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    Tuesday
    Oct222013

    "Anand-Carlsen Bigger Than Spassky-Fischer"?

    This claim, which is also the headline of this article (HT: Jaideep Unudurti), initially struck me as utter poppycock. The 1972 match between world champion Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union and Bobby Fischer of the U.S.A. involved the world's two super-powers, nations that were not only significant in their own right but as the representatives of two very different and radically opposed political systems. India is an up-and-coming (and extremely populous) nation and Norway is a beautiful and prosperous country, but neither plays the sort of role that the USSR or the USA did.

    What about the players? Viswanathan Anand strikes me as a more impressive version of Boris Spassky. Both are gentleman and fantastic players in their own right, both were world junior champions and both took a bit longer to become champion than their immense talent and great early results led people to expect. Anand's results and longevity are greater than Spassky's, though on the other hand Spassky's dominance from 1965 to 1970 may represent a longer stretch at the top than Anand's.*

    As for Bobby Fischer and Magnus Carlsen, both were dominant players. The distance between Fischer and world #2 Spassky was colossal - 125 points! Carlsen is "only" 69 points higher-rated than world #2 Levon Aronian and 95 points higher than Anand. ("Ouch!" for the champion in any case.) On the other hand, Carlsen has achieved this match and his dominance at an earlier age than Fischer did. Still, Fischer was a far more charismatic and enigmatic figure than Carlsen. Carlsen comes across as a normal, well-adjusted individual, and I suspect that what non-chessplaying people remember most about Carlsen after seeing some program about him is that he is called the "Mozart of chess". (That label was bestowed on him in 2004 by Lubosh Kavalek, and is to me even more cringeworthy** than Hans Kmoch's calling Fischer's 1956 win over Donald Byrne the "Game of the Century".) Further, while Carlsen has received strong coaching every step of the way, Fischer was largely (not entirely) a self-made player. Both are fantastic players with staggering amounts of talent and drive, who made the most of their gifts, but in terms of their "notoriety quotients" Carlsen barely registers as a blip compared to Fischer. (That's not necessarily a bad thing!)

    So, as I said, I was inclined to dismiss the organizer's remark as near-nonsense, as a bit of self-serving and self-congratulatory propaganda, and wasn't going to post. But I recognize that my thoughts about this are very likely influenced to some degree by the fact that I live in (what was) Fischer's country, the United States of America. So I ask my European and South Asian friends and readers, especially those who go back to the Fischer era or at least know those who lived through it, to tell me how things seem in your neck of the woods. Could it really be that the upcoming Anand-Carlsen match is making a bigger splash than Spassky-Fischer in 1972 - particularly in the broader culture?

     

    * (Yes, I'm aware that Spassky was world champion from 1969-1972.)

    ** Kavalek came up with that moniker to meet a deadline, Carlsen himself apparently didn't and maybe still doesn't care for it very much, and the game that inspired Kavalek (Carlsen-Ernst, Wijk aan Zee 2004) was already worked out by Carlsen beforehand, if I remember correctly.

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    Reader Comments (25)

    Not at all.

    October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSergi

    "Could it really be ...."
    I don't think so. That hadn't so much to do with the Cold War though as with the Soviet domination in chess since 1945 and the media loving Fischer not only as the David taking up the Soviet-Goliath but also as the stereotypal chess mad man (compare this movie:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078211/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_83

    which within its stereotypal framework was excellent).
    So there were a lot of stories around the 1972 match. I doubt that will happen around Anand-Carlsen.

    October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMNb

    I think there's no denying that it's a more dramatic match than the previous. It stages what I think many see as a contest between the generations of the players, between youth and age, and between Europe and India. But all matches have a significance beyond their immediate consequence, don't they? I think this is very exciting and (if it is not a rout one way or the other) will be deeply significant for the course of the state of the sport in the world. However, Fischer/Spassky had a great deal of significance in the history of chess, politics, and culture that I don't see how this can match.

    And I don't think that's because I'm an American!

    October 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrdavis

    One of the clearest contrasts between these two matches is the path of the challenger to the title match. While Fischer had the most dominant performance in the history of candidates matches, Carlsen qualified by the narrowest of margins.

    Another contrast is that Fischer had never won against Spassky before the championship but Carlsen has had an overall upper hand against Anand in their encounters of last 2 years.

    A third difference is that unlike Fischer vs Spassky this is a cross-generational match up with Anand being almost twice the age of Carlsen.

    October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBara

    You can't compare that match with Spassky-Fischer in 1972. At that time nearly everybody in Germany knew of that match, especially because every newspaper printed the games,. It was unseen before that a chess-diagram appeared on one of the front pages.

    October 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGerhard

    Not even close. Completely disregarding the personalities, histories and skill levels of the players, this match is missing the whole "The West vs the dominant Soviet empire" angle that we had in 1972 and to a lesser (but certainly with more crazy) extent in 1978.

    October 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKasper H

    In terms of the quality of the two combatants, its hard to go past Karpov-Kasparov. The top two players of all time, in my opinion (and Jeff Sonas!)

    However, Anand-Carlsen has to at least approach the Spassky-Fisher contest in terms of the contrast between the two players. The Cold War battle had more drama, but the upcoming battle is fascinating from an intergenerational point of view. For years there have been a generation of players of a similar age who have dominated world chess (Anand, Gelfand, Kramnik, Topolov have monopolised the world championship contests). There have been a rising cadre of the young generation (Carlsen, Caruana, Karjakin, etc) for some time and finally we have a contest between arguably the best of the old and the best of the young.

    Should be fascinating. Although its hard to see Carlsen losing. The guy knows how to win.

    October 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

    Speaking from Britain this comparison is nonsense of course. The Cold War battle in Iceland was big news and was also referenced for many years after here, and was instrumental in sparking the development of British chess.

    Nothing wrong with talking up the match in India though - chess needs all the publicity it can get, and of course it is big news in India where sports stars are worshipped - but I wouldn't put Anand on the same stage as Sachin Tendulkar. I think though that if Anand was a younger star like Carlsen the interest would be genuinely much higher.

    October 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarc

    Australia: haha No friggin way. No-one's even heard of it. Or of Anand. I guess I'd have to ask thousands of people in the street before finding one who's heard of MC, maybe more. Fischer-Spassky is remembered, a vaguely household name, although mostly that's Fischer. But then the Match hasn't started yet.
    Maybe a bit of Delhi belly will liven things up? 2 days emergency break seems nowhere near long enough.

    October 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteradam p

    Another interesting thing is that Spassky was the more naturally talented of the two players (and even eschewed some preparation by his seconds during the match), whereas this time around Anand is the one known for prep and Carlsen for natural talent.

    [DM: Those claims about natural talent are certainly debatable, but there's no argument that Fischer worked harder at the game than Spassky (and maybe than anyone else in history) while Anand is more known for prep than Carlsen at this point. (Possibly wrongly. Anand's prep generally takes a more forcing direction and as such becomes more obviously preparation.)]

    October 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersorenzo

    Well, having now read the article.. :-) It seems more arguable. The claim in the piece is "I think Anand-Carlsen is the most anticipated chess showdown ever, bigger than even Spassky-Fischer.” OK, probably is a fact that he thinks it. Maybe there are more chess fans now. (There probably would be a lot more if Fischer hadn't retired!) I don't know how big a news story F-S was BEFORE the match started, or before the drama in Iceland began at least. But still..

    October 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteradam p

    The Fischer-Spassky match had its effect on India as well. But I guess it depends on where you are. In India this match has the potential of taking chess to the next level (and chess IS already very popular). There could be overspill effects all around south Asia as well.
    And when you consider that India's population alone is 1.3 billion - and more than 50% of this population is below 25, yes the match could have greater significance. It could mean a massive new influx of both talent and audience, not to mention sponsorships and money.
    In crude terms, the "centre of gravity" of the world has been slowly shifting to China (and the "East") these last decades, so chess too perhaps needs to follow this trend.

    [DM: "Needs" to? If it happens, it will happen of its own accord, unless you're suggesting that Carlsen and other top GMs outside of India and China retire for the sake of the zeitgeist as you perceive it or move to one of those countries. :)]

    October 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJaideepblue

    Hi Dennis,
    thanks for an inspiring article and background on Fischer-Spassky vs Anand - Carlsen. I am a bit too young to compare the upcoming match with Fischer-Spassky, but from my own excitement I would say that Anand - Carlsen is a big fight and a hot one, too, but it cannot the emotional heights that the Reykjavik match did and triggered. Hardly!
    Still, many people in Germany are pretty interested, but it´s hard to tell who will have the bigger number of supporters, Carlsen or Anand. Still, a good match for the title, definitely!

    Best regards from Bremen

    Tiger-Oli

    October 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTiger-Oli

    About the only real point of similarity is that Anand is, as Spassky was, on the downslope of his career, while the younger Carlsen is at the height of his powers. In all other respects the differences are great. The notoriety isn't there, the political subtext isn't there, and there's this as well: Fischer earned his chance against Spassky after a complete demolition of his opposition, while Carlsen earned his chance after a hard fight he almost lost. He might be tremendously strong but he doesn't have quite the air of unstoppability about him that Fischer had.

    I think there's one thing we can be reasonably certain about: Should Carlsen win, he won't just quit chess as if it were a child's toy carelessly flung into a closet to be forgotten.

    October 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermonoceros4

    It is of course a self-serving part of the sponsoringl circus to have the match announced the match as the
    "biggest", whatever that would mean since... chess was invented, or whatever.

    I find several annoying silent implications in the article. For instance,

    >Many feared that the eccentric demands that Fischer made before the
    > much-touted ‘match of the century’ in 1972 would be repeated by
    >Carlsen in Chennai, but Chauhan says that he found the Norwegian
    > ace to be a much more pleasant version of what he had expected.

    What is this supposed to mean -- who are these many, on what ground
    would they predict eccentric demands on par with Fischer from Carlsen,
    and what "version" had Chauhan really expected?

    As far as I can tell, Carlsen's most unusual requirements seem to concern
    raisins and orange juice. Actually, excepting his chess, which I really
    appreciate, I find him utterly non-eccentric, on the verge of bland.

    October 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDarkHelmet

    There's no comparison between the two matches. Even non-chess players of a certain age know of Bobby Fischer while neither Anand nor Carlsen have that kind of notoriety. In their respective countries or regions, I'm sure they are both popular but as far as significance in world culture there can be no comparison. The Cold War was the dominant aspect of international relations at the time and Fischer represented the US/West while Spassky represented the USSR/Soviet Bloc.

    Bobby Fischer did more to popularize chess in the US, and probably worldwide, than any other player. In my opinion, he also did more to damage its popularity by disappearing from not only chess but the world after he won the World Championship. The opportunity to take chess to another level in the West was lost when he abandoned the game and became a recluse. I'm not blaming him as it appears that he had his own demons to fight and he was obviously not able to bear that responsibility. It was simply a lost opportunity for the game to benefit.

    October 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNeal Bonrud

    Let me try to provide an 'Indian' viewpoint (with the caveat that I haven't lived in the US for last ~15 years). Indians are generally not chess knowledgeable. General public probably doesnt even know about Fischer / Spassky. They may know about Anand playing some match but they dont know against who (or that it is a WCC). The chess playing Indians I believe think that the Kasparov / Karpov fight was more epic than any other WCC (including those that Anand has been a part of). But as the match starts it will get more coverage in the national media and maybe shown live on TV (?). One thing for sure is that there are significantly higher numbers of chess players (both serious players and casual players) in India today than 20-30 (or even 10 years) ago. So there will be lots of hype and attention since Anand is involved. I expect that by the end of the match (and the coverage during it) Anand - Carlsen will be much bigger in India than Fischer / Spassky for sure, and probably (if Anand wins) bigger (i.e. in terms of image/ memorableness etc.) than Kasparov / Karpov.


    Btw, I think Fischer's appeal is much more in the US (and maybe soviet countries) than in the rest of the world.

    In response to monoceros4's comment "Should Carlsen win, he won't just quit chess as if it were a child's toy carelessly flung into a closet to be forgotten." Two years ago, (i.e. in 2011), I was willing to lay even odds that Carlsen will quit chess in 6 years (i.e. by 2017) (or that Carlsen would quit chess before Anand would). I would not make that bet today; I sense much more commitment by him to Chess.

    October 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMK

    I don't think spassky was on the downslope of his carreer when he met Fischer 1972. There was to much at stake so he couldnt show his best..

    [DM: It seems pretty clear from the reports of that time as well as afterwards that he had lost his drive when he won the title. (See the book The Russians vs. Fischer That doesn't mean that his peak potential had passed, only that he didn't have the drive to maintain/achieve it. Another source on the topic - Karpov has said these sorts of things in many places: http://www.anatolykarpovchessschool.org/home/karpovinterviews.html.]

    October 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGerhard

    In 1972 almost everyone knew the name Spassky or Fischer ( in fact I think more people knew the more memorable name Spassky)

    I love chess and am real looking forward to Anand Carlsen but hardly any non chessplayers outside of India have heard of Anand.

    October 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTrue Chess Fan

    Read any Indian papers online and you will quickly realize that the Indian press has (by US standards) a very hyperbolic style. If GM A squeezes out a 80-move pawn ending over GM B, they will happily report that A "thrashed" B, or if that's already been used, A "crushed" B, etc.

    So you really need a "cultural translator" to interpret Indian articles through US eyes. Saying it's bigger than Fischer-Spassky is just saying ... "yeah, it's pretty big, at least for local chess fans."

    October 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAshish

    I don't think there is much comparison. The Fischer-Spassky match was immense in the U.S. and Soviet Union, of course, but it was also very widely followed across much of the rest of the world. I don't think any match could be as big as that one, just because of the cold war trappings. I don't think many people outside the chess world even know or care that this match is about to begin.

    October 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMikeO

    Since you were asking for opinions from our neck of the woods, well this is from the Philippines. No, I don't think the current match can compare to Fischer Spassky. In the Philippines, and all over the world, the match was front page news and the names of Fischer and Spassky were on everyone's tongue. Fischer was so much more charismatic and loomed as a bigger than life figure in the mind of the international public. Today many many people will ask you "Who?" if you mention Carlsen to someone who is not into chess. However, in fairness to the Indian organizers and promoters of the match, Anand looms like a huge hero to the Indian public, just like Pacquiao in boxing does to the Philippine public. World class athletes like Anand are national heroes in their own countries. It is very likely that Anand versus Carlsen is much bigger than Fischer Spassky in the minds of the Indian public. So the organizer of the match gave a correct statement to an Indian newspaper in all likelihood.

    October 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpeacefulblue

    Might I also add a little known fact that the young Viswanathan Anand first started playing serious tournament chess as a junior here in the Philippines, when his father worked as a consultant for the railroads :-) The Philippine chess craze really boomed with the Fischer Spassky match, and eventually produced Asia's first Grandmaster, Eugene Torre. So the Fischer Spassky match still affected this match since it helped produce even indirectly a great player like Viswanathan Anand in its wake.

    [DM: I knew about Anand, though I thought that it was the Baguio City match between Karpov and Korchnoi that was at least as responsible for the chess boom that included the young Anand.]

    October 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpeacefulblue

    During the Spassky-Fischer match, the Austrian early morning news on the radio gave the positions that had been adjourned in Iceland the day before,.
    I cannot imagine anything even vaguely comparable happening in Anand-Carlsen.

    October 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercmling

    The headline is a quotation from the statement of AICF secretary, Chauhan. And his statement was made for rhetorical effect. So it is not near-nonsense, and not self-congratulatory, but definitely self-serving - but also, in the larger context, I hope serving the cause of chess not only in India but elsewhere.

    When Spassky-Fischer was being played, I was growing up in India - and we followed the games in the newspapers, and were all excited. In my family all of us played chess - many of us not very well - but we were steeped in its history. My brother - who had the potential to become a strong player, but did not pursue it - and I would have opinionated arguments about the best player in history and pull out books to prove the point. So no, Anand-Carlsen will not be "bigger" than Spassky-Fischer, but it will perhaps be equally important.

    First, there is very little politics. In the Candidates, one of the commentators tried to bait Carlsen asking him about his role as the "Western" champion against players from the former Soviet - and he immediately and with emphasis replied that there was "no story" there. This is good. We can focus on the games.

    Second, this match will secure the stature of the World Chess Championship. It has always been the case that the Champion has advantages (Alekhine never offered Capablanca a return match) and if one thinks about this carefully, it adds to the excitement. If 99% of the people are 99% sure that Carlsen will win, then let us see that on the board. If that happens, most of us who are rooting for Anand will nonetheless be happy so long as the match is well fought. In the wings are a number of brilliant young players, quite ready to challenge Carlsen, or Anand.

    As an added comment, I hope Kasparov keeps himself and his ego out of the chess world. Unfortunately, and this is politics again and not chess, he seems to have the support of various factions.

    October 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRS

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