Play-By-Play Chess Action!

Viswanathan AnandI hope you can forgive me for talking a little bit about chess here. The following video is from the 1994 Blitz Chess World Championship semi-final between Ilya Smirin vs Viswanathan Anand. Smirin is an Israeli Grandmaster, although I don’t think he had quite attained that title at the time of this match. Anand was the first Indian Grandmaster ever—a title he got at the age of 19. He was also the undisputed World Champion from 2007 to 2013. Currently, Smirin is ranked 86th in the world and Anand is ranked 9th. In other words, these are guys who would destroy me if they were playing against me blind with a queen handicap and forced to take high doses of morphine.

Ilya SmirinThere are a couple of interesting things in this match. First, it is presented just like a sporting event. And just like while watching a football game, for example, the commentators are largely buffoons. They make a number of mistakes. They can be forgiven; it does, after all, go by very fast. But it is clear that they miss the thrust of what is going on a number of times. For example, at one point, a commentator says, “Anand’s sacrificing his rook!” He catches himself, immediately, however; he quickly adds, “Of course, Smirin could then take his queen.” In other words: it wasn’t a sacrifice, I just screwed up.

The other interesting thing is that on his fourth move, Anand takes almost two minutes (1:43) to move. This is at the beginning of game where he has only a total of five minutes time for the whole game. And when he finally moves, it is not impressive. All that time? What looks to have happened is that Smirin made an unusual fourth move and it threw Anand off his game. And indeed, for much of the following game, Smirin has the advantage. But clearly, Anand is the better player and move by move he claws his way back and gets the advantage until it is overwhelming. The finally position is this:

Smirin-Anand 1994

The game ends in a draw. But this is only because all Anand needs is a draw to move onto the finals, which he also won. Anand’s position is overwhelming. If it were not blitz chess, there is no question that Anand would win (actually, Smirin would resign at this point). Anand is up by a bishop and a pawn. And Smirin can’t even take the lone pawn on the left. If he does, Smirin loses a rook. If he threatens the pawn with his rook, Anand can protect it with his bishop. This isn’t even to mention the fact that the king can take out the white pawns. One of Anand’s pawns will get through and become a queen. And these are just the things that I see. By the end Smirin is thrilled to take a draw.

But check out this video. Even if you don’t understand chess, I think you will find it exciting. Regardless, it’s interesting to see how worked up people can become about a game. We are so used to seeing it in football and basketball, it doesn’t affect us. But here you see it for the strange human behavior that it is.

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