November 27, 2013 2:21:57 am
At Chennai,as Carlsen outplayed Anand,the dignified but staid image of the game changed.
As the dust settles on the Viswanathan Anand versus Magnus Carlsen match in Chennai the biggest chess clash since Bobby Fischer vs Boris Spassky in 1972 it is time to reflect upon its impact. The immense interest,both in
India and abroad,of this most cerebral of jousts,belies the pessimists view that chess requires Cold War rivalry to be marketable. Indians proudly cheered,and sometimes even prayed,in huge numbers,for their mighty warrior. Alas,it was always going be an unforgiving task for Anand at almost 44,the oldest World Champion in half a century to cling on to his crown against someone half his age and already the highest-rated player in history. Time and tide tarries for no man.
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Carlsens victory gives succour to the countless enthusiasts who feared that modern chess was becoming an ever-accelerating arms-race of computer engine analysis. It is hard to recall any World Championship match that has been so bereft of theoretical novelties,as the young Norwegian constantly sought to sidestep Anands renowned preparation by going down less travelled paths. His simple philosophy was,in essence,Give me an equal position that you have not studied with a computer and I will outplay you. Call it cocky,if you will,but he was right. Twice,in games five and six,he defeated Anand with the slenderest of endgame advantages,defying the expectations of even the finest experts. It simply does not do credit to Carlsen to say that Anand just blundered. He blundered yes but only because he was subjected to constant,nagging pressure. To use a cricketing analogy,Carlsens style most resembles that of Glenn McGrath unspectacular,but extraordinarily accurate and effective. Only once did Anand seek to drastically alter the course of the match in game nine,when he was already on the verge of defeat. From the first move he sought to gain the upper hand by striving for complications. It was the correct strategy and was nearly successful,as he built up an imposing attack. Anand must have felt he had an excellent position. But first,he dithered slightly with an unnecessary rook exchange,and then spent 40 minutes looking for a forced win where none existed. Faced with a resolute,calm defence and the knowledge that the title
was ebbing from him,Anand cracked first with a hideous and uncharacteristic howler.
It would be tempting to now predict a lengthy reign for Carlsen. He is well-balanced,from a good family and not in the least bit weird. He is still ridiculously young,but has already dominated the chess world for the past few years. Yet,while I consider the above prognosis to be the most plausible,the example of Vladimir Kramnik,who defeated the legendary Garry Kasparov in 2000,provides a cautionary note. The lack of motivation,bordering on apathy,combined with an unpleasant illness (arthritis),meant that the Russians play nose-dived in the years following his scaling of the highest summit. With his health recovered,he has,arguably,only relatively recently regained the drive and form he once possessed. Indeed,after playing superbly at the London Candidates back in March,he was edged out of another World Championship match by Carlsen with the slenderest of margins on tiebreak. Of Carlsens most likely challengers in 2014,I would say that Kramnik,despite his ripe age (38),will give him the hardest time. Another tough opponent will be the world number two,Levon Aronian (31) from Armenia although I would still back Carlsen to fend off either threat. Beyond that short horizon,one must look to the next generation such as Hikaru Nakamura from America (who,on Twitter,perhaps not entirely jokingly,refers to Carlsen as Sauron the evil,all-seeing eye from Lord of the Rings),Fabiano Caruana from Italy,or maybe Sergey Karjakin from Russia.
Undoubtedly the most exciting thing about the Chennai match is the palpable feeling that the dignified but slightly staid image of the game has abruptly changed. With a young,G-Star Raw model as World Champion,chess has become cool. It is suddenly reaching new audiences that had been hitherto untouched by its esoteric beauty. This was most graphically demonstrated by the Norwegian schoolgirls who famously undressed for Carlsen in
a moment of patriotic fervour. More seriously,countless international media outlets,that have previously neglected chess,have this time covered the drama in Tamil Nadu.
India may be mourning the loss of a great champion but,when the tears have dried,people will remember that Anand has inspired an entire generation of chess players. The country has gone from being mediocre to being a powerhouse in a few decades,for which he can take much of the credit. As yet,no one is quite ready to step into his shoes but,given the extraordinary and increasing strength and depth of Indian chess,it is surely only a short matter of time.
The writer is a chess grandmaster and columnist.
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