Knight and (May) Day

Impressions on Game 6, Anand-Topalov world championship match, Sofia

Fraternal greetings comrades! Game Six was played on Labour Day but there was no rest for Anand's knights who fought a long "grind" in the middle-game. Anand once again deployed the Catalan which had brought him such success in the previous two encounters. Topalov could have chosen some other defence but he didn't want to be the one to blink first. Having an ego the size of a small planet is a statutory requirement to be a top grandmaster.

Anand showed a new idea in the opening; which he has done so far in every single game, a tribute to his team of seconds. On the 10th move he played a rare Bishop move and soon the game moved to uncharted waters. Topalov despite being confronted by this unexpected move played quickly and confidently. Unlike the earlier Catalans, where play revolved around Topalov's pawn grab, in this game Topalov made no attempt to retain his extra pawn. Instead, his 14th move gave the pawn back but he was able to open diagonals for his bishops. Topalov cleverly left an option for Anand to snatch a pawn but that would have led to unclear positions with a fierce attack, the kind of positions that Topalov revels in. Anand seems to have taken a "command decision" not to allow such positions on a matter of principle - and he didn't take the pawn.

By the 20th move, play entered the middle-game. The Queens had been traded and Anand had the two knights versus Topalov's two bishops in what he later described as a "classic battle". Each Bishop wakes to life in a white and black square respectively, therefore having the two bishops operating in tandem is an advantage, for their targets have nowhere to hide. But the particular position that arose saw these worthy prelates cloistered and unable to effectively work together. Into the fray leaped the white knights. A class struggle had broken out between the knights and bishops. The horses had nothing to lose but their manes.

Anand then proceeded to make a record 13 consecutive Knight moves, breaking the previous record of 10 set in 1961 during the world championship match between Tal and Botvinnik. New learners of chess are often shown the Knight's Tour problem, where the Knight, from any given square on an empty board has to visit all the squares exactly once. The first allusion to this problem was in the 9th century A.D by Rudrata in his Sanskrit poemKavyalankara. (See the Wikipediapage) Commentors joked that Anand was trying to solve the problem during the game.

Anand was hoping that their incessant jumping would annoy Topalov and induce him to swat at them clumsily. Topalov reacted well, without the impatience that had doomed him in G/2. He played watchfully, and soon was able to completely neutralize the position. The struggle came to an end with honours even on move 58.

Topalov performed an important feat with Black, stopping Anand from winning for the first time in three encounters. For Anand, several key choices lie ahead. Should he persist with the Catalan? After some point, the law of marginal returns kicks in and he may find it more and more difficult to win with it. Or should he vary, hoping that a sudden change of pace will rattle the Bulgarian? While his seconds pore over the myriad variations, Anand will be contemplating his grand strategy in the match.

Jaideep Unudurti is co-writing the Hyderabad Graphic Novel (

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