Among the very many great sporting events that remain hidden away from the island of the USA is the ongoing battle for the World Championship in Chess. The classy defending champion, Vishy Anand is a sentimental favorite, given that he's based in Chennai, India (Madras) where I studied. The challenger is the Bulgarian Veselin Topalov, who before the title bout started, had a slight head-head advantage over Anand. To add to this, The volcano in Iceland meant that Vishy had to endure a several-day road trip across Europe to get to the venue in time after the chess authorities only granted him an one-day extension instead of a three-day break he asked for. Vishy promptly lost the first game, but won two of the next three to open a slender one-point lead. For those who remember the Fisher-Korchnoi-Karpov-Kasparov days in the cold war era, 21st century chess still remains an incredible mental sport where supreme ego, psychological gamesmanship, and sharp analytical intellects clash to create some amazing drama.
A great blog to cover chess is maintained by Susan Polgar (one of the famous trio of Polgar sisters from Hungary) now residing in Texas. An incredible talent herself, she won an under-11 girls chess competition in her country undefeated at the age of 4, and is arguably the world's greatest female player. She asks the question - How should Topalov plan his strategy for the remaining games?
The first to reach 6.5 points in this 12-game series wins, and with Anand at 2.5 currently, a risky approach may cost Topalov many games, whereas a placid approach may enable Anand to force some quick draws (0.5 points each). I wonder what statistics, OR, and game theory has to say with regards to the optimal policy to adopt for either player?
If you are far behind in points, then it may pay to throw caution into the winds, since there is little to lose, while in the current situation, the risk and reward is still somewhat balanced.
Does a player with a lead of one point or more simply play to force quick and safe draws?
Interesting questions. Some answers would be nice.
correction (April 30) - Susan Polgar may not even be the best chess player in her family, let alone the world :-) That credit probably goes to her sister Judith Polgar.