Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Against the Odds

The World of chess has been talking of not much other than the venue of this year's World Championship match between Anand and Carlsen. FIDE announced yesterday that the match would go ahead in Chennai, India as had previously been said by President Illyumzhinov. Carlsen, his team and the Norwegian Chess Federation had all urged FIDE to open a bidding process so that all those interested in hosting the event may show their proposals with the best being chosen. However, FIDE awarded Chennai the match with no more said. Well, I'm not going to go into the rights and wrongs of this decision by FIDE; I'm not their biggest fan anyway. But I do have an interesting question about the match being held in Chennai. Will the venue be of more benefit to Anand as it's his home town, or will it be an added pressure for him playing in front of his home crowd for the first time (not counting his match in Delhi vs Shirov)? I guess the answer will depend on how the match starts and how open the players are to press releases and indeed how volatile the Indian press will be. Though if Indian media coverage of cricket is anything to go by, I think we are in for some great and not wholly impartial reporting :D

Home advantage is considered a major factor in many sports, with soccer coming immediately to mind. However, in chess this has not been established. There is no doubt that some players feel more at home in certain venues and this may affect their play. Some players don't play well when there is little natural lighting, and temperature can affect play (I am particularly bad in hot conditions). Company may also be a factor, with some players missing partners when away from home for a long spell, or even the fact that one may play better when travelling to a tournament with a good friend. I guess there are a whole multitude of factors that may adversely affect someone's play, and the moral of this is to know oneself and try to pick the optimum conditions knowing your likes and dislikes.

While I have enjoyed visiting chess clubs around the city of Melbourne (in fact I enjoy going to chess clubs all around the world as my wife Caroline can tell you when she was dragged to the Marshall Chess Club in Manhattan on a holiday there some years ago!) it is nice to have a fairly local venue that one can just nip round to once a week to play. In that regard, the Glen Eira Chess Club was created to fill a gap in this part of the city since the sad demise of Elwood Chess Club a few years ago. In our second week we were expecting the novelty value to have worn off a bit and for the turn out to drop off. However, while almost all who came the week before were back again, there were a few new faces to the club to check it out. This is what is great about a local club. If a core group can be established (and by that I mean maybe as little as a dozen players) then the club can begin building and having casual visitors is one way of keeping the club fresh and exciting. While it is good to have a local place to play, it is also important to get some variety of opponents so travelling to other clubs, and some tournaments would achieve this aim.

The visitors to the club, and the regulars had quite a fun evening as we ran a handicap tournament. Now these things used to be a regular part of chess clubs when I was growing up, but this form of chess has mostly disappeared, though time odds are often given. In our event an unbelievably complicated system was used where the lower rated player could choose time odds or material odds, and there were some great fun games, swindles and of course many blunders. However, no one minded as it was a fun event, and this is the thing that all clubs should be emphasising. We are playing a game, we are trying to spend a little of our time each week enjoying ourselves in a social atmosphere partaking in our favourite pastime. Of course we will try our hardest to do our best, but at the end of the day, for most of us, it is really a bit of fun.

As such, have a look at this magnificent odds hack by the great Philidor. I've been showing it to some of my younger classes to demonstrate, among other themes, the importance of building and maintaining a pawn centre. Philidor's opponent here is no push over. Atwood was considered a strong amateur (he was a mathematician) and in his book 'Chess History and Remembrances', Henry Bird said:

"Of the players who encountered Philidor, Sir Abraham Janssens, who died in 1775, seems to have been the best, Mr. George Atwood, a mathematician, one of Pitt's secretaries came next, he was of a class which we should call third or two grades of odds below Philidor, a high standard of excellence to which but few amateurs attain. One of most interesting features of Atwood as a chess player is that he recorded and preserved some of his games, an unusual practice at that time. These records have survived, among them the last games that Philidor played which were against Atwood at Parsloe's Club in London on 20 June 1795."

It seems unbelievable that anyone would be so good to be able to beat a relatively close competitor from such a material disadvantage. However, those were different times, and Philidor was an amazing player. By the way, Bird's book is now in the public domain and can be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg.

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