A study indicates that home teams tend to win more than their fair share of games,across sports. The figure is put at 60 per cent (Johnson,2010).
Chess,unlike football or cricket,is largely unaffected by factors like the crowd,referee bias,fatigue of the travelling side and familiarity with playing conditions. With all these parameters eliminated,a study used multiple regression analysis to see if home advantage in chess could negate a difference in player strength,as indicated by their rating points (another measure rather unique to the sport,making such a study possible). The advantage of playing at home in this board game proved to be statistically insignificant (Sorqvist).
No sport,though,is played in a bubble,and chess,despite its reputation for constitutional determinism,is no different. One just has to turn to the 2010 Championship match in Sofia,where Bulgarias Veselin Topalov prepared a rather hostile reception for Viswanathan Anand,to see it is so. His travel plans disrupted by the eruption of the Icelandic volcano,Anand reached Sofia after a gruelling 30-hour journey by road. His requests to postpone the start were denied. Topalov refused to speak during the match and announced he would not make draw offers,in an effort to wear down the older Anand,who was 40 and five years older at the start of the match. The Bulgarian government also aided the home boy by allowing him access to its IBM Blue Gene/P,the worlds most powerful and efficient super computer.
The set of circumstance might have been unique and if indeed Chennais bid to host Anand in his 2013 match against Carlsen is ratified by FIDE,on the face of it,there appears to be little advantage in the arrangement for the Indian. But there is always context and sub-text. Carlsen,to become the youngest World Champion at 22,will play his first final in the alienating surroundings of a country he has never been to before. Whether Carlsen will find Chennais pleasanter weather in November a relief is debatable.
Anand may be a five time champion,but he too would be playing his first final in India. He has perhaps never had to deal with his home media during a major event in the recent past,to say nothing of the expectations,which are sure to be high.
How Anand circumvented the disadvantages in Sofia 2010,(Kasparov,Kramnik and Carsen himself pitched in,as Anands human cluster took on Topalovs super computer) made for a great narrative. Perhaps there is another waiting to be written in Chennai 2013.
Raakesh is senior correspondent,based in Delhi