‘Harry Potter of Chess’ becomes world champion

White to mate in two moves


Magnus Carlsen, the strongest player in chess history, rated approximately 75 points higher than the second-highest rated player, Levon Aronian, decisively defeated World Champion Vishy Anand by a score of 6 ½ - 3 ½ in a match held in Chennai, India, to become the 16th world chess champion. 

Carlsen won the match on Nov. 25, eight days short of his 23rd birthday. Garry Kasparov, who was only 22 years, six months and 27 days old when he won the world championship from fellow Soviet player Anatoly Karpov in 1985 holds the record as the youngest world champion.

Carlsen has been the top player or close to the top for several years; if he had chosen to compete in the 2010 world championship cycle, he might have been able to become the challenger in 2012, and might have become the youngest world champion in history.

Kasparov, who was still ranked number one in the world when he retired from chess in 2005 (he has since become very active in Russian politics, opposing Vladimir Putin), attended the 2013 match, and described Carlsen, as the “Harry Potter of Chess.”

The Nov. 25 match was surprisingly one-sided: After four draws, Carlsen won the fifth and sixth games in complicated games that Anand might have been able to draw with best play. After two more draws, Anand, desperately needing a victory, played a sharp attacking line in the ninth game, hoping to find a mating attack on the kingside.

Carlsen defended well, and the game should probably have ended in a draw but Anand blundered and lost.  Trailing 6-3, Anand would have had to win all of the three remaining games to tie the match to force a tiebreaker.

In the 10th game,  Anand, playing Black, offered to repeat moves on move 21, which would have enabled Carlsen to obtain a draw and win the match. However, Carlsen, feeling that he had a better position, declined the offer and played for a win, and the game was not drawn until the 65th move, when both players did not have sufficient mating material.

On a personal note, I was somewhat inspired by Carlsen’s action.

Last Sunday, in the last round of the National Chess Congress, my opponent, rated 250 points higher than I, offered me a draw, which, had I accepted, would have enabled me to achieve my long-standing goal of regaining my Expert rating.  However, I believed that I was winning, and rather than accept the draw, kept playing. Unfortunately, I lost.

All of the games from the championship match are readily available on the Internet: I recommend the site, chessvibes.com, but the official match site and the Wikipedia page of “World Chess Championship 2013” have them as well.

Carlsen said, “I would like to take some responsibility for [Anand’s] mistakes, that’s for sure. It’s been that way for me for a long time. I just play and…People crack under pressure, even in World Championships.”

Anand acknowledged, “My mistakes didn’t happen by themselves; clearly, he managed to provoke them.” Anand attributed his loss to his failure to execute his own strategy.

The match was sponsored by the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, at a cost of $6 million, including  prizes of $1.53 million for the winner and $1.02 million for the loser.  The match organizers were given high praise by everyone for the professional way in which the match was conducted.

GM and chess journalist Ian Rogers noted that the state chief minister, Jayalalithaa Jayaram, a former movie star, may be a future candidate for Indian prime minster, and that the sponsorship of a match featuring the Indian national hero Anand may support those ambitions.    

Although his qualification for the world championship match might seem to have been inevitable, Carlsen qualified for the match by narrowly winning a double round-robin tournament against seven of the strongest players in the world, winning the tournament on tiebreaks against former champion Vladimir Kramnik (see “Carlsen Wins Candidates, Will Challenge Anand,” Enterprise, April 4, 2013).

Even before the match, Carlsen was nominated by Time magazine as one of the 100 most powerful people in the world, a rare accolade for a chess player. This year, New in Chess produced a second edition of a 2004 book by Carlsen’s trainer,  International Master  Simen Agdestein: How Magnus Carlsen Became the Youngest Chess Grandmaster in the World.

The book has been highly recommended by the renowned chess teacher Jeremy Silman as an important book for recreational players to learn how to study and improve their game.

Anand was interviewed five days after the end of the match, and acknowledged that he had been completely outplayed. He said that he “could barely move a muscle” for three days after the match.

Although he said that he was not keen to retire, he talked at length about the fact that he would have more time to spend with his young son and said, “Chess will cease to be the thing that completely dominates my thoughts and … now I will be able to enjoy more time with my family, pursue my hobbies, do other things as well… So I think chess will find a new place in my life.”

Nevertheless, Anand, as the just dethroned champion, is automatically seeded into the qualifying cycle for the next world championship match, and he is likely to continue playing for some years. 

Anand’s seven-year reign as World Champion is reminiscent of the 15-year reign of Mikhail Botvinnik, from 1948-1963 (with two interruptions — Fédération internationale des échecs rules permitted Botvinnik to contest and win two rematches, after he had lost his championship to Vassily Smyslov in 1957 and Mikhail Tal in 1960).

Both Botvinnik and Anand, as champions, did not play in very many tournaments, choosing instead to focus their chess energies on the title matches. Such a strategy was more effective for Botvinnik, since there were fewer players of world-championship caliber in the 1950s, and he was not hurt by the lack of top-level competition.

Botvinnik was arguably the strongest player of his time, while Anand, rated 100 points lower than Carlsen, is ranked only ninth in the world today.

This week’s problem

Kenneth Howard’s 1962 book, One Hundred Years of the American Two-Move Chess Problem, characterized  “the ideal American  two-mover [as] an attractively set composition, illustrating an interesting strategic idea, introduced by a subtle keymove.”

By convention, these problems are White to mate in two moves, and the first move is neither a capture, nor a check. Although the possible moves are limited, a good problem is subtle and, after solving it, one appreciates the beauty and artistry of the composer.

The problem below, composed by a postal worker and famous chess composer named Otto Wurzberg, appeared on the cover of the inaugural issue of Chess Review magazine in 1933, which continued to run problems on its cover until 1941.