The Tiger Has Still Got Game, Does He Know It?

I used to think that Vishwanathan Anand must retire from chess but I feel otherwise now. Having played through a good number of Anand games I feel he is a very strong positional and strategic player who underutilizes that strength of his.  He possibly focusses too much on openings and complex positions which puts him at an distinct disadvantage against young energetic players who are very much at home in deep opening preparation and theory. Chess players tend to mature positionally as they get older. Looking at the great attacking and tactical players in history like Mikhail Tal and Alexander Alekhine and even Capablanca, shows a a solidifying of their chess style with age. They still played great games in their advanced years but the games were more solid positionally and generally the dashing attacks and flair of youth.

Age wise Anand might stand out with the current pack but I still think he is quite young looking at chess history. Look at Botvinnik and the likes of Capablanca. Botvinnik beat one of the greatest attacking players of all time Mikhail Tal at the grand age of 50! When Capablanca died at the age of 53, he was still playing chess. I think relying less on deep opening theory and preparation could free up Anand psychologically as he focusses more on positions and bringing out his understanding of chess. If you look at a good number of Anand’s very recent loses they are showing quite a few blunders or bad moves in critical positions especially against Magnus Carlsen. Critical positions used to be Anand’s forte. What happened? Age happened! Time is  hard taskmaster.  Roger Federer in tennis has shown that it’s still possible to compete at the very highest level by conserving energy in terms of strategy during actual games and matches and being very prudent in drawing up a playing schedule for the year.

Botvinnik won against Tal in the 1961 rematch by playing very solid chess. (On balance though Tal was probably not at full strength because of illness.) They were still playing great chess in their advanced years. Tactically Anand is not as sharp as he used to be but I think he can still cause many players problems with his deep understanding and encyclopaedic knowledge of the game. He needs to shift the batteground. Anand could probably play in tournaments without studying openings, I believe he is that good. Versatile in his openings, now being more rounded in his openings.

If you look at a player like Emmanuel Lasker he was competitive for a very long time. How did he do it? I believe that Lasker continued to play chess on his terms against many strong players. It has been said that he was probably the first player to really understand the impact of psychology on chess players. Lasker would vary his play a great deal depending on the player sometimes deliberately choosing a weaker move because he had carefully weighed that the specific player would not respond in the best fashion against that.

Anand’s hallmark over the years has been his incredible speed and brilliance in the game but that is now possibly a weakness rather than a strength now. Maybe tweaking his game strategy might bring about a change in results. The Tiger may be old but he is still deadly. He has still got game. The question is, can he find it!

Here Shakhriyar Mamedyarov vs Viswanathan Anand from from the World Chess Championship Candidates (2014) · Slav Defense: Modern Line. It was not the best game from Mamedyarov but Anand played with great skill.

Bruce Mubayiwa

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About Bruce Mubayiwa

I am involved in advancing and promoting Chess, Morabaraba, Draughts and other board games and Mathematics in the mining town of Kathu, Northern Cape here in South Africa. I currently coach chess and teach maths at Kathu High on a part time basis. My chess experience involves representing my country Zimbabwe at the Africa Chess Championships in 1996. I am a former National Junior Chess Champion. I won the Lightning chess championship in Zimbabwe in 1997.