The 2014 Candidates Tournament is in the books, and as you probably know, Anand took 1st place! In so doing, he set up a rematch with Magnus Carlsen (currently scheduled for end of this year), the first World Championship rematch since Kasparov-Karpov in 1990.
He’s also the first ex-Champion to re-qualify via a Candidates Cycle (tournament or match format). There’ve been plenty of rematches in the past, but most were via an automatic rematch clause that most Champions enjoyed from the 1930s through the 1980s.
Also, since then, I’d say the chess world has generally advanced at a faster pace and so if you were Champion and then lost the title, it was probably a sign that your time was up rather more than it used to be in the 1950s, for example.
Anyway, sometime last summer, after seeing Anand beat Topalov in Norway, I became interested in figuring out how World Championship match opponents did against each following their match. I resurrected that old analysis and then added some stuff in for rematches. Here’s what I found …
I recently saw a link to the following article about Magnus Carlsen.
Normally, SMH on the internet stands for “shaking my head” in response to something ludicrous. Here, the SMH is Sydney Morning Herald, but it could just as well have been the more common internet definition …
Here’s how the writer introduces Carlsen:
I have read he is easily bored (there is a theory that Carlsen sometimes deliberately loses the first few games in a tournament in order to make life more interesting); probably shy (in an interview for The New Yorker he barely made eye contact with the journalist) and possibly arrogant.
There’s a theory that he “sometimes deliberately loses the first few games” to spice things up?!
Given he’s averaged only a few losses in classical play the past few years, this is an easy one to check … and nope!
Not only have his losses not come early on, but they were important enough to the final standings that he probably didn’t do it on purpose. At least the author tried to address the 2nd and 3rd rumors in that sentence in the article …
After Kasparov’s retirement, there doesn’t seem to have been much sniping among more than just a couple top players. The one that sticks out was the Kramnik – Topalov match of 2006, but outside of those two, there haven’t been many shots fired I think. If the past month or two are any indication, that’s about to change!
Back in February, Nakamura went on the record in New In Chess that he felt that he is “the biggest threat to Carlsen.” That was the soundbite quote, but there was a bit of nuance in that he really was referring to long-term threat.
He further tempered that in a subsequent interview that can be read here (with help from Google Translate for most of us I imagine) where he says:
“Aronian’s probably a bigger threat than me right now, but outside of him I am right behind. I have a chance. If I do not have confidence that I can beat him, what’s the point of playing then?”
This all happened after Magnus’s Bay Area visit and I also don’t get NIC, so it’s not like I could ask about this, but the 2nd interview above has a shot of Carlsen and Nielsen walking to the Zurich tournament hall with this reaction – who knows if they’re joking about the magazine, but it’s quite the coincidental shot if not!
Then this happened at Zurich.
During the Carlsen – Anand match in November 2013, Sachin Tendulkar played his last cricket match (sandwiched in-between Anand’s losses in games 5 and 6, a bad set of days for Indian sports!). That prompted – by way of a NY Times article about how Tendulkar was selfish (!) for playing for so long - an article on tennis.com relating how reading that got him thinking about Federer and his possible retirement.
[NB: Having wasted some of my time reading that opinion piece on Tendulkar, feel free to skip it and just look at the Federer one.]
I can follow cricket reasonably well, but I’ve never been a real fan of the game. I am however a big tennis and chess fan, so while reading Tignor’s tennis article, I couldn’t help but think about Anand’s decline.
Anand is one of the few players whose games I studied specifically growing up. When I was just starting out, I pretty much exclusively studied Morphy and Capablanca games. It remained all about Capablanca for the next 3-4 years before Fischer’s My 60 Memorable Games and Bronstein’s Zurich 1953 were added to the mix in the mid-late 90s. Then Anand’s book of best games came out in 1998, and I went through that a few times. That pretty much covers all the players/tournaments whose games I looked at systematically.
(And yes, I know much less about great players across the decades than I probably should, but that’s not the point. I’ve bought a great many books to correct this, but they have been sitting around for a while and will likely have to wait some more …)
Meanwhile, I grew up playing some tennis and watching some of the big matches on TV, but it wasn’t until I went to college in 2002 that I started playing much more and following events much more closely. There were many great players to watch, but Federer was the one who I followed the closest. So Anand and Federer have been the two players I’ve followed most closely across the two games.
Getting back to the two articles linked above, Tendulkar dropped from being arguably the greatest active batsman to just above average these last few years. Federer went through a pretty dismal 2013 by his standards, dropping all the way to #8 in the world and winning only one, relatively minor, event. While Anand isn’t quite the legend at chess that Tendulkar and Federer are in their relative spheres of influence, the list of World Champions is a short one so I’ll take the liberty of connecting the dots.
The Candidates tourney really snuck up on me this year – for the first time since starting this blog, I didn’t manage to get off a set of proper predictions for such a major event!
Through three rounds, I’m quite happy with the standings even though they’re not at all what I would have expected:
(1) Anand: 2.5
(2-3) Kramnik, Svidler 2
(4-5) Topalov, Aronian 1.5
(6-7) Andreikin, Karjakin 1
(8) Mamedyarov 0.5
I wrote earlier that I didn’t have high hopes for Anand in this event. Even after a very nice win in Game 1 against Aronian, I was hesitant to say that the tournament would go well. And while I’m still not entirely convinced that he’s back to 2008 form, the subsequent two games against Topalov and Mamedyarov suggest that he’s at least in good form. I guess you could say I’m cautiously optimistic …
These two wins don’t seem to me to be due to opening preparation – rather, he’s taken what his opponents are giving him and playing simple, strong moves. His pieces are flowing across the board.
For example, in his game with Aronian, they reached the following endgame position:
4r1k1/1bp2pp1/p4n1p/1p2r3/8/1BP1B2P/PP3PP1/R2R2K1 w - - 0 23)
With straightforward but forceful moves, the pressure was ratcheted up after 23.c4! c6 24.Rac1 R5e7 25.a4!. After some exchanges and a few improving moves, the following position was seen:
A few days back, the Play Magnus app was released for Apple iOS. I got to test this app out at the dinner event back in mid-January and got one practice game in to the engine (a loss) before my game with Magnus (leaving me 0-2 on the night in blitz chess).
The app includes an engine, videos, and a “golden ticket” like drawing that are all geared towards building his brand. The engine is what I’ve used it for so far – it’s meant to try and mimic his strength, style, and opening choices at various ages which is a pretty cool idea if it’s pulled off.
I’ve stuck to playing ages 12 – 14, and the opening choices do change dramatically by age while the engine does go up in strength. It seems to take more and more (unfounded) tactical risks at the younger ages, so I’ve beaten it consistently at age 12. I haven’t had quite as much luck when moving up the ladder – I’m stuck at 50% in a bunch of games against age-13 and scoreless in just a couple games against age-14. Of course, as many of the articles talking about the app release state, he lost to “himself” a couple times at age 14 (for example, this one at ChessVibes), so I don’t feel too bad yet.
One of those losses must have come around the time of his Bay Area visit – in talking to Anders Brandt (the tallest person in the picture below), he mentioned that Magnus lost at 14.
(l-r: Espen Agdestein, me [while struggling to survive], Anders Brandt; photo by Charlotte Fiorito)
These are relatively old news now, but I was planning to post them here, so I’ll stick with that. They are two similar articles, one published in the Kasargod daily Uttaradesha (the district in which my paternal grandparents live) and the other (the scanned image below) published in Havyaka Varthe, a Mangalore (a bigger city, a bit north of Kasargod) publication.
Interview in Uttaradesha
The interview was conducted by my uncle (Chandrashekhar Bhat) when I was in India in late November/early December 2013, maybe a week after the end of the Anand-Carlsen match.
As I’ve written here before, I said then that I thought Anand would likely skip the Candidates and largely retire from active play in 2014. I was definitely wrong about the Candidates, and for the moment, it looks like I’m wrong on the active play part too!
I’m hoping he does well in the soon-to-be-starting Candidates, but I still can’t say that I have high hopes … A middle of the pack finish is what I’d expect for now.