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Sunday, April 25, 2010

How Worrisome is The First Loss?

anand & topalov playing
Many Anand fans have been handwringing in the wake of his loss in game 1, understandably. It's hardly the way you want to start a match, and in the context of a relatively short 12-game match it's even more serious. But is it that serious?
In what follows I look through the world championship matches of the past, to see if the player who lost first lost the match, and even if he did whether he ever caught up or took the lead at some point before the end.
Steinitz-Zukertort, 1886. Steinitz won the first game and the match, but this only after losing games 2-5!
Steinitz-Chigorin, 1889. Steinitz lost the first game but won the match. In fact the players took turns in the lead throughout the first half of the match, and it was only at the very end that Steinitz pulled away and won by a clear margin.
Steinitz-Gunsberg, 1890/91. Steinitz won first and won the match too, but trailed after game 5.
Steinitz-Chigorin, 1892. Steinitz lost game 1, led after game 6, trailed after game 8, and through game 21 he alternating between trailing and being even. He won games 22 and 23 to win the match.
Steinitz-Lasker, 1894. Lasker won first and won the match, but it was even through game 6 and only after that did he dominate.
Lasker-Steinitz, 1896/7. Lasker won first and won in a landslide.
Lasker-Marshall, 1907. Lasker won first, second, third...eighth. Utter destruction.
Lasker-Tarrasch, 1908. Lasker won first and won in dominating fashion.
Lasker-Schlechter, 1910. Schlechter won first, but lost the heartbreaking last game. Lasker kept his title with the drawn match.
Lasker-Janowski, 1910. A Lasker massacre and a whitewash: 8-0 with three draws.
Lasker-Capablanca, 1921. Capablanca won 4-0 with draws.
Capablanca-Alekhine, 1927. Alekhine won first and won the match, but Capablanca won games 3 and 7 and led until game 11.
Alekhine-Bogoljubow, 1929. Alekhine won first and won the match, but it was even through six games.
Alekhine-Bogoljubow, 1934. Alekhine won first, and this time dominated until just before the very end, winning comfortably.
Alekhine-Euwe, 1935. Alekhine won games 1, 3, 4 and 7 (Euwe won game 2) and still led by two games after game 19. Euwe won anyway, 15.5-14.5.
Euwe-Alekhine, 1937. Euwe won game 1, Alekhine game 2, Euwe game 5, but then Alekhine took over (though not without resistance until near the end).
Botvinnik-Bronstein, 1951. Bronstein won first, then Botvinnik won the next two games. The players went back and forth throughout the 24-game match, with Bronstein winning games 21 and 22 to go from -1 to +1, only to have Botvinnik win game 23 and draw game 24 to keep his title with a drawn match.
Botvinnik-Smyslov, 1954. Botvinnik started with 3.5/4, and yet by game 11 he was down 1. Despite this he was +2 by game 16, but in the end the match was drawn.
Botvinnik-Smyslov, 1957. Smyslov won game 1 and the match, but was down one when Botvinnik won games 4 and 5.
Smyslov-Botvinnik, 1958. Botvinnik jumped all over him at the start, winning the first three games, and the final score of +2 for Botvinnik was deceptive - he led by four games most of the way and could very easily have preserved that margin to the finish.
Botvinnik-Tal, 1960. Tal won first, and led by three games after game 7. Botvinnik won games 8 and 9 though, so although Tal went on to win by four games it wasn't because Botvinnik had been too discouraged by the early losses.
Tal-Botvinnik, 1961. Botvinnik won game 1, Tal game 2, and Botvinnik game 3. Tal remained within 1 through game 8, but then Botvinnik took over and won by five.
Botvinnik-Petrosian, 1963. Botvinnik won game 1, but Petrosian came back and took the lead. Botvinnik caught him in game 14, but after that Petrosian went +3 and won the match.
Petrosian-Spassky, 1966. Petrosian won first, in game 7, and was up two after game 10. Nevertheless Spassky had caught him by game 19, but Petrosian finished more strongly and regained his title with two games to go. (The last two games were necessary to see if the match would be drawn, but with draw odds for the match the title was already decided.)
Petrosian-Spassky, 1969. Petrosian won first, but Spassky won games 4 and 5 to take the lead. Spassky was up two after game 8, but then Petrosian won games 10 and 11 to tie the match. It remained tied through game 16, and the rest of the way Spassky took over and won by 2.
Spassky-Fischer, 1972. Fischer lost game 1 and forfeited game 2, but by game 5 he was already tied and by game 10 he was up three. He cruised to win the match by four points.
Karpov-Korchnoi, 1978. In the match to see who'd be the first to win six games, Karpov won the first game, and after being caught he went up 4-1 and 5-2. No big deal: Korchnoi won three games in a four-game span to equal the scores, and then Karpov immediately bounced back to get his sixth and final win.
Karpov-Korchnoi, 1981. Karpov won game 1 (and 2) and went on to win convincingly, 6-2.
Karpov-Kasparov, 1984/5. Karpov won games 3, 6, 7 and 9 to take a 4-0 lead, and after a long series of draws, won game 27 as well. No matter: Kasparov won game 32, then games 47 and 48 back to back. The match was terminated at this point, and the first-to-six wins experiment was finished. Back to the best of 24 that occurred from 1951-1972.
Karpov-Kasparov, 1985. Kasparov won first, but Karpov came back to take the lead. Kasparov reclaimed the lead and won the match 13-11 when Karpov overpressed a bit in the last game fighting for the win.
Kasparov-Karpov, 1986. Kasparov won first, and Karpov immediately struck back. Nevertheless Kasparov regained the lead and was up three after game 16. No problem: Karpov won three in a row. And that in turn was no problem for Kasparov, won game 22 and won the match by a point.
Kasparov-Karpov, 1987. An incredible match. Karpov struck first, then Kasparov later took the lead, and the match was even going into the last two games. Karpov pulled out an amazing win in game 23, in his last White game, only to have Kasparov break his heart by doing the same to him in game 24. With a drawn match, Kasparov kept his title.
Kasparov-Karpov, 1990. Kasparov won first, but every time he had the lead Karpov would subsequently equalize the scores. Only after his win in game 18 did Kasparov obtain a lead that would not be erased.
Kasparov-Short, 1993. Kasparov won early and often, winning easily.
Karpov-Timman, 1993. It was a one-sided match, but even here a Karpov win in game 1 was immediately erased by a Timman win in the second game. The problem was that Karpov stole his eraser for almost the rest of the match.
Kasparov-Anand, 1995. Anand won first, in game 9, but lost the next two games and went on to lose two more.
Karpov-Kamsky, 1996. Similar to the Timman match three years earlier, Karpov won game 1, lost game 2, and then dominated the rest of the way, coasting to a three-point win that could easily have been more.
Kasparov-Kramnik, 2000. Kramnik won in games 2 and 10 and finished the match undefeated.
Kramnik-Leko, 2004. Kramnik won game 1 of their 14-game match, but lost games 5 and 8 to go one down. Only by winning game 14 did he save his title with a drawn match.
Kramnik-Topalov, 2006. Kramnik won the first two games, but after Toiletgate and some good play by Topalov, he found himself down one after game 9 (of 12, just as in the current match). Kramnik struck back to win game 12, and they went to a 4-game round of tiebreaks. After a draw, Kramnik won the second game, but Topalov won the third, only to have Kramnik win the fourth game, the tiebreak and the match.
Anand-Kramnik, 2008. Anand won first, and with a string of three wins in a four game span he took a decisive lead, coasting to victory.

If you're still awake - and I hope you are, especially if you're rooting for Anand - the lesson should be pretty clear. Winning first is surely better than losing first, but in practically every competitive match the player who lost first managed to tie, gain the lead or even win, and that happened whether the match was to a number of wins, to 24 games or even a best of 12 like the current one. There are simply no grounds for despair (if you're an Anand fan) or jubilation (if you're a Topalov fan) - at least not yet.




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