A global audience running to tens of millions awaits the start of the world chess championship title clash between champion Viswanathan Anand and Norwegian prodigy Magnus Carlsen, the highest ranked player in chess history, in Chennai starting on November 9. Anand, once known as the Lightning Kid for the speed at which he annihilated opponents on the board, is now aged 43; he is a five-time winner who has overpowered three seasoned challengers since 2008. Believe it or not, Anand first made it into the top 10 in world rankings in July 1991, when Carlsen’s first birthday was still four months away. This battle of generations involves players of conflicting styles. They have perfected the art using the best tools of their era. What Anand learnt from his deep study and understanding of chess classics, Carlsen gained using software. Going by present form, Carlsen is tipped to win. His rating of 2870 is 95 points higher than Anand, who is currently ranked eighth in the world. The young challenger has won six of his last nine tournaments and in the others, stayed half a point behind the winner. Anand triumphed once this year to end a title-drought that began in 2008. But remarkably, during this period, Anand retained the world title all three times. In the event, Anand’s experience and success in match-play is being seen as his biggest asset. In Chennai, more than Anand taking advantage of home conditions, it will be interesting to see how Carlsen, a citizen of one of the coldest and least populated nations, deals with the situation.
Anand has to make things happen instead of playing the waiting game against Carlsen. The Norwegian is not known to accept quick draws. He capitalises on his energy to tire out his rivals. He excels in drab and listless positions where most players find it difficult to concentrate for long. Expecting long battles, Anand is learnt to have worked a lot on his fitness and shed a few kilograms as part of his preparation. Head-to-head, Anand has six victories to three by Carlsen who is, however, the winner of their last two decisive encounters. In fact, in their last game this summer, Carlsen handed out Anand his worst defeat. No wonder, the chess world expects a change of guard in Chennai. But knowing Anand’s tenacity and motivation, it will be naïve to rule out his chances. As former champion Garry Kasparov, who trained the young Norwegian in 2009, said, “Vishy [Anand] will be quite happy that he is the underdog. He’s got huge experience. In opening preparation, Anand is an expert whereas Magnus should be more precise. Magnus will have to learn to deal with psychological pressure.” Anand needs no reminding how important this match is.