A day after India’s Viswanathan Anand had defeated Vladimir Kramnik of Russia in the World Chess Championship match in Bonn in October 2008, this correspondent asked Australian Grandmaster Ian Rogers whether Anand is the greatest chess player ever after winning the world title in three different formats.
As we both waited in a Bonn hotel to interview the World Champion, Rogers said no doubt Anand was one of the great players the sport has seen but he could be counted among legends only if holds on to the crown and dominates the sport for a long stretch.
Many chess fans, especially Indians, would not agree to it as they consider the sheer longevity of Anand at the top, his versatility in winning the World Championships in knock-out, a round-robin and match-play formats makes the five-time World Champion the greatest.
On the day World Champion Magnus Carlsen defeated Sergey Karjakin of Russia in New York to defend his title, the question rears its head again –is he the greatest player of this era?
Is Carlsen greater than Anand?
For Carlsen to be compared with Anand — his predecessor as World Champion — is but inevitable.
And here is how they compare.
Carlsen has dominated Anand in their world title clashes in 2013 and 2014 — some claim the Indian GM was totally intimidated by the Norwegian in 2013. He has won all titles that the sport has to offer – just like Anand. His highest-ever rating is a stratospheric 2882 – the previous highest in the history was 2851 by Garry Kasparov, while Anand’s best is 2817. He has been the World No 1 since April 2010, a ranking Anand held from April 2007 till being dethroned by the Norwegian.
- Magnus Carlsen has dominated Viswanathan Anand in their world title clashes in 2013 and 2014 — some claim the Indian GM was totally intimidated by the Norwegian in 2013.
- Carlsen’s highest-ever rating is a stratospheric 2882 – the previous highest in the history was 2851 by Garry Kasparov, while Anand’s best is 2817.
- Carlsen has been the World No 1 since April 2010, a ranking Anand held from April 2007 till being dethroned by the Norwegian.
However, the match against Karjakin has exposed some chinks in Carlsen’s armour.
Though Carlsen retained his title, he did that by the skin of his teeth – in tie-break. He was harassed by a gritty opponent who had a well thought-out strategy.
Carlsen too was not his usual self. A player who usually forces mistakes from his opponents by just chipping at their defense, Carlsen found Karjakin’s defense difficult to breach. Also, for someone who punishes his opponent’s minor mistakes, Carlsen missed chances to take lead in Games 3 and 4 — thwarted by some brilliant defense by Karjakin – and then nearly lost Game 5 when the Russian failed to capitalise on an error. It was clear that he was feeling the pressure of expectations of being dominant and intimidating.
The chess world saw Carlsen losing his aura of invincibility. The Norwegian was expected to outplay Karjakin but there was a time when he trailed in the match (after Game 8) and had to fight hard to draw level.
It seems, the Mozart of Chess was slightly out of tune in New York!
This will increase pressure on him and raise hopes of his opponents that they can further whittle away his aura.
Whether they will manage to do so or this was only a blip for Carlsen, one thing is clear – he still is streets ahead of his contemporaries and definitely the greatest player of this era. Yes, greater than Anand.