Magnus Carlsen scaled the pinnacle he was expected to in Chennai. It was only fitting that the strongest rated player in chess history owned the world title, taking over the reins from a five-time champion he admires and respects. Viswanathan Anand, too, understands very well that there is no shame in losing to the best on the planet. And Carlsen, who turns 23 this week, is threatening to raise the bar further. If chess players are known to mature in their 30s, then the chess world expects the prodigiously gifted Norwegian to gain another 28 points to breach the magic rating figure of 2900. But the champion seems in no hurry. Unlike many of his great predecessors, Carlsen finds time to play football and basketball to get away from chess. During the championship match, Carlsen would hop across to the mall next to his hotel for a few rounds of nine-pin bowling. He handles pressure better than any 22-year old has done at the very top in chess in recent times. In the last two years, Carlsen has won most of the tournaments and finished second-best in the rest. His ability to keep finding the best moves in every position is mind-boggling. Much like former world champions Emanuel Lasker and Jose Raul Capablanca, Carlsen is not known to have a strong opening repertoire. What sets this youngster apart is the consistency with which he manages to grind his rivals in long battles to force that decisive error. Anand courageously walked into Carlsen’s comfort zone but was ambushed twice in succession.
Then again, Anand, just a fortnight away from turning 44, has achieved everything that the sport has to offer. The world title in three different formats, the No. 1 ranking and a complete collection of elite titles — all adding up to give him a place in the pantheon of greats. In the last 26 years, Anand transformed himself from a ‘lightning kid’ to a path-breaker who made a nation believe that chess mastery was not the hegemony of a select few countries. By staying in the world’s Top 10 list from July 1991 till date, Anand has proved that even consistency can be recession-free. Since regaining the world title in 2007, Anand concentrated more on defending his crown and did not play tournaments with the same verve and intensity. But in spite of the Indian maestro’s dwindling rating and form, his popularity remains unaffected. The way he has conducted himself as a champion is an example hard to emulate. Looking ahead, it is tough to predict whether Anand will have another crack at the world title. His priorities will decide his level of motivation. For now, it is time to give the former champion the space and time to review his career and future. It is also time to sit back and enjoy the post-modern Carlsen era.