| 35 | Opening Theory

These three letters might not mean anything to a Non-Indian, but trust me it means a world to Indians right now. MSD stands for Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the captain of the Indian Cricket team. India won the Cricket World Cup last week beating Sri Lanka (a co-host of the World Cup) in the finals to bring the Cup back home after 28 years.


The Cricket World Cup Final matches in the last decade have always been one-sided ever since the Australians took a liking to it. They clobbered Pakistan in 1999, they humiliated India in 2003, and they politely brushed aside Sri Lanka in 2007 to retain an incredible 34 match unbeaten record in the World Cup. Every great run has to come to an end and this year India did just that in the Quarter Final against Australia, stopping them from winning yet another World Cup.


Last Saturday as things were unfolding in Wankhede stadium in Mumbai, India, life as we know it ceased to exist for every Indian around the globe. Meetings were postponed and offices were shut down, the whole country came to a screeching halt by noon. At 2.30 pm, apart from the 33,000 thousand fans in the stadium every other Indian and Sri Lankan soul was glued to a television set.

Sri Lanka had decided to bat in the coin toss and scored 274 runs off of the 300 balls (Basic rules of Cricket are explained in the last paragraph). In International Cricket, this is considered to be a stiff target and given that it was the World Cup Final, India was under a lot of pressure. As the Indians started their innings chasing their target of 275, both the opening batsmen got out in quick succession. One of them happened to be the greatest batsmen ever to have played the game, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. We say in India, Cricket is a religion and Sachin Tendulkar is GOD! This definitely put India in the back seat.



The Indian skipper MSD, who was in terrible form and was having a horrendous season with his bat, decided to push himself up the order and walked out in front of a billion puzzled fans. He went on to score 91 runs using only 79 balls and stayed on till the end of the Indian innings and made sure India lifted that cup. Finally we have a captain who can deal with the pressure, chewing gum and saying 'It's alright, mate!”


I understand if you are puzzled at what I am trying to get to by talking about a Cricket World Cup in a Chess opening article column. I am slowly but surely getting there! The risky decision that MSD took and the results of it got me thinking about the most interesting decisions made in World Chess Championships. What differentiates a Champion from an ordinary sportsman is the decision he/she makes on the biggest stage in their life. Knowing that everything you have ever wanted in your life is at stake in your next choice and keeping your calm and being unruffled just makes one a deserved Champion. No matter what sport you are playing, a small surprise element and a tad bit of self-confidence can make a world of difference when it really matters!


Today, we will be taking a look at some of those critical openings choices that were made during some nerve-wracking moments of World Championship matches. The first game I would like to study today is the final game from the Kramnik-Leko match in 2004 which ended with a nail biting last round win for Kramnik. Leko had used 1...e5 quite successfully against Kramnik in their first 5 encounters with a plus one score. Leko had snatched the lead in round 8 and was well on his way to becoming the Classical World Champion (this was before unification). In the 12th game of their match Leko decided to go with the Caro-Kann defense which witnessed a see-saw battle that ended in a draw. It is also interesting to note that Kramnik stuck to the king pawn opening throughout this match, those were the good old days of 1.e4!




The opening choice from Leko turned out to be a disaster, but it is easier said in retrospect.


Our second game is from the PCA World Championship match between Kasparov-Anand in the year 1995. After making peace for the first 9 games in the 18-game match, Anand drew first blood in a very nice game against Kasparov's Najdorf defense. Playing against a young lad with tremendous potential, Kasparov would have definitely felt the pressure here, but what he did to Anand in the very next game dented Anand psychologically for the rest of the match!



A great comeback from the great champion. This brilliant novelty from Kasparov was the talk of the town for a while.


Obviously chess and cricket are two very different games, but in my opinion we can draw parallels between any sports based on some common factors such as fighting spirit, critical decision-making, controlling your emotions and above all answering critics. Be it Kramnik with his choice to play the Caro-Kann advance and grinding down Leko or Kasparov with his surprise opening novelty against Anand or Dhoni's confident surprise to move up the batting order, they are all classy World Champions who let their decisions talk for themselves. No matter what sport you play, you have to step on the gas when it really matters if you want to be called a World Champ!





Cricket is a team sport with 11 players for each team. Each team gets one innings to bat and one innings to bowl. The team batting first (normally decided by a coin toss) has 10 wickets in hand and will face 50 overs (300 balls) to set a target for the other team. Runs can be scored in singles, two's or boundaries (like home run). The team batting second will try to surpass the runs scored by the first team to win the game without losing all their 10 wickets. There are several ways for a batsmen to get out, but lets not get into those details here. Check the following link for full details

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