Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Wrapping up the Anand-Gelfand match

While you wait, patiently, for Friday's launch of the Euro 2012 tournament, take a few minutes to reflect on the results of the Anand-Gelfand World Championship.

Ken Regan's observation is that, while most people who aren't familiar with the issues think that computer chess is boring, the actual reality turns out to be quite interesting: when computers play computers, there are relatively few draws, while when humans (at the highest level) play humans, there are many more draws.

Regan's own computer-assisted analysis concludes that, rather than be disappointed that so many games were draws, we should be astonished at the high level of play that was demonstrated:

According to my statistical model of player move choice mentioned here, this match had the highest standard in chess history. Based on computer analysis of the twelve regulation games, my model computes an “Intrinsic Performance Rating” (IPR) for Anand of 3002, and 2920 for Gelfand. Each is about 200 points higher than their current Elo ratings of 2791 and 2727, respectively. My analysis eliminates moves 1–8, moves in repeating sequences, and moves where one side is judged to have a clearly winning advantage, the equivalent of being over three pawns ahead.

Hartosh Singh Bal wonders whether the time has come to merge computers and humans, and allow the direct use of computers during matches such as these:

So far, experiments with advanced chess suggest that the powers of man and machine combined don’t just make for a stronger game than a man’s alone; they also seem to make for a stronger game than a machine’s alone. Allowing chess players the assistance of the best computer chess engine available during top tournaments would ensure that the contests really do showcase the very best chess being played on earth.

Dylan McClaim surveys the controversy over the format changes at the conclusion of the match, noting that, at this level, chess has been plagued with this problem for many years:

One notorious method gave the title to the first player to win a set number of games. But problems became apparent during the first championship showdown between Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov, when the first player to take six games would be named champion.

The match started in September 1984, but after five months and 48 games there was still no champion.

Michael Aigner points out that the match was extremely close, and that few people seem to be paying enough attention to how much better Gelfand played than he had been expected to play (at least, according to "the ratings").

All told, the combatants played 16 total games, but only three proved decisive to determine a champion.

Dana MacKenzie notes that Anand's final victory, the second game of the four game rapid series, was scintillating:

At one point Shipov said that Anand had a position you wouldn’t wish on your best friend. But in spite of all that, he did have an extra pawn, and he managed somehow to get to a bare-bones endgame with rook, knight and pawn against Gelfand’s rook and bishop. I’m sure that the analysts will tell us that it should have been a draw, but with Gelfand’s flag hanging Anand handled his knight like a virtuoso, like the wand of a conductor leading an orchestra, and he finally got to a winning rook and pawn endgame. What a masterful performance!

And, looking more closely at the actual chess that was played, Vinay Bhat observes that one exciting outcome will be the return of Anand to major tournament play after being isolated for nearly a year:

Anand plays again later this month in Bazna. I’m curious to see what he’ll show there – will all his opponents purposefully play the Grunfeld and Sveshnikov? Will he play with a new fire after having won an event for the first time in a while? Will the criticism fuel him?

For my part, I'm wondering what will happen with the World Championship process; this year's matches were terribly controversial, with Carlsen not even taking part, and a highly disputed process for determining the challenger. Will there be reforms in the process, so that the best possible match can be held, the next time around? I hope so.

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