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FIDE World Chess Championship Anand-Carlsen 2013 (Preview)

History calls not just for Carlsen but also Anand

Carlsen arrives in India. Photo ©

Carlsen arrives in India. Photo © |

Magnus Carlsen travels to Chennai, India, as red hot favourite to beat defending champion Viswanathan Anand in their 12 game World Chess Championship Match. The latest odds make Carlsen a nearly unbackable favourite but I rather doubt things will be as easy as that. Carlsen will be the second youngest world champion behind Kasparov if he wins. For Anand victory will surely project him very near the top of the list of greatest players of all time. A preview below.

Carlsen's domination

Magnus Carlsen became world number one at the age of 19 in the January 2010 rating list and has been at the top continuously since July 2011. By that point he had already withdrawn from the previous World Championship cycle citing continuous changes to the format. Having become the dominant tournament player Carlsen gave his full attention to qualifying from the Candidates tournament in London in 2013. In the end Carlsen only just qualified having finished the event very nervily. Those looking for a weakness might look for it in Carlsen's play in the final four rounds of that event. Carlsen's other potential weakness is his lack of serious match experience. Carlsen's loss to Levon Aronian at the age of 16 in the Candidates qualifiers of 2007 after a blitz play-off is virtually his only serious match. Carlsen also helped Anand in his World Championship match in 2010 against Veselin Topalov which could prove very important.

Anand's huge experience advantage

Viswanathan Anand's career was meteoric for his time but it was only at 21 when he lost narrowly to Anatoly Karpov in the Candidates of 1991 that he became an elite player. In 1994-5 Anand played both the FIDE and PCA cycles losing to Kamsky in the former and beating him in the latter and qualifying to play Garry Kasparov in New York in 1995. 26 year old Anand had the better of the early action but the first 8 games were drawn before he got off the mark with a win in game 9. In retrospect Kasparov was probably most vulnerable in this early phase Kasparov upped a geer and won four of the next five to guarantee a win. This loss by Anand is probably held against him rather more than it should be in his placing amongst the greats, it might easily have gone the other way. Anand then moved to playing the FIDE cycle turning down an offered rematch against Kasparov because of the complications involved. Anand lost in tie-breaks to Karpov in the final first FIDE knockout in 1998. Karpov was seeded to the final and had a huge advantage. In 2000 Anand won the next FIDE World Championship beating Alexei Shirov in the final in Tehran for his title. Anand's next World Championship victory was in the 2007 Candidates tournament in Mexico City and started Anand on his current reign as World Champion.

Magnus Carlsen said that he is preparing for the Anand of 2008 who outprepared and outplayed Vladimir Kramnik 6,5-4,5 winning 3 of the first 6 games. Anand defended this title against Veselin Topalov in a match in Sofia in 2010 which was decided in a wild final game where Topalov seemed to completely lose his head. Anand's 2012 defence against Boris Gelfand was even more taxing where the highest class of preparation completely dominated and Anand only just got home in a rapid tie-break in a match where many thought Gelfand had somewhat the better of it.

Preparation, the key to the match?

Anand's form and ranking has fallen alarmingly in recent years but beating Carlsen would be a win that would be better than beating Kramnik in 2008 and would more than make up for his loss to Kasparov at the other end of his career. There is no more experienced world title match player around today this being his seventh if you count the two short matches vs Karpov and Shirov. Anand started his preparations with a massively expanded tournament schedule running through from the London Chess Classic 2012 to the Tal Memorial 2013. Since then he has put himself through a big fitness campaign and will be working through a well worked routine of opening preparation with his seconds. His main second Peter Heine Nielsen has left to work with Magnus Carlsen after this match but Surya Shekhar Ganguly, Chanda Sandipan and Radoslaw Wojtaszek are part of his team and it is likely unknown specialists will make a huge difference. Anand is well liked and many experienced players may have even offered to work for him. He will also know what kind of work and preparation he wants.

Magnus Carlsen has worked with seconds over the years but his is a more personal understanding of the game and it is unlikely that he will be able to put together the kind of preparation that Anand can. Carlsen's team is likely to be youthful with Jon Ludvig Hammer and Laurent Fressinet being almost certain but for the rest secrecy is the key. Garry Kasparov has been announced as an advisor but it is unclear how detailed this advice can be. Both Carlsen and Anand will have chess computer specialists to help with analysis and checking of ideas. Working on a World Championship campaign is an extremely useful experience and it wouldn't surprise me at all if some big names work for Carlsen behind the scenes. If I were a young and ambitious player who was likely to play a Candidates or World Championship I'd want to be on one of these teams just as Kramnik (for Kasparov) and Carlsen (for Anand) have done in the past. Evgeny Tomashevsky said his work for Gelfand was invaluable during his progression to the semi-finals of the World Cup.

Waiting for the other shoe to fall

The start of the match will overlap with the start of the European Team Chess Championship so who is missing and available? Vladimir Kramnik, Boris Gelfand, Sergey Karjakin, Nikita Vitiugov, Pavel Eljanov, Ruslan Ponomariov, Vassily Ivanchuk, Peter Leko, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Dmitry Jakovenko and Rustam Kasimdzhanov are among those missing. In addition Hikaru Nakamura, Leinier Dominguez Perez and Wang Hao are also available. There's a list to start speculating with. Some are well known theoreticians and some very experienced at high level preparation almost all would be useful in some way or another.

Young vs old

There have been very few extremely young first time challengers for the world chess championship. In 1960 48 year old Mikhail Botvinnik took on 23 year old Mikhail Tal who was at his fearsome best and already world number one. Tal was expected to struggle with preparation and yet he had no trouble winning 12.5 to 8.5. As is well known Tal only kept the title a year as he lost the rematch (he already had health problems) but nevertheless he was extremely convincing in the first match.

In 1984 33 year old Anatoly Karpov took on the new number one 21 year old Garry Kasparov and he schooled Kasparov taking a 5-0 lead (8-4 up after 12 including draws) before failing to close out the match with a decisive 6th win. Match abandoned at 5-3 undecided. Kasparov took the title the following year.

This time it is 22 year old Magnus Carlsen who takes on 44 year old Viswanathan Anand.


I don't think there is anyone who doesn't think Magnus Carlsen starts as favourite. He's been number one for the best part of four years and Viswanathan Anand has been in decline throughout this time. That said Anand's massive experience in playing matches, especially relatively short ones means he will know what was required and ought not to be that nervous. I also think he is far more likely to have a big name older player on his team. Carlsen has an energy advantage but all of this will be new to him and that could go any way, it might be a disadvantage especially at the start of the match or maybe like Tal in 1960 Carlsen cuts through the deficit in experience by simply being the better player right now. Finally Carlsen and Anand have drawn an awful lot of games over the years which suggests that head to head there isn't much to choose between them even now. What will happen? We're soon going to find out.

Shereshevsky Method

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