One quotation from the Peter Heine Nielsen interview especially caught my attention:
It seems indeed that the days of big novelties are over...
You may recall the recent news of Garry Kasparov's offering to work with Magnus Carlsen in the latter's forthcoming world championship tilt with Viswanathan Anand. In my post on the subject (and in the comments section too) I suggested that Kasparov's excellence in opening preparation could be a real boon to Carlsen. One commentator objected that when Kasparov strode across the chess world like a colossus, opening preparation was about finding "killing novelties", but that this was no longer the case.
I disagreed there, and with great respect to grandmaster Nielsen, I'll disagree with him as well. (Or at least I think I will. There is a way of interpreting what he said that might make everyone happy. More on that below - though it too recapitulates something I wrote in the comments section of the Kasparov-helping-Carlsen post.) In fact, not only do I disagree, but I disagree in a state of perplexity, as Anand not only was but continues to be a player who shows "big", "killing" novelties on a regular basis. It was with such novelties that he won his match against Vladimir Kramnik, and in case that or some other examples are dismissed as being too long ago, how can we forget his brilliant massacre of Levon Aronian in Wijk aan Zee earlier this year? At a certain point Anand needed to reconstruct his analysis and then overcome a final tactical hurdle, but the fundamental work was simply preparation - glorious, huge, murderous preparation.
Nor is it only Anand among top players whose preparation is concrete, deep, and highly ambitious. One of the most remarkable games played this year was Sergey Karjakin's win in Zug over Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, featuring the absolutely stunning novelty 16.Nxh6+. Sacrifices of that sort aren't so remarkable when White gets a second pawn for the piece and has half his army in front of the black king, but nothing of the sort occurs in this game. White gets just one pawn and some of the slowest-looking compensation you've ever seen associated with a sac of this sort. And yet it is sound and was most certainly preparation.
There have been some other games from the ongoing super-tournaments featuring similarly deep preparation. Perhaps in those games the novelties weren't "killing" because both players had done their homework equally well, but this had nothing to do with players going for a "low-theory" approach aiming for nothing more than a playable position.
So I respectfully disagree with Nielsen's remark (as well as the similar comment to my earlier post). But there is perhaps a way of splitting the difference. As long as there are diligent chess players, there will be big novelties, and while some of them will be neutralized by their equally diligent opponents some will show forth in all their intellectual and aesthetic splendor. It's consistent with acknowledging this to also think that an increasing percentage of the chess world will bow out of that hunt, preferring instead to find positions where one must simply play, and cannot just draw (or win) by successfully recalling and demonstrating their homework. I'm not really sure that this is right, or at least that the shift represents a sea change rather than a slight tendency headed by players like Carlsen, but it could be. Nielsen is a player who works in that rarified air, and it's very reasonable to think that he would be alert and sensitive to such trends.
To some extent, I expect the world championship this fall to be a battle between those two visions. If Anand can impose opening problems where concrete computer preparation is practically necessary to stay alive with Black or to have any hopes of an advantage with White, then I think he'll have excellent chances to retain his title if he's in good playing form. On the other hand, if Carlsen can impose this "new" chess on Anand, where big novelties play no role and one must simply solve smaller but non-standard problems at the board, then I think he's a serious favorite.