Friday, November 22, 2013

Magnus Carlsen Captures the World Chess Championship

"One man alone cannot fight the future."--Conrad Strughold, "The X-Files: Fight the Future"

"The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's how the smart money bets."--Damon Runyon

Magnus Carlsen displayed brilliance, patience, energy, stamina and steady nerves as he defeated Viswanathan Anand 6.5-3.5 to become the World Chess Champion. Carlsen, who previously established himself as the highest rated player in chess history, is the 16th linear World Chess Champion, joining an elite group started by Wilhelm Steinitz and including the two chess players who even most non-chess players know about: Garry Kasparov and Bobby Fischer.

Prior to the match, some Anand supporters suggested/hoped that Anand's vast match experience and his success in winning world championships in various formats/time controls would give him an edge over his much younger challenger but in chess--as in most sports--it is inevitable that youth will eventually be served: Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan all fell victim to Father Time, in the guise of the next generation of competitors eager to enjoy their time in the sun.

After the players opened the match with four straight draws, Carlsen delivered a knockout blow by scoring consecutive wins. Anand fought hard to draw games seven and eight but then he blundered in game nine to give Carlsen an insurmountable lead. Carlsen comfortably drew the 10th game to clinch the match victory. Carlsen seized the title with two games to spare in what will be remembered as one of the most lopsided championship battles in chess history; this is the first time in Anand's distinguished career that he did not score at least one win in a World Championship match.

Carlsen stayed true to his relentless, uncompromising approach throughout the match; in the final game he eschewed a potential early draw that would have dethroned Anand, instead seeking victory while also risking defeat and forcing the champion to tenaciously defend for several hours before the position simplified to a clear draw. Carlsen is both a quintessentially modern player and a throwback to previous eras; in the opening he obtains deceptively simple--and at times unorthodox--positions in order to render useless any pre-game computer preparation undertaken by his opponents but in the middlegame and endgame he is a relentless competitor/cool calculator in the mold of Garry Kasparov and Bobby Fischer. When you sit down to play Magnus Carlsen you must expect a fight to the bitter end, even if the position seems devoid of winning chances and even if a draw is as good as a win for Carlsen due to the tournament/match situation.

Anand was a great champion and a gentlemanly competitor during his reign; chess lovers hope and expect that Carlsen will take the sport to even greater heights thanks to his youth, his appeal to non-chessplayers and the lyrical virtuosity of his games--a quality that has inspired GM Lubomir Kavalek to dub him "The Mozart of Chess."

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