Moving in for the absolute pin

MAGNUS CARLSEN... the clear favourite.-R. RAGU

A title more, or a title less, will not matter much to Magnus Carlsen or Viswanathan Anand when they end their careers, separated by a generation. What one will remember is the rival they conquered and the pride attached to the conquest, in adding another world title, writes Rakesh Rao.

Call it a battle of generations or a plain contest involving a dethroned champion looking to get even with the best on the planet, the upcoming World chess title-clash in Sochi (Russia) promises plenty of excitement.

Last November, Magnus Carlsen ended Viswanathan Anand’s six-year reign as the World champion. More than the result, the manner in which the young Norwegian dominated the five-time winner remained the talking point of all discussions in the chess world.

Carlsen lured Anand into his territory and pushed him to a point of no return. The Indian’s experience did not help him make a comeback. In the second half of the 12-game match, it was clear that Carlsen had struck Anand between the ears.

Three victories in nine games left Carlsen needing only a draw from the remaining three games to claim the title. Even in the 10th game, Carlsen searched for victory until he was convinced that he could not get more than a draw. He accomplished the job with two games to spare.

Given the huge rating difference between the World No. 1, Carlsen (2870), and the eight-placed Anand (2775), experts predicted an easy win for the favourite. Indeed it was.

Thereafter, in the events that followed, an upbeat Carlsen stayed on the rise while a despondent Anand slipped further.

In May 2014, Carlsen touched the highest-ever rating of 2882 after Anand had reached a low of 2770 on March 1. But the tide turned for Anand later in March. He exceeded all expectations to win the Candidates tournament and earned a re-match against Carlsen for the World title.

It was vintage Anand for everyone to see, as he dismantled favourite Levon Aronian in the first round and never trailed in the competition.

He next played in the Bilbao Masters Final in September and won it with a round to spare.

In short, since their last World title match, Carlsen has played 44 rated games while his rating has slipped from 2870 to 2863. In comparison, from 27 games Anand has managed to raise his rating from 2773 to 2792.

Though during this period, Carlsen added the World Rapid and World Blitz crowns to complete a sweep of titles in all three formats, Anand had the satisfaction of beating the Norwegian in their 11th round encounter of the World Rapid Championship. This was also Anand’s first victory over Carlsen since September 2011.

Anand will go for broke knowing well that he may not get many more opportunities to play for the world title. Even if he doesn’t succeed in winning back the title, five world crowns — in all three formats — have already firmed up his place among the game’s greatest.-VIVEK BENDRE

Looking ahead to the repeat clash between two of the finest players the game has produced, Carlsen remains an obvious favourite. He has been able to play close to his high rating through the year and goes into the title-match with the added confidence that comes with outplaying Anand last year.

Although the phenomenal rise of the World No. 2, Fabiano Caruana of Italy, has taken the focus somewhat away from Carlsen’s consistency, the champion is expected to come hard at Anand despite all his reservations of playing in Russia.

Carlsen, known to be seeking help from his compatriot Jon Ludvig Hammer during the last year’s World title match and later worked with Russia’s Ian Nepomniachtchi, had not revealed his team of ‘seconds’ on the eve of taking on Anand in Chennai. He is expected to keep the identity of his team members a secret even this year.

Anand, careful as usual in not revealing much about his team and preparations, has assured his fans that he would be doing things differently in Sochi. “If I do the same things (as seen in Chennai), I’ll end up with the same result. There have been changes on all fronts and in my mind,” says Anand, sounding positive of executing his plans.

After last year’s defeat, Anand admitted that his strategy to play the king-pawn to start his games with white pieces was the “worst move of the match.” Therefore, one can expect more of queen-pawn starts from Anand with white pieces in the upcoming match, but not as the only option.

Much has been said about Anand’s experience in match-play formats. However, he was the first to concede that his experience did not come to his aid when it mattered in the match. “Your strength comes into play when you are able to stop your opponent playing to his strengths. But I never really succeeded in doing that or only did that briefly. In the end, Magnus was just stronger and he was able to impose his style of play,” Anand said.

Carlsen, too, had something to say about the experience being a factor in match-play format. “I think match-experience is also a bit over-rated as a factor, because every match has a life of its own. Anand might have played many matches like this before. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be anything similar.”

In the upcoming match, one can again expect the 23-year old champion to make Anand play long games and reap benefits in the fifth or sixth hour when the fatigue factor is likely to affect his 44-year-old rival more.

Carslen said about his last match’s strategy, “Nothing special, apart from playing 40 to 50 good moves in every game. That was my main goal. I had to keep playing because I think you’ve worked so hard before the match. You’ve worked so hard to get there. So, I think you need to work very hard on the board. If the position is not a draw, you should not agree for a draw. You should play it out. If you want to win a World Championship match, you need to play well not only for one or two hours, but four or five or six…”

This time, a chastened Anand, with a new set of ‘seconds’ including his trusted aide Sandipan Chanda, is sure to take a leaf out of Caruana’s book in dealing with Carlsen. Caruana has clearly succeeded in intimidating Carlsen this year and made the World No. 1 look vulnerable for a change.

Anand will go for broke knowing full well that he may not get many more opportunities to play for the World title. Even if he doesn’t succeed in winning back the title, five world crowns — in all three formats — have already firmed up his place among the game’s greatest.

Unlike last time, the pressure is on Carlsen. Anand has very little to lose. Should he win or even lose narrowly, it will be to the credit of the veteran Indian.

A title more, or a title less, will not matter much to these players when they end their careers, separated by a generation. What one will remember is the rival they conquered and the pride attached to the conquest, in adding another world title.