The update on the WCC match between Kramnik and Anand is that Anand selected what appears to be a brilliant strategy of turning the tables on Kramnik. To counter Kramnik’s longstanding “Safety with Black, push with White” strategy, Anand seems to have adopted the “Safety with White, attack with Black” strategy. And so far it has worked brilliantly.

Anand leads the match 3.5 – 1.5 having won 2/3 Black games. With 7 games to come, Kramnik faces a precipitous uphill climb. Kramnik needs to play in an unprecedented manner to have a shot at the title from here on.

Interestingly, Anand has shown that he can ditch his loyal preference for 1. e4, which he has consistently stuck to over a very long, eventful and brilliantly successful career, by choosing to move 1. d4 against a player who is one of the current experts on both sides of the d-pawn opening. Moreover, Anand has energetically entered the Meran lines of the QGD semi-slav while responding to 1. d4, which makes for sharp chess which suits Anand style, in positions he has had a lot of success in the past.

Kramnik has to do something extra-ordinary to stage a comeback, and while this is not unheard of in WCC matches, it promises great chess for the next few days.

A classical duel

The paths of two shooting stars in the chess world will cross in a few days, in an event that will be noted with at best mildly passing curiosity (I am basing this on history for guide) by all but a few geeky woodpushers across the world. This championship match is of historical importance, for it marks the end of an era of controversy in the chess world. Probably the most popularly held view is that the rarefied area at the top of the world of chess is split in the middle, with Vishy Anand wearing the crown handed down from Wilhelm Steinitz from champion to champion, when the previous champion of the bloodline lay it on the line in a tournament style championship held under the auspices of FIDE. FIDE held the championship tournament in 2007 to unify the bloodline title with the FIDE world championship title. Traditionally leaning chess fans feel strongly about the handing over of the bloodline title over a tournament, which they feel doesn’t establish the head-to-head superiority of the champion over the challengers. Vladimir Kramnik will be playing Vishy Anand for the unified world championship title in a head-to-head 12 game match.

Vishy Anand: Known for his extremely quick calculations, however in classical games, speed of calculation is usually not of prime importance. Anand’s style is sharp but safe and probing. His creative approach does open up vulnerabilities in his camp OTB, but at the same time prods the opponent into areas of tactical possibilities where Anand out calculates his rival. He is known to play the so called “open game” in almost every game of his career with White, by choosing to move 1.e4. This will be a potential weakness for him, since Kramnik is expected to play neutralising lines from the Petroff defence 1…e5, 2.Nf3, Nf6 and so on, which have proven very hard to crack so far. However, Anand does have a more incisive track record with Black than Kramnik, but Kramnik is known to be close to undefeatable with White. Anand’s nerves could be a problem for him, especially if he lets Kramnik take the lead early.

Vladimir Kramnik: Known for his deep positional play. Kramnik is known to play for positional long term advantages, especially with White. He is known to seek positions that offer slow gradual improvement, which Kramnik usually exploits to grind down the opponent until he/she pops. Kramnik has been criticized by fans for his extreme passive play with Black, where he firmly places the burden-to-prove-advantage on the player playing White. With Black, he is known to avoid all complicating and risky lines, and is content with entering drawing lines at the earliest opportunity, unless the opponent blunders. This strategy has proven very efficacious for him in all three WC matches he has been part of. His solid playing style and ability to come back from losing the lead make him a formidable match opponent, although his style is not well adapted in winning tournaments where one has to win a lot of games.

The two opponents go back a long way, with Kramnik holding a tiny lead over Anand in head-to-head classical games. I think that this will be a very interesting match, with Kramnik somewhat of a pre-match favourite. I would put it at 55%-45% in favour of Kramnik.

The cobwebs of my mind need dusting. Meanwhile I came across this old interview of Kramnik after his WC match with Leko. There is enough traffic in chess sites with armchair amateurs easily trashing Kramnik’s style. In fact, enough to re-position opinions in our minds. However, I like the way Kramnik dealt with exactly this in this interview, and I have grown to appreciate his perspective. There is no mincing words here. I think this is a man that knows his mind.

Every time there is a news article on rediff on Vishy Anand, a bunch of people scratch their itch to comment. From the comments the following become clear, and I wonder why they need to comment at all:

– Most people commenting have no clue about chess, the tournament/match details, the rankings/ratings of the players, the relative importance of the tournament/match, Anand’s chess-strength relative to other players.

– People are usually commenting on another sport, usually Indian cricket, and how it has let everyone down, whatever that means.

– Most comments are highly polarized with no sense of proportionality. In them Anand is either the King and is heavily lionized, or he is portrayed as a loser – the guy who always played second fiddle — again displaying a marked hyperbole.

– Most remaining comments are of chess not being encouraged (again displaying a lack of understanding of the sponsorship difficulty for a non-spectacular sport), or of politics in every other sport (as if the monstrosity of chess-politics is nothing at all.)

Why comment on a subject which you know nothing about, or you lack all the important facts, or cannot stay on topic, or you only have cliches and hyperbole to speak with? I am wondering if people are just trigger-happy and can’t keep their fingers off the keyboard, regardless of what the topic-du-jour is.