Viswanathan Anand,nearly 44,conceded his long-worn crown to a Norwegian half his age. For perhaps the first time in his glorious career,writes Raakesh Natraj,the path that lies ahead of Anand is not all black and white.
Viswanathan Anand was unlikely to have spent his final minutes as the World Champion reminiscing about his six year reign. Saturdays game 10 was considered to be largely perfunctory,with Magnus Carlsen requiring just the draw to claim the world title.
But the Norwegian,true to his reputation,was playing for a win. For the last hour,Anand had to defend patiently and accurately,all so that he would lose his crown by a three-point margin instead of four. It was the equivalent of a battered football side having to see out the last few minutes of a final they were losing 3-0,just so the scoreline wouldnt look worse.
At the post-match conference Anand admitted that Carlsen dominated the final. The strain of it all had trickled through during the mandatory media appearances. Questions,some border-line provocative,some ignorant and some lacking in sympathy,especially after back-to-back losses that came after five hours and more at the table,chipped away at the impressive calm that Anand had maintained board-side.
After the first loss in game five,Anands replies began to get shorter. After the second loss,Anand said he would do his best to put it behind him. When asked to elaborate,he answered such: Doing your best means doing your best. I dont know why you dont understand English. With just four games left to make up the two-point deficit,Anand was at his most aggressive in game nine.
Blunt after blunders
He was close to a win on a couple of occasions,but blundered late in a violently double-edged game to all but concede the title defense. This time it was the press officer who was at the receiving end when she asked Anand if his 40-minute think towards the end of the game was to calculate all variations. No,I was thinking what to eat tonight, Anand replied.
There is no easy way to give up the crown. To reason that without the title defense to weigh him down Anand will now be able to revert to his old attacking style of play and perhaps be more successful in tournaments than of late,is fatuous. Anand was,in fact,asked if he thought losing the crown may prove something of a blessing in disguise. Its a bitch isnt it. No,I mean,I dont know how to answer the question. Clearly it takes some pressure of you but to want it (to lose the title) sounds excessive, he replied.
Questions about his future,even while looking ahead only as far as the Candidates tournament in March next year (which will determine Carlsens challenger; Anand gets a ticket to the tournament by virtue of being the losing finalist),seem too far right now. I want to first get some rest. Take stock of what has happened. Come to terms with everything here. At the end of the day,my play in the match was a big disappointment. I did not manage to achieve any of the things I aimed for. I assume I will play in the Candidates. You are going too fast. I will take rest and take it from there, he said.
The quotes,coming right after the title loss,may not be the best indicator of his mood or plans. Anand will turn 44 in a few days time. Undeniably,age is a factor. This year I had a lot of problems creeping into my play. I kind of tried to pay some attention to that. In the end it was in vain, he said. In the match,he lost game six when he blundered late. It wasnt too different in game nine. Both were mistakes that could have been avoided and the match might have been read in a different light had it not been for them.
Age affects people in different ways. Anands challenger last year,Boris Gelfand,at 45 is even older than the Indian but is enjoying a second wind in 2013. The Israeli won the Tal Memorial ahead of Carlsen and Anand. He is currently ranked above the Indian.
The other example is,of course,Garry Kasparov,who retired in 2005 at the age of 42,when he felt he was slipping up rather fast. Kasparov was described by Anand as someone who has a sense of history and a sense of himself being in it. The fear of a couple of bad years tarnishing his legacy may have prompted Kasparov to quit when he did. Anand,in the same interview to Financial Times,said he found dwelling on notions of legacy and his place among the greats as very hard to understand or even relate to in any way. Anands decision to play on may then depend on matters other than pure results or the destination of the world title.
what lies ahead
In any case,Anands calender ahead suggests he will be hitting the tournament cycle in 2014. First up is the London Rapid tournament that kicks off in two weeks time. But beyond that,Anand is expected to take part in the strong Zurich Challenger (also featuring Carlsen,Levon Aronian,Hikaru Nakamura,Fabiano Caruana and Boris Gelfand) in January,the Candidates tournament in March and the Tal Memorial in Moscow later. A failure to top the field at the Candidates tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk,Russia,would mean that Anand will fall out of the World Championship cycle. And getting back into it will prove extremely difficult,considering his slipping ratings and inconsistent tournament form.
Anand is sure to continue playing in the foreseeable feature. But his performance in the Candidates tournament will provide an fair gauge of his title aspirations. Even if it doesnt mean much to Anand himself.
These kids are alright
Magnus Carlsen,22,is currently the highest ranked player with a rating of 2870,but there are several other youngsters in the top rungs currently.
Hikaru nakamura: Age: 26,World No. 4 (2786)
The American is currently out of the Championship cycle,but it is only a matter of time before he makes it. An unconventional,attacking player,he has epitomised the gen-nexts hold over Anand with a 3-0 head-to-head record with eight draws.
Sergey Karjakin: Age: 23,World No. 10 (2756)
Karjakin is the youngest GM in the history of the game,and may be just 23 but has been in the top five for sometime now. He hit a rating high of 2788 but has dropped off a bit since then. Nigel Short considers him a future World Champion.
Fabiano Caruana: Age: 21,World No. 6 (2782)
The Italian enjoys a positive head to head against Anand,Kramnik and Gelfand. He has beaten Carlsen twice and lost the same number of games. He only just missed out in qualifying for the Candidates tournament and is first in line to make it if there is a pull-out.
Anish Giri: Age: 19,
World No. 20 (2732)
The son of a Nepalese father and a Russian mother,Giri is the youngest player in the top 50. In January 2011,he crushed Carlsen in 22 moves with black. His rating hasnt moved up in the last couple of years,but Giri has just turned pro.