The most anticipated chess match in over a decade begins next week.
On November 9 in Chennai, India, upstart Norwegian chess prodigy Magnus Carlsen will attempt to become the world champion by facing off against Viswanathan Anand over the course of 12 games.
Carlsen gets all the attention because he’s just 22 and even does modelling, but Anand is one of the all-time greats, and is the defending champion.
James Crabtree at FT has a great profile of Anand, and what he’s doing in preparation for the big match. In addition to rigorous practice (he says he does more intense training in one day than he did during his entire training for a world championship match against Kasparov in 1995) there’s also a regular physical fitness routine (running, swimming, etc.).
Particularly fascinating is how Anand describes the impact of computers on human vs. human chess.
Thanks to powerful computers, a player can gain incredible insight into the weaknesses and strengths of a given opening strategy. Thus to combat this, a player must have a varied opening repertoire, and not rely too much on any one line, lest their opponent become too knowledgeable about the possible positions.
He describes the preparation process as akin to plotting an ambush in a giant forest. The terrain is too vast to comprehend in its entirety, he says. “But there are areas that you will know better than your opponent”, and that is where you prepare to attack, aided in your preparation by the most important change to sweep through the game of chess in decades: computers. “The way people play chess nowadays, which is to keep on switching their openings, being much more opportunistic — I think that is a direct result of computers. Even the way people play tournaments — everything has changed.”
Top competitors who once relied on particular styles of play are now forced to mix up their strategies, for fear that powerful analysis engines will be used to reveal fatal weaknesses in favoured openings. The result has in some ways made chess more defensive, increasing the risks of daring, adventurous gambits. But in championship matches, where draws are common and the final result is likely to be decided by just a handful of victories, unexpected approaches become even more prized. “Anything unusual that you can produce has quadruple, quintuple the value, precisely because your opponent is likely to do the predictable stuff, which is on a computer,” Anand says.
Computer chess encourages a variation of strategies, and it encourages approaches that are unusual.
Should be a fascinating match!