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Some mysterious ‘second’ thoughts

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“We saw Peter Leko, just now, running out of the lift!” says an excited Woman Grandmaster Aarthie Ramaswamy at Hyatt Regency, Chennai, on a pleasant November evening.

A few days later, and just a few yards away from where Aarthie had sighted Leko, Jon Ludwig Hammer makes a surprise appearance at the press centre of the 2013 world chess championship. He is recognised by a couple of journalists, including yours truly. “Yes, I was Magnus Carlsen’s second,” he tells you, happily.

Welcome to the strange, secret, mysterious world of ‘seconds’, the people who do plenty of painstaking work, invisibly, for the world champion and the challenger.

If Hammer was the first of the seconds for fellow-Norwegian Carslen, Hungarian Leko, himself a former world title challenger, was a key member of Viswanathan Anand’s team in Chennai.

Surprise opening

Hammer, though, was not in Chennai, but he communicated with Carlsen, a childhood friend, online. He was in charge of Carlsen’s opening preparations and admitted the entire team was surprised by Anand’s choice of opening (Nimzo-Indian Samisch) in Game Nine.

It was one game in which the Indian had Carlsen on the backfoot almost from the beginning, before the former, so typical of his form in Chennai, blundered in the end.

Had he played such openings earlier on, Carlsen would not have been able to post a 3-0 score. He himself admitted that choosing to open with ‘e4’ (pushing the pawn in front of the King by two squares) was a big mistake.

His seconds could be working harder on the ‘d4’ (pushing the pawn in front of the Queen) for the Sochi match. Anand has decided — rightly so — not to tell the world who those seconds are.

Two Indian players are likely to be part of the team, though.

In Chennai, he had revealed, surprisingly, his team during a press meet.

When Carlsen was asked to name his, he just smiled and said he was not going to be as generous as his rival.

Hammer is expected to be in the Carlsen camp, along with Peter Hein Nielsen, who has worked with Anand for several years.

It is interesting to note that Carlsen himself had helped Anand in his successful campaigns, on a few occasions, such as the 2007 and 2008 world championships.

Strongest player

Carlsen has come a long way since then, to become the strongest player in the history of the sport.

He plays so strongly, especially in the endgame, that his seconds could feel a bit reassured that he normally would somehow convert a small advantage to a full point.

“I feel Anand’s seconds would have to work harder in Sochi,” says veteran Grandmaster Pravin Thipsay. “His team of seconds in Chennai, I thought, worked very well in the openings, where Anand was much more comfortable than Carlsen. But they would have to work more in other areas of the games for Sochi.”

Deepan Chakkravarthy, a young Grandmaster who was a regular visitor at the Chennai match, agrees. “I think Anand’s team would be concentrating on endings for this match,” he says.

“Maybe they would also be looking at some complicated positions in the middle-game, an area where Anand could trouble Carlsen.”

Thipsay believes it is possible that Anand may seek help from a couple of men whom he had defeated in the world championship before.

“I think he might discuss some ideas with Vladimir Kramnik and Boris Gelfand, who are his friends,” he says.

Kramnik had worked with Anand in 2010 for the match against Veselin Topalov. Garry Kasparov, a bitter rival of Anand, had also played an important role in his victory in Bulgaria. It is strange, yes, this world of chess.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 12:43:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/world-chess-championships-the-world-of-seconds/article6577926.ece

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