Anand and Kramnik or Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Anand and Kramnik

In the chess world, which I enjoy although about which I’m aware my loyal fans are somewhat less enthusiastic, there is an interesting dichotomy in the behavior of two former world champions, Vladimir Kramnik and Viswanathan Anand. Anand is still playing top level chess while Kramnik decided to give up competitive chess. Whose decision is right and whose is wrong?

It is certain one must be a good decision while the other is bad because they are in opposition to each other. Is it proper to continue to play chess competitively when you were once world champion but have little or no chance of once against ascending those dizzying heights? Kramnik is five years younger than Anand but decided he’d had enough, while Anand is still playing and doing extremely well at top-level events.

Surely, we must decide one of the two is correct while the other made a terrible mistake. That is our job, after all. It is all but impossible that both adults are capable of making the best decision about their own life and that I shouldn’t be telling them how to go about living.

It’s impossible that Anand enjoys playing chess and feels he is a role-model for the many young Indian players who are making their presence known with some great chess. Therefore, the best decision for him was to keep playing the game he loves. No, I must inform him that his once greatness is gone and now, he must retire to save his dignity.

It is likewise quite clear that Kramnik, younger than Anand, still has some great chess in him. That just because he doesn’t enjoy playing as much and wants to pursue other avenues in his life is no reason to quit so young. I am just the person to tell him how to go about leading his life.

It’s impossible for mentally capable adults to make better decisions about their life than I can make for them. Frankly, I think the governments of India and Russia should interject themselves into this matter and pass a law forcing Anand to quit and Kramnik to return to the game. Or, wait, forcing them both to quit, or no, forcing them both to keep playing. Or something. We need government oversight; we need other people telling us how to lead our lives. Yes! I’m outraged at one of them, I’m not sure which, but there is wrongness here and it must be addressed! Who better to do it than me? Than the government?

Tom Liberman

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