The stage is set, the pieces are lined-up, the players are ready and the battle is on! By the end of this month we will have a world chess champion.
It's Norwegian Magnus Carlsen versus Viswanathan Anand battling it out again in the world chess championship.
Last time when the championship was held in Chennai, Indian chess wizard's home ground, Anand was the world champion and young Carlsen was the challenger.
This time the venue has changed to Sochi, Russia. The players remain the same, but there is a role reversal. Anand is meeting World Champion Carlsen as a challenger.
Carlsen the magician
Last November, even though Anand was the reigning champion, the who is who of chess world rooted for Magnus. Anand was treated as an under-dog. One of the greatest players of modern chess and also once Carlsen's mentor, Garry Kasparov, wrote in his blog back in 2013, "A win for Carlsen in the upcoming world championship match will be a huge win for the chess world."
The back story was simple. Carlsen entered the last world championship with a chess ranking, no other player in the history of open era has ever managed to reach. He still holds that record and still is the world number one.
"He is one of the best talents I have seen in my life," said Kasparov when he visited India for the THiNK festival in Goa.
Carlsen is no ordinary chess player. The chess world knows he is a memory machine. Kasparov played him back in 2004 at the Reykjavik Rapid Tournament. He played two games with Carlsen in the tournament — drew one and won one. Kasparov may not have lost any game, but his ego was hurt. Carlsen was just 13 and not even a grandmaster then.
Many players in the 2004 tournament, including former world champion Anatoly Karpov, had looked on in disbelief as the 13-year-old tormented Kasparov until the end of the game. Kasparov stormed off at the end of the match after a feeble handshake.
Kasparov later called Carlsen the ‘Harry Potter’ of chess, took him under his supervision and trained him. He was lucky to have met Carlsen at the sunset of his career. The humiliation did not continue for him as there were not many encounters between the two after that. Here is a video of the match.
There is a rumour about Carlsen — that he can remember up to 10,000 different chess games at a given point in time.
In the documentary embedded above, Carlsen plays ‘blind-folded’ against 10 different players and wins all games. This indicates that he had 10 ‘live’ boards in his mind all through. He must have constantly updated all the boards with both his and his opponents’ moves. Above all, he must have had separate strategies for all the 10 games.
Carlsen continued to shock other senior chess players in various tournaments that followed. He became the third youngest grandmaster at the age of 13 years, 4 months, 27 days. He then went on to achieve a chess rating of 2,872, the highest in the history of modern chess.
From a boy wonder who tortured Kasparov, Carlsen came a long way and finally reached the epitome of chess world by defeating Anand 6.5 - 3.5 to become the new world champion — adding the only feather that was missing in his cap.
Spent force? Nah!
Immediately after the defeat, journalists around the world wrote chess obituaries for Anand. He was written off and branded as a spent force. They had their reasons.
After every world championship the winner is named as the champion and the search for his challenger commences. To choose the challenger, Fédération Internationale des Échecs or World Chess Federation conducts a Candidates Tournament which has the world's best players locking horns.
This time Anand was against seven extremely talented chess grand masters and more importantly they were all younger than Anand. Yes! Anand was 44 years and the oldest of the lot.
Two of his opponents Dmitry Andreikin and Sergey Karjakin were just 24, twenty years younger than Anand. Many wrote him off saying Anand is too old and lacks aggression to win the candidates.
Timeline: Anand's 20 moves off the chess board
If you are thinking right now that how does age matter in chess, please rethink.
Think about sitting in a chair for hours together staring at a chess board with different pieces behaving differently, not making even one single mistake and repeating the process day in and day out with different opponents who have different strategies! All the neurons should fire constantly charting plans and escape routes all the time. And that is why chess greats like Bobby Fisher finally went crazy.
But Anand came on top and proved age is just a number. He won three games and drew the rest and fetched 81/2 points. Most importantly he did not lose even one game against top seven chess players currently active - excluding Magnus.
This time around Anand's determination and extraordinary zeal exhibited in the Candidates Tournament has brought chess commentators down from their predetermined notions and who now say that Anand has a real chance this time. But it is still going to be a tough task against Magnus.
Anand has nothing to lose, the pressure to retain the champion tag will be on Magnus.
But Magnus being Magnus - if Anand wins, it will be touted as the best ever comeback in the history of modern chess. And while he is at it we might even see some 'game of the centuries'.
The phoenix and the magician are up for a historic duel.
Add this to your flipboard
Dont's miss any stories, follow our World Chess Championship magazine