Sporting View: Machine age raises bar for chess champions
November 30, 2014 1:26 pm
Just before his first world chess championship match against Magnus Carlsen last year, Viswanathan Anand complained about the malign influence of computers on his sport. Aided by inexpensive programs and powerful databases, even mediocre players could feel superior to grandmasters, he said. In the midst of a match, audiences had become unsparing. Elite players from earlier eras won unquestioning respect. In the machine age, however, much of that awe is lost as computer-assisted observers judge combatants against an impossible ideal of computational perfection, that inevitably left even the best humans wanting.
Anand’s complaint came to mind last month, as the Indian player fought out a further championship against his younger Norwegian rival, losing for the second time. Anand’s play improved somewhat on this occasion, while Carlsen, unusually, seemed a touch off his game – unwell maybe, or just tired.
Perhaps because of this, the tournament’s critical moment arrived in game six of 12. Matters were even at the time, both players having won one game, and drawn the others. Midway through the sixth, however, Carlsen made a rare mistake, which Anand agonisingly failed to notice. Had he done so, he could well have won the game, taking a precious lead against a player whose exhausting precision makes him exceptionally hard to beat. As it was the look on Anand’s face just seconds later, as he belatedly spotted the move he had missed, proved heartbreaking. He sensed that another such gift might not come his way. And so it proved.
All of this matters because chess, more than most sports, turns on mistakes, or “blunders” as the aficionados call them. Some of these really are howlers, the equivalent of missing an open goal or dropping an easy catch.
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