Anand for Carlsen

Cooling off... Magnus Carlsen in the pool after winning the World Championship.-PTI

The 12-game match ended prematurely with two games to spare. Statistically, Carlsen matched the projected figure, scoring 65% to Anand’s 35%, and turned the much-anticipated contest into a mismatch. By Rakesh Rao.

A sense of intrigue and excitement surrounding the clash, featuring a popular World champion and a prodigious top-ranked player, was understandably insurmountable. After all, the world crown was at stake.

Champion Viswanathan Anand, 43, and challenger Magnus Carlsen, 22, were separated by a generation, if one goes by the belief that in 21 years a generation comes of age!

Anand, a five-time champion, was quite ironically, the ‘underdog’. Since World rankings are based on performances reflected in the rating points earned, Anand was ranked nine in live-ratings on the day the clash began. Carlsen, perched at the top of the heap, enjoyed a 95-point cushion.

Eventually, the 12-game match ended prematurely with two games to spare. Statistically, Carlsen matched the projected figure, scoring 65% to Anand’s 35%, and turned the World Championship into a mismatch.

Carlsen won the fourth, fifith and ninth games and drew the rest to reach the magic score of 6.5 points. Anand held a slight chance in the third, survived the fourth and raised visions of a possible victory in the ninth before a fighting draw in the 10th ended the contest.

The one-sided nature of the contest disappointed those who had expected a fierce battle. In terms of quality of the games played, it was more forgettable than memorable. In games three and four, by turns, Carlsen and Anand displayed supreme defensive tactics. In the exciting ninth game, it was Carlsen’s ability to calculate precisely under severe pressure that won him the day.

Anand faltered in games five and six after Carlsen kept finding moves of optimum strength in an equal position. The World champion fell to fatigue in these games. His errors, one in each game, came in the fifth and sixth hours.

But Anand knew this was Carlsen’s preferred way of hunting his preys? Anand wanted to avoid getting into certain middle-game positions that led to longer games, where Carlsen has a way of adding to his miniscule advantage.

As Anand was to admit later, “I thought my chances depended on my ability to last long games without making a lot of mistakes. In the end, it was in vain. The way I lost the fifth game is the way I thought I could not afford to lose — fine position in the opening, then a slip. I really hoped not to be afraid of him in long games but simply match him. This was not to be.”

In a nutshell, this was the truth of the moment. And Carlsen rubbed it in. “I would like to take some responsibility for his mistakes. That’s for sure. It’s been that way for me for a long time. I just play and people crack under pressure, even in World Championships. That’s what the history shows. You keep on pushing and usually, things go right. Obviously, the blunders that he made, of course, each one of them was unusual, in the sense, that those are not mistakes that he normally makes. It really has to do with being put under pressure. And really, that’s all that I wanted to do in this match. Make him sit at the board and play for long time.”

Having accomplished the mission, Carlsen was with his family and team, followed closely by the Norwegian media. Before long, the newly-crowned World champion was tossed into the hotel’s swimming pool, with his blazer still on.

It was indeed time to cool off!

But, for Anand, it was time to take a break. He checked out of the hotel the following morning and headed home, situated a few minutes drive from the match venue.

Even before the prize-distribution could be re-scheduled, questions were being asked about Anand’s future. Will Anand be able to win the Candidates tournament in March next year to earn the right to challenge Carlsen in the next title-match?

The face says it all... Viswanathan Anand and his wife Aruna can't hide their disappointment.-PTI

Anand has not ruled out the possibility of playing the Candidates. Since 2007, Anand has spent more time focussing on keeping his world title in matches than playing tournaments. His form is obviously far from the best. As a result, his world ranking, too, is going downhill. The question is whether he has the appetite to win back the title?

More than age, Anand will have to deal with the motivation factor. In the months leading to the match against Carlsen, Anand realised the importance of regaining his peak fitness and reportedly lost six kilos, running, swimming and cycling.

Now, with the odds stacked firmly against him — fading form and diminishing determination — can Anand find the motivation, the fire of old?

Is Anand willing to go through the grind of preparing to be a challenger all over again, knowing he will be expected to finish among the also-rans in the race to become Carlsen’s next challenger?

Questions are many and only Anand can answer them.

Today, we have a World champion who does not miss a chance to play soccer and basketball with his father. We also have a dethroned champion who looks at every opportunity to play with his two-year-old son.

Will their paths cross ever again on course to the World title? Let’s wait and watch. Anand is not known to make the world wait for answers.