He's not a machine, he's a man!

by ChessBase
4/6/2013 – That's what Rocky's trainer says about the seemingly invincible Russian challenger Ivan Drago. And when wife Adrian says: “It’s suicide – you've seen him, you know how strong he is, you can't win,” Rocky replies “The only thing I can do is just take everything he's got. But to beat me, he's going to have to kill me." What does all this have to do with chess? GM Jonathan Rowson explains.

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From March 14 to April 1, 2013, FIDE and AGON – the World Chess Federation’s commercial partner – staged the 2013 Candidates Tournament for the World Chess Championship 2013. It was the strongest tournament of its kind in history. The venue was The IET, 2 Savoy Place, London. The Prize Fund, shared by the players, totalled €510,000. The winner of the Candidates is the Challenger to Viswanathan Anand who has reigned as World Champion since 2007. The main sponsor for the Candidates was State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic SOCAR.


World Championship match Anand vs Carlsen

Column by GM Jonathan Rowson

There’s a turning point in the film Rocky IV when World Champion Rocky fights back against the seemingly invincible Russian challenger, Ivan Drago. After an implausibly generous series of reciprocal blows to the head, the panting cold war pugilists reach their respective corners, where Rocky’s manager highlights some indisputable facts: “Now he’s worried. You cut him, you hurt him. You see. He’s not a machine, he’s a man.”

We recently discovered that the seemingly invulnerable world number one, Magnus Carlsen, is also human. He just earned the right to play Viswanathan Anand in a World Championship Match in November by winning the Candidates tournament in London on tiebreak, but only after two uncharacteristic losses near then end and a pinch of good fortune.

Magnus is clearly the best tournament player in the world, and he appears to be younger, fitter and hungrier for the title than Vishy. However, because he is human, he cannot always perform at his best, and his lack of match experience is significant because it will add to the kind of fatigue and pressure that made him appear merely human in London.

In fact, it occurs to me that the 20 or so years and 80 or so rating points that separate Magnus from Vishy are not that different from the differences in age, height and muscle definition that separated Drago from Rocky. Now I know it’s Hollywood, but I like the fact that Rocky’s victory began with his early resolve not to accept the prevailing narrative that he was doomed. When Rocky’s wife Adrian says: “It’s suicide. You've seen him, you know how strong he is. You can't win.”

Rocky replies: “No, maybe I can't win. Maybe the only thing I can do is just take everything he's got. But to beat me, he's going to have to kill me. And to kill me, he's gonna have to have the heart to stand in front of me. And to do that, he's got to be willing to die himself. I don't know if he's ready to do that. I don't know.”

In a recent interview for India Express Vishy expressed the same powerful sentiment without the hyperbole: “Carlsen will be ridiculously difficult to play against... I'm fully aware of the magnitude of the task facing me, and Magnus' rank and rating speak for themselves. Having said that I don't feel any obligation to follow the predictions. That's what we are playing the match for. To have a chance to write our own script.”

Heartening stuff, but of course Magnus is a little more astute than Drago, and his plan for the match is both chillingly simple and entirely credible: “I intend to make lots of good moves.”

Vishy has no unsuspected right hook with accompanying sountrack to help him retain his title, so in addition to the usual grind of opening preparation I suggest two things: start now to play training games against computers who ‘just keep going’, even if that means enduring painful losses for a few months – Magnus will seem easy by comparison. He should also hire an outstanding physical trainer to become, at 43, fitter than he has ever been before. He not only has to learn to ‘keep going’, but to enjoy it as much as Magnus does.

In the final round Magnus, tired, nervous and in time trouble, showed his human side by succumbing to a vicious counter-attack. He won the event nonetheless because his main challenger, Kramnik, also lost, so the chess world has the match it wanted.

[Event "FIDE Candidates"] [Site "London ENG"] [Date "2013.04.01"] [Round "14"] [White "Carlsen, M."] [Black "Svidler, P."] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "C84"] [WhiteElo "2872"] [BlackElo "2747"] [PlyCount "96"] [EventDate "2013.03.15"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. d3 b5 7. Bb3 d6 8. a3 O-O 9. Nc3 Bb7 10. Bd2 Qd7 11. a4 Nd8 12. axb5 axb5 13. Rxa8 Bxa8 14. Ne2 Ne6 15. Ng3 c5 16. Nf5 Bd8 17. c4 bxc4 18. Bxc4 Bc7 19. Re1 Re8 20. Qc1 Nh5 21. g3 g6 22. Nh6+ Kg7 23. Ng5 Nxg5 24. Bxg5 d5 25. exd5 Bxd5 26. Ng4 Bf3 27. Bf6+ Kg8 28. Nh6+ Kf8 29. Qe3 Bb7 30. Bh4 Qh3 31. f3 $2 {[#]} Nf4 $1 32. gxf4 Qxh4 33. Nxf7 Bxf3 $1 34. Qf2 Qg4+ 35. Qg3 exf4 36. Rxe8+ Kxe8 37. Qxg4 Bxg4 {and Black soon won.} 38. Ng5 h6 39. Nf7 h5 40. Nh6 Bd1 41. Kf2 f3 42. h3 Bf4 43. Nf7 g5 44. Ke1 g4 45. hxg4 hxg4 46. Kxd1 g3 47. Ke1 g2 48. Kf2 Bh2 0-1

Grandmaster Jonathan Rowson is Scotland's strongest player. He won the British Championship in three consecutive years (2004-2006) before developing a career outside of chess. He holds degrees in a range of social science disciplines from Harvard, Bristol and Oxford Universities and is currently Director of the Social Brain Centre at the RSA in London. He is best known in the chess world for his books The Seven Deadly Chess Sins and Chess for Zebras and the 50 review columns he wrote for New in Chess magazine. He is currently preparing a compilation of his weekly columns for The Herald, Scotland's national paper, which he has been writing since 2006. He lives in London with his wife Siva, from India, and their three-year-old son, Kailash. He can be followed on Twitter at @jonathan_rowson.


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