Anand has to throw off the shackles and play his usual game, writes IAN ROGERS
One major problem Viswanathan Anand has had to face during his failing title defence against Magnus Carlsen is that Carlsen is unlike any challenger Anand has played before.
The Norwegian plays chess his own way, abandoning any search for perfection in the opening stages, that part of the game where Anand has invested countless thousands of hours trying to find schemes to foil his usual opponents’ favourite plans.
But, Carlsen doesn’t care about these plans and schemes. If he were a tennis player, he would serve underarm, just to get into a rally in which he can then outplay his opponent.
Carlsen’s attitude to the opening was formed at a young age.
Early in 2004 in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik I walked in on 13-year-old Carlsen’s preparation for his first encounter with World No. 1 Garry Kasparov. Most young players would have been sitting in front of their computers looking for weaknesses in Kasparov’s recent games.
Instead, Carlsen was in the basement of the guest house where his family was staying, lying on the floor in front of a television watching cartoons with his sisters.
Carlsen’s unorthodox preparation was rewarded with a hard-fought draw. ‘Wile E. Coyote’ Kasparov brought down ‘Road Runner’ Carlsen in the re-match, although Carlsen was to have the last laugh by breaking Kasparov’s all-time rating record in January 2013.
The Norwegian seems almost impossible to disturb or upset, coping with set-backs and surprises by concentrating harder. Carlsen is one of the few Grandmasters able to bounce back immediately after a defeat — a rare bird who meets Kipling’s famed Triumph and Disaster and treats those two impostors just the same.
His calm character was evident early.
Carlsen played his first Chess Olympiad for Norway in 2004 on board one. However, when he tried to pick up his accreditation card, the person at the accreditation desk said to the diminutive 13-year-old, “Sonny, these cards are only for Olympians.”
“But I am a player!” responded Carlsen.
“I am sure one day you will be good enough to play for your country,” was the reply. “But for now you have to go and get a spectator card.”
Most 13-year-olds would have argued the point but Carlsen simply turned on his heel, returning 10 minutes later with a Norwegian adult who confirmed his story.
So, how does one play an opponent who neutralises your scientific opening study and is unflappable under pressure?
German journalist Dirk Poldauf believes Anand has only one option to save his title, to forget about openings and results and emphasise the artistic side of the game.
Poldauf has noticed that Carlsen might be vulnerable in creative, unorthodox positions and urges Anand to set about playing a game full of brilliance and sacrifice, regardless of the risk.
Of course, with an opponent trying to stop you at every move, chessboard brilliance cannot be made to order, but Anand has succeeded once before in creating a masterpiece against Carlsen, a game played in Spain in 2007 of subtlety and quality unmatched by later encounters between the two.
Perhaps, Carlsen is now too strong to become the victim of a similar game.
Kasparov, when he worked as Carlsen’s coach concentrated in 2009 on developing the teenager’s feel for sharp positions full of unexpected twists and turns.
Kasparov maintains that this area of the game remains a (relative) weakness for Carlsen.
The former World champion pointed to the game of mutual attacks lost against Peter Svidler in March; a game where the tables could have been turned had Carlsen noticed a spectacular and unusual bishop move.
On Thursday we will know if Anand can throw off the shackles and play like the Anand of old — carefree and creative, for a complete game.
However, like cricket fans who were hoping for one last century from Tendulkar, Anand's fans fear that those hopes might be in vain.
Australian Grandmaster IAN ROGERS is in Chennai