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Anand-Carlsen battle, biggest since Fischer beat Spassky, begins today

india Updated: Nov 09, 2013 09:01 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times
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Viswanathan Anand's defence of the world title against Magnus Carlsen that starts on Saturday is chess' equivalent of Barcelona-Real Madrid, India-Australia, Nadal-Djokovic or Woods-McIlroy locked in combat for nearly three weeks and 12 rounds till only one of them is standing.

Since 1886 that's how world champions have been decided in chess, a game that India gave to the world through its ancestor Chaturanga in the 6th century but had to wait till 2000 for its first world champion in Anand.

In this age of sub-10 seconds 100m sprints, double centuries in one-day cricket and push button warfare, a battle involving kings and queens not only seems like an aberration in time, it is.

And so just to ensure the right mood maybe, the lobby of the Hyatt Regency has large chess pieces arranged on squares in satin, a help booth called Queen's Desk and a hush at odds with most sporting venues in India.

"A billion people could be following this," said Hungarian-American GM Susan Polgar, here as a TV commentator. "This is a battle of generations, one that could usher in a new era." Something like this hasn't happened since Bobby Fischer drew the world's attention to Reykjavik on way to beating Boris Spassky in 1972.

Ahead of such an epic, the contestants and their entourages stayed in seclusion for most of Friday. Carlsen did work out at the gym and his mother and sisters made a blink-and-you-miss appearance. But forget bumping into Anand, even his wife Aruna's phone was with their logistics manager Eric van Reem.

At 43, the five-time world champ is in the November of a career that put India on the chess map and got its biggest contest to his hometown. He is the man who made mental calisthenics desirable in a country that still turns its nose up on sport. Proof of that lies in the fact that it took independent India 40 years to get its first GM.

In trying to explain the importance of Carlsen becoming a GM at 13, his first trainer and GM Simen Agdestein had said: "It is like a 13-year-old winning the Nobel Prize in chemistry."

Agdestein still thinks Carlsen is a work in progress, saying: "I sometimes wonder how strong Magnus could have been if he had the discipline of Garry Kasparov."

And that could provide a crucial pointer to this colourful contest in black and white.