Streaks of brilliance

22 August 2020

9:00 AM

22 August 2020

9:00 AM

Last week, snooker ace Ronnie O’Sullivan won his sixth World Championship at the age of 44, a full 19 years on from his first title. A few days earlier, he had taken a pop at the younger generation: ‘They’re not that good really… I’ve probably got to lose an arm and a leg to fall outside the top 50!’

You wouldn’t expect the same blunt turn of phrase from Vishy Anand, but in terms of longevity, he’s the obvious counterpart in chess. Almost 25 years have passed since he first challenged Kasparov for the world title. Anand turned 50 last year, and just three years ago added another World Rapid Championship to his collection. Interviewed during the recent online ‘Legends of Chess’ event, Garry Kasparov noted his respect for today’s top players, but struck a critical note: ‘I still can hardly see the same competition that I experienced in the 1990s… While I thought about Ding, maybe Caruana, they don’t show the same kind of class and continuity as Vishy [Anand] or Kramnik…’

I don’t think his criticism was aimed at the absolute level of chess being played, which I suspect has never been higher. It’s more about perceiving an indefinable streak of brilliance in his rivals from the older generation. One can speculate that a chess education without computer assistance at its foundation was a key ingredient for those players, adding a dimension that later players can never fully appreciate. Still, Kasparov seems unduly harsh to Carlsen’s contemporaries. Caruana lost to Carlsen on tiebreak in their 2018 World Championship match, but the classical games were drawn 6-6, so his class is not in doubt. At the time, Caruana was just a year older than Anand was when he lost to Kasparov in 1995. So as for continuity — give the boy a chance!

Was Kasparov just exercising a veteran champion’s prerogative for a bit of nostalgia? Perhaps not. Daniil Dubov, the imaginative young Russian grandmaster who has worked closely with Carlsen, recently gave his own view on what it takes to compete with the world champion, in an interview with R-Sport. ‘If, to put it crudely, you ask me how many people in the world: a) work at least 4-6 hours a day long-term, b) take care of their physical fitness, c) have a strong-willed character, a desire to fight and win, then I’ll surprise you. There are maybe 5-6 people like that in the world — who manage to combine it all. And among those, he’s the best.’

Anand remains a fearsome opponent. Back in May, it was shocking to see a player as tactically sharp as Nepomniachtchi demolished in this miniature.

Viswanathan Anand–Ian Nepomniachtchi
Online Nations Cup, May 2020

1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 d5 4 cxd5 Nxd5 5 Bd2 Bg7 6 e4 Nxc3 7 Bxc3 c5 8 d5 Bxc3+ 9 bxc3 Qd6 10 Qd2 O-O 11 f4 e6 12 Nf3 exd5 13 Bc4 Cleverly exploiting the pinned d-pawn to expedite development. Be6 Posting the knight to c6 was probably wiser. 14 O-O d4? (see diagram) This loses, but even after the more stubborn 14… Rd8 15 f5! dxc4 16 Qh6! Black is in severe difficulties. 15 f5!! Bxc4 15…gxf5 16 Qg5+ Kh8 17 Qf6+ Kg8 18 Ng5 Nd7 19 Qh6 wins. 16 e5 Qd7 17 f6 If 17… Kh8 18 Qh6 Rg8 19 Ng5 forces mate, so Black resigns

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