The Carlsen consent

Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand will match wits again in November.-AP

After a period of suspense, World champion Magnus Carlsen has agreed to defend his crown against Viswanathan Anand in Sochi from November 5. By P. K. Ajith Kumar.

Will he, won’t he?

That was the question the chess world had been asking for a while, ever since World champion Magnus Carlsen expressed doubts about defending his crown. He had reservations about the venue, Sochi, where, FIDE had announced, the World championship match between the Norwegian and India’s Viswanathan Anand would be held from November 5 to 25.

Carlsen wasn’t happy with the venue and the prize-money of $ 3 million, which was one million less than what the last World championship in Chennai offered. Carlsen’s manager Epsen Agdestein sought a postponement of the event, citing unrest in Ukraine. FIDE, perhaps bolstered further by its president Kirsan Ilymuzhinov’s election victory against Garry Kasparov, refused. “This match has been part of the official tournament calendar since last year, and a postponement could lead to problems with the current calendar,” Ilyumzhinov said.

Carlsen’s deadline to sign the contract was August 31, which clashed with his participation at the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis (US). FIDE though allowed an extension of the deadline till September 7, the final day of the Sinquefield Cup, which was also the strongest tournament in chess history.

Carlsen wasn’t exactly having a great time in Saint Louis and had to be the second best to Italian Fabiano Caruana, who played incredibly brilliant chess to win the tournament by a whopping three points (see box). On September 7, Carslen signed the contract. He also posted a photo of him signing the agreement on his Twitter account, captioning, “It has been a pleasure signing autographs for the fans in St. Louis. After the tournament I found the time for 1 more.”

That ended all the speculation. Chess followers were wondering if Carlsen would forfeit the title like Bobby Fischer — the biggest global superstar in chess before him — did or if he would arrange parallel World championships, like Garry Kasparov used to do, with someone like Levon Aronian, the World No. 2.

The world can now look forward to another battle of wits between Carlsen and Anand. Part 1 in Chennai was a big letdown, with the younger man comprehensively defeating the defending champion, who was playing in his hometown. The Indian genius could not win even a game. But, if you looked closer, you could find that the chess Anand played wasn’t as anywhere near as bad as the score-line would suggest.

More than Carlsen’s brilliance, it was Anand’s mistakes that decided the match. The genial genius got it strategically wrong too, as he did not, until it was too late, play to his strength of sharp, tactical chess; he had chosen, fatally, to take on Carslen in his own waiting game. Chess pundits, not surprisingly, were quick to write Anand off and gave little chance for him to earn the right to challenge Carlsen again.

He proved all of them wrong by winning the qualifying event, the Candidates tournament at Khanty-Mansiysk (Russia) last March in some style. He was seeded fourth, behind Aronian, Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov, and was the oldest in the field of eight.

In November, Carlsen could very well find Sochi, which had hosted the Winter Olympics earlier in the year, much hotter than Chennai.

Caruana cruisess past Carlsen

Apart from the Sochi World championship in November, the Sinquefield Cup was going to be the biggest event of the year in chess. The line-up was the strongest ever for a tournament. It was double-round robin featuring six of the finest players in the world: Carlsen (Elo rating 2877), Aronian (2807), Caruana (2801), Hikaru Nakamura (2787), Topalov (2772) and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (2768).

Carlsen, statistically the strongest player of all time, was the favourite, but he could only finish runner-up, with 5.5 points, as Caruana ran away with the title and $ 100,000.

It was a remarkable show by the Italian, who won his first seven games — that is extraordinary at this level. It would remain one of the greatest performances of all time in chess. He finished with 8.5 points, after conceding draws to Carlsen, Nakamura and Aronian in the second leg.