The Weekend Australian - Review - - MIND GAMES - Paul Broekhuyse

VISWANATHAN Anand’s hopes of re­gain­ing his world ti­tle are not look­ing good after a medi­ocre per­for­mance in a warm-up event on the French is­land of Cor­sica last month.

The In­dian started well, with easy wins over Rus­sian IM Ro­man Sko­morokhin and GM Pavel Tregubov, but was knocked out by a lesser light, Ukrainian GM Sergey Fe­dorchuk, in the semi-fi­nal.

In­stead, the hon­ours went to Hou Yi­fan, the pe­tite world women’s champ, who trounced Fe­dorchuk in the Cor­si­can Cir­cuit fi­nal.

You can’t place too much weight on one event, but this was the only event Anand has played in for quite a while. And it came just weeks be­fore his world cham­pi­onship clash against ti­tle-holder Mag­nus Carlsen of Norway, which kicks off on Fri­day in Sochi, Rus­sia.

Carlsen is heav­ily favoured for that 12-game match. That lack of com­pet­i­tive ten­sion – and the fact it’s a re­peat of last year’s match – may help ex­plain the pal­pa­ble lack of in­ter­est in the match from the broader chess com­mu­nity; for ex­am­ple, a quick scan of some ma­jor chess web­sites this week found many had not even both­ered to men­tion the match. But the qual­i­fy­ing method may also be to blame. What the chess world wants to see is an ex­cit­ing, un­pre­dictable match be­tween the very best play­ers in the world; what they too of­ten get is a match be­tween yes­ter­day’s he­roes, who qual­i­fied for the show­down some time ago.

Anand, at 44, is ranked sixth in the world, and while still a fine player, is well past his prime; at one point, decades ago, he was vieing with the great Garry Kas­parov for dom­i­nance.

In con­trast, the world No 2, Italy’s Fabi­ano Caru­ana, is at the height of his pow­ers right now – but may have to wait years for a crack at the ti­tle.

Cer­tainly the world chess fed­er­a­tion has made ef­forts to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion by dra­mat­i­cally speed­ing up the qual­i­fy­ing cy­cle.

In the bad old days the world cham­pi­ons set the rules, pick­ing and choos­ing their chal­lengers, de­lay­ing matches and hang­ing on to their ti­tles for as long as pos­si­ble.

Back in the 1950s a three-year cy­cle was in­tro­duced, but this still tended to en­trench medi­ocrity.

To­day it’s a yearly cy­cle, which is much bet­ter, but still leads to un­sat­is­fac­tory re­sults. For one thing, the in­cum­bent world cham­pion has an ad­van­tage in not hav­ing to go through a gru­elling qual­i­fy­ing process.

A bet­ter sys­tem, I’d sug­gest, would be to make the qual­i­fy­ing event the ac­tual world ti­tle: sim­ply in­vite the top 10 ac­tive play­ers on the rat­ing list to com­pete in a yearly world cham­pi­onship tour­na­ment. Ex­cit­ing, un­pre­dictable – and fair.

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