When a Channel Nine crew were travelling through London on their way home from the 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games, they dropped in on the World Chess Championship match between Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov.
The crew viewed a chess match between two Russians as a minor detour after their main assignment and were shocked to discover that for most of the world, K v K was the main event. “I can’t believe there are 900 registered journalists here,” commented one of Channel Nine’s then-ubiquitous Tims. “That’s much more than in Edinburgh.”
Two decades on, the job of reporting on a World Chess Championship has become easier to fake, with the result that by the end of the Bonn contest the organisers expect to accredit only 400 journalists, of which more than a quarter have been specialist photographers or television cameramen.
Nowadays, newspapers don’t even need to rely on wire agencies like AP to create their chess story. For example, while most major Indian media outlets have sent representatives to Bonn, the Times of India is attempting to cover the Bonn match from Chennai, with a reporter watching the game online, sometimes viewing the feed of the press conference, and then writing a story.
The New York Times and The Sydney Morning Herald chess writers are also trying to cover the Bonn match from “home” — a tactic which will probably be used for more and more sports as budget cuts bite.
The downside is that the journalists cannot value-add and are relying on internet sources which their readers can also readily access, many hours before the newspaper appears.
Even for The Times of India, in a country where internet access among readers would be more limited, readers interested in Anand’s fortunes — meaning almost all sports fans — are likely to turn to rival publications such as The Hindu for atmosphere and interviews.
There was atmosphere and passion aplenty in Bonn on Friday as Anand and Kramnik fought out one of the greatest World Championship games of the modern era. This was the Nadal-Federer 2008 Wimbledon final fought over a chessboard — two players at the top of their game trading powerful mental forehands.
The game began with Anand, playing Black, catching out Kramnik early by offering material to set up a rapid attack. Thousands of spectators around the world, analysing with their computers, believed that Anand had miscalculated but both players saw further.
Kramnik responded after long thought by refusing to accept Anand’s offer, setting up his own sacrifices which this time could not be refused.
Anand, with head in hands while he spent almost 40 minutes on a single move, soon returned his extra bishop and more — taking over the initiative again at the cost of a pair of pawns.
As the clocks ran down for both players — the players must make their first 40 moves in two hours or face an immediate forfeit — Kramnik’s king was chased around the board. After just under four hours play, Anand’s unrelenting pressure, plus Kramnik’s more serious time trouble, cost the Russian the game; only the second serious game Kramnik has lost with the white pieces in more than two years.
It was Anand’s misfortune that his victory came on the same day that Sachin Tendulkar broke Brian Lara’s Test scoring record — only a world title win for Anand might have captured the back page of the Indian papers that day.
By game four on Saturday, both players seemed exhausted and the result was a very peaceful draw, Kramnik easily neutralising Anand’s winning attempts.
Anand now leads 2.5-1.5 with eight games to play. Kramnik, whose ideas to date would have been good enough to deal with almost any other player in the world, remains remarkably sanguine about his deficit; “I have lost just one game — it happens. I just have to play well and my day will come. I don’t feel like I have to panic; I have been in this situation before.”
Opening: Queen’s Gambit Declined
The first small surprise — Anand had previously tried 8…Bb7 against Kramnik.
“A new move — at least to me,” Kramnik admitted.
Anand’s home-made idea, obliging serious material sacrifices.
Another half an hour disappeared on this inspired move, leaving Kramnik an hour behind on the clock.
All the internet kibitzers were crying out for 18.Nd2, their computer masters missing at first that Black can reply 18…Ke7!! 19.Bxd7 19…Rag8 and a new sacrifice on g3 is coming.
“I couldn’t find any refutation of [Anand’s idea] and the way I played looked entertaining,” Kramnik said. “I liked my position.”
Now it was Anand’s turn to think and think; “I considered practically every legal move but it seemed useful to have the pawn on …h5.”
Anand realised that he could force a draw by permitting 22…Bxg3 23.hxg3 h4 24.Qd6+ but he wants more.
“My intuition tells me that White is OK with two extra pawns but of course my king is not so [safe],” Kramnik said.
“Maybe the decisive mistake,” bemoaned Kramnik. “I was looking at 29.Rd1 and didn’t see anything clearly wrong with it.”
With only a couple of minutes left on the clock, Kramnik blunders and allows Black a choice of winning methods.
After the best defence 33.Kb3!, Anand feared that Kramnik might escape with a draw after 33… Rc1
“I couldn’t see a forced win – and I certainly looked hard enough! 34…Qd5+ flashed through my head…” said Anand and his brainwave was right, though it took extensive analysis to prove that Black was indeed winning after 35.Bc4 Qb7+ 36.Bb5 Rc2!! 37.a6 Qb6.
Crushing, though 33…Bxd3+ 34.Rxd3 Qc4+ 35.Kd2 Qc1 checkmate was simpler.
Opening: Queen’s Gambit Declined
Anand’s opening has been chosen to enable him to press Kramnik without the slightest of risks. However for Kramnik such positions hold no fears.
A simple and efficient new move. “I have some small pressure but with only one minor piece [bishop or knight] each it is difficult to get anything,” Anand explained.
“[This is] not to start an attack but to secure e6 for my knight by chasing away his bishop,” explained Kramnik.
“I looked at 28…Nxd4 29.Kh1 h4 30.gxh4 Nf3 but then realised that 31.Qxg4+! was very unpleasant,” added Kramnik. “So I have to just sit.”