Friday, May 21, 2010

Psychology in Chess

Psychology plays a very important role in Chess. Especially at the higher levels, when the technical strength of the players is about equal, this can sometimes make the difference between victory and defeat.

Consider the recently concluded World Championship match between Anand and Topalov. The 12th and final game which Anand won to clinch the match was not just exciting from what happened over the board, but also interesting from the Psychology point of view.

Before this game, both players were tied at 5.5 points each. The last 3 games had all been draws and if this 12 game also ended in a draw, then the scores would be level. To decide the winner, both players would then have to play a tiebreak of 4 games of rapid chess (25 minutes each with 10 seconds increment).

Everyone knows that Anand is one of the best players in the World, if not the best player, in Rapid chess. He had also won the World championship in this format earlier. So, we can safely assume that Topalov had good reason to avoid going into the tie-break. On the other hand, Anand would look forward to the tie-break rapid games, and therefore, a draw in the last game would be a very desirable result.

Also, it is speculated that Topalov was worried about playing the tie-break on the date 13th. Earlier, in his previous match with Kramnik, which had gone to the tie-break, he had lost the crucial game on 13th. It is a known fact that many sports-people are superstitious, and the date 13th would have been preying on Topalov's mind.

Topalov had the White pieces (considered an advantage, at this level) and it was expected that he would make a serious effort to win. Therefore the choice of opening by Anand was crucial; it had to be solid and yet not too defensive. So, when Anand played the Lasker variation of the Queen's Gambit, it was clear that the World Champion had come well prepared. The first few moves of the game followed known theory and after White's 24th move, the position (see diagram) was reached.

Though Black's c5 pawn is very weak, he has sufficient counterplay in the centre. Here Anand played 24....Bd3. Topalov played 25.Qc1 continuing the pressure on the c5 pawn. Anand replied 25....Ba6, defending c5 tactically because if Rxc5, Black plays Rxd2 and wins. The position is dynamically balanced and it is very difficult to find any winning plan for White.

But, Topalov, striving to win, here played 26.Ra3, which is a bit risky because it may put the Rook out of play. Anand moved the Bishop away to b7, and after a few moves, Topalov succeeded in blockading the c5 weakness with his Knight (see second diagram).

White's pieces are somewhat disorganized and Anand seized the opportunity and played the aggressive 29....e5 which directly threatened e4 with a strong position. Topalov played the natural 30.e4 stopping this plan and also had the idea of Nc4-e3-f5. But before all this, Anand broke through 30....f5.

Even an amateur would recognize that without the centre pawns, the Bishop on a8 would become a monster. Very surprising to all those who were following the match, Topalov blundered in this position (click here) and Anand got a terrific attack. He finished the game in style, thereby retaining the World Championship.

No comments:

Post a Comment