May 12, 2010

Vishy Anand, World Chess Champion 2010

Anand won a QGD-Lasker (playing black) against Topalov, in round 12
of the World Chess Championship 2010

Before it all began in Sofia, Bulgaria- the home turf of Topalov, the challenger, there were doubts whether an aging Anand would retain his world chess crown. Topalov surely wanted to exploit the age factor (and the fatigue of the road journey due to the volcanic ash flight delays) as he pushed Anand to play on in some games which were all but drawn. He was severely criticized as it is impolite to continue a game which would logically end up as a draw, unless your opponent blunders. 

But soon this approach paid off. Anand blundered a game (playing black) with an opposite bishop ending, which on another day would have ended as a draw. He placed his king in manner in which Topalov could gain a pawn and push to win (a pawn advantage in chess endings will win only if your king vs opponents king meets certain alignment criteria). 

If that was not all, Anand let Topalov off the hook in Round 9 playing white. This was again unbalanced with 2 rooks vs Queen (for Topalov).  Anand had succesfully kept his opponent Queen tied up to support a central knight, while his rooks were mobile on the back rank. He somehow let Topalov's king escape the back rank and eventually let Toppy's queen perpetual check his king. Topalov earned a draw from what should have been a clear loss. Many GMs said that this can have a devastating effect, when the scores were in balance and you created winning chances with white, only to end up as a draw.

GM Nigel Short- on was so disappointed with Anand that he classified him as a 'middle-aged flabby Indian' (it was not a personal attack on Anand, and clearly wanted him to win- as he later summed Anand's victory as a win for the veterans, as he too is one).
So coming into the 11th Round, Anand had his last chance with white. He played 1.c4 - an English opening- which is way off his natural attacking style. It did seem (to spectators like me) that in the middle game he might have had tactical exchanges which could leave him with some advantage- but as WGM Natalia Pogonina clarified, that 1.c4 by nature leads to a postional struggle with very little chance for aggression. 1.d4 is closed compared to 1.e4, but can involve sharp lines as the game progresses- but it was evident that 1.c4 was going to be a long and winding affair. It was amazing that Anand's e-pawn moved only in the endgame! 

This championship was getting to all the flabby middle aged to spectators as well!

In the last 12th round- Anand played black. As expected Topalov stuck to 1.d4 but Anand deviated from the Slav/Catalan lines played earlier and played a QGD Lasker variation- which can lead to passive play. And it indeed looked like it and an early draw would be agreed. But the middlegame was a bit tricky and with lots of space, isolated pawns, and all minor/major pieces being mobile- it somehow looked like a position which Anand can get to, in rapid games. Toppy got cute with his f/g pawns and with Anand's bishop on the a8-h1 diagonal- he marched his e, f pawns to crack open the weakness of his King's castle. Anand ran through this extended 'drawn' game- this time Topalov fell a victim to his methods.

I am glad it is over folks, because Anand, flabby or otherwise, will always be able to handle it. For me, flabby (or othewise?) this is worth two years of chess education in two weeks. I better get back to what I had left off, before this tournament... was it work... or IPL... my iPad app... I forgot..

Congrats Vishy, 
Mumbai, India

Apr 26, 2010

Congrats Raina- IPL Finals 2010

Mumbai Indians vs Chennai Superkings,
DY Patil, Mumbai Apr 25, 2010

Chennai have won their first IPL T20 title, after having a tough time this year with MS Dhoni missing a few matches. They have been the most consistent team in the past 3 years, making it thrice to the final four, and twice to the finals, although they have never been the best on the league table (strange, but they usually have had massive bowling combination issues).

This year they finally won, by beating Mumbai Indians on a turning track with spongy bounce, which favored both bowling sides a bit. Chennai had three spinners, whereas Mumbai had one, Harbhajan, and pacers who could mix up yorkers and slower balls.

So what were the factors in the finals?

1. R. Ashwin - in both semis and finals, he has been an offspiner with uncanny variations- a bit like dealing with Ajantha Mendis, though Ashwin is more orthodox. He was the masterstroke from Dhoni which made the difference. Ashwin mixed up pace, spin and angles in the first six overs, and except Tendulkar- has had Gilchrist & Gibbs, Shikhar Dhawan, and Abhishek Nayar all frozen up- without getting them out!. Hats off to this guy. It is not easy and automatic choice for Dhoni to pick Ashwin, when Muralitharan is also in the same team.

2. Raina's karmic cycle was on the up!
Remember, Raina dropped Yusuf Pathan off Muralitharan in the inaugural IPL 2008, which Rajasthan won. This time it was his day. He was dropped on 13, then on 28 and then had one just go over Shikhar Dhawan for six. Raina survived, that was just the luck Chennai needed, as their batting momentum was just as frozen as Mumbai's till 10 overs. Getting to 168 was already 20+ for this pitch. (It must be noted that Murali Vijay was the only Chennai Batsman who actually batted in control on the given day).

3. Catches by Chennai!
With 106 runs needed off 60 balls, Mumbai were in with a chance as they had lost only a wicket. This really was the only way to approach this chase on a track which was not really any advantage in the first six overs for either team. 10 an over is very much likely, with a strong lineup yet to follow. But the catches of Tiwary (by Raina) and Duminy, ensured that more dot balls got squeezed in and the rate went from 12/over to 18/over.

4. Polard's late entry?
It has baffled most why Polard who eventually hit 27 of 10 was not sent in earlier. The reason is that he does not make runs all by himself! I do not think it was wise to risk Pollard against Muralitharan, who had an over left on this turning track. Tiwari, Duminy, and Harbhajan too are also capable of hitting big shots. Risking their wickets when 60+ runs are left, was perhaps worth a try. Someone had to cancel out Murali, and Duminy tried his best (and he attacks spin well), was well caught by a hopping Jakati on the boundary.

As a Mumbai Indians fan I am glad that they could put up a team which did not have their best picks from season one- Pollock has retired and Jayasuria (was there but out of sorts this year). They were the best team of this season and ran into a roadblock called R. Ashwin in the finals. I just felt they could have gotten Jayasuria in, perhaps in place of Dumniy, and pushed Dhawan at one down (Dhawan and Duminy are sort of similar). Jayasuria's spin would have been handy and even 20 runs of 10 balls, up front with the bat may have helped...

Good luck to India for the T20 World Championship!


Mar 22, 2010

IPL 3- Taming The Natural Strikers

Gilchrist, Yusuf Pathan and Sehwag can be pinned? What about Jayasuria?
It is interesting that a format such as T20, which is made for those who play the game in only one way- destructively- has pushed bowlers to work out lines to pin them and force false shots.

In T20, scoring runs at a strike rate of 170%+ is destructive. And if you cannot knock out Gilchrist, Pathan or Sehwag in this format, it can be all over in a short time. You usually cannot tame them- while they are there, as they will be smacking it all over the park. They may in the process get themselves out... that is what the conventional thinking is..

But look at what is happening- bowling teams are finding ways to keep tabs on these blokes:

1. Adam Gilchrist
Usually unstoppable as he can smack you off the backfoot and frontfoot- as he drives as well as he pulls. But Kumble has had a better equation with him, in the last few years, keeping it full. He will still hurt you, but you have more options to control him this way. Kumble got him out in Australia (07-08) sliding it full and wide, got him in the last IPL Finals (ok, it lasted two balls) by preventing his backfoot game.

Yesterday, Delhi leg spinners bowled googlies from around the leg stump. Fuller again. Although Gilichrist got out, he was nonetheless showing signs of getting to terms with this length. Instead of charging down the pitch (and missing) he swept to square leg and slog-swept over mid wicket. Eventually, a very full googly outside leg stump got him.

2. Virender Sehwag
Mumbai Indians have shown a way to control him. Left arm- over the wicket onto leg stump and right-arm over the wicket- angled in. His favorite off-side play is all but taken out. Deccan Chargers were quick to adopt this plan and were successful as Sehwag was forced to fabricate inside out to Ojha, from outside leg stump- and scooped it over mid-off. With Gambhir injured and the Delhi middle order not quite firing, there is that little bit extra burden of Sehwag to consider constructive options, even in T20.

Will he play a more managed innings or just follow his natural instincts on an unnatural line of play given to him?

3. Yusuf Pathan
After his maverick 100 hundred against Mumbai Indians, he is back on the radar this year, after a poor IPL last time in South Africa, on bouncier pitches. Anil Kumble (Bangalore Royal Challengers), had special plans for him- bringing on Steyn and Kallis to keep it short and bouncy, since Pathan hits most of his big shots off the front foot. It worked for Bangalore (even after being dropped once at mid-wicket) and it also worked for Kolkatta (though they eventually lost, getting a taste of their own plans).

4. Sanath Jayasuria?
Yet to fire in this IPL, although did well in the first game against Rajasthan and was a bit unlucky against Delhi to be out after clearing mid-off, to a wonderful catch. There are questions lurking over his abilities as compared to two years ago, but teams can ignore him at their own peril. You can see that he is not given width and teams have managed to strike the right length to him. Steyn was brilliant to get him lbw- pinned without footwork- perhaps a sign of slowing reflexes?

But with 14 games in the league-phase there will be a few unlucky teams where his full fury might unleash, especially since Tendulkar is in good form, and singles are a good option for Jayasuria to play himself in (With Gambhir & Graeme Smith injured, Sehwag and Pathan may not have that luxury though).

Bowlers are getting more organized in T20, and showing that batters will need to be selective and be ready to blend in constructive phases (2/3 overs!) if needed. If batters come with a predetermined destructive 'natural game' mindset, they will find it a bit unnatural- as bowlers are the ones who initiate play.

22 March 2010