A record fell today that drew a great deal of attention in the world of chess. Currently, for those who are not aware, the chess championship is going on between reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen and challenger Ian Nepomniachtchi, and this morning (where I live at least) the sixth match of their championship was the first that had a decisive result, with Carlsen winning after 136 moves when a blunder by the challenger put him in a position where there was a forced mate in about sixteen moves or so, thus leading the challenger to resign after the first five matches were drawn in a game that lasted around eight hours of play.
I have read some chess books that have commented on the importance of physical fitness to the game of chess. This is something that people may laugh at, but as cerebral a task as chess is, there is an importance in recognize the physical aspect of human beings. One of the important aspects of physical fitness to remember is that people get tired after hours of mental stress–including the stress of playing a chess match for the world championship against someone who takes the inhuman lines that Carlsen does. You can play a great game of chess for hours, but if you make one wrong move in a drawn endgame (at least according to the engines), all of the sudden the floodgates can open up against you, as they did leading to this result.
It is interesting to note, as an aside, that although Nepomniachtchi is a Russian chess player, he is not being allowed by play as a Russian because of WADA sanctions against Russia (and other nations) which are forcing him to somewhat disguise who he is playing for when it comes to flags and national anthems and the like. Russia and a few other nations (including Thailand) have come under a ban for all sports championships being played under the name of Russia because of a state-sponsored doping program that was found out in the course of the aftermath of the Olympics, and it is interesting to note that this sports-related ban includes a ban on Russian participation as a nation in the chess championship, although it did not include a ban on Russian participation as Russia in the candidates tournament that Nepomniachtchi won in order to have the right of playing against Carlsen.
I can speak with some experience about the stress and pressure of playing long chess matches both as an observer of the games of others as well as a participant. While most of my recent chess matches have been played under rather rigorous speed and blitz time controls, my most extensive (and most successful) chess playing was done without any time controls in classical games that could and sometimes did go on for hours. I have played in quite a few games where the determining factor was not so much the ability to make the best chess move in a timely fashion but the stamina to keep seeing a good move and not blanking out after the stress of waiting for a considerable length of time to play a game. I must admit that not all of the games I have been in have been thrilling for others to watch. That is in stark contrast to this game, which featured quite a few interesting elements, not the least of which is Carlsen’s ability to squeeze a win out of a position that most people would have been content to draw. That is why he is the champion, though. One wonders if this win will have an effect on how the two contenders for this year’s World Championship approach the remaining games, and if the lack of sleep and the crushing nature of the defeat will lead Nepomniachtchi to play in a more reckless fashion to try to even up the score and perhaps open himself up to an even further deficit. Only time will tell, though, possibly a very long time.