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A Clash of Kings

User Rating: / 12
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 07 November 2013
By GM Daniel Gormally, England, FIDE 2504

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Magnus vs Vishy- when you play the game of thrones, you win or you die

Near Chennai this week, India fired its rocket into space. However in the same city, it will be dealing with a mercurial object of an entirely difficult nature, which will occupy the India consciousness over the next few weeks.

Put more simply, how can their reigning champion, Viswanathan Anand, prevent the inexorable rise of the young superstar, Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, to the World chess crown? It seems like an impossible task.

The portents for Vishy are not good. Never in recent memory has a reigning chess champ gone into a title defence, starting as such an underdog. In fact I believe you have to go back to 1972, when Bobby Fischer wrested the crown from the Russian Boris Spassky, to a time when the challenger started the match as such an overwhelming favourite.

Part of the reason for this has been Vishy's indifferent form over the last few years. He has struggled to make his mark in tournaments, with his play often spotty and dull, lacking the snap and freshness of his best years. Think back to the early and mid nineties, when Vishy often impressed with the daring of his play; now by contrast he almost seems to play with fear, as if carrying the burden of his world title too heavily. You almost wonder if Vishy were to play with more abandon if he was to lose his crown, that he would return to the attacking verve of his best years.

He may not have much choice in the matter. Magnus Carlsen, put simply, is a chess phenomenon. Where Vishy has struggled, Carlsen has flourished, winning tournament after tournament, with brutal, consistent regularity. What separates Carlsen most effectively from his contemporaries, in my opinion, is his ability to raise his game at the vital moments.

Rarely does Carlsen fail to take advantage of a lapse in his opponents play. He waits like a predator, for the moment when the rival loses concentration, or succumbs to the relentless glare of his strategic pressure. Not without reason does Carlsen start a 3-1 on favourite with the bookmakers. He holds an almost 100 rating point advantage over the champion; a staggering margin.

Anand should not be underestimated

But there are also valid reasons to believe that Anand is not the forlorn hope that the bookmakers and experts make him out to be.

For a start, the match is on home territory for Anand. This may not seem like much, but if the match does become close, this support from the home crowd could give him an important psychological lift.

Secondly, while Anand brings to the match plenty of big-match experience, having tested his will against some of the greats in the game like Kasparov and Kramnik in the past, Carlsen has almost no match experience. Whether this will be important remains to be seen, but we can be assured that Carlsen will be learning on the job. Win lose or draw, he will surely gain a lot of experience during the match. Anand already has that experience. An advantage to be sure.

Also, Anand seems motivated for this match like never before. He has recently been working 8/9 hours a day in preparation for this clash. I doubt he has worked so hard since his impressive victory over Kramnik. He has a need to prove himself, to cement his legacy, after some mediocre years from a playing point of view. A win over the rising star Carlsen will surely make history view Anand in an extremely positive light, as one of the greatest players ever.

From a purely chess point of view, Anand needs to pressurise Carlsen from the early stage of the game. He needs to sharpen up the opening phase, and use his impressive team to really put the question to Carlsen's openings, perhaps one of the weaker aspects of the Norwegian's game.

I doubt very much that Anand will win the match if he gets into lots of long, grinding endgames. This is Carlsens wheelhouse, from where he will surely prosper. So Vishy needs some sharp openings and to try to make the games as complex as possible, as early as possible. To really test the Norwegian's calculating abilities under pressure. I think we will see some new openings. Maybe a rare Sicilian from Carlsen.

When I think of this match, I think of Rocky IV, and the ageing champion, Rocky Balboa, taking on the seemingly invincible challenger Ivan Drago. Is Carlsen unstoppable? Is he human? This match will provide many answers. So far he has hardly looked vulnerable, but who knows how he will respond to the ultimate pressure, that a World championship match will surely bring.

"I will break you!"

Originally published in GM Danny Gormally's blog

Other posts by GM Danny Gormally:
Do we overrate ourselves?
Computers and their all-pervading influence on modern chess
From Russia with love
The England Chess Team & Jack Wilshire
Should the grandmaster title be scrapped?
ECF Book of the Year?
Is being a chess pro worth it - continued?
Is being a chess pro worth it?
An Elitist Game?
Does hard work in chess pay off?
World Cup Final preview
World Chess Cup Semi-Final preview
World Chess Cup Quarter-Final preview
World Chess Cup 1/8-final preview
Why are Russians so good at chess?
British Champs-2013
Ghent and now the British
I'll never be fat again!
Lessons learnt!
The sad case of Borislav Ivanov: Part II
Does Anyone Have a Cure for Anger Problems?
The Depth of Chess
Fundraising in chess
Nurturing a Chess Prodigy
The Sad Case of Borislav Ivanov
4NCL Impressions: no country for old men - Part II
4NCL Impressions: no country for old men
One move, one line - Part II
One move, one line
Candidates Final Review & Preview of Upcoming World Championship Match
Would Carlsen have beaten Capablanca?

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Comments (2)
1. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 16:28 07 2013 .
Just 8/9 hours a day in preparation for a match is hard working? Hard work for me is 12/14 hours a day.. like Fisher!
2. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 21:28 15 2014 .
You've got to hand it to Glad 
Toms Shoes

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