Exhaustion, Strain and Error

Impressions on Game 09, Anand-Topalov world championship match, Sofia

A day of much needed rest (for players and spectators alike!) preceded Game Nine. Anand after his painful loss was expected to strike back. What weapon would he use? He had persisted with the Catalan but it looked like Topalov's team had subjected the opening to a searching examination. On the other hand even after Topalov had unleashed his novelty in Game 7, Anand had not only weathered the storm but steadily outplayed Topalov coming close to a win.

Anand put speculation to rest by opening with the queen-pawn. However, he diverged for the first time in the match - on the third move he deployed the queen's knight rather than the king's knight. This allowed Topalov to adopt the Nimzo-Indian defence. This defence usually truncated to just "Nimzo" is named after its inventor - Aron Nimzovich. Nimzovich, a German-speaking Jew was born in Livonia, on the western edge of the Tsar's vast empire. When the Great War began Nimzovich found himself in the subduction zone between the clash of Tsar and Kaiser. Like Achilles before the Trojan war he sought escape from joining the army by feigning madness. There were no Ulysses' in the recruiting board and Nimzovich survived the war to renew his chess career.

Nimzovich attained immortality as much for the stories that surrounded him as his games and theories. His contemporary and friend Hans Kmoch writing about his paranoia said, "Nimzovich suffered from the delusion that he was unappreciated and that the reason was malice. His paranoia was most evident when he dined in company. He always thought he was served much smaller portions than everyone else. He didn't care about the actual amount but only about the imagined affront. I once suggested that he and I order what the other actually wanted and, when the food was served, exchange plates. After we had done so, he shook his head in disbelief, still thinking that he had received the smaller portion."

But I digress. To return to the game, play proceeded rapidly to reach a popular tabiya. The phrase originates from Arabic and refers to positions which commonly occur in openings and which are the jumping points for new moves. Topalov by this time had slowed down, warily sniffing the board for hidden threats. Anand's team had prepared something, but what? The answer was revealed on the 18th move when Anand initiated a knight manoeuvre. By this time two bishops and his queen had also joined in, drifting towards Topalov's king side.

At the same time, Anand allowed a sequence of moves that would give up his queen for two of Topalov's rooks. Such balances of material always leads to interesting play. After demurring for a move, Topalov finally agreed to this trade. When considering such commerce, the safety of the king is an important consideration. The queen is the most potent attacking force, hence the side giving up his or her queen must be satisfied that the king is secure. Anand's king was snug behind a pawn wall and also had a knight and bishop in attendance. Topalov's king on the other hand was tenanting a rather draughty castle.

By this time, the commenting Grandmasters all found Anand's chances favourable. It was the reverse when you went down the ranks to the patzers. "Patzer" is a Yiddish term referring to a weak player, literally a "bungler". Chess has always been popular amongst European Jews who have over the centuries demonstrated considerable mastery - a majority of the world champions are of Jewish origin. As a consequence many chess terms reflect the time when chess was under the stewardship of the Jewish community.

Anyway, all patzers stand in mystified awe of the queen. They would not give her up for anything. Grandmasters on the other hand are aware that co-ordination is key and once the army possessing the two rooks is able to work in concert they often swarm over the enemy queen. That is what happened as Anand's two rooks supported by a knight proved to be more than a handful for Topalov's queen and knight. First, Topalov's pawn wall was disrupted and his king was constantly menaced. By the 33rd move Anand was in a position to deliver a knock-out blow. However, he opted for the second-best continuation and allowed Topalov to escape partially. This set the tone for the rest of the game. Blame it on the extreme exhaustion, the terrible strain on their nerves but Topalov kept blundering and Anand kept allowing him to escape. This went on for an incredible 83 moves and nearly 7 hours of play. This constant see-sawing saw no consideration for the heart conditions of the fans. Finally a position was reached where Topalov's queen would continually harass Anand's king with checks - a hailstorm from which there was no shelter. Draw was agreed at this point.

Anand's fans were plunged into indescribable despair and Topalov's fans - for they were legion - exulted in glee. In some ways, a blown victory is more painful than an outright loss. Now tomorrow is very crucial. Anand has Black, just like his mood. He has to summon every sinew of his heart to put this disappointment behind and fight on. In the coming days Anand will be tested like never before. His illustrious career has seen many instances where he has been written off by everyone - only to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes.

Jaideep Unudurti is co-writing the Hyderabad Graphic Novel (http://hgnp.wordpress.com/)

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