“The match starts at 0-0 in Chennai,” Viswanathan Anand said recently. Every world chess championship match starts on an even keel, but what was particularly significant about Anand’s comment was the context and what he meant by the zeroes.
Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian World No. 1 who will meet Anand next week, had beaten the Indian in the last of their Classical battles at the Tal Memorial in Moscow four months ago. But when asked about the Tal verdict, Anand had to remind the chess world that the past wouldn’t have any bearing on the world championship match.
In fact if the past was anything to go by, Anand would gladly flaunt his record in Classical chess and claim victory. Six wins, three defeats and 20 draws in the last six years this record would certainly not show Carlsen in good light. Yet Anand would be the first person to erase these statistics. “Each match for me is a new challenge. I close the chapter on the previous match and approach this as a new challenge,” he said while preparing for the Carlsen match.
Anand and Carlsen first met in a Classical match at the Corus tournament in 2007. Anand won that tournament in the Netherlands and that was the time he was winning everything but matches.
The result was a draw, but the Norwegian soon found he could not cope up with the dynamic style of Anand.
Their battles in rapid and blitz games date back to 2005 when Carlsen was just 15. Between 2005 and 2007, the duo played nine games before their first Classical encounter. Anand won four with the other five ending in draws. To be fair, Carlsen was just 15 then.
After his first draw, Carlsen faced Anand again in Linares/Morelia the same year. The Indian, playing white, handed a 38-move lesson to the new kid on the block. That was also the first of six wins the world champion recorded against him. Incidentally, four of Anand’s six wins were with black pieces, while each of Carlsen’s three wins came from the white side.
In the Morelia leg the same year, Anand won again with the colours reversed. In Corus 2008, Anand won with black again, taking a 3-0 head-to-head record. All those wins came between January 2007 and January 2008.
Carlsen was learning the ropes then. He had worked with Anand in the 2007 world championship tournament, but still had no grip of the Indian’s understanding of chess. Three wins in four games (with black pieces) and a 4-0 record came with his win at Morelia 2008. Anand went on to win the tournament and Carlsen came second. The next year, Carlsen struck for the first time reducing the lead to 4-1 when the Indian lost with white at Linares.
Soon, Carlsen started his ascent in ratings. In 2010, the Norwegian had already crossed the 2,800-mark on the Elo scale but he lost another battle to Anand at the London Chess Classic. It was 5-1 in favour of Anand. And in Bilbao the same year, he made it 6-1.
They played out a few draws for almost two years and then in the last 12 months, between Bilbao 2012 and Tal this year, Carlsen managed to narrow Anand’s lead to 6-3.
Curiously, in the other forms of chess such as blitz, rapid and exhibition games Carlsen has a better record against Anand. He has won eight games, lost nine and drawn 16. That is some record considering Anand is the master of rapid and blitz chess.
Well, this equation would surface only if the match goes into the tie-breakers. Even then, Anand would maintain that the mini-match there would start at 0-0. After all, the moves and not the numbers, make up wins in a game of chess.