Blindfold: Lot more to it than meets the eye

India beat israel across three matches in non-conventional formats

Written by Raakesh Natraj | New Delhi | Published: April 5, 2012 12:29 am

If the live stream of the first set of matches between India and Israel,billed the curtain raiser to the World Chess Championship in May,managed to hook a few surfers,they would have been greeted by a curious sequence of stills. For a few seconds of the broadcast,during which time it would have been impossible to tell whether the feed was a snapshot or a video,or if the game had begun at all,Grandmaster GN Gopal,all but dead to the world,peered intently into a chess board that had exactly one of its 64 squares occupied.

His opponent Tal Baron sat equally motionless. Eventually,Gopal picked a pawn from outside the board,like a savoury off a salver,and in the same stylised motion swept Baron’s piece off the board and put his on a pre-determined square. Then he tapped the electronic clock.

This was akin to throwing a switch and the hitherto petrified Baron,in a fit of re-animation,replaced Gopal’s pawn and populated another square of the board with a selection from his own men. This sequence would repeat for about an hour more.

A blindfold chess game,despite the William Tell allusions,involves neither an obfuscating piece of cloth nor does it have,at least obviously,the airs of a public performance. The format calls for staggering feats of virtuosity from players — at each point during the game they remember not just what had happened until then but also run simulations about where a potential move would lead,all without the aid of a board and pieces. Things are of course more complicated,but in essence,a blindfold game involves two players talking in notation.

Though its complexity and sheer genius has the potential to send an insider into raptures,to the layman it is hardly poster material. In the event,the onlooker was forced to look at body language for clues as to the status of the game’s outcome.

Midway through the game,Gopal pulled his chair up closer to the table. Then he perched on its lip like a bird on a power line. He leaned progressively over,until his elbows,pick-axed into the table,were all that stopped him from sliding down to the floor. Only when Gopal and Baron broke out into a discussion (which remained cryptic and went along the lines of ‘If Nf3 then d6 actually’) did it dawn that the contest might actually be over. Gopal,it turned out,had thrashed Baron. And he would repeat it four times during the day across three formats- blindfold,rapid and blitz.

The unfortunate Baron’s luck did not turn. On Day Two,he was blanked by the rest of the Indian contingent of B Adhiban (4-0),K Sasikiran (2-0) and Abhijeet Gupta (2-0). Had it not been for this disastrous showing,Israel might well have levelled,instead of conceding the three-match tie (consisting of matches in the three non-conventional formats) 3-0.

The day ended with the blitz round,a format designed to hurry to a conclusion. The board emptied of its occupants in a blur,as hands swiped for the chessmen and then slammed down on the clock. A minute or so later,it was all over,it was announced. The score-card indicated that Sasikiran,the highest ranked player from either side,had had a storming second day,dropping just half a point in eight games. The title was India’s,the numbers said.

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