Accept it, you don’t follow chess because as a sport it is complex and cerebral, something that demands a lot from you especially because you don’t even know what exactly cerebral means.
The ongoing World Chess Championship at Sochi —- between India’s old warhorse Vishwanathan Anand, the five-time former world champion but the undisputed reigning brand ambassador of Crocin, and the Norwegian prodigy Magnus Carlsen, who is already in the gallery of greats for being the only player in the chess world who has a striking resemblance to a morose Lou Vincent —- is now poised excellently for an entertaining run.
And it has provided us an excellent occasion to introduce chess to the newbies so that they can play it, follow it as a fan and also understand that at the end of a game, it is possible for a player playing the game to be less tired than the guy watching it.
And we begin with the basics:
Board and Pieces: Chess is played over 64 alternating black and white squares. All the 64 squares on the board are identified in alpha-numeric terms (h4, e7 c2h5oh, ch3cooh) —- letters are assigned to the x-axis and numbers to the y-axis and you work out each square based on its position relative to both x and y axes, a pretty easy and uncomplicated system provided you have majored in high-end mathematics.
Each player lords over 16 pieces of 8 pawns, 2 rooks, 2 knights, 2 bishops and a king and queen, telling apart the two has to be your first lesson in chess. The king constantly sports a crown because 1) He is a royal person 2) without which he will be, actor Suriya-like, shorter than his queen.
The king, perhaps he is piles-afflicted or some such, is mobility-challenged and can move only square at a time. The aim of the game is to ‘mate’ such a king.
With the king practically confined to a corner, the queen, not surprisingly, is more outgoing, if you get our drift. Not to sound catty here, but the queen doesn’t mind venturing into dark places dominated by enemy men whose intentions seem anything but virtuous.
When the queen, bishop and knight are out in the front doing their thing, back at the starting line, the king and rook can do what two people normally do when they are caught all alone: Jump over each other. It is called ‘castling’ because it will be too bold to come right out and accept it for what it is — a jumbo kink.
In normal play, only the knight has the ability to jump over other pieces, the bishop moves only in diagonal orientation, the rook in straight lines and the pawn in small steps. As you can see, chess is a highly structured and thinking game, and no wonder champion chess players turn out to be extremely brainy people capable of handling acute logical challenges, the types the totally random life never throws up.
Opening gambit: Technically, there are only twenty possible ways to make the opening move, and there are only twenty possible moves to it in response. But there several hundreds of ways to make the whole thing sound complicated. Like this: Alekhine’s Defence, Bishop’s Opening, Caro-Kann Defence, Giuoco Piano, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Grünfeld Defence, Petrov’s Defence, Ruy Lopez, Queen’s Gambit, Kim Kardashian Front and Back and Manchester United’s Useless Defence.
Within your standard opening gambit (the initial set of moves), you can still attempt some novelty or variation, to catch your opponent off-guard. As a newcomer, coughing can be your best bet as a variation while making the move.
Middle game: This is the most crucial part of the whole game along with the other most crucial parts of the game. It is the period when as a player you can consolidate your position, or if you are feeling slightly uncomfortable with your position, ask for a totally new chair. FIDE rules allow for this.
During the middle game phase you can, to overcome the pressure of the occasion, go out for a walk or drink coffee or practice other worthwhile hobbies like stamp collection.
Many erstwhile Soviet Union players repeatedly stress on the importance of middle game. They should know because of many of them used it to good effect during their playing days by emigrating to a different country.
End game: As the name itself suggests this is the part of the game that plays itself out when the end card starts rolling.
The end game sees a flurry of activity as the contestants, who generally operate in slow-motion (for the sake of television audience) during the opening and middle games, seek to make up for the lost time.
There will be tension and tumult. But you need to stay cool, not lose your focus, bring into play all your innate intelligence and poise and stay positive and hopeful. Who knows, your opponent could also be someone who learnt his chess reading this piece.
With this gambit, at least a stalemate is guaranteed.