Time and Tide Wait for No Man

The Anand-Carlsen match is well in the books, and while I was in India for the tail end of the match, I didn’t have much internet time to be writing blog posts. With a couple weeks passing since I came back (Happy Festivus! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year, soon enough! yada yada yada …), these aren’t terribly timely, but I wanted to share a couple thoughts on the match and the aftermath.

I suspected after Game 6 in a Berlin that Anand’s strategy was to try and hold the balance for as long as he could (and maybe hope that Magnus would falter under psychological pressure), but it was only during the 8th game that I was certain of that. By playing the Berlin as Black in game 8 down 2 points, it finally became clear to me that Anand had planned for this match completely differently than I had expected.

While in the Kramnik and Topalov matches he made a conscious effort to target his opponent’s relative weaknesses (concrete play and strategic play at virtually any cost, respectively), he decided to work on his endurance and play in equal positions for this match – in other words, try to meet Magnus’s strength head-on in this one. That approach failed miserably this time.

Of course, when he did finally take the gloves off in Game 9, he lost thanks to yet another bad blunder in an objectively equal position, but that style of play was more of what I was expecting and that was the only time he got any advantage as White. So I’d like to say I was right, but if he was still going to make those kinds of blunders, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

There’s some question about whether he’ll play in the Candidates in March 2014. In an interview with an Indian paper just after the match, I said I thought he’d retire from active play in 2014 (for now, he’s only got Zurich on the calendar in February 2014) and I’m sticking with that. He’s still talking a good game, but I think he’ll back out before the late-January deadline and give Caruana a way into the event.

As for why? I think there are a multitude of reasons, one of which is that he is a realist about his slide in form, so he doesn’t seem to have the requisite foolish pride to try and make one last run at it. And among the many other reasons, losing hurts. Real bad.

I’m currently reading Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open, and the first chapter (“The End”) is both amazing in itself and also extremely relatable for a professional chessplayer in many ways (maybe more on this later).

“Now that I’ve won a slam, I know something very few people on earth are permitted to know. A win doesn’t feel as good as a loss feels bad, and the good feeling doesn’t last as long as the bad. Not even close.”

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6 responses to “Time and Tide Wait for No Man

  1. From what I read of the players’ diet (can’t find the link right now), I’m not surprised by Anand’s lack of stamina for long games: too many carbs, not enough protein. The Indian vegetarian (really starchatarian) diet only makes sense if you’re working in the fields.

  2. Quite true – I learned this the hard way back in 1997 at the World Youth Rapid Chess Championships in Paris where I had a bit too much rice for lunch one day … luckily I managed to recover enough the next day to tie for 2nd, but I almost threw away my tournament with a simple-carb-heavy diet.

    One of the many changes I made when I started playing occasionally in 2006 was to eat a protein bar each day to help guard against that. It meant that for long trips, my bag would be weighed down by a lot of Clif and Odwalla Bars!

    But Anand eats fish, so he should be getting protein a bit more easily than a pure vegetarian.

  3. Useful observations on the match. I also wondered why Anand was playing on Carlsen’s turf, but I’d never really looked at his previous matches. Regarding the Agassi quote, when one lives the dream, it is no longer a dream. There is also no such thing as “happily ever after” (sorry kids), it’s more like “what have you done for me lately”.

    This also reminds me of a finding from the book “Psychology of Chess”:

    Decrease in winning performance as a chess master ages can be best ascribed to the growing perception by the player that avoiding a loss is more important than scoring a win. The player, having already attained a high level of status, is more reluctant to lose their existing status than they are motivated to attempt to achieve a higher level of play. This also helps explain the common phenomenon of World Champions having poorer tournament results and playing less dynamically after they win the title.

    It will be interesting to see what Carlsen brings to the table in 2014. He seems to be full of energy and eager to show what he can do as World Champion, so I wouldn’t anticipate declining performance setting in for a while yet.

  4. That’s interesting – I haven’t heard that about fear of failure/title/rating retention outweighs ambition as one ages. What evidence was there for that claim? Maybe I’ll try to take a look at some point as well. At least for Anand, his rating trended upwards from the 2007 (tourney) – 2008 (match) – 2010 (match) wins. He was about 2820 in the Fall of 2011 before steadily sliding back down the rating list since then.

  5. The book cites research done (dating from the early 1980s) crunching the numbers on all World Champion tournament performances to get their results. It’s worth noting that the book focuses on “winning” performance, rather than overall performance; basically the tendency for World Champions is to draw more over the *long term* after they gain the title, as they lose their taste for blood and don’t try as hard for the win. This of course also has rating performance implications. Also, naturally this effect would normally be more pronounced later rather than sooner after winning a championship. Somebody would have to do the necessary modern data crunching to get the latest stats (Kasparov might be an outlier), but Anand certainly seems to have trended down in that regard from 2010-2013, after having to fight hard from 2007-2010 in multiple formats.

  6. Pingback: Can an Old Tiger Change His Stripes? | There and Back Again

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