'Carlsen will be ridiculously difficult to play against'

SP
Fourteen breathless rounds of chess at the Candidates tournament in London, were not enough to split Magnus Carlsen and Vladimir Kramnik. It was finally down to the second tie-break rule (more number of wins) that resolved the issue in Carlsen's favour and the Norwegian will now challenge Viswanathan Anand for the World Championship this November. Anand speaks to The Indian Express about the drama at London, the challenge of facing the World No. 1 in a Championship match and having to re-shape his chess to compete with the younger generation.

Did you find yourself caught up in the excitement of the Candidates tournament, staying up late following the games?

Yeah, very much. It has been maybe the best ever Candidates tournament in history. At least I wasn't there during the ones in the 60s. During those days you couldn't follow it live. We can't compare different eras. But still, by any yardstick the unpredictability, the fact that anything could have happened till the last day, till the last hour in fact, makes this simply an unbelievable tournament.

I managed to catch most of the games. I didn't need to stay up late because most had ended by midnight and I was able to go to sleep. Depended also on whether the results were known. I didn't catch Vlady (Kramnik) resigning, but I knew he was going to. The position was that hopeless and I knew (Vassily) Ivanchuk was not going to spoil that . For the first three or four days I began to think, 'wow am I going to play (Levon) Aronian?' not in the sense of making plans but in your mind wandering kind of way. Then very firmly, Magnus (Carlsen) got a grip on the tournament, and it looked settled until the amazing 12th round when Kramnik won and Magnus lost. When I went to sleep I thought Magnus has saved it. That was one day I had missed this twist. When I woke up I read the headline: 'Kramnik takes the lead' and I thought it was impossible. Then I realised Magnus had actually lost the game. So many twists and turns and it kept everybody on the edge of their seats.

Kramnik losing out on the tie-break rule was quite tragic.

At the moment I feel unbelievably sympathetic towards Vlady. It was not like I was rooting for him as my opponent, but by round 13 I felt he was the one who deserved to win and his chess had impressed me the most. He had really changed his chess and style for the event. Magnus was doing what he always does and being very good at it. He is simply an unbelievable player. But Vlady was doing unbelievable stuff on the board, coming up every day with new ideas, playing brilliantly. He is in the 30s and he has been the most successful in fighting this...Younger players tend to have more energy...And I felt some sympathy, almost like a brother from my generation kind of a thing. The fact that with the tiebreak rules, he had to play outside of his comfort zone. He was so much in control in the first 13 games and in the 14th you can only understand the context, that he had to take unreasonable risks. The tragedy of the tournament is in some sense Kramnik, not that Magnus didn't deserve to win, but if Vlady had pulled it off, he would have proven something.

Would it have been better to decide the tournament with match play between the tied players, or maybe rapid games instead of a tie-break rule?

Both of them were very distracted yesterday (Monday), not just playing their own games but playing the other one too. It's not the ideal way to play chess. Even if Vlady was half a point behind, they still would have had to do that, look nervously at each other, but I do feel it's crazy that two people tied on the same score and it is decided by something which is essentially a lottery. Sometimes it happens. Before a tournament starts you don't split hairs on a minor detail while getting ready for it. You could see maybe why nobody paid attention to it, but it turned out to be crucial.. My point is not that it is unfair, it was perfectly fair once everyone knew it in advance. My point is that it is not ideal. That's the distinction I want to make. It felt a bit silly, in the end getting decided by the number of wins.

Gratifying to know that pressure could get to somebody like Carlsen as well?

He is human as well. That is clear. Yesterday, I really felt for the participants, both Magnus and Vlady. Both of them had played incredibly well and it happens sometimes that there is room only for one guy. Something that maybe I will think of three months down the line, or in the next cycle.

You said Kramnik has succeeded in changing his game to compete against the younger generation. Could the same be said of you as well?

It is no secret that I have struggled a bit in the last two years, and I've not been as successful doing it as Vlady. I am trying very hard, and this year the results have been a bit more positive and I feel at least that I'm back on the right track and though I haven't equalled those guys, but we are all trying to change and keep up with Magnus and Levon, who are huge talents.

Are labels like 'favourites' used with any meaning only by fans or do people on the inside consider things along those terms too? Is there a favourite going into the match?

I think that's what makes sport interesting. Before a tournament starts, you try to predict the result in a sense, and see if reality matches it. I have to say that most people who look at the two of us will conclude that Magnus is the outright favourite. I'm cool with that. It doesn't really worry me. I'm fully aware of the magnitude of the task facing me, and Magnus' rank and rating speak for themselves. Having said that I don't feel any obligation to follow the predictions. That's what we are playing the match for. To have a chance to write our own script.

How different will this be from your previous WCC matches?

Firstly, he is not from my generation. There is a difference in age and outlook. When I played Kramnik, Topalov and Gelfand, I read them in a certain way. And even then, I thought that if I end up playing Vlady this time, it would be a different Vlady from the one I played before. He (Carlsen) is from a different generation and Carlsen is also one of the most talented players from any generation. He will be ridiculously difficult to play against, yeah.

Is the venue for the final just an incidental detail?

To some extent it is. Once it is announced you just get ready to play there. I am more focussed on getting my stock in order. Getting to know what I am going to play, my approach against him. If it's India then I will have to take into account the pressure and things like that, but for most part you just get on with the chess.

Agon is attempting to introduce biometrics into chess in an attempt to make it interactive. Would you be OK with getting wired-up for the final?

I am somewhat indifferent to be honest. Usually before tournaments I am just focussed on the game. If it works, I will go for it, but I don't have an opinion on it. For a World Championship, I would like to think about it. If there are some trials and we can use the feedback, we will probably give it a think.

The stretch that leads up to the WCC has you playing tournaments, a few where you could face Carlsen. How difficult is that?

I am used to it. You are juggling stuff, but when you are playing the tournament, you are playing it. Occasionally you use tournaments to test things out. The best way to play a WC match is to play the tournaments well. You have to build up your confidence. You want to go there in a positive frame of mind. Two to three months before the match you stop everything else.

The final is being viewed as a generational shift, passing of the baton. Do you think of it that way?

It's there in the back of your head somewhere, but once the match starts you tend to focus on making good moves than worry about what you are representing or what it is supposed to be about.

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