Were Carlsen and Anand Too, Too, Too Much Boring?

Were Carlsen and Anand Too, Too, Too Much Boring?

Dec 3, 2013, 5:35 PM |

Is Modern Chess a Dead Beast?

There’s an argument that this generation of men’s chess is boring and I think it’s a valid one.

It’s not boring to see two great players like Anand and Carlsen compete in the World Chess Championship match.

What is getting mundane is watching the same attitude in every single game of the match (as in any other big tournament of modern era for that matter).

Nowadays they all settle down and say “OK, this is going to be four hours of baseline chess.” The guy who outlasts the other one wins. It’s taken a lot of the skill out of chess.

Ravens and Rook

Is modern chess dead? Ravens appear on battlefields; they are scavengers often seen picking at mangled remains of fallen warriors on battle grounds.

They are not better all-round players than the likes of Misha Tal or David Bronstein. They were attacking players and they could also do it against baseliners like Petrosian.

Now that was entertainment. You never knew which way it was going to go.

Carlsen and friends are exceptional athletes, there’s no doubt about it, but to say they are better athletes than past greats like Tal and Bronstein is just nonsense.

This is some crap drummed up by somebody and I think it’s an insult to past players. Modern players don’t dive around the net, they don’t deliver backhand smashes, they don’t have to twist and turn like past generations.

Could modern players do that? We don’t know. What we do know is that they are incredibly good at holding off the opponent from the baseline.

Modern players change so little. They don’t try anything different. They stick to their guns. In the past, they have worked on something different… maybe something to surprise the opponent. Carlsen and others, they just stay the same.

Are Carlsen and Co. better, quicker, more agile at the board than the players of the past? The answer to that would be no.

What today’s players do around the baseline is undeniably phenomenal. They have become specialists in that, but to say they are better athletes is disrespectful. I don’t buy it at all, not for one second.

The FIDE is doing a great job of marketing the game, but they need to look at what is actually happening at the board.

Is this entertainment? Is this good enough?

Chess cartoon by Anchukov

Spans of massacred chess bodies and gore besieged with glimmery black ravens… cartoon by Anchukov, Magazine 64

What is beyond question is that Magnus Carlsen is the top man in chess right now. His approach resembles… I hesitate to say… a computer.

The problem is Carlsen’s styles of play is always the same.

In terms of pure baseline quality it’s hard to better him, but I like to see a contrast.

Human beings love variety. We don’t want to watch the same style of play, we don’t want to watch the same shots all of the time. Players have got to mix it up.

Almost every modern player has the same tactics, which some use better than others. We rightly celebrate these great matches, like the one between Carlsen and Anand, but we need to look at the bigger picture.

The bigger picture does not involve the players, it involves the tournaments—that have worked extremely hard to homogenize chess’ battlefields, making them all play similarly, slow with little going on—and it involves the lack of regulation of new technologies that are making today’s players more lethal than ever from the other guy’s preparation.

Now more than ever players can do more from the baseline. When their opponent recklessly makes his way to the net, they can do even more damage. So why go to the net?

It may be boring but until more people get in my corner and start to push for change through the powers that be, it will be reality.

What do you think?

Pat Cash

pat-cash-200x200The Australian tennis player, who won Wimbledon in 1987, was renowned for his attacking style of play; he established a reputation on the tour as a hard-fighting serve-and-volleyer and for wearing his trademark black-and-white checkered headband (which we, chess players, highly admire:).

Getting tired of baseline tennis, he ripped the modern game in a recently penned column for CNN (we are still waiting for a big name from chess to do the same). Cash gave us an astonishing overview of modern tennis which reminded me of similarly sad state of affairs in modern chess. Thanks Pat, you were the great champion. You played chess, uhm tennis most people love to watch, not boring chess of Carlsen and Co., or tennis of Nadal and Djokovic…



For this post I used Pat Cash’s blog post for CNN and changed every occurence of the word tennis to chess, the names Nadal and Djokovic to Carlsen and Anand; I also used two sentences from an interview with Anand.