Friday, 15 November 2013

On Chess

It's world championship season in my favourite game. Chess. It's quite an unsexy word - Chess - heavy on the sibilants. I like the opening sneeze of a consonant cluster, the burp of a central voiced vowel and the challenging hiss at its close. Chess is one of the few nouns that is truly noncount - it can't be pluralised in any circumstances. To me, this property reflects the game's universality and something of the paradox that although there are incalculably many possible games, there is only one chess.

My ambition for this week is to get a tweet read out by the commentators on the official FIDE live stream. I may have started too boldly, asking, "does this championship represent the death of combination chess?" My point being that in the hypermodern game the Grandmasters spend the whole time adopting positions that prevent their opponents making combinations (ie imaginative sequences of moves that lead to an advantage).

Back in the nineties, I fell in love with televised chess when nerdy English Grandmaster Nigel Short challenged surly Russian polymath Garry Kasparov. Kasparov thrashed him with brilliantly inspired combinations that inspired me to play the Sicilian defense as black for over a decade (these days I prefer Alekhine's). Kasparov went on to become a sort of enfant terrible in Russian politics - standing up to the billionaire oligarchs that have feasted on the rich spoils of the collapse of Sovietism. Short became an olive farmer.

Magnus Carlsen vs Viswanathan Anand has been billed as the 22 year old Norwegian Wunderkind taking on the old guard of the Indian academies. But there haven't been the predicted fireworks. The first four games in the current championship have all been draws. I nipped out to get a haircut during the middlegame today and nobody made a move whilst I was gone.

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