The majority of chess commentators seem to be figuring that Magnus Carlsen will defeat Viswanathan Anand and win the World Championship in his first attempt. This is likely do to the fact that, lately, Carlsen has been playing better chess than the current World Champion. Certainly, the challenger has proven that he is capable of playing chess at the level of a world chess champion and Magnus is the current “number one.” However, the smart money will be placed on Viswanathan Anand to retain his title. Here’s why:
Home Field Advantage
The match will take place in Chennai, India. When FIDE announced that the match would be in Anand’s home country, I felt this gave the current World Champion a decisive advantage. In fact, FIDE could not have selected a more advantageous location for Anand than his home town. The young Norwegian will be more distracted in India and his team will need to work hard to keep him comfortable in such an exotic location. Magnus Carlsen is used to performing under pressure but being completely surrounded by Anand’s fans will certainly make even the toughest competitor feel uneasy.
Too much is being made of Magnus Carlsen being rated number one in the world. Magnus’ rating proves that he is the future of chess but he has acquired his number one ranking through tournament play. Anand has played very poorly in tounaments since becoming World Champion for reasons that are easy to explain. Tournaments to Anand are a necessary distraction from competing in world championship matches. Anand’s priority number one is retaining his world title. Viswanathan rarely plays any of his critical innovations when it does not help him win a World Championship. Because he employs a weaker version of himself during the vast majority of his rated games, Anand’s rating does not accurately reflect his true strength
Many see this match as the chance for chess to move completely into the twenty-first century. Indeed, if the “Mozart of Chess” manages to dethrone the old champion he will be the king of chess. While no one will dispute that being young is incredibly advantageous in chess, it is also common knowledge that young chess players also perform more inconsistently. If Magnus plays his best chess, he has a reasonable chance of winning the match. However, we can be sure that Viswanathan Anand will be in top form and will bring the consistency of a seasoned pro to every game. I believe Anand’s experience and wisdom will more than make up for Magnus Carlsen’s youthful energy.
As stated above, Anand is unbelievably good at match play. Magnus Carlsen has limited experience in matches and has never felt the pressure of playing for a world championship. Coupled with the aforementioned home field advantage, this should be enough for Anand to take an early lead in the match and then close it out before Magnus ever gets comfortable.
This represents the first time that Anand has had a chance to play a World Championship for “his people.” Anand is a national hero in India and I believe nothing is more important to the future of Indian chess than Anand retaining the World Championship title in Chennai. A failure on his part will be a seen as a failure for Indian chess. FIDE’s gift to India is the chance for their greatest player to establish his name as one of the greatest chess champions ever while playing in his hometown. I believe Anand is acutely aware of what is at stake and will rise to the occasion.
As for Magnus, perhaps failing in his first attempt at winning the World Championship will be the best thing for his chess future. A defeat on chess highest stage will make the “Mozart of Chess” work even harder to ensure it doesn’t happen the second time around. The next time Magnus plays for the World Championship, one can only hope that FIDE chooses a site that is fair for both competitors.