Carlsen v. Anand – The King is dead, Long Live the King

Carlsen Anand chess matchI’m a chess player so recent events in the world of chess have captured my attention. Perhaps most of the people who read my blog will be less interested. The World Chess Championship between former champion Viswanathan Anand and the  new champion Magnus Carlsen just completed and it was an interesting match for a number of reasons that go beyond the world of chess.

Carlsen is the epitome of the young challenger while Anand filled the role of the aging champion of diminishing skills. Age is a factor in all sports including chess which is physically as well as mentally demanding. It is not easy to keep your focus during the entirety of a six-hour chess match. One moment of exhaustion can lead to a miscalculation and at the level of chess that Anand and Carlsen play this mistake is the difference between victory and defeat.

Going into the match Carlsen was the huge favorite. Not only is he twenty-plus years younger than Anand, 22/43, but he has also been the best chess player in the world for the last few years. His tournament play has him ranked first in the world and his rating is the highest in the history of chess. Anand, as he has grown older, has seen his play slip and is currently ranked 8th in the world.

The final score of the match was 6.5/3.5 with Carlsen winning three of the ten games played and the other seven ending in draws. The format was for a twelve-game match but the player who scores 6.5 achieves an unassailable position and Carlsen managed this after the tenth game, thus ending the match.

What I really love about a match of this nature, and of sport in general, is the competition between equals. Here we have two players, competing directly against one another, and one proves to be better than the other. There are no excuses, no controversies, no blown calls, no charges of cheating, just a pair of competitors doing their best. We can say Carlsen won and Anand lost but the reality is that when we have this sort of competition there are no real losers. The chess world wins, Carlsen ascends to the throne where he will in all likelihood reign for many years, Anand bookends a great career by losing to arguably the two best chess players the world has ever known. Anand lost his first bid at championship to Garry Kasparov who, until Carlsen, had the highest rating in the history of chess.

It’s a great time to be a chess player as well. Computers have opened up new lines of thought and play and there are a bevy of young competitors who will doubtlessly challenge Carlsen in the coming years.

The nature of life is that we have champions, that said victors grow older and make way, reluctantly with fangs bared and claws unsheathed certainly, to the young challengers. This test of fire hardens the new champion. This lesson in life is not just for champions but for each of us. We do our best at everything we try. We play by the rules and sometimes emerge the victor sometimes the defeated.

The only real losers are those who cannot be magnanimous in victory and gracious in defeat. Those who equate victory more highly than sportsmanship and simply doing their best. When we do our best; we have won.

Hail to you Viswanathan Anand, the vanquished champion.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

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