After alleged world title ‘blunderfest,’ chess world turns to St. Louis

The fun thing about watching chess in the Internet age is that you have no shortage of ideas about what’s going on. Yesterday, around move 40 of the 12th and final game in the World Chess Championship, defending champion Vishy Anand had either all but officially retained his title, blundered away his advantage, come up with some diabolical plan or run off to a corner to sing Carry On My Wayward Son in a fetal position.

Former world’s women champion Susan Polgar was among those who thought Anand had blown it on move 40, which was the last move before more time was added to the players’ clocks. He had a 40th-move mistake earlier in the match but was under much more time pressure in that game.

Polgar has since revised her post, but at the time, she was stunned. Before Anand played, she posted this: “40. Rf8+ The last hope for Topalov is for Anand to blunder with Kg7.”

Which is, of course, what Anand played. “Blunderfest,” screamed one of her commenters, in reference to that and an earlier blunder (confirmed upon further analysis) by challenger Veselin Topalov.

Over at Mig Greengard’s Chess Ninja Daily Dirt blog, several commenters were running computers to help them analyze the game for themselves. They found Kg7 wasn’t so bad after all.

Then Mig chimed in: “Did she really say that? Bizarre. Why would such a strong player, and she’s very strong, rely on 5 seconds of computer eval. … Maybe someone else with a comp is filling in for Susan at the moment. And he/she needs a quad-core.”

For the record, Polgar had said earlier that she wasn’t using computer analysis.

Anand made a few more surprising moves down the stretch, running contrary to several commenters’ suggestions that were bolder but may have backfired. The champion instead showed why he’s the champion, squeezing an advantageous position into a win.

Did either player fall apart on the big stage with big stakes? Jennifer Shahade, the chess organizer/commentator/writer/grandmaster, isn’t interested in second-guessing:

“I think it’s hard to be objective about the level of their play if you are exposed to computer analysis, which makes things too easy to find 🙂 That’s why I never do live commentary running an engine.”

You may have seen Shahade recently on ESPN2’s First Take or on in this promo for the U.S. Chess Championships, in which she and her brother compete to name the competitors:

Hikaru Nakamura is the last player named, but he’s also the favorite. He’s the defending champion and the highest-rated player. He isn’t just going to St. Louis for the U.S. Championships — he has relocated there because of the burgeoning chess scene.

“I think he’ll get great support there and this will help increase his chances of seizing the World Championship crown,” Shahade says. “I love Nakamura’s style, so I certainly will be rooting for him all the way.”

Geography, though, matters a little less in the Internet era. Shahade says Nakamura, who became a grandmaster at 15, “pretty much grew up” on the Internet Chess Club. And Shahade’s brother, Greg, is the commissioner of the U.S. Chess League, which eliminates travel costs by competing online.

Nakamura isn’t set to compete for the world title just yet. Gata Kamsky, who played Anatoly Karpov for one of the two pre-unification world titles in 1996, came back from a hiatus of several years in 2004 and worked his way back into the world championship cycle, losing to Topalov in the match that determined Anand’s challenger.

“I believe in Gata Kamsky,” Shahade says. “He’s a determined fighter.”

That doesn’t mean he’s taking up the new sport of “chessboxing,” though, which has drawn some publicity just because it seems so strange. Not that it’s strange to want some exercise while playing — Shahade sometimes gives demonstrations while hula-hooping. (Surely someone is hard at work creating hula-chess for the Wii.)

Clearly, the sport’s image is changing. Shahade, who wrote Chess Bitch: Women in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport (not quite as lurid as the title implies, but a compelling exploration of gender and competition), is one of many chess players encouraging more women to play. Her organization 9 Queens teaches girls and at-risk youths to play. Polgar has set up shop at Texas Tech. Women’s world champion Alexandra Kosteniuk keeps up a dizzying travel schedule.

And if you’re bored with fantasy baseball and can’t wait until fantasy football, play fantasy chess. My team is Nakamura, Shulman, Hess, Lenderman, Shankland and Krush. Catch me if you can. Tournament games start Friday.

Why this world chess championship is so exciting

Like the world heavyweight boxing championship, the world chess championship has fallen on hard times since the ’70s and ’80s. The succession of colorful, controversial figures died out in a muddle of disputed titles and curious decisions.

From a U.S. perspective, the peak was the 1972 match in which Bobby Fischer won the title from Boris Spassky. The Soviet Union wouldn’t be without the title long — the erratic genius Fischer made a couple of unreasonable demands for his title defense and forfeited the crown to Anatoly Karpov in 1975.

Yet even without an American involved, Karpov’s 1978 title defense in Viktor Korchnoi was well-covered in the USA — see Sports Illustrated‘s report from the match’s opening and note Korchnoi’s “Ali-like entourage.” With the rabble-rousing defector Korchnoi facing a Soviet champion after disposing of several Soviet challengers, the match was steeped in Cold War animosity, perhaps even moreso than the Fischer-Spassky match. A Korchnoi comeback made the match almost as interesting on the board as it was off. Sports Illustrated recapped the final games, hinting that the key decision may have been the organizers’ agreement to kick out two Korchnoi aides — American members of an Indian “meditative sect” who were out on bail pending appeal of a stabbing convictiong — and the front-row seating of a Soviet “parapsychologist” who helped Karpov by staring intently at the challenger.

Continue reading Why this world chess championship is so exciting

Friday Myriad: Get your track shoes and chess pieces

Don’t let the volcano or blown calls get you down. All times ET, which seems appropriate given the birth of new I-95 rivalries in MLS and WPS this weekend.


Penn Relays, featuring the “USA vs. The World” events, will have a same-day delay broadcast, 8 p.m. ET Sat., ESPN2

The Drake Relays also will have their big names competing Saturday, though they’ve already seen a meet record with U.S. champion Diana Pickler in the heptathlon.

Also the first official IAAF event of the season, the Dakar Grand Prix on Saturday.

Two marathons Sunday: London and Madrid. London will be broadcast on Universal Sports.


The World Championship match between champion Vishy Anand and challenger Veselin Topalov starts Saturday morning. Grandmaster Ian Rogers, writing for the USCF’s Chess Life Online, provides a helpful and witty guide to following the event.


Some other writer wrote a preview of WEC’s first pay-per-view card at 10 p.m. ET Saturday. Spike will have two prelims at 9 p.m. The main event has two of the most exciting fighters in the world — featherweight champion Jose Aldo vs. former champion Urijah Faber. There’s also a lightweight title fight rematch between Ben Henderson and Donald Cerrone, plus a compelling featherweight matchup with former champion Mike Brown facing Manny Gamburyan.


Now would be a good time to mention the World’s Greatest Football Fan contest, complete with video from one “Cobi J.” Good thing to fill out while you’re agonizing over your favorite team in the stretch run this weekend.

The key German and French games aren’t televised this week.

England (3 games left; Chelsea lead Man U by 1)

For fourth place: Tottenham (64) and Man City (62) have game in hand over Aston Villa (61).

Relegation race: Bolton (35), Wigan (35), Wolves (34) near safety. West Ham (31) on bubble. Current relegation zone is Hull (28), Burnley (27) and Portmouth (farewell).

  • Tottenham-Manchester United, 7:30 a.m. Sat., ESPN2: For the second straight week, Manchester United carries its title hopes against a team fighting for the final Champions League berth.
  • West Ham-Wigan, 10 a.m. Sat., FSC: Vital for West Ham (Jonathan Spector).
  • Hull-Sunderland, 10 a.m. Sat., Fox Soccer Plus: Hull (Jozy Altidore) are in worse shape.
  • Arsenal-Manchester City, 12:30 p.m. Sat., FSC: The Gunners are pretty well stuck in third after collapsing last week; Man City still wants that Champions League berth.
  • Everton-Fulham, 9:55 a.m. Sun.: Everton (Tim Howard) still in the mix for a European spot; Fulham (Clint Dempsey) might want to cool the jets in the Premier League and focus on that second Europa League semifinal leg.
  • Chelsea-Stoke, 11 a.m. Sun., FSC: Possible lead change?

Spain (5 games left; Barcelona lead Real Madrid by 1)

  • Barcelona-Xerez, noon Sat., GolTV
  • Real Zaragoza-Real Madrid, 2 p.m. Sat., ESPN3

Italy (4 games left; Roma lead Inter by 1 and AC Milan by 7)

  • Inter Milan-Atalanta, noon Sat., Fox Soccer Plus
  • Palermo-AC Milan, 2:30 p.m. Sat., FSC
  • Roma-Sampdoria, 2:30 p.m. Sun., FSC


  • Cup final: Aris-Panathinaikos, 1:30 p.m. Sat., untelevised: Trophy for Eddie and Freddy?

More global listings at Soccer America.


New FC Dallas technical director Barry Gorman has already paid dividends for the Hooray Beers. He coached Jason Yeisley at Penn State, and Yeisley made the difference last night with a textbook … dive. (See the currently non-embeddable video.) Jeff Cunningham made his second PK of the night and Dallas got a draw with the unlucky Seattle Sounders.

The weekend (home teams first; all games Saturday except the last):

  • New York (3-1-0) – Philadelphia (1-2-0), 4 p.m., TeleFutura
  • New England (2-2-0) – Colorado (2-1-1), 7:30 p.m., DK/MLSS: Better matchup than you might have thought a month ago.
  • Columbus (1-0-1) – Salt Lake (2-1-0), 7:30 p.m., DK/MLSS: Past two MLS champs meet as RSL continues brutal early schedule.
  • Kansas City (2-1-0) – Los Angeles (4-0-0), 8:30 p.m., DK/MLSS: Good test for Galaxy’s streak.
  • Chicago (1-2-1) – Houston (2-1-1), 8:30 p.m., DK/MLSS
  • Chivas USA (1-3-0) – San Jose (2-1-0), 10:30 p.m., FSC
  • Toronto (1-3-0) – Seattle (2-1-2), 2 p.m. Sun., DK/MLSS: Temperamental TFC vs. some angry Sounders. Yikes.

D.C. United is the idle team this week. Not exactly sure why.


  • FC Gold Pride (1-1-0) – Atlanta (0-1-1), 10 p.m. Sat.: Fun fact – Atlanta keeper Allison Whitworth leads the league with 19 saves. Second place is Hope Solo with 12. Expansion defenses are fun!
  • Philadelphia (0-0-2) – Washington (1-1-0), 6 p.m. Sun.: Abby Wambach was WPS player of the week with a goal and two assists for the Freedom.
  • Chicago (0-1-1) – Sky Blue (1-1-0), 6 p.m. Sun.: Facing each other for the second time already. First game was 1-0 Sky Blue in their Jersey home.
  • St. Louis (1-0-1) – Boston (1-0-1), 6 p.m. Sun., FSC, Webcast, iPhone: Looks like the only way to make this more readily available would be to beam it directly into your head. Coincidentally, these teams are tied for first in the early going.


  • Athens Twilight Criterium, Saturday: Not a major event, but it draws a few good riders and will bring back pleasant memories for all us former Athens residents.
  • Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Sunday: Classic ride through Belgium and one of the last big rides before the Giro d’Italia. Among the riders: Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans, Christian Vande Velde, Chris Horner, Andreas Kloden, Yaroslav Popovych. Earlier this week at La Fleche Wallonne, Evans beat Joaquin Rodriguez and Contador in the final sprint, with Horner 7th. On Versus May 1.


Super Six super middleweight tournament continues: Carl Bloch vs. Mikkel Kessler, 9 p.m. ET Sat., Showtime

Heavyweights Cristobal Arreola vs. Tomasz Adamek, main event on 11:15 p.m. ET Sat. HBO card


Four ongoing events this weekend

  • Equestrian, Rolex Three-Day Event, Lexington, Ky., Universal Sports
  • Canoe-Kayak, U.S. flatwater national team trials, Chula Vista, Calif.
  • Wrestling, U.S. Championships, Cleveland,
  • Women’s college gymnastics, NCAA championships, Gainesville, Fla., NCAA/CBS College Sports


  • Fed Cup semifinals, USA vs. Russia, 2/4 p.m. Sat., 2/4/6 p.m. Sun., Tennis Channel
  • ATP Barcelona: semifinals 7:30/10 a.m. Sat., final 10 a.m. Sun., Tennis Channel: David Ferrer, Robin Soderling among quarterfinalists.


  • Several bowlers from the PBA Tour, whose season is over, are competing in the Japan Cup.

World chess championship delayed

Iceland is once again playing a role in the confused history of the world chess championship, and this time, Bobby Fischer isn’t involved.

Thirty-eight years after Fischer beat Boris Spassky to break the Soviet Union’s Cold War stranglehold on the title and two years after Fischer died in Iceland as a wanted man in the USA, the 2010 title match has been delayed one day because champion Viswanathan Anand had trouble getting to Bulgaria, where challenger Veselin Topalov already has home advantage.

Anand had trouble getting to Bulgaria because — you guessed it — that giant ash cloud from Iceland’s volcano snarled his travel plans. Like Barcelona against Inter Milan, he made it by bus.

The Bulgarian organizers were reluctant to hold up the festivities. It took an act of FIDE, which has already invested the past decade and change trying to bring normalcy to the world championship, to push back the starting date. The polite but firm letter (see PDF) from FIDE Deputy President Georgios Makropoulos to organizing committee chairman Boyko Borisov, who doubles as Bulgaria’s prime minister, gives a sense of the diplomatic difficulties:

It is clear that we have reached an impasse in the discussions and a decision must be made. I also requested a
meeting with you, but I was informed, that unfortunately this was not possible.

Readers at Mig Greengard’s Daily Dirt Chess Blog have installed Anand as a heavy favorite.