Carlsen wants more, should get more

THE PLAYERS GREET EACH OTHER before the start of a game.-AP

Two down, five to go.

That was how Magnus Carlsen reacted to his triumph at the World Chess Championship in Sochi, Russia, recently. What he meant was simple: I have won two World titles, and I want to win five more.

Nobody has seven World titles. The record is six, with Emmanuel Lasker (1894 to 1910) and Garry Kasparov (1985 to 1995), winning their half-a-dozen titles in a row.

You have to be brave to bet against Carlsen breaking the record. He is just 23. And if you look around, you would not see too many men in world chess capable of stopping him.

He may have looked less unstoppable in Sochi than he did in Chennai a year ago when he claimed his maiden crown without losing a single game to Anand. The Indian put up a far superior ?ght this time around, and there was the genuine possibility of him upstaging the hot favourite.

That possibility arose when Carlsen made a blunder in Game Six, a mistake you expect to see from him as often as snowfall in Chennai. But the genial genius from Chennai failed to see that Carlsen had turned Santa a month in advance.

Anand returned the favour on the very next move, with his own blunder. And he lost.

The 44-year-old did not recognise the Carlsen blunder maybe because he did not expect one. The greatest strength of the Norwegian is that he somehow ?nds the right move - often the most right of several right ones - almost all the time.

He wasn't clearly at his best in Russia. And Anand played fighting chess and was very much in the match right through till he unwisely sacri?ced his rook for a bishop in what proved to be the ?nal game. Carlsen wasn't feeling well physically at Sochi; he was on medication for a severe cold. If he could still triumph with a round to spare, imagine the kind of heat his opponents may feel when he is at his best.

Carlsen had to work harder for his second World title. His ploy of underplaying Anand's chances prior to the Chennai match may have worked, but he knew that it would be a psychologically tougher rival he would meet in Sochi. He also knew that he could not merely rely on his instinct and insight to outwit a man who has won the World title ?ve times and who has no peer in opening preparations in world chess at the moment.

So Carlsen worked harder on his openings than he probably ever did before. And he got a crack team to help him. He assembled a formidable gathering of seconds that included Peter Hein Neilsen, who had worked with Anand for 10 years, and Michael Adams, who has played Anand several times. He also received help from Kasparov, who has never been a fan of Anand.

With Carlsen showing the willingness to work on one area where he is not among the best in the world, chances of him becoming an even stronger player are high. Judit Polgar, the greatest woman chess player of all time, certainly feels so. "I think he can play much better," she said.

Pravin Thipsay believes Carslen doesn't have to play better to keep the crown for a few more years. "He is way ahead of the competition right now," says the Mumbai-based veteran Grandmaster. "He could be the World champion for 15 years."

Thipsay reckons among the current crop of contenders only Fabiano Caruana could challenge Carlsen. "At the moment, only he could stretch Carlsen," he says. "Unlike the time of Anand and Kasparov, there are not that many great players in this generation. So, Carlsen might find it easier to retain the crown than his predecessors did."

But, within a few years, you would still come across a prodigy putting his hand up and challenge King Carlsen. That is the beauty of sport: you will keep finding new heroes.

One thing is certain, though. He would have to be exceptionally talented to end the reign of the strongest player in the history of chess.

P. K. Ajith Kumar