Anand, and India, stand in Carlsen’s path to chess glory
Magnus Carlsen is the world’s number one chess player but that counts for little in India, where he’ll have to conquer local favourite Viswanathan Anand to become the first world chess champion from the West in nearly 40 years.
Anand, the undisputed world champion since 2007, has slumped to eighth in the rankings but has the experience of five world titles to thwart his 22-year-old Norwegian rival. If Carlsen wins the title this month, he’ll be the first champion from the West since American Bobby Fischer’s reign ended in 1975.
Media interest in the 12-game chess series billed as the “War of the Wizards” has been unprecedented, despite reams of newsprint and TV coverage devoted to Sachin Tendulkar’s swansong series happening concurrently in cricket-crazy India.
“I know that Anand is a big star here,” Carlsen told a pre-match news conference in Chennai on Thursday. “I’m hoping there’ll be, in general, lots of positive interest around the match.”
The baby-faced Norwegian wasn’t even born when Anand became India’s first grandmaster in 1988 and was just 10 when Anand won the first of his world titles in 2000.
But that was a long time ago. A grandmaster since he was 13, Carlsen now has the highest rating in the history of the game, breaking chess great Garry Kasparov’s record this year.
Kasparov, who coached Carlsen for a while, described him as “a type of Harry Potter” destined “to leave a deep mark” on the game.
The former world champion is rooting for Carlsen and said he’ll be in Chennai for the third and fourth game of the contest.
Carlsen, often called the “Mozart of chess”, became the world’s number one at age 19, the youngest player ever to do so. And he beat Anand in their last encounter in June.
“It has been a while since I went into a game with losing as an option,” Carlsen told Reuters in an interview in August.
Still, he’s not underestimating his 43-year-old rival. Carlsen visited Chennai, Anand’s native city, during a recce trip in August and has apparently brought his chef along to avoid falling sick. The first game in the series begins on Saturday.
At the press conference on Thursday, Carlsen kept his cards close to his chest, not revealing the names of his seconds — chess players who help with tournament practice and preparations — even after Anand did so.
“I appreciate Mr Anand’s openness about his team. Alas! I’m not going to return the favour,” Carlsen said.
Anand seemed the more relaxed of the two and steered clear of provocation ahead of the tournament, which offers over $3 million in prize money.
“I enjoy good food, for sure. You say a lot of things in interviews; makes no sense to respond to everything,” Anand said when asked to comment on Carlsen’s remarks that his Indian rival “loves food and is lazy”.