Champion reveals identity of ‘seconds’; a surprised Carlsen refuses ‘to return the favour’

If taking your opponent by surprise is pretty much part of the preparation ahead of any World chess title-clash, then champion Viswanathan Anand clearly delivered a psychological blow to the challenger Magnus Carlsen on Thursday.

Among the several unwritten rules the players follow before any match-play, secrecy around the identity of their ‘seconds’ is high on priority. Anand deviated from the usual practice and unhesitatingly announced his ‘seconds’ in the first joint press conference with the young Norwegian.

Hours before it was known that Carlsen would start the match on Saturday with white pieces, Anand made his first move.

“K. Sasikiran, Sandipan (Chanda), (Radoslav) Wojtaszek and (Peter) Leko” were the names Anand announced at the outset and continued, “so these are my first seconds. I worked as I always did, which is, a couple of months of training and I think I am well prepared. But we’ll see how it goes. But I feel ready to play and I am in a good mood.”

Forthright announcement

If Anand’s intention was to surprise the young Norwegian, there was success for the Indian. Seated on the Anand’s left, Carlsen was clearly taken aback by the defending champion’s forthright announcement.

It was obvious that the next question was directed at Carlsen. After a moment of hesitation, Carlsen warded it off.

“Well, I appreciate Mr. Anand’s openness about his team. And I’m not going to return the favour.”

The inclusion of Sasikiran, instead of three-time ‘second’ Surya Shekhar Ganguly, was as surprising as engaging the services of Peter Leko.

The Hungarian is a good friend of Anand and the two have worked together.

But in 2008, Leko was among Vladimir Kramnik’s ‘seconds’ against Anand in the World championship match in Bonn. Interestingly, Kramnik had overpowered Leko in their 2004 match-play.

Anand’s decision to share the names of his ‘seconds’ reflected his confidence ahead of the match. By choosing to reveal the names, he clearly got Carlsen thinking.

It must be remembered that in the past three title-defences, Anand maintained complete secrecy on the subject of his ‘seconds’.

This surprise revelation may have clearly made Team Carlsen wonder what Anand has up his sleeve.

When asked how he felt about Carlsen’s response, Anand said, “Simply can’t believe the whole truth about anything either of us said. It simply doesn’t matter. I mean I can answer a question honestly and you’ll never know whether it was the whole truth or not. And the same goes for him. So it doesn’t really matter too much.”

Before long, the players once again came up with contrasting answers. To the question about how it felt to stay in the hotel that doubled up as the host of the match, Anand said,

“I think it is very convenient especially because you don’t have to reckon with traffic at all. And obviously for the players, it is extremely comfortable. At least that’s how I feel. Well, you have to leave half an hour early to take into account the traffic to get to the (playing hall). With zero-tolerance, I enjoy this very much.”

Double-edged

Carlsen looked at it differently. “It’s a bit double-edged. There are some obvious advantages to it. (They are) logistical advantages. On the other hand, perhaps, it can be tough mentally to stay in one place for such a long time. Overall, I am happy with the arrangements.”

The topic of the World champion being the ‘underdog’ against the World’s top-ranked player, Carlsen said, “I don’t know if everyone considers me as a favourite. But in general, I expect to do well in tournaments I play. That will be my mindset here as well.”

Anand handled it better. “In general, I try to get ready to play a certain opponent and that’s it. Somebody thinks you are the favourite or not, what percentage, I don’t know what you can do with that information anyway.”

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