Omigod, omigod, omigod! Ask me how excited I am. Go ahead, ask me.
Answer: Very excited. Why? Because the match for the World Chess Championship begins tomorrow, as you would know if our miserable press corps would get around to covering something important for a change.
The defending champion is Vladimir Kramnik of Russia, who won the title by defeating the seemingly invincible Gary Kasparov in 2000. At his best Kramnik is unbeatable, but he has been plagued by health problems over the last few years that have hurt his results. He even left competitive play for close to a year. But he has made a triumphant return this year, and appears to be playing very well indeed. I’d rate him the slight favorite.
The challenger is Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria. Prior to two years ago, Topalov was best known for being on the losing end of this masterpiece from Gary Kasparov. But he has stepped up his play recently, winning one major tournament after another. He qlso got a measure of revenge by defeating Kasparov in the final tournament game of Kasparov’s career. It will not be shocking if Topalov manages to win this.
Adding to the excitement is that this is the long awaited “unification match” for the chess world chamionship. Kasparov, you see, bolted from FIDE (the World Chess Federation) in 1993, when he played his match with the British grandmaster Nigel Short (Kasparov later won in a rout). FIDE returned the favor by officially stripping Kasparov of his title. Chess players the world over laughed at this gesture, since it was so obvious Kasparov was the best player in the business. Nonetheless, FIDE started a parallel world championship series, which produced some decent chess but no serious claimant to the title. Until now. Topalov is the current FIDE champion. Kramnik is the one most chess players recognize as the true champion.
Also of interest is the fire and ice angle of the event. Kramnik’s style is very positional, very patient. His own play is rock solid, if somewhat unambitious, and he is ready to pounce on the slightest error from his opponent. Topalov, is quite the opposite. Always ready to sacrifice an exchange or enter into murky complications, Topalov never lets his opponents off with a quick draw. He goes for blood in every game, an approach that sometimes backfires on him. It’s not just a match between rival chessplayers, but a throwdown between rival styles. Very exciting, and reminiscent of the old Karpov-Kasparov matches.
The match will be twelve games spread over three weeks. Which means for the next three weeks you’re going to have to put up with a fair amount of chess blogging. You got a problem with that?