Anand Earns a Rematch

by admin on March 29, 2014

As most of my readers probably know already, Viswanathan Anand, the former world champion who was dethroned last year by Magnus Carlsen, has earned a rematch with Carlsen by winning the Candidates in dominating fashion. The tournament isn’t even over yet, but with one round to go Anand has already clinched first place! Even more amazing, he is the only player with a positive score. He has scored 8 out of 13 (+3 -0 =10), and there is now a five-way tie for second at 6½ out of 13 between Levon Aronian, Vladimir Kramnik, Sergey Karjakin, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Dmitry Andreikin. Every one of those players has lost at least two games.

So. What can I say about Anand’s result? First of all, rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated. It would seem from the Carlsen-Anand match that Magnus Carlsen has surpassed Anand by a significant margin, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the world’s chess players are any closer to beating Anand. It’s a situation similar to the mid-80s, when Kasparov surpassed Karpov but the latter remained a very clear #2 in the world.

My second comment is that to an unusual degree, this tournament was won in round one. The pretournament favorite, based on rating, was Levon Aronian. The Armenian came out with guns blazing against Anand in round one, playing a version of the Marshall Gambit — but it was not a particularly good version. Anand played with impressive calm and sound positional judgement and scored a convincing victory.

Anand followed this up with a win as Black against Mamedyarov in round 3, and after that nobody really challenged him. Aronian briefly caught up in rounds seven and eight, but Anand held the tiebreaker over him due to their head-to-head games. Then Aronian played too rashly against Mamedyarov in round 9 and lost, and after that Anand only needed to draw the rest of his games.

Although Anand’s result is impressive, it seems to me that he was helped a lot by the self-destruction of his competition. As noted above, every other player lost at least two games. Aronian played very aggressively but not soundly enough, and he just doesn’t seem to be playing at world championship level. Ratings aren’t everything!

I was surprised, though, at the many negative comments I saw on Facebook about the result. “Awful result for Chess.” — Paul D. Lane. “So depressing for chess.” — Exicu Pro (whoever that is). “Okay, I have a wall of paint that I want to watch dry.” — James S. Welborn. “FIDE needs a new rule that the player that played last (Anand) needs to sit out the next world championship cycle and let somebody else get a shot at the championship. Dullsville.” — John Warth.

Apparently these people weren’t around when Kasparov and Karpov were playing five matches (!) for the world championship in the 1980s and 90s. Yes, it’s a little bit repetitive, but if those two are the best players that’s the way it should be. If you artificially eliminated Anand, you might get Kramnik, who is even more past his prime.

What I imagine all of these people want is a new-generation player to challenge Carlsen. Those people should take hope from the fact that Dmitry Andreikin, the qualifier from last year’s World Cup who one might have expected to be out of his league here, in fact did very well and has a 50 percent score going into the last round. In a couple more years, he might have enough seasoning to be a serious challenger.

As for Carlsen-Anand II, I expect a hard-fought match played at a high level, and I think that’s good for chess. It’s good to have two great adversaries who bring out the best in each other. The only problem with the first Carlsen-Anand match is that Carlsen didn’t bring out the best in Anand. Hopefully the second time around, Anand will have a better idea of what to do against him.

Perhaps the one thing that I would criticize FIDE for is the decision to make world championship matches an annual event. As this tournament shows, the strengths of the top players don’t rearrange themselves often enough to make an annual match necessary. If we had done it this way in the 1980s, we would have had ten Kasparov-Karpov matches in a row, and that really would have been excessive. So perhaps John Warth’s idea has some merit in this new world. However, what I think would really be better is to go back to a two-year cycle.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Ashish March 29, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Anand? Inconceivable!

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hansie March 30, 2014 at 10:50 am

Well, after the 2014 Title Match, World Championship would once again revert to two-year cycle. Hope this pleases you.

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ChessAdmin April 5, 2014 at 9:32 am

I have to admit I stopped following the World Championship cycle after the interminable K-K matches of the 1980s and the boxing-style split in the champions that followed. FIDE knockout tournaments were also hard to get into and lacked credibility. The latest system seems more credible and fair and I’m also thankful that there is no automatic rematch clause. Anand fought hard in a strong Candidates competition with most of the best in the world and deserves his shot.

I would agree, though, that a one-year cycle is too short. Among other things, it would seem to discourage the current champion from playing in more tournaments, in favor of hiding away and doing the necessary prep for the next match, which isn’t good for chess as a sport. Let’s hope the two-year cycle continues for the future.

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