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Musings of a Resident GM: Seirawan on the World Championship

Yasser Seirawan is the Resident Grandmaster at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

It is wonderful to be back at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. And it is simply the best of times to be a chess enthusiast, as the crown jewel in the chess world -- the World Chess Championship Match between Champion Magnus Carlsen and Challenger Viswanathan Anand -- is in full swing. It has been a pleasure to watch the official website broadcasts:

Peter Svidler and Sopiko Guramishvili are commenting the game in English while the site also features a second pair, Sergey Shipov and Alexandra Kosteniuk, commenting in Russian. As my Russian is basically non-existent, I tune into Peter and Sopiko. It is truly wonderful to follow the thoughts, ideas and suggestions of six-time Russian Champion Svidler as he guides his viewers on the ups and downs of the moves made, as well as those best-avoided. Quite a treat.

Sometimes, I’m proud to say, I find myself disagreeing with Peter’s assessment of specific positions. In those cases, I cheat! I will refer to the analysis of three world-class chess engines, Houdini, Komodo and Stockfish, to see if I’ve out-guessed him.

The three different engines don’t always agree on the numbers, but they are good at defining “who stands better” within the positions. Except for one small detail: engines tend to underestimate the initiative when in the hands of a human opponent. They may call a position close-to-even, because they are capable of finding the best defensive moves in a given position. But that is not easy at all for the human player, under pressure to begin -- and don’t forget about that ticking clock. That becomes a nice time to tune back into Peter, who is marvelous at expressing our very human primal fears.

The goodness doesn’t stop there, either. Both the Play Chess servers as well as the Internet Chess Club, offering their own Grandmaster commentary, are two more visits for me in my eternal search of truth. Just the other day, during Game Five, America’s No. 1 player Hikaru Nakamura was sharing the mic with GM Ben Finegold. Capturing the thoughts of Hikaru in real-time as the moves are made is both entertaining and wonderful: He is devilishly quick and can spot tactics in the driest of positions. With the top players whispering in our ears, and the engines cold-bloodedly predicting the action, a fan can’t help but feel that they have a ringside seat.

One thing we must always bear in mind: Chess is a fight between two human beings. At the board with tension at its highest, top Grandmasters tend to “follow one another’s thoughts.”  That is, suppose I was to launch an attack on my opponents kingside. Concerned, my opponent would obviously respond. I might press my attack further, causing both of us to concentrate our thoughts there. During the heat of battle, we might both miss an important finesse featuring a move on the queenside. This mutually, missed opportunity is yet another case of double blindness…

And my goodness, did Game Six ever feature such mutual double blindness? While it might be too soon to say, truly the following position may have determined the winner of the match!

For 25 moves, Carlsen has been enjoying an advantage. White kept his e5 pawn well-protected by his h5 rook. With 26. Kc1-d2, Carlsen erred. Catastrophically. And immediately realized his error -- as usual, just after making his move.

Anand thought for less than a minute and continued with his idea for counterplay by quickly advancing his a-pawn -- and Vishy’s realization of what was just missed, also, occurred just after making his move. Carlsen’s moment of calamity had passed. He felt like a condemned man receiving a pardon, while Vishy was left stunned by his missed opportunity. Anand played the rest of the game poorly and lost. Carlsen again regains the lead.

From the diagrammed position can you see the move that the Challenger missed as Black?
May all your sacrifices be sound,
Yasser Seirawan