Magnus can wring water from a stone, which takes him to a different level: Surya Sekhar Ganguly

The computer has made deep inroads into the chess world. But after a certain point/level, all the players get similar help from technology. So I don’t think Magnus (Carlsen) was technologically more advanced than Nepo (Ian Nepomniachtchi) or vice versa. All professional players use similar software and similar kinds of machines. In odd cases, a player can have his nose in front in this regard, like (Veselin) Topalov was ahead of (Viswanathan) Anand in terms of technology. But usually, it’s more or less similar.

Magnus won the World Championship for a number of reasons, but let’s face it, he is a better player. The better player played a better match and won. End of story. Nepo winning this would have been an upset.
To me, this match offered a throwback to the 1971 Bobby Fischer versus Tigran Petrosian Candidates final in Buenos Aires. Fischer played the match before facing Boris Spassky. The match was pretty even for the first few games. In fact, Petrosian missed a few chances to push through. In the end, the score was 6½ – 2½ in favour of Fischer. At one point it was 2½ – 2½, but from Game 6 onwards, Fischer swept through, while Petrosian suffered a meltdown.

This World Championship was pretty similar. Magnus spoke well, when he was asked at the press conference about what did he do better in the match. His reply was about keeping things simple: ‘I think I played simple positions better and made less mistakes’. When positions were very messy and complicated, both players were making mistakes.

That’s Magnus’s strength, that’s how he plays. He is exceptionally strong when positions look pretty even, for he can wring water from a stone, which takes him to a different level. He waits patiently for a chance and when he gets it, he hits. As I said before, if Nepo had to trump Magnus, he had to do it in some very complicated positions. Somehow that never happened.

Game 6 was the turning point of the match. Magnus won that game and took complete upper hand, with Nepo’s blunders piling up after that. Maybe, it was down to fatigue and I’m talking about losing both physical and emotional energy here. Playing a game that lasted almost eight hours took a lot of emotional energy. After playing a game for eight hours, finishing on the winning or losing side matters a lot. Physically both Magnus and Nepo were very tired, but emotionally the latter suffered a body blow.

After the sixth game, the nature of the positions on the board was suiting Magnus well and as he rightly pointed out, he rarely makes mistakes in so-called even positions.
Once again, this was exactly Fischer-Petrosian. Like the latter, Nepo, too, was completely unrecognisable in the second half of the match. A player of Nepo’s tactical ability, who is such a wonderful player in Rapid and Blitz; committing so many blunders was unexpected. It could be energy, it could be nerves. His game just collapsed.

It’s not my role to criticise a player with the benefit of hindsight, someone who is a lot better than me. I’m pretty sure that Nepo worked really hard. I’m pretty sure that he and his team put in a huge amount of effort.

Still, if I’m asked to pick one area, I would say physical fitness. You aren’t getting a short draw; you aren’t getting any easy game. So you need a huge amount of energy.

Things like preparation for a World Championship and reacting to difficult situations vary from player to player. What works for Magnus, will not work for Anand; what works for Anand, will not work for Nepo. Everybody will have to find his own solution. You have to find a set-up and system that work the best for you. For example, Magus went on an overdrive of playing Bullet chess tournaments (one-minute game) before the World Championship. He faced criticism on social media for that. But he knows what works for him. His methods may or may not work for others. Same for taking the help of a sports psychologist; some may need it, some may not.

The importance of being alert all the time is the real takeaway for me from this match. It was never about getting the better of the opponent in the opening. I have never seen Magnus winning or losing a game in the opening. His approach has always been about getting a position, which is sound, then keep playing and gradually outplaying his opponent. You need your thinking, alertness and energy level at their peak to play this kind of chess. You can’t get casual at all. That’s his quality and I must say that Game 6 would go down in history for the level it was played at.

You don’t compare the greats. It would be unfair to draw a comparison between (Jose Raul) Capablanca, Fischer, (Garry) Kasparov and Magnus; players from different eras. The beauty of greatness is that it stays ahead of its time. No one lasts forever and the person who would eventually beat Magnus, which is inevitable, wouldn’t be intimidated by him (his aura). Someone from a younger generation.

(Grandmaster Surya Sekhar Ganguly was one of Viswanathan Anand’s seconds and assisted him in winning the World Championship matches against Vladimir Kramnik and Veselin Topalov. He spoke to Shamik Chakrabarty)

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