Indian chess player Viswanathan Anand faces a fearsome memory-machine everytime he sits in front of Norwegian player Magnus Carlsen.
With Game 7 ending in a draw on Monday, Anand needs to atleast win two matches out of the remaining five to keep his hopes of winning the title alive. Apart from the two wins he has to make sure that Carlsen doesnt win any more games in the ongoing championship.
Anand and Carlsen played some time-tested moves in Game 7 right from the start. None of the moves came as surprise. Carlsen, who usually pushes for a tight ending offered a draw by repeating the same move three times. Anand, having found no new winning moves in the game accepted the offer and drew Game 7.
Anand was relieved and felt that this game was a welcome break having lost two games, "I chose the same line both of us played quite a bit in the past, after the last 2 games lost, it is definitely good to break the streak."
"The championship is so far unpleasant for me, there is no getting around that, but I'll keep trying," he added.
Anand's responses in the press conference after the game were terse and to the point. His counterpart, however, gave rather elaborate answers. When asked whether he will he play for a win in Game 8, "overall, that is the idea," he replied curtly.
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Almost every news article and opinion piece written ahead of the World Chess Championship in Chennai portrayed Norwegian grandmaster and world’s top-ranked Magnus Carlsen as the favourite to win the title by vanquishing world champion Viswanathan Anand.
Many international articles boldly predicted a clean-sweep in favour of the 22-year-old Carlsen. Though the Indian media didn't toe that line, not many came forward to predict a win for Anand.
An occasional chess follower may have found these articles confounding. The prospect of a 22-year-old beating a 43-year-old veteran like Anand could have led to confused faces and repeated queries. But for the regular, avid follower, there seems to be no surprise there. The back-story? Carlsen rode into the tournament on the back of a hype — a hype that filled the hearts of those close to the game with fear. They feared that the Norwegian memory machine who once ruffled Gary Kasparov’s feathers in a match as a kid would get the best of Anand.
The fear factor
Carlsen is no ordinary chess player. The chess world knows he is a memory machine. Kasparov, one of the greatest players of modern chess, played him back in 2004 at the Reykjavik Rapid Tournament. Kasparov played two games with Carlsen in the tournament — drew one and won one. Kasparov may not have lost any game, but his ego was hit. Why? Because, Carlsen was just 13 and not even a grandmaster then.
Carlsen - Kasparov encounter
Many players in the 2004 tournament, including former world champion Anatoly Karpov, 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 didn't continue for him as there were not many encounters between the two after that.
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.
The memory machine
There goes a rumour about Carlsen — that he can remember up to 10,000 different chess games at a given point in time. If this had stayed a rumor, his opponents wouldn’t have been sweating right now. Mindful of the guts it will churn, this writer feels the rumour is true. Watch this documentary and find out:
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.
No leaps left for the Indian tiger?
Even though many factors such as Anand's age (43), his sudden dip in form, his history against Carlsen were cited as reasons for his defeat in the two games, those are all factors that can be worked around. Anand was evidently well prepared, training hard in a small village in Germany before the championship began. He lost 10kg of his weight for the match.
But as figures show, he is two-nil down. Not because he didn't play well, but because he plays against Carlsen. It is said that Carlsen pounced on Anand's mistakes and that's how he won the two games. Yes, Anand made mistakes. He made blunders at the end of both games 5 and 6. But a close look at the errors reveals more. Had it been any other day, any other player, Anand would not have faltered.
It was Carlsen's intimidating history, his end-game skills (He is often referred to as boa-constrictor for the way he applies pressure at the end of the games) and his quick gameplay which left Anand time-constrained. In addition, his mere presence drove Anand to commit those silly mistakes.
Anand has five more games to try and get back in control. But will he be able to do so? He is not new to coming-from-behind wins. In 2012, he lost Game 7 of his title match to Boris Gelfand, an Israeli grandmaster, to go down 4-3. But Anand bounced back in Game 8 to win in 17 moves — the shortest victory ever — and won the match.
The problem for Anand, however, is that Carlsen is no Gelfand.
With all the odds against him, Anand need not even win this tournament. If he just bounces back, wins two games, and manages to enter the Blitz round (which happens in case of a tie in the first 12 games), that itself would fetch him a special place in chess history.
However, if he loses, it wouldn’t be the end of it all. Anand has nothing to prove. He has already won the chess championship five times (2000, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012). He is one of the six players in history to break the 2,800 mark on the FIDE rating list. Anand is and will always be considered as one of the best players of rapid chess.
But if Anand loses, there will not be any hope of regaining the title by challenging Carlsen again. If he loses, he has to again compete in a candidates tournament, where he has to compete with more younger players like Carlsen. Even if he manages to win that tournament, again he has to face Magnus in the world championships as a challenger.