about individual contests; this is why world champions were for a long time determined in matches. A title match tests most aspects of chess skill as well as sustainability, ability to handle pressure and recuperate, etc. Giving grounds for anxiety, provoking insecurity, upsetting the opponent and his team in any way – all these is part of the game. Great players like Botvinnik and Fischer (to name just a few) were also grandmasters of psychological warfare, a battle that must not be lost. Psychological advantage makes the difference between winner and loser. This is how Italy won the latest World Cup in football: the teams were even on the pitch, but the Italians were more resistant…

It is obvious to me that Kramnik was determined to bury his opponent in the game three. Topalov must have been greatly disappointed after spoiling two excellent positions. His impatience, displayed in those games, overcast his imagination and tactical brilliance.

Kramnik, having White in the game three, was eager to exploit this weakness of Veselin. Vladimir appeared very motivated, took off his jacket before the clocks were started, just like Kasparov, and pounced on the opponent with all his might. 13.Qb5+! and 16.Bg5 were the moves secured White’s opening advantage. Topalov was forced to defend. Managers of the players looked nervous…


Topalov's team with Silvio Danailov (right) in the back row of the theatre


Kramnik's team, with manager Carsten Hensel (striped tie)

However, Vladimir does not seem to have that precious killer instinct. He is unmotivated in almost every tournament since 2000, and seems to lose concentration even playing in the championship match. Just recall: the fourth game of his match against Kasparov! And so was now – it looked like cat and mouse game: White gets an advantage, then loses a significant part of it, after which he outplays the opponent in the subtlest fashion, and then again spoils everything. But it wasn’t toying; Kramnik showed inability to play at the maximum when it is required.

The first draw of the match certainly brought mixed feelings to the players. The course of the struggle showed that the first game of the match, in which Topalov seized the initiative with Black, was an exception: White Kramnik is strong and solid, and is certainly capable of outplaying the opponent. On the other hand, Veselin survived in a worse position, and saw Kramnik unable to capitalize his efforts. Inspiring news for the Bulgarians! Overall, both champions were in a rather happy mood after the game.


Good spirits: start of the press conference after game three


Journalists and photographers in dialog with the players


Vladimir Kramnik talking to the press corps (with Carsten Hensel left in the mirror)

All in all, the fourth game looked ideally suiting for Topalov to reduce the gap, and several experts believed the score becoming 2.5-1.5 after the day 4. Short and at times funny Veselin is somehow able to create and control chess typhoons. This time he used this ability to obtain a stable positional advantage via opening pawn sacrifice. Black’s position seemed very passive and lacking counterplay.


Are you ready, gentlemen? Arbiter Geurt Gijssen prepares to start game four


Spectators following the games in the lobby on a giant plasma screen

Despite the computers showing no real danger for Kramnik, the spectators outside the playing hall were skeptical about Black’s chances. However, Kramnik is one of the few players not bothered by defending inferior positions. Unlike Topalov, he always remains objective, which allows him to make the best decisions, and shift from passive defense to counterattack at the right moments. It is difficult to appreciate a true value of such skill, but it is rare indeed.


Game four: Kramnik (right) about to give a demonstration in the Art of Defence

Move by move, the classical champion kept sucking energy from White’s pieces, and slowly made everybody including Topalov believe that the draw is unavoidable. Only Fritz and the likes did not fall under Kramnik’s spell… Vladimir even said at the press conference that this was easy and obvious draw at any time, and he wasn’t even concentrating, thinking about forthcoming football matches. This was strong bluff – actually, Topalov’s position was quite promising for most of the game – and it worked. The round ended in Kramnik’s favor, even if the point was split. Just look at their faces!


Veselin Topalov in the press conference after game four

The Bulgarians retaliated on the next day. Danailov wrote two complaints to the Appeals Committee, stressing that Kramnik uses toilet in his restroom too often (he claimed 50 times during the third game). The FIDE champion’s manager suspected violation of the fair play and threatened to withdraw from the match. Kramnik’s team, in turn, threatened to withdraw their man, who is willing to use his human and player’s rights. The psychological war has begun.


The Chief Arbiter's table with the monitors to the players’ rest rooms


The arbiter can see the what the players are doing when they leave the stage

At the time of publication game five has apparently been abandoned. Our correspondent Misha Savinov has attended the press conference and will be filing a new report sortly.


Chess in the City: children play on the main square


Entrance to the new Buddhist temple in Elista


It is the largest and most spectacular Buddhist temple in Europe


Will everyone be leaving Elista soon?

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