Pigs could still fly, dodos could still walk the Earth, and Viswanathan Anand could still save his world championship match against Magnus Carlsen. But I wouldn’t bet on it!
Carlsen now leads the best-of-twelve match by 6-3, and needs only one more draw to become the new champion of the world. And not just any world champion, but a kind of world champion we haven’t had for a generation — a dominant one who stands heads and shoulders above his contemporaries, as Garry Kasparov did. Given that Carlsen has White tomorrow, needing only a draw to win, I think it’s likely the match will end at 6½-3½ in his favor, which is exactly what I predicted at the outset.
One thing that impresses me is how easy it’s been. In nine games, has Carlsen even made one clear mistake? I don’t remember one. It’s true that he did appear to be in trouble in the latest game (round 9), yet he waved a magic wand and defused Anand’s giant attack. It looked as if Anand was close to winning, but it’s quite possible that Carlsen knew better all along. You certainly cannot say that Carlsen made any clear mistakes; he took his chances and played very principled chess, refusing to be intimidated by the pawn storm.
On the other hand, Anand has played very human chess. In positions that were difficult but drawable, he has too many times not been able to find the right solution. You could say that he hasn’t put up the best resistance, but that would ignore the amount of pressure that Carlsen has put him under. Chessbase give some undoubtedly computer-aided analysis showing that Anand could have drawn game 9 up until his very last move, which was a terrible blunder. But who can blame him? It was such a weird position, with Carlsen having two queens on the board, that normal intuition goes out the window. In such a position the more exhausted player will blunder first.
One thing I really love about the impending Carlsen victory is what it will mean for opening theory. I’ve said for years that Opening Theory is a Scam. I had to qualify this statement a little bit in my debate with Dennis Monokroussos; what I mean is that the preoccupation with memorizing the latest grandmaster-approved variations up to the n-th move is very unhealthy for class-level players, say anyone under 2000. (On the other hand, understanding general opening principles is very healthy.)
Carlsen has proved that my claim holds true even on the very top level. He plays whatever openings and variations he darn well pleases, and he does just fine in all of them. I’m sure that he does study openings a lot, but he isn’t a slave to them. He understands that the way to be a dominant world champion is to be better than your competition in all phases of the game. I hope that the next generation of players will emulate him, and I’m sure they will. One of the perks of being a world champion is that everybody will try to copy you, although few will succeed. We are in the Carlsen Era now. Enjoy it!