the king & i

“You’ll bring the board?” asks Mrs Aruna Anand over the phone, “for we don’t have one at home”. Viswanathan Anand, the world champion doesn’t own a chess set. I am not surprised. Over the last decade, computers have taken over India’s greatest export, storing billions of games in giant databases. Long before you can set up the pieces, you can click through to positions going back to 10th century Baghdad. Or you could fire up your browser and play “blitz”, chess at steroidal speeds, with an opponent across the globe.

I had emailed Anand, saying it would make an interesting story to play against him and write about the experience. He agreed, and now his wife is on the phone to discuss the conditions of play, just as she has with the likes of Kramnik and Topalov. 

Jaideep Unudurti describes the experience vividly. When the dust settles, he reflects on how Anand plays.

I am struck how he rarely refers to individual moves. Instead he simply sees the correct squares for his pieces, and works backward from there. It is a marriage of imagination and calculation – he does deep calculate but there is an underlying cosmic awareness of which pieces should occupy which squares. Is that an accurate model of his thinking? “Pretty much. I feel White’s structure is wrong,” he says. “The thing is when you started playing g4 Nf4 (referring to my attempted attack on his king) I knew that something would creak. But I wasn’t into details.” Like Michelangelo who saw the sculpture in a block of marble, he seems to see the game beneath the morass of variations in one preordained shape.