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 …
By my count, there’ve been 32 World Championship matches starting with the 1921 Capablanca – Lasker match (I’m excluding the 1993 Karpov – Timman and 1996 Karpov-Kamsky matches, because those cycles didn’t include the sitting champion, Kasparov).
In 32 of those matches, the Championship match victor (whether by draw-odds or an actual plus score) went on to win 50% of the future battles. There were 6 pairings where the players subsequently tied, 5 with no subsequent games, and only 5 where the match-loser won the subsequent series. Anand’s helped boost that number to 50%, as he holds plus scores against Kramnik, Topalov, and Gelfand after his matches with each of them.
[As an aside, I'm counting all subsequent classical games, up to any rematch that might have occurred.]
The only match-losers to go on to win the later Head-to-Head (H2H) were:
- Smyslov (after losing to Botvinnik in 1954);
- Tal (after losing to Botvinnik in 1961);
- Spassky (up to his 1969 rematch with Petrosian after losing in 1966);
- Kasparov (after losing to Kramnik in 2000); and,
- Topalov (after losing to Kramnik in 2006).
And that’s even after Kramnik got his first post-match win against Topalov just today!
As for rematches, there’ve been 11 by my count in this set of 32. Botvinnik played the most, and he generally did well in his rematches winning 2 of 3. Overall, the original winner won “only” 5 of the rematches, so that suggests there’s hope for Anand yet! However, as I mentioned earlier, this will be the first rematch since 1990 and so most of these rematches are in bygone eras.
I also looked at whether winning the interim H2H before a rematch suggested the rematch would go the same way. But because most of these rematches were via an automatic clause, most of the opponents didn’t play each other in the intervening period. Where there was a H2H advantage for one of the players though, they went on to win 3 of the 4 rematches:
- Smyslov over Botvinnik in 1957 after taking the H2H between 1954 and that match;
- Spassky over Petrosian in 1969 after taking the H2H between 1966 and that match; and,
- Kasparov in 1990 over Karpov after taking the H2H between 1987 and that match).
Anand and Carlsen have only played 1 classical game since their match, a quick draw in Zurich, so the H2H is tied for the moment. I don’t know if they’re slated for any of the same events going forward, but my guess would be no, especially now. And even more so given how some of the interim games last year probably further chipped away at Anand’s already ebbing confidence (an easy draw for Magnus as black, a tough defense for Anand as black, and a brutally simple loss for Anand as black).
Another thing to note is that Magnus won with +3 last year out of just 9 games. Every previous rematch took place when Championship matches were much longer, but pretty much the only time the ex-Champion/new-Challenger regained the title after a similarly big-margin loss was Botvinnik over Tal in 1961, winning with +5 out of 21 games after having lost in 1960 by -4.
Regardless of this ancient history, Magnus will once again be the big favorite, but it does look like this will be a more optically more competitive match than it was last year. By that I mean – Anand actually played pretty well overall last year in terms of good moves played, but I expect there to be more clear fighting chess this time around. But unless he can turn back the clock to 2007-2008 instead of simply 2010, I don’t think he’ll be able to fully push Carlsen off his now-typical, ground-and-pound approach.
Hopefully after his second classical tournament victory in the past few years (and this one was much stronger than the Grenke tournament he won last February), he’ll have regained some confidence. He’ll need that much more than the “ghost of Botvinnik past” in order to challenge Magnus again.