Peter Heine Nielsen is a strong Danish grandmaster who for years was one of Viswanathan Anand's seconds and is now in the Magnus Carlsen camp. In this article (HT: Nosherwan Minwalla) he takes part of the blame for Anand's decline over the past few years, though the nature of his supposed fault isn't made entirely clear. Was it that he recommended sticking to the status quo (in terms of openings, general approach and/or style, etc.) to such an extent that it led to Anand's stagnating as a player? Ultimately a mature player is responsible for his own results, but Anand can hope to have learned the right lessons over the past year while hoping that whatever it was that Nielsen did wrong, he has done wrong with Carlsen as well.
Entries in Peter Heine Nielsen (4)
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.
Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with Jaideep Unudurti, who not only offers comments here on a regular basis, but is sometimes a featured part of the blog posts themselves. (You might remember his recent adventure playing blitz with Viswanathan Anand, for example.) This is true of this post as well, as we have here an interview with Peter Heine Nielsen, to appear in the May issue of Man's Magazine. Nielsen is a strong Danish grandmaster who worked for many years as one of Anand's seconds, but who recently helped Magnus Carlsen in the Candidates' tournament. Here, with thanks to Jaideep, is the interview (or at least parts of it - I'm not sure if there will be more when it's officially released):
This is the first WC you'll be sitting out after a long time, will you miss the excitement?
I would expect so! but the main difference will more be social actually. We are used to spending really a lot of time together in the team, and thats somehow a more drastic change.
You've seen Carlsen from his formative years, in broad terms how would you characterize him as a chess player?
He is an extremely strong practical player. in London he used all the chances he got, and that was the main difference to his competitors. He is 22, and still not fully developed, so hard to attribute him a specific style yet.
Where do you see the battleground, what type of positions would Magnus like to see on the board, and vice versa, for Anand?
I actually think both players are so all-round, that what they really care about is the quality of their position. Maybe Magnus prefers longer technical games, and Vishy more dynamic positions, but they would both happily take a position in their opponents so-called terrain, if their position is objectively better.
Magnus has his own distinctive low-on-theory approach, is this the wave of the future?
It seems indeed that the days of big novelties are over, and that fits Magnus style well. If this is the future? Well maybe this match will tell!
Kasparov has stated his interest in assisting Carlsen. Will this be a key factor or has too much water flowed under the bridge?
I really think the main battlefield by far will be the actual play, and that preparations, advisers etc. is secondary. Kasparov and Carlsen has worked together on several occasions, with both ups and downs. Kasparov's match experience might actually only be matched by Vishy's, and of course Magnus could greatly benefit from such advice. On the other hand one often has to find ones own individual approach to such a challenge as a WC-match. I think the chess-world can look forward to a very interesting match indeed!
Two of the mainstays of world champion Viswanathan Anand's team of seconds are Peter Heine Nielsen and Rustam Kasimdzhanov. Kasimdzhanov in particular has been a huge help with Anand's work in the Semi-Slav, some of the fruit of which was seen in Anand's great win over Aronian from Wijk aan Zee earlier this year and in his two wins with the black pieces in his 2008 match with Vladimir Kramnik.
Nielsen went over to the Magnus Carlsen camp for the Candidates, however, and has agreed to not represent either player in their forthcoming title tilt, scheduled for this November. And now in a post-game press conference at Zug, Kasimdzhanov has decided to bow out as well. (HT: Jaideep)
I'm sure Anand will find some outstanding analysts to work with in preparation for the match, but there are also the issues of team chemistry and synergy, and it will be a challenge for the champion to overcome the loss of such close and effective long-term seconds. Presumably Surya Ganguly is still on the team, and I think he has worked with Radoslaw Wojtaszek before - maybe he'll join on again. It will be an interesting challenge for him, that's for sure.