How to Watch the Anand-Carlsen World Chess Championship to Improve Your Own Game

The 2013 FIDE World Chess Championship match between Anand and Carlsen is about to begin.

Chess as spectator sport?

You may have already waded through articles and blog posts all over the world speculating about who is favored to win, etc. It’s certainly good for chess that there is excitement over this match. Furthermore, chess really is a sport, in addition to being a science and an art. In fact, in past world chess championships I have tended to adopt a spectator “fan” mentality, including favoring one player or the other, and watching and reading commentary, trying to catch bits of games live (usually difficult because of time zone differences and work and other schedules), turning on the chess engines, and talking trash with other chess players: typical sports spectator behavior, of course.

An opportunity to get more serious

As I’ve said, although there is nothing wrong with having fun and sometimes engaging in our beloved game of chess as a sports fan, I got to thinking, for this Anand-Carlsen match, whether I can get more serious about it, as an active improver. Here are some ideas. I will use some of them myself.

Delaying consultation of commentary

Since the games start at what will be 4:30 AM EST (my time zone), I will not anyway be up to watch the games live.

Of course, there will be copious commentary on many sites and many blogs on the games, both while in progress and afterwards.

This time, I’m going to skip the commentary for a game until I’ve had a chance to look at the game myself first. It will be hard to avoid learning of the result of a game, of course, but we all know that the result does not tell the whole story, so I’m not concerned about downloading an unannotated PGN score of a game while knowing the final result.

Analyzing a game first without a chess engine

Although chess engines are fantastic aids for getting to the “truth” of a position, looking at them first before forming one’s own hypotheses is like reading a textbook’s questions while also reading the answer key. It may be resulting in a lot of pleasant nodding, “Yes, that makes sense”, but there is value in doing at least a quick and rough analysis based on one’s own mind. After that, one can check one’s hypotheses with the computer.

In fact, even more demanding than simply analyzing a completed game is to guess what someone will do. You can do this the time-honored way with a printout to cover up moves, or if you have the game loaded in a computer program, just don’t look at the score, and hit the “next move” button after writing down your guess. (It is actually optimal to write down your guesses or thoughts, rather than only think them, if possible, to morally commit to them and own them.)

Comparative commentary

To get a broader view of different kinds of evaluations, human oversights, and the psychology of both the players themselves and the commentators, it is possible to examine a couple of different sources of commentary (especially archives of unscripted, unpolished live commentary during a game). This sort of research task is clearly very intensive and not practical to do for every game, but might be instructive for everyone to do at least once during the match.

Match-level themes

Going beyond the level of a single game, we expect patterns to emerge during intense match play in a world championship match. Both sides will have prepared massively to generate new ideas and surprises whose full expression may be revealed through multiple games. So there is an opportunity to compare deviations from the same theme and achieve a deeper understanding than from a single game. For example, in past world championship matches we have seen repeated use of the Catalan or of the Rossolimo Sicilian, during a single match.

Exploring the themes in your own games

Maybe you learn some opening and middle game ideas while following the match. While your friends are also following and excited, how about playing some friendly games with them exploring the ideas you see? It’s a good excuse as any to experiment in a shared context.

Conclusion

I’ve mentioned a few ways in which one can use the world championship as a learning experience. Many of them can apply to any tournament or match, but I think the excitement and intensity of a world championship provide extra incentive to make the most of following the sport that we not only watch but play ourselves.

Franklin Chen

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About Franklin Chen

Franklin Chen is a United States Chess Federation National Master. Outside his work as a software developer, he also teaches chess and is a member of the Pittsburgh Chess Club in Pennsylvania, USA. He began playing in chess tournaments at age 10 when his father started playing in them himself but retired after five years, taking two decades off until returning to chess as an adult at age 35 in order to continue improving where he left off. He won his first adult chess tournaments including the 2006 PA State Game/29 and Action Chess Championships, and finally achieved the US National Master title at age 45. He is dedicated to the process of continual improvement, and is fascinated by the practical psychology and philosophy of human competition and personal self-mastery. Franklin has a blog about software development, The Conscientious Programmer and a personal blog where he writes about everything else, including his recent journey as an adult improver in playing music.