A mental heavyweight championship bout

Chess is an all-consuming focus. “Sometimes when people are talking to me I will suddenly remember some chess position, and then it’s very hard for me to concentrate on what they are saying. They can see in my eyes that I am drifting away.” Yet contrary to his good-natured image, he admits to a steelier side. “What you can concede outside the chessboard will eventually haunt you in the chessboard as well. A match is really a contest of space between two people, and you can’t give the other one any quarter.”


He describes the preparation process as akin to plotting an ambush in a giant forest. The terrain is too vast to comprehend in its entirety, he says. “But there are areas that you will know better than your opponent”, and that is where you prepare to attack, aided in your preparation by the most important change to sweep through the game of chess in decades: computers. “The way people play chess nowadays, which is to keep on switching their openings, being much more opportunistic – I think that is a direct result of computers. Even the way people play tournaments – everything has changed.”

Top competitors who once relied on particular styles of play are now forced to mix up their strategies, for fear that powerful analysis engines will be used to reveal fatal weaknesses in favoured openings. The result has in some ways made chess more defensive, increasing the risks of daring, adventurous gambits. But in championship matches, where draws are common and the final result is likely to be decided by just a handful of victories, unexpected approaches become even more prized. “Anything unusual that you can produce has quadruple, quintuple the value, precisely because your opponent is likely to do the predictable stuff, which is on a computer,” Anand says.

From an interview with chess grandmaster Viswanathan Anand a few days before his World Championship match against the heavily favored young prodigy Magnus Carlsen. Some interesting material throughout about the impact of computers on how chess is played at the highest levels, but even more insight into the stress of such prolonged mental combat.

I predict increasing novelty appeal for contests in which humans do things that computers can do better.