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Mig on Chess# 5. 16.12.97
Mig talks about "luck" in chess

- LUCK (lùk). noun 1. The chance happening of fortunate or adverse events. -- The American Heritage Dictionary

Let's get one thing straight from the very beginning. GM Viswanathan Anand of India is one hell of a great player. In the past 10 years he has racked up uncountable tournament victories (I bet he's counted), been a permanent fixture among the top 5 on the ratings list, played for the PCA World Championship against Garry Kasparov, and proved on many occasions that he not only plays fast, he thinks fast. He even got married recently, as if we needed any more proof that he's one tough customer.

Now that we're all clear on that, we can move on to our next topic: luck in chess. "LUCK??!!" you cry? Luck in CHESS?! How can there be luck in chess, you ask. There are no dice to roll, no cards to shuffle, no gusts of wind to blow your pawn storm away, how can there be luck? I'm sure you have your own dictionaries at home so I won't include any more definitions, but the key comes down to the distinction between "extraordinarily improbable" and "chance". There is no "chance" on the chessboard, the pieces don't move by themselves. (Please notice here that I specified "chessboard". If two masters walk by during your game and, upon seeing your terrible position, one snickers and says to his friend, "Look, a Philidor's Mate!" and, coincidentally, your opponent sees it right after, that's chance. And one less master in the world.)

However, "extraordinarily improbable" things happen all the time. How many times will a 2700-rated Grandmaster not play a mate in one? Ivanchuk did it (then lost the game, then came back to win the match! Against Anand!). How often does a world-class player resign in a drawn position? Many have done it. How many times will there be no line at the bathroom in the playing hall between rounds? Okay, I've never seen this, but a friend's cousin read about it once. And when these things happen, someone got LUCKY. If Michael Jordan goes up for a slam-dunk and misses, the other team is LUCKY. If Batistuta kicks a penalty over the crossbar, the other team is LUCKY. And if you play like crippled gerbil, end up with a position so bad that even your mother has given up hope, and your opponent, a top Grandmaster who would usually tear into you like a pit-bull into a steak, BLOWS IT, then you, my friend, are LUCKY.

Sure it was his fault, no doubt about it. He lost, or let you draw, because he played poorly, no other reason. No chance was involved, but when something so improbable benefits you, there's no other word to use but luck! (Please send any arguments for guardian angels, astrology, or magic via e-mail to:

In 1993 there was a huge Interzonal tournament in Biel, Switzerland. Remember those? This is how the World Championship contenders used to be chosen, back before we had more world champions than Baywatch has, um, uh, sand. The top 7 finishers in this 13 round Swiss-system tournament would enter the candidate matches (joined by the previous Challenger), and everybody else got some nice Swiss chocolate.

Viswanathan Anand had had a pretty good tournament going into the 12th round. He had won four games against the some of the best players in the world (hint: nobody else was invited), but needed one more victory to assure his classification. His opponent was the redoubtable Viktor the Terrible, GM Viktor Korchnoi, and what's more, Anand had black! Now, I haven't studied all of Anand's games, but I'm willing to bet that this is not one of his best! By move 30 White's knights had completely infiltrated into his position and White had control of the only open file as well. Korchnoi also had a pawn on the sixth rank and it was only a matter of time until he finished him off. Anand didn't have much to do other than move his rooks around and keep his fingers crossed. Then he got lucky.

Viktor Korchnoi, veteran of several World Championship matches, one of the strongest players on the planet for more than 40 years, hung a knight! Anand, who was probably thinking, "Hmmm, with or without nuts?" happily collected the stray animal and collected the point a few moves later. After a little more luck in the final round (Bareev, who would have replaced Anand if he'd won, could only draw a superior ending after pressing for 93 moves!) he classified for the candidates matches. (If anyone thinks I'm not giving Anand enough credit, please go back and read the first paragraph of this article again.)

Kortchnoi,Victor-Anand,Viswanathan Biel 1993 (12) 0-1 ECO "A25

1. c4 e5 2. g3 Nc6 3. Bg2 g6 4. Nc3 Bg7 5. Rb1 a5 6. d3 f5 7. a3 Nf6 8. Nf3 d6 9. Bg5 h6 10. Bxf6 Bxf6 11. Nd2 0-0 12. 0-0 Bg7 13. e3 Kh7 14. b4 axb4 15. axb4 e4 16. b5 Na5 17. Qc2 exd3 18. Qxd3 Be6 19. Nd5 Bf7 20. h4 Kh8 21. b6 c5 22. Nc7 Rb8 23. Rfd1 Qd7 24. Bd5 Rbd8 25. Bxf7 Rxf7 26. Qd5 Nc6 27. Nb3 Qe7 28. Nc1 Rd7 29. Ne2 Qe4 30. Nf4 Kh7 31. h5 g5 32. Nfe6 Be5 33. Qxe4 fxe4 34. Rd2 Rde7 35. Ra2 Rf6 36. Ra7 Ref7 37. Rxb7 Rxe6 38. Ra7 Ref6 39. Ra2 Rf8 40. b7 R6f7 41. Ra8 Rb8 42. Rxb8 Nxb8 43. Nd5 Kg7 44. g4 Kf8 45. Kf1 Ke8 46. Kg2 Kd7 47. Rb5 Rf8 48. Nb6+ Ke6 49. Nd5 Nc6 50. Rb6 Kd7 51. Ra6 Rb8 52. Nb6+ Ke6 53. Na4 Nb4 54. Nxc5+ Ke7 55. Rb6 dxc5 56. Rxh6 Nd3 57. Rh7+ Kd6 0-1

Now back to Monday in Groningen. Anand's opponent in the third round, Alexander Khalifman, is also a tough customer. The former Russian Champion has also been playing very well lately, and looked ready to give Anand, who had an easy time of it last round against Nikolic, a real workout. Their first game was a short, sharp draw and Monday saw Anand with the white pieces. Khalifman played a rather new, fashionable line of the Richter-Rauzer Sicilian (with 8. ? Nxd4 instead of the more common ? Bd7 or ? h6) that he's played recently. Anand had faced this a short while ago, and responded with the same plan of 10. f3 instead of the more aggressive, and popular, 10. f4. Khalifman improved upon previous play and quickly got a serious attack going on the queenside.

Anand soon found himself on the defensive and though he survived the complications he only arrived to a completely lost rook endgame. It looked like the big tournament favorite was on his way out as Khalifman advanced his passed center pawns and king. Just as Black was ready to finish things off, he made one bad move (42. ? e3), advancing one of his passed pawns prematurely and relaxing the pressure. Black still had a much better position though, it was just going to take a little longer before Khalifman moved on to the next round. Then Anand got lucky.

Possibly frustrated by having made a mistake after such a great game, Khalifman allowed a draw by repetition in a still winning position! Maybe he decided that a draw with black wasn't so bad after all, or maybe he thought that his position really wasn't really that great. Maybe he remembered the Korchnoi game. (I refer you to GM Ian Rogers' Highlights page at Chess Planet for his excellent analysis of Anand-Khalifman ending.) I know there are many sporting elements involved in such an important match (like money money money) and I'm sure many people are afraid to criticize such a strong, experienced player about such a decision. But here in Mig's corner we call them like we see them, and I'm saying he wimped out!!! Taking a draw in a better position in order to face the world's fasted chess player in rapid games tomorrow, are you kidding me? All right, if Khalifman wins on Tuesday does that mean this was the right decision? Maybe, but it doesn't mean he didn't wimp out!

Anand - Khalifman
FIDE Wch - KO, 1997.12.15, Round 3.2
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bg5 e6 7. Qd2 a6 8. 0-0-0 Nxd4 9. Qxd4 Be7 10. f3 Qc7 11. g4 b5 12. Qd2 Bb7 13. Bf4 b4 14. Ne2 Rc8 15. Ng3 Qa5 16. Kb1 d5 17. g5 Nd7 18. h4 Rd8 19. Bh3 dxe4 20. fxe4 Nc5 21. Qe2 0-0 22. b3 Qb5 23. Qxb5 axb5 24. Bg2 f5 25. gxf6ep Bxf6 26. Be3 Rc8 27. Bh3 Rfe8 28. Rd6 Nxe4 29. Nxe4 Bxe4 30. Rh2 Bf5 31. Bd4 Bxh3 32. Bxf6 gxf6 33. Rxh3 Kf7 34. Rhd3 f5 35. R6d4 Rc5 36. Rxb4 e5 37. a4 e4 38. Rd7+ Ke6 39. Rd1 bxa4 40. Rxa4 Ke5 41. Kc1 Rec8 42. c4 e3 43. Ra7 R8c7 44. Ra8 Ke4 45. Rad8 f4 46. R1d4+ Ke5 47. Kd1 Rc8 48. R8d7 R8c7 49. Rd8 Rc8 1/2-1/2



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