So what will be the 2013 World Chess Championships come down to? Two things, if you believe former Women’s World Champion Susan Polgar – chess and nerves!
Few are more qualified to comment on the match than Polgar, who has interacted closely with both Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen. “I know both very well and they are great players. They may be a little nervous before the match. But when game time comes, they will be fully ready and completely focused. In my opinion, both have a lot to lose because no one wants to be on the short end of a World Championship match,” the five-time Chess Olympiad champion told TNIE in an exclusive interview.
Having played Anand numerous times when they were both younger, Polgar is witness to how the reigning champion has evolved from aggressive blitz-kid to a more all-round player. “I played in many tournaments with Anand when we were younger. It was incredible to see how fast he used to play at that time. He could dismantle strong GMs in classical games by using less than 30 minutes on his clock. His mind was like a computer. Anand’s style has changed over the years. He was more aggressive when he was young. Now he has evolved to be an all-around player. This directly contributed to his chess success and longevity.”
Anand’s playing style has come under heavy attack from his detractors in recent years, who have branded his title defences ‘boring’. But Polgar is of the opinion that the five-time world champion should pay no heed. “When you play in the World Championship, the only objective is to win and not worry about what others think. If ‘boring’ helped Anand defend his title then he did his job.”
Vladimir Kramnik, Veselin Topalov and Boris Gelfland have all fallen to Anand in recent years, but Carlsen is unlike any he has ever faced. Physical fitness and stamina are qualities rarely attributed to chess players, but Carlsen possesses both in abundance. Polgar, now a coach at Webster University in St Louis, recently had the chance to observe the Norwegian at close quarters when he visited the university in September, while competing in the Sinquefield Cup.
“When Magnus was recently in St Louis, he came to Webster University three times on his off days. He spent hours playing soccer, basketball, and tennis. I was amazed to see firsthand how athletic he is and how much energy he has.”
So what will it take to find a way past the World No 1? “If Anand wants to beat Carlsen, he has to be able to exploit his opponent’s weaknesses, just as in any other match in the past. It is up to each player and his team to figure out what works best. Every game and every match is different.”
Carlsen has been touted as heavy favourite going into the match, but Polgar does not want to take sides. But she has no doubt that both players, when they do decide to retire, will be rated as all-time greats. “Their careers are not over yet so it is hard to rate either of the player at the moment. But I have no doubt that both their names will be near the top, perhaps even at the top, by the time they are done with chess.”
Polgar believes that while the match will not have the same importance as the famous 1972 Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky duel, it will no doubt be as popular. And if she did not have enough reasons to look forward to the match, it will also represent yet another personal landmark for her. “I will be doing commentary with IM Lawrence Trent. I am told that I am the first woman to handle the official commentary duty for the World Championship. It is a big honour and I am looking to it.”