In an interview a few months ago,Magnus Carlsen was asked how he fancied his chances in the World Championship match against Viswanathan Anand. The Norwegian had said that if everything went to plan,he was ‘100 per cent’ sure of winning. After winning the Sinquefield Cup in the USA,his last tournament before the big match,Carlsen would feel that he is approaching November’s title bout close to peak form.
With the win on Sunday,Carlsen’s live rating went up to 2870,just two points off his,and the sport’s,all-time high mark of 2872. The 22-year old has won a staggering number of tournaments recently (12 of the last 18),remaining fairly untroubled (losing just 6 of 112 games since January 2012). Unlike Anand,who finished his playing engagements in June before isolating himself in preparation,Carlsen had opted to play on till now. While the decision may have been driven by sound sporting logic,it is difficult to believe there were no commercial considerations behind Carlsen playing in the USA.
The Sinquefield Cup’s list of participants included World No. 2 Levon Aronian,a classical player widely thought of as one of Carlsen’s main challengers from the current lot,and the home pair of Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky,players known for their unorthodox,innovative and fighting chess. If,during the tournament,Carlsen had expected to test himself against both the conventional and the idiosyncratic,he wasn’t disappointed the unusual Dutch opening proved to be as popular as the Sicilian. Carlsen is considered the West’s best bet at the World Championships since Bobby Fischer and the commercial implications of his growing profile in the untapped market (in terms of sponsorships) that the USA represents,would not have been lost on the shrewd brains that manage the contender’s interests.
But as has been the case so far with Carlsen,his performances over the board have been beyond reproach even as the marketing drive that has made him more than just a chess icon has gathered pace. Despite knowing that a draw in his last round against Aronian would hand him the Sinquefield Cup,Carlsen turned down the Armenian’s offer to split points halfway through the game and went on to grind out a win that came after five hours of play.
(Raakesh is a principal correspondent based in Delhi)