The ‘seconds’ for World champion Viswanathan Anand and World No 1 Magnus Carlsen of Norway due to meet in Chennai in World chess championship 2013 next month are the best kept secrets by the respective teams.
Team Anand has been broken up ever since Magnus Carlsen has risen to be his challenger because the World champion immediately lost one of his trusted seconds, Peter-Heine Nielsen.
The Dane, who had worked with Anand for almost a decade, withdrew from Anand’s camp because of a conflict of interests as he was in Team Carlsen for the Norwegian’s Candidates matches in January.
Team Anand has also reportedly lost Radoslaw Wojtasek, the Polish Grandmaster though there is no official confirmation for this. Rustam Kasimdzhanov is also a doubtful starter as the Uzbek GM had taken a break as confirmed by Anand’s wife and manager Aruna two years ago.
“During my work with Anand our relations were kind of intense. But after the match we came to a decision to have a sort of rest from each other. Maybe Anand needed rest from my company even more than me,” Kasimdzhanov had said two years ago.
This leaves Anand’s camp with a clear second, Indian GM Surya Sekhar Ganguly. Which means the World champion’s team will look different for the first time in five years since he played Vladimir Kramnik of Russia in the World championship in 2008.
‘Seconds’ in chess are basically players of Grandmaster strength with expertise in certain areas like openings or deep understanding in some variations. They pore over games, act as sparring partners and assess the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.
They are not really coaches because they don’t have anything to teach as their name suggests: they are only seconds, the first is their master, the man who they work for, their employer. They get paid for their job either by way of commission from the prize money of the player or a fixed amount agreed upon between them and the player.
The seconds became such a strong component in World championship since the Garry Kasparov-Anatoly Karpov matches in the 1980s. Kasparov’s team of seconds was vast and varied with theoreticians drawn from different parts of the then Soviet Union. They were mostly International Masters with one-dimensional knowledge in certain openings and the World champion was adept at combining the skills of the members of the team for his preparation.
Seconds work hard during matches, without sleep and mostly away from the venue. As Anand said after beating Kramnik, Veselin Topalov and Boris Gelfand in the last five years. “They (his seconds) were working when I was sleeping, and they slept when I played.”
Their work is something between that of a coach and secretary. They look at variations of a game played in the match as soon as it is played by the opponent, churning of past games, analyses and possibilities. Yet, the final call is by the player himself and he would not normally discuss this with the seconds.
The seconds leaking information to the opposition is a one-off incident. Evgeny Vladimirov, who was in Team Kasparov, allegedly passed on information to Team Karpov during a crucial time of the Seville match in 1987 and was asked to leave. Vladimirov was a regular visitor to India in the 1990s for tournaments and even took up personal coaching assignments for young Indian talents.
Anand is the most successful World champion after Kasparov and his success is mostly credited to the team of seconds he had, probably the most influential after the Russian World champion’s.
There is already rumour that Kolkata Grandmaster Sandipan Chanda has started working with Anand. Chanda’s style is somewhat similar to Carlsen’s and this must have prompted the defending World champion to add the Indian to his team.
There were also reports during the Tal Memorial tournament earlier this year that Anand was talking to Italian Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana frequently. Caruana is almost Anand’s strength and may not act as his second but it is possible that he could have offered his help to the Indian.
In modern chess preparation, the second need not be always with him and can be even away sitting at a remote location helping the player through Skype.
This was exactly what happened during Anand’s match against Veselin Topalov in 2010 when Garry Kasparov, Magnus Carlsen, Vladimir Kramnik and Anish Giri helped the Indian. The details of the ‘help’ were disclosed by Anand after his match against Topalov.
Anand might also get the help of Anish Giri, the Dutch strong GM with Indian connections, against Carlsen, though for confirmation we need to wait till the end.
Carlsen’s team is equally unknown. Garry Kasparov, who had worked with Carlsen during his rise to World no 1 four years ago, had openly offered to help the Norwegian against Anand. Carlsen has not accepted the offer, according to reports but if it is not true, it is bad news for the Indian.