Renaissance or Dead-Cat Bounce?

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.

Sachin Fed and Anand

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.

One thing that Tignor wrote stuck with me:

“I liked what Federer said after the tournament when he was asked a version of the R question. He said that tennis is ‘in the DNA,’ it’s something he has always done, and given a choice between playing and not playing, he chooses to play…. [W]e may want to protect Federer’s legacy, but he just wants to do what he loves to do. We’ll see more human moments from him in the future, and we’ll take the superhuman when we get it.”

While I’ve been quick to chalk up Anand’s decline to lack of motivation/belief, he’s kept up a steady chatter saying all the right things – that he still enjoys playing, competing, and so on.

Federer was saying all those things last year as well – and he said them in early 2012 when I noticed the first real “retirement” or “finished” talk creeping into the conversation. He silenced that for a year or so by winning Wimbledon and returning to #1. But 2013 was a worse year than even 2010 or 2011, so the media mill ran countless articles on the same theme.

This year though, he’s actually been the best of the Big 4 thus far, going deep and/or winning every tournament he’s played. He lost today in the final at Indian Wells to Djokovic, but some losses have to be expected as the normal cost of business. The same goes for Anand – I’d be amazed if he could run through this event undefeated as he did in the 2007 Mexico City event, but if he really does want to train, play, and compete, why should I add fuel to the retirement fire?

Similar to Tignor, I still get nervous for Federer and Anand at times, so I have neither given up hope nor claimed the second coming; but whether it’s a real renaissance or a dead-cat bounce, I’m happy just to see them do well again.

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5 responses to “Renaissance or Dead-Cat Bounce?

  1. Reblogged this on Chess Musings and commented:
    Vinay Bhat asks whether Vishy’s return to form is a renaissance or a dead-cat bounce.

  2. The frustration that many Anand fans have with his play is not that he doesn’t always win, but rather with the way in which he doesn’t win: lots of draws in positions where Pono or H-Bomb or Magnus would have played on. We want our champions to fight to the end, win or lose.

    Draws feel like “giving up,” and it is hard to root for someone who appears to have given up.

  3. I think it’s more-than-fair to be annoyed about a player generally avoiding a fight in such an event.

    However,
    (1) I think the onus should be on the organizer/sponsors to nudge players away from that;
    (2) draws seem terribly misunderstood;
    (3) and the common narrative of Player X or Y always fighting to the end and/or fighting with both colors is a bit of a joke

    On a somewhat related note … http://www.sbnation.com/nba/2014/3/14/5508174/steve-nash-retirement-comments-lakers :

    “It’s just a reality,” Nash said. “I’m not going to retire because I want the money. It’s honest. We want honest athletes, but at the same time, you’re going to have people out there saying ‘He’s so greedy. He’s made x amount of money and he has to take this last little bit.’ Yes, I do, have to take that last little bit. I’m sorry if that is frustrating to some but if they were in my shoes they would do exactly the same thing. I wouldn’t believe for a minute that they wouldn’t.”

  4. I suspect Anand, like most top players, makes more money from endorsements then from appearance fees or prizes. I think playing uninspired chess for years and years may actually hurt his long-term brand value. In that sense Garry had it right.

  5. Not sure what Garry quote you’re referring to … but years and years?! Frankly, it’s one thing for something to show up in the ChessVibes comments section, it’s another for the games and results to actually show that.

    At most, you can point to about 13 months from the 2011 Tal Memorial to the 2012 London Classic where Anand’s draw rate jumped to 84%. But 13 months doesn’t make years and years.

    The best thing an organizer could’ve done – both for their tournament and probably for Anand’s sake – was to not invite the sitting World Champion to their event. But nobody did, so there’s much less incentive to change things up if you actually can – and as the period before the 2011 Tal Memorial showed (Jan 2010 – Nov 2011 for example at over 2800; or even 2013 up to the Carlsen match), he hasn’t forgotten how to make fewer draws.

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