Viswanathan Anand will be meeting Magnus Carlsen over the next three weeks. They will be sitting across a table at the ballroom of Hyatt Regency in Chennai as they battle it out for the crown that matters most in chess, the World championship.
Chances are Anand could be seeing a bit of himself in young Carlsen. They may be players of different styles and generations — Anand is 43 and Carlsen 22 — yet they are alike in certain aspects.
They are both incredibly gifted. They are among the greatest players this sport has ever seen. Their prodigious intellect was noticed when they were children. They emerged contenders for the World championships when they were very young.
They both had to create paths of their own, as they had no legends to look upon in their respective countries. They had no solid Soviet system or a World champion to teach them at chess schools, like Mikhail Botvinnik trained Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov and Vladimir Kramnik.
Anand’s legacy in India is there for everyone to see, but it will take a while before we know how big the Carlsen effect would be in Norwegian chess.
And both are geniuses.
Carlsen is intuitive and calculates so deeply that he could give computers a complex. It was for nothing they called Anand the Lightning Kid. He could think faster than anybody else who has played this game.
It was the stunning speed with which he made his moves that made him stand out in his earlier days. In one of his first National tournaments, an opponent had even complained that there was something wrong with the chess clock: while it showed he had taken hours for his moves, Anand had taken just a few minutes.
He made his career moves just as quickly too. He became the World junior champion in 1987. Later that year, he became a Grandmaster, a Mount Everest for Indian players till then.
The early 1990’s show him taking on the might of the Russians, especially the two formidable K’s, Kasparov and Karpov. In 1991-92, he won the Reggio Emilio tournament, the strongest in history till then, finishing ahead of the two Russian giants. Anand had announced his arrival with that triumph.
He challenged Kasparov for the PCA World championship in 1995, but faltered, despite drawing first blood in the match played at the World Trade Center in New York.
After losing more to an unfair system than Karpov in 1998 at Lausanne, Anand finally won the World championship in 2000 at Tehran, crushing Alexei Shirov 3.5-0.5 in the shortest match in the history of the World championship, which dates back to 1886.
He went on to win four more World titles, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012.
Remarkably, Anand has been among the world’s top players for two decades. Once Kasparov retired in 2005, Anand became the undisputed king of world chess.
Then Carlsen came along.
If Anand’s rise to the top was swift, Carlsen’s has been swifter. He turned heads in major tournaments while still being a kid. He became a Grandmaster at 13.
Unlike Anand, Carlsen is the product of the information age in chess. Every game played on the planet ever is at your fingertips, with analysis by the experts. That was not so, when Anand began making his opening moves.
He had put that well during an interview with this writer once: “When I started out in chess, the game was just completely different. Information was hard to get. The Soviets always had the edge, as they had all the information about games. To me, if a Soviet Grandmaster had analysed something, that was like a gospel.” Having said that, whatever information that is available to Carlsen is there also for other players to use today. But, it is interesting to think how Anand could have used such information as he progressed as a young player.
Unlike Anand, Carlsen hasn’t given the impression that he cares that much for the World championship.
He skipped the previous World championship cycle and has gone on record saying that winning tournaments was more important than holding on to the World title.
And he has been winning top tournaments like few players before him did. His strike rate is amazing. Even more amazing is his rating. Nobody has reached where he has (2872 Elo points).
He became the youngest ever World No. 1 at 19. He earned the right to challenge Anand by winning a tough Candidates tournament in London.
The world is waiting for that challenge to begin, to see two remarkable men coming face to face.