A couple of weeks ago, I decided to watch the full games of the world chess championship of 2013 between Anand and Carlsen mainly to see how professional players act over the board. I decrypted their postures as well as their body language, but not only. I took advantage of this mini-experiment to note everything you can learn from such a legendary match. From commentators’ tips to what players drink and do right before each game, here is a compilation of everything I found interesting to share. I classified everything by categories to make your reading easier. I hope you’ll enjoy!
The world chess championship in figures
6½ – 3½ – Final score in favor of Magnus Carlsen
10 games for a total of 439 moves played
40 hours of video analysis (2412 minutes to be exact)
9 kilos lost by Anand before the event
Between 22,5 and 23 degrees Celsius – temperature of the room both players agreed on
Drinks: Players had many drinks at their disposal inside the resting area which was right next to the playing hall. Even though we didn’t see it on camera, Carlsen probably relied on regular water intake combined with his favorite orange juice. Anand drank one cup of black tea in the beginning of the game, while taking another cup later in the game if it was getting longer. He also combined this with glasses of water from time to time. On average, Anand took 15 to 20 minutes to drink either his tea or his water, taking little sips progressively.
Snacks: Players also had many different snacks at their disposal but unfortunately, the resting area wasn’t visible during the game, so it’s hard to say what their main fuel sources were, if any.
Players’ breaks: Magnus regularly rested in the resting area during each one of the games, even if it was for a few minutes, while Anand only moved from his chair after really deep calculations. Both players took fewer breaks roughly one hour before the time control as well as in the opening phase, probably to handle their time at best. It is interesting to note that there was a screen showing the position inside the resting area, which means players were able to get back to the board quickly after each opponent’s move.
Refreshment: As Susan Polgar highlighted, it is regularly advised to get up and walk, wash your face, drink or eat something to get a bit refreshed in order to see the position in a new view.
Splashing cold water onto one’s face is actually a good way to get refreshed.
Sport: Anand lost 6 kg the months before the event, and another 3 kilos right before the game. He did every day one kilometer of swimming and 10 km of jogging to be physically prepared. As Susan Polgar added, being really fit is essential when playing at that level to maintain concentration for many hours.
Eye contact: I only noticed few instances of eye contact from Magnus Carlsen during the whole game. Anand by contrast, regularly tried to have a furtive look at his opponent during their games, especially in tense moments to see how Carlsen was reacting, but also when Carlsen was thinking for more than a couple of minutes. In the start of the game, both players carefully avoided any eye contact except when they briefly shook hands.
Anand getting in the flow: Apart from the game 1, Anand sat roughly 5 minutes before the game started, adjusting his pieces and then noting on his score sheet. He then put himself in “focus posture” and watched the board to get prepared for the battle.
Carlsen getting in the flow: Interestingly, Magnus came 5 minutes earlier like Anand only in game 1, adjusting his pieces and then taking notes on the score sheet as well. He then put his chair in a more relaxed position and started looking down and away. From game 2 onwards, he came only one minute before the beginning of the game, probably to avoid the supplementary tension of photographers allowed to take pictures right before each game. I understood after a couple of games that Carlsen actually started his ritual 5 minutes before the game (adjusting his pieces and taking notes), then got to the resting area and came back over the board just one minute ahead of the game.
Focus: Even in Chennai, where Anand comes from, he prefers to create his own atmosphere linked to the game and stay in his bubble.
Memory: Even for great grandmasters, it is sometimes challenging to recall lines prepared in advance. Everyone has a different memory. A big part of chess is memory, and it seems to be a gift for Carlsen.
Enjoyment: The secret of Anand staying at the top for so long is a continuing motivation and enjoyment. He likes to play chess.
Regretting: Carlsen explained in one press conference he doesn’t regret any move because that’s completely the wrong focus.
Emotions: Susan Polgar suggested it is an important skill to have not to show one’s emotions. For example, if you display your emotions too much, your opponent can read it and gain confidence by seeing how you feel. By giving away your stress because you feel uncomfortable with your position, you give a signal of’ I’m losing‘ and your opponent will try to understand why you are nervous.
Psycological impact: Both players agree there is a lot of psychology involved in chess, especially in a confrontation like the world chess championship.
Chess improvement tips
- It is not enough to have a good plan, it is also important to have the time to execute the plan at the right time. A good plan at the wrong time is definitely bad.
- You often get bigger results in chess when you try to play for small advantages rather than always trying to find something amazing all the time.
- Having bishops versus knight when there are pawns on both sides of the board typically favors the side with the bishop.
- In general it is better to have chains of pawns, not isolated pawns. A better pawn structure is when pawns are connected because they can protect each other.
- Although bishops and knights have the same mathematical value, bishops are slightly favored in contrast to knights in most positions, especially in open positions. (Positions that are not closed)
- E4 often implies that you will play more ambitiously than d4 or c4
- A critical moment is a crossroads when you need to think deeply because you must not make the wrong choice.
- Half of all endgames are rook endgames.
- Initially, you should minimize the use of computers (especially for young kids). First focus on tactics, then you should learn endgame and opening must come last.
- 9 out of 10 times, especially if you are an amateur, you should use the general principles.
- Regardless of how good you are, everyone has strengths and weaknesses. By analyzing your games you will end up finding what is the best for you. Even 2500, 2600 and 2700 players have their own strengths and weaknesses.
- If you focus too much on active play and on calculation, yes you will become very good at attacking, but your strategic game and your endgame will suffer. It is essential to find a balance in your training.
- Susan Polgar suggests it is better to give 80% of your study time to fix your weaknesses. At all levels, whatever your elo, focusing on your weak areas is a necessity. Look at the mistakes you repeatedly make; a good coach should be able to find that.
- Play against machines can also be good training too.
- Learning theory when you are a beginner is a practical waste of time.
- It is important for strong players to balance between one’s preferences and the need from the position (Dynamic or more positional?). Even if a move is not your style, sometimes you need to match the need of the position and accept playing against what you like.
- You need to find the right balance between too much calculation and trusting your intuition. If you trust your instincts too much, you might overlook the logic behind the moves because of a lack of calculation. But in the opposite, when you try to calculate every single move, you might be faced with time trouble.
Recommended books (by the commentators)
- Silman’s books
- Keres and Smyslov books (for the theory of endgames)
- Rubinstein books (for more practical endgames)
- Dvoretsky book are good, but for more advanced players.
- Reinfeld books for solving puzzles
Other interesting facts
Orientation of the knight: while adjusting his pieces, Carlsen put the face of the knight turned on the side while Anand’s knights were looking up front.
Carsen’s memory: According to his father, Magnus Carlsen can memorize thousands of games because he has great photographic memory. He knows actually more than 10000 games.
Carlsen’s hobbies: According to his father, Carlsen’s favorite movies are Pulp Fiction and Hangover 3. He is a bowling fan too.
Blind chess: Even when GM are not over the board, they practice the position and variants in their mind (they don’t lose track of the position), and even sometimes best solutions appear when you are not over the board. For the anecdote, Carlsen managed one day to beat 20 young Norwegians players in blind play.
Chess Federation: Fide is the second largest federation of all sports present in 183 countries
Anand’s routine : Anand routinely goes through all new GM games and retains only what could be interesting for a second check.
Anand’s secret of success: Anand learned to use the aim of the computers and was one of the first to do that. He really knew better than his chess generation how to use the aid of computers and technology. Susan Polgar thinks it is his secret to success.
Carlsen’s idol: Magnus didn’t have a specific idol when he was young.
Funny anecdote about Magnus’ opening preparation
Here is an intervention after game 8 from Anastasiya Karlovich, presiding the press conference, asking Carlsen about his opening preparation. (note: this is the original transcription of the video word by word)
Anastasiya: Many people say that Magnus you don’t pay too much attention to the opening but I’ve read interview from Caruana who said that you are good at choosing openings which are unpleasant for your opponent. So what do you think about this?
Magnus: Caruana is a very good player and a clever guy so there must be something to what he says.
With his smile, Magnus kind of confirmed he is not as bad in opening preparation as people tend to think. Besides, Carlsen admitted in the final press conference that to prepare the match, he worked mostly on openings and didn’t particularly work on endgames, calculation and middlegame as they are his strengths.
This confirms what Susan Polgar said earlier while commenting; Magnus Carlsen consciously tries to avoid opening debate. He doesn’t want to play 25 or 30 moves against a computer. He is so sure of his skills in middlegame and endgame that he accepts slightly inferior positions with black and is ready to let go the slight advantage he has with white, allowing blacks to equalize rapidly in the opening.
Other chess improvement tips to come
After spending roughly 40 hours of watching the match and finishing writing this article, I realized comments from champions can be really valuable information to help improve your game. So you see, I cannot stop here and plan to collect and decrypt hundreds of interviews from top GM. I plan to do that after my tournament in November.
So, if you are interested, stay tuned!