Yawning in Bonn

Two games down in the big chess match. The results?

Two draws.

And not the exciting type of draw with lots of thrust and parry and two lone, bruised kings remaining on the board at the end. I’m talking about boring draws.

But no need to despair! This is just the feeling out period. I suspect the real match will begin shortly.

Kramnik and Anand tend to be fairly conservative players, and that has certainly been clear in these first two games. Bobby Fischer was gleefully playing technically dubious but highly exciting opening like the Benoni Defense and Alekhine’s Defense in his WC match. Gary Kasparov brought a wealth of new ideas to the Gruenfeld Defense and King’s Indian Defense, even to the point of whipping out a speculative queen sac in one of his games against Karpov. (It was later said that Karpov’s ability to draw the game after having such a novelty sprung on him was a testiment to his great defensive skills.)

Anyway, Kramnik’s biggest contributions to opening theory to date were to revive the snooze fest known ad the Berlin Variation of the Ruy Lopez, and to show that Petroff’s Defense can suck the life out of a game in a big, big hurry. So in Game One what cavalcade of excitement did Kramnik choose against Anand’s Slav Defense?

The Exchange Variation.

Now, I play the Slav. It’s a nice solid opening with lots of potential for counterattacks. I used to play more exciting things like the Benko Gambit and the Benoni, but I notched up too many goose eggs to remain loyal to them. But when I see someone play the Exchange variation my heart sinks, and I know immeidately I am sitting across the board from a big pussy. Anand drew without difficulty.

Anand had white in game two and opened with his queen pawn. This was already a bit of a concession, since he is usually an e-pawn player. Basically, Anand was ducking Kramnik’s Petroff. Kramnik replied, unsurprisingly, with the ultra-solid Nimzo-Indian Defense. Anand managed to get some advantage, but Kramnik never really seemed to be in great danger.

So, nothing worth diagramming for you yet.

Oh, and on the off chance that some of you aren’t down with the chess jargon, here’s a quick primer. At the start of the game the two armies stand at opposite sides of the board, with two solid walls of pawns between them and a whole lot of empty, checkered real estate to be occupied. Your main task in the opening phase of the game, loosely defined as the first 10-15 moves, is to bring your pieces to more useful posts, all the while being careful to prevent your opponent from getting too ambitious.

The trouble is that there are so many ways of developing your pieces that even the top grandmasters can not hope to figure it all out at the board. That is why a large part of one’s success in top level chess is related to your home preparation. You study your openings at home, and try to cook up surprises for your opponents in thier favorite lines.

Different sorts of opening formations appeal to different temperaments. Openings lilke the Benoni, Alekhine, and King’s Indian involve rapid engagement of the pieces and lots of quick attacks. The pieces come into contact quickly and one wrong step can lead to defeat. These sorts of openings appeal to fighting players like Kasparov and Fischer, who had great confidence in their analytical abilities and who were willing to take some risks to get an advantage.

Other openings like the Slav or the Petroff are far more sedate. They appeal to more careful players who understand that winning in sixty moves is just as effective as winning in thirty.

The opening names refer to certain seuqences of moves, or basic set-ups, that recur over and over again. Tell an experienced player that the game was following the Breyer Variation of the Ruy Lopez and he immediately knows what the position looked like after the first ten moves.

No game on Thursday. The match resumes on Friday.


  1. #1 jgfellow
    October 15, 2008

    I just loved the phrase “sitting across the board from a big pussy.” It’s not often that nerds get to dip into true machismo-style trash talking…

  2. #2 Luis Dias
    October 16, 2008

    I find it hilarious that you try to explain and dumb down your chess jargon way after you shut off 99% of your readers with it! Ahah!

    Well, I am also seeing this tournament. I don’t agree with you on your assessment of game 2. I think Anand was corageous to play 1.e4, it’s not his usual game, and I bet he had a cunning variation in the middle of it, but we never got to see it, because Kramnik avoided main line of theory in 9…Nd4. Then it got a little boring, but still a lot better than game 1. It’s interesting to note that Anand is a very calm player, not very agressive, Topalov style at all, and he’s the one showing more agressive play in the board!


  3. #3 Dave S.
    October 16, 2008

    (It was later said that Karpov’s ability to draw the game after having such a novelty sprung on him was a testiment to his great defensive skills.)

    They didn’t say that when he lost to Tony Miles after Miles played the absurd 1. e4 a6?!, 2. d4 b5 against him in 1980. 🙂

  4. #4 Jason Rosenhouse
    October 16, 2008

    jgfellow –

    Glad you liked the trash talking!

    Luis Dias –

    Yeah, these chess posts are a bit self-indulgent, and I realize most people aren’t going to be able to follow them. But, I enjoy writing them, so why not!

    You’re right that game two of the match was more interesting than game one, but twice nothing is still nothing.

    Dave S –

    I remember that game! Karpov always had a reputation for being uncomfrotable in unfamiliar openings. Wasn’t there a game where he got an inferior position against an FM in the Center Game: 1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. Qxd4? He managed to draw, but he had a few nervous moments.

  5. #5 Dave S.
    October 16, 2008

    Could be. I don’t know that game at all.

  6. #6 The Ethical Atheist
    October 17, 2008

    I enjoy these posts. What say you of game 3?

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