In textbook fashion (and I can’t stress this enough), 22-year-old chess juggernaut (and this is probably an understatement) Magnus Carlsen of Norway has just recently dethroned 5-time world champion Viswanathan Anand in such an epic clash that one could imagine a very, very dramatic film produced from the whole debacle.
In one corner we have Viswanathan Anand, also known as “Vishy,” a 5-time world chess champion who has himself battled and overcome previous chess legends to obtain his solid position as world champion — and at 43, he is almost double the age of Magnus Carlsen. As the undisputed champion since 2007, Anand is regarded as a tiger on the board, known for preferring aggressive early-game tactics and heavy pressure; off the boards, however, Anand retains a modest persona, relatively soft-spoken and very family oriented. Anand seems like the type of man who would scoff at being referred to as the pride of India (along with another almost deified athlete, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar), however, it is obvious that India truly does take pride in Anand, as well as their other stand-out athletes. Anand exudes the characteristics of a seasoned veteran in any sport, he has his age, his experience, his 5 world champion titles, and a ridiculously impressive track record against some of the heaviest hitters in chess.
In the other corner there leans Magnus Carlsen, a chess prodigy who obtained the prestigious title of Grand Master at the age of just 13. Prodigies are nothing new, but prodigies that step up to the next level and bring something different to the table are a blessing. In a time where chess has merely become complacent in relation to how the world perceives it, it is almost as if the chess Gods themselves sent the young Norwegian to breathe new life into the sport. Interestingly, Carlsen seems almost the polar opposite of Anand — whereas Anand is introverted and private off the boards, Carlsen soaks up the attention and thrives off publicity (he even has modeling contracts), and where Anand plays a classical aggressive approach, Carlsen enjoys longer drawn out games that wear down his opponent’s durability, and maybe even their sanity.
Let us not forget that Carlsen is 22, and Anand is 43, and add that to the fact that the championship was held in Chennai, Anand’s hometown; the dynamics of this championship game were almost at fairy-tale levels of absurdity. If you kept up with the championship or watched the games on any medium, one could tell that the pressure was on for Anand, not only was he defending his title that he has held for 5 straight years, he was doing it in his own country, with the hopes and dreams of the people riding on his shoulders heavier than ever. Meanwhile Carlsen, making his debut championship appearance, seemed hardly perturbed by the spectacle — reading his body language you might almost think that Carlsen simply did not care.
As I read about and watched the games, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that Carlsen knew he was going to win, even before the first game was played. During the games Carlsen rotated between slouching leisurely and leaning over the table with both arms, his facial expressions showing no signs of evidence to what was going on through his mind. As the first two matches ended in draws, it seemed like Carlsen was merely testing the waters, as though he were just curious to check out what all the fuss was about with the world championship game. However, game 3 saw Anand take a swing at Carlsen, and even in his only true moment of what may have been nervousness, Carlsen still successfully defended himself to a draw. Game 4 saw one more draw at the table, and finally, at that point, Carlsen decided to do away with the pleasantries and in games 5 and 6 he simply stomped a fumbling Anand who did not know what hit him. Obviously shaken by the harrowing defeats, Anand could not summon what was required for a win, and subsequent draws and one more loss cemented the crown for Carlsen, and saw Anand exit without winning even one game, the only time that has ever happened to him in a world championship.
Such a loss must be heartbreaking for Anand, especially losing in his hometown with his countrymen all behind him, but he remains a revered chess player whom even Carlsen respects and looks up to. Nobody knows what Anand plans for his future with chess, but it can be said with certainty that Carlsen’s reign as the king has only just begun.
It is revealing to read the papers in India trying to understand what went wrong with Anand’s play, many of which attempt to justify why Anand lost… but we shouldn’t fool ourselves, Carlsen simply destroyed him with calculated precision and impeccable endurance. Thus, the crux of my blog presents itself: Carlsen represents progression and a new generation, it is undeniable that something greater than just the world championship happened, indeed a statement was made, and Carlsen was the vessel through which it happened.
Some journalists go so far as to say that they are scared of Carlsen’s ascendence to the top, and that he did so too easily… but I believe that is the best thing that could have happened, and timid traditionalists frightened by the prospect of Carlsen’s reign should instead look forward to what is in store, it is exciting more than anything.
Carlsen represents a new generation that extends beyond the boundaries of chess, his utter dominance over the playing field will pave the way for younger generations to strive for more than just excellence in the interests they pursue, they will want to reach those levels of success with much more drive and ambition, and they will want to do it quickly.
And to the young conqueror Magnus Carlsen, and my distant Norwegian brethren, I say Skol! and wish you many long years of plundering the battlefield and reaping the rewards.