Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Anand Shows That He is not the Retiring Kind

After Viswanathan Anand lost his World Chess Championship title to Magnus Carlsen, some commentators speculated that Anand might retire from top level chess. The 44 year old Anand had slipped to eighth in the world chess rankings and it seemed like he did not have the necessary energy and/or motivation to seriously challenge the 23 year old Carlsen. Anand's tournament record in the past few years has been less than stellar and prior to losing to Carlsen he had only narrowly fought off past his prime World Championship challenger Boris Gelfand. Levon Aronian, the 31 year old second ranked player in the world, seemed poised to emerge from the eight player Candidates Tournament to battle against Carlsen.

However, a funny thing has happened on the road to Anand's retirement/Aronian's coronation: Anand has turned back the clock to produce three sizzling victories, a 6.5 score and a 2883 performance rating after 10 rounds in the Candidates Tournament, while Aronian is in second place with a 5.5 score. Anand scored 1.5/2 in his head to head encounters with Aronian and there are just four rounds left in the double round robin event, so--barring a total collapse--Anand will surprise the chess world and earn the right to reclaim the World Chess Championship.

Anand is not be as consistently dominant in tournaments as he used to be but he is a crafty veteran of World Championship play--winning the title in more different formats than any other player--and it is inspiring to watch an "older" player rise to the occasion against the world's elite. If Anand finishes off the Candidates Tournament in style and gets a second opportunity face Carlsen in the World Chess Championship it will be fascinating to see how Anand adjusts his approach; the first time around, it seemed like Anand failed in at least three regards: (1) his opening preparation did not yield much, (2) he lacked the confidence to go for the kill on the rare occasions when he had a potential opportunity to do so and (3) during long games he clearly suffered from mental and/or physical fatigue, resulting in disastrous blunders. During the Candidates Tournament, Anand has demonstrated that he can still get the best of top notch players like Aronian and former World Champions Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov--but can Anand defeat a much younger foe who seems to enjoy psychological and physical advantages against him?

Carlsen is not only the World Chess Champion and the highest rated chess player in the world but he is also the highest rated chess player ever. Just qualifying to challenge Carlsen will be quite a feat for Anand but if Anand dethrones the man who at least some people believe to be the greatest chess player of all time that will be the biggest achievement of his already highly decorated career. Anand would be a heavy underdog against Carlsen--and he did not manage to post even one win in their previous match--but he was not considered a serious contender in the Candidates Tournament until he raced out into the lead and never looked back.

No comments: