As the final countdown to the World Championship clash between Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen begins, the chess fraternity is abuzz with speculation on who is working with whom as seconds.
But what do the ‘seconds’ do?
For decades now, creating a good team for preparation of an important match is considered as important as the match itself. World champion Anand learned this through immense experience he got while playing matches at different levels.
Anand first played a world championship candidates match in 1990s and has since then worked with many experts.
His seconds have included players like Swedish Grandmaster Ferdinand Hellers, who doesn’t play competitive chess anymore, and Uzbek Rustam Kasimdzhanov, who won the FIDE world championship in 2004.
Garry Kasparov of Russia had one of the best teams in 1980s and till much later as the Russian kept coming out with one opening idea after another stunning his opponents with awesome ease for over two decades.
In 1995, Kasparov defeated Anand in game 10, arguably the turning point of the match through a very famous piece of research work that led to a winning endgame with the Russian spending just three minutes on the clock.
Apparently, this had tremendous impact as Anand was no match in the second half of that match despite leading after game nine.
The role of the seconds is to bring out new ideas, work on them in detail till they are worthy enough to be usable.
It is clear that a lot of work and huge assistance from the computer engines is required for such a job and ironically 95 per cent of the work done remains unseen during the match.
It’s that deep research paper that doesn’t see the light of the day in its entirety and comes out only in patches, when the situation presents itself.
One of the great ideas that Anand produced against Wang Hao of China during the Tata Steel Chess tournament of 2012 was worked out during the champion’s preparation for the match against Russian Vladimir Kramnik at Bonn in 2008.
There have been countless such instances in case of all top players.
The men behind the scene have a lot to attend to not only during the preparation of the match but also when it’s on as they have to be battle-ready to attend to many new facts.
For example, if Carlsen plays something in game one that he has never played before or which the team did not expect him to play, they have to get down to business and start working on it and have a solution ready when the next game arrives.
The champions do not like to divulge information about the people they work as the guess work becomes easier.
If Anand is seen working with the expert of an opening system, it is likely that he wants to play that particular opening very soon.
For the match against Carlsen, Anand has retained the services of his two trusted men the bespectacled Bengal Grandmaster Surya Shekhar Ganguly and Radoslav Wojtaszek of Poland while Sandipan Chanda is the new man in.
There is likely to be a fourth second about whom no information is available as yet. Kasimdzhanov had informed long back he won’t be assisting Anand this time.
Carlsen, on the other hand, has been totally mum on the issue. He was seen playing and sharing jokes with France’s Laurent Fressinet so it is assumed he is one of the team members while Jon Ludvig Hammer, his friend and compatriot will most likely be there.
Speculation is also rife about the presence of Ian Nepomniachtchi of Russia who was seen working with Carlsen during some events in the past.
The Carlsen-camp has been expectedly quiet about the team as this might give the opposition camp an idea of what to expect. Much would be revealed when Carlsen lands in Chennai on Monday evening.