Viswanathan Anand is the underdog against Magnus Carlsen in a battle of ages, experience and playing styles
Experts and bookmakers have written off Viswanathan Anand, the reigning world chess champion for the past six years, even before his 12-game match against Magnus Carlsen, the world’s highest rated player, has begun.
The reason: Anand at 43, according to some experts, is past his prime, whereas Carlsen, who turns 23 at the end of this month, has been scaling new heights since 2010. Game one of the Fide (World Chess Federation) World Championship match starts in Chennai on Saturday.
Considering his strength, it is surprising that Carlsen hasn’t yet won the world title. That is partly because he sat out the 2012 World Championship in protest against its format, which he thought favoured the reigning champion.
He was in great form in 2012, won three high-level tournaments and pushed his rating—a measure of a player’s strength—to a record high. By the end of the year, Anand slipped on world rankings despite defending his world title. For two years till the middle of 2011, Anand and Carlsen played catch up with each other for the top position on the rating list, but since then the Norwegian has surged ahead.
Carlsen has only his own records to break, going forward. Rated 2,870, he is ahead of the No.2 in world rankings, Armenia’s Levon Aronian, by 69 points, and Anand, ranked eighth, by 95 points.
Going by statistics, Carlsen is already the strongest chess player the world has ever seen. He says he is still enjoying the game, which means he will rule the world of chess for many more years. Welcome to what former world champion Garry Kasparov had predicted as the “Carlsen era” of chess.
This match is being billed by commentators as the most anticipated after the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky gladiatorial duel of 1972 at the height of the Cold War. Why?
Anand is undoubtedly the underdog, but he is going to come with truckloads of lab work. Sometimes the research could be lethal: Anand faced it himself when Kasparov routed him with homework in a 1995 match. The Indian grandmaster is meticulous with his homework. At one point, he has even worked with Carlsen ahead of a match, so he knows how his opponent’s mind works.
Carlsen has trained under and practised with various people, including Kasparov, but typically not for long. He abruptly terminated the arrangement with Kasparov because he found the Russian’s coaching too stifling for his own style of playing. An intuitive player, Carlsen is known to dislike chess-playing programmes and the training camps that most world title challengers would go to ahead of a match.
Unlike other top players, Carlsen is known not to focus on the opening moves: he would only make sure that he doesn’t get into a horrible position early in the game. His real strength, say experts, is his ability to carve out wins even from sterile positions. But every now and then, his strength becomes his Achilles’ heel: Carlsen is known to overreach and sometimes, ends up losing. He said in a recent interview that he makes mistakes in every game. Just that his opponents aren’t smart enough to seize the opportunity.
Playing before a home crowd in a World Championship final for the first time, Anand will come with his best preparation ever and unless he collapses under performance anxiety, he is not going to go down without a fight.
It may not be as easy for Carlsen as one would think looking at the bookmakers’ odds on this match.