October 01, 2006


Storm in the loo

The chess championship match between Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov to decide the world champion has come to a standstill due to an amusing conflict. Topalov complained that Kramnik visited bathroom too often during the game. Almost 50-times in a game of 4-6 hours, according to an astute source. When the organizers closed one of the bathrooms, thereby denying Kramnik private bathroom, Kramnik refused to play 5th game. It was awarded to Topalov.

Obviously, Topalov and his team feels that Kramnik might be consulting somebody about the game. Kramnik was leading 3-1, you see. The easy argument against this would be it is unlikely that Kramnik seeks help from somebody because he is one of the top players in the world. The number of players better than him can be counted with fingers of one hand. While this sounds obvious, it will be accepted by only those who know very little or nothing about the game.

In chess, the observer is the best equipped to judge the course of the game. Of course, the assumption is the observer comes close in competence with the players who are playing the game. The observer doesn't have the burden of winning the game. As he has nothing at stake, he can think with a free mind. In 1995, Vishwanathan Anand played as a challenger to Gary Kasparov for World Championship. In the third game, Anand came dangerously close to winning the match, but let Kasparov off the hook. One of the commentators said, in jest, something like "Vishy will jump off 107th floor of World Trade Center (the venue) when he comes to know his mistake." Coming back to the original question, while there is non-zero chance that Kramnik might be seeking help from team, it is unlikely as one doesn't become champion by blindly following every move given by the team . For 12 matches.

Here is my theory about it. Chess players generally seek to get the read the mind of the opponent for clues. If a player realizes mistake/blunder in his recent move and shows the expression "Arrghh... I scr***d it up" on his face, the opponent has just to analyze a little more to check the mistake. As the players improve their game, they also become expert at reading the wrinkles on opponent's forehead and at the same time maintain an expressionless face. By moving away from the board, the players deny opponents an opportunity to get any clues from reading face.

If duration of Kramnik's each break is just 1-2 minute, probably Topalov may not complain.

Well, I might be wrong.

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