The World Series is over, the NFL season is only now coming to speed, the NBA and NHL seasons have just begun. We are becalmed in a brief sports sweet spot where one has time to set eyes on sports not usually seen; to wit, it’s World Chess Championship time!
Once again Viswanathan “Vishy” Anand, India’s first grandmaster, plays Magnus Carlsen for the galactic championship. They clashed last year in Chennai, India, a home game for Anand. It’s where he grew up. Anand was champion, Carlsen challenger. This time Carlsen is champion, Anand is challenger.
This is more interesting than it sounds. Vishy is a five-time world champion, which gives him mighty chess cred. He has played for the chess World Championship a death-defying ten times in 19 years. He’s also 44 years old, which is on the shady side of the hill in chess world. Vishy’s mom taught him chess at the age of 6, he became an international master at 15, a grandmaster at 18. Nope, Vishy did not spend his youth in his mother’s basement, but graduated Loyola College, Chennai, with a degree in commerce. Married, has a three-year-old son, and lives in Madrid, Spain. You can tell a lot about a man by his hobbies. His are: reading, swimming, listening to music.
Magnus Carlsen is Norwegian and a licensed chess prodigy. He was a grandmaster at the age of 13, ranked number one in the world at 19, became world champion at 22, and gained the highest world ranking ever recorded (2882 Elo points — don’t ask) at age 23.
He’s also a fashion model for G-STAR RAW, a Dutch clothing company, and majority owner of Play Magnus AS, a chess iOS app featuring a database of Carlsen’s recorded games unto the thousands. He’s been offered parts in movies and last year reached the pinnacle of showbiz recognition, Cosmopolitan named him one of “the sexiest men of 2013.” He easily made Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in 2013. Which is not bad, considering he’s sharing the planet with 7.125 billion other contestants.
Challengers travel a twisted and arduous road to earn the right to play the world chess champion. The road ends at the Candidates Tournament. The winner of that tournament plays the reigning world champion. Magnus won the Candidates in 2013, Anand won in 2014, thus setting up a Frazier/Ali rematch.
Well, maybe not Frazier/Ali...more like the Buffalo Bills. The Bills played in four consecutive Super Bowls. The Bills lost four consecutive Super Bowls.
The 2014 world championship will be held in the world’s newest ghost town, Sochi, Russia, from November 7 to November 18. It’s held in Sochi for the very best of reasons: no city, state, country, or military junta bid for the right to host the world championship. Russia stepped in and offered to host in Dead City’s Olympic Media Center.
The payout in 2013 was $2.5 million, winner received $1.5 million. This year the pot has been reduced to $1.25 million, winner is due a trifling $750,000. Holy howling and lamentation.
The match consists of 12 games. Each player opens with White and Black alternately. The order switches after the sixth game. Players get 1 point for a win, half-point for a draw, and 0 for a loss. The first player to reach 6.5 points wins. If, after 12 games, the players tie, there will be tie-break games. As usual, almost seems to be a requirement, the games will start at 4:00 a.m. PST. No television, but lots of live streaming. Run a Google or stop by twitch.tv/chessnetwork for particulars.
For what it’s worth, Sportskeeda, an all-sports website in India, says Carlsen “relies mostly on accumulating and nursing slight advantages and eventually converting them to a winning endgame.” The site lists his strengths as stamina and endgames. His weaknesses are lack of depth in openings. Vishy’s strengths are openings and complex middle-game positions, his weaknesses are stamina and defending passive positions.
Vishy quote: “Nowadays, when you’re not a grandmaster at 14, you can forget about it.”
Carlsen quote: “You have to be merciless.”
This is tame stuff, compared to world champions of old. William Steinitz (champ 1886–1894) believed he could move chess pieces with his mind, tried to phone God, and is reported to have said he would give God odds of a pawn as Black. Bobby Fischer (champ 1972–1975), remarked, “That is nonsense, of course, but I think I would hold God to a draw with White.”
After two games, the Oddschecker money line is Carlsen -1200, Vishy +750; meaning, if you bet Carlsen, you lay $1200 to win $100. If you bet Vishy, you lay $100 to win $750.