Carlsen or Anand?

The rematch starts in November, but it is by no means obvious that the champion Carlsen is favored.  Anand is separated from his Indian well-wishers and relatives (which helps him), he has been playing well lately, and he feels he has nothing to lose at this point.  It is often easier to win a rematch than to defend a championship.

Carlsen’s play has been listless as of late.  Yet he has two factors going for him.  First, he is a better player than Anand, a factor which is obviously important, and second he is younger and has better stamina.

Carlsen suffers from having to play in Sochi, which is basically a KGB village with extreme surveillance.  Any chess innovation which he speaks to his seconds in his hotel room or leaves on his hard drive will end up being distributed to the camp of his opponent.  That also will hurt his morale and make it hard for him to concentrate on the match.  Like many others, I was surprised he agreed to play in Sochi in the first place.  I think he also suffers from this match coming so quickly after the first.  He feels he hasn’t had enough time to enjoy the promised benefits of the world championship, not all of those benefits were delivered, and in a sense the first match still isn’t over but rather has been extended.

Chess often brings surprises, I am forecasting Carlsen to fall behind in the match early on, but successfully defend his title at the end.


"Chess often brings surprises": it certainly surprised me when I was twelve. I'd had no idea it would prove so dull. I quite took to bridge, though. Not a bad game at all.

I think Chess vs Bridge is mainly a choice of Solitude vs Social. Whether one likes Chess or Bridge more reflects more on one's temperament rather on the games.I preferred Chess to avoid recriminations from one's partner in Bridge.

Interesting. In which case it would surely be better for an economist, practitioner of what he doubtless believes to be a Social Science, to play bridge rather than chess? Economics-with-the-people-left-out would surely be little better than sterile mathematical modelling?

I see Putin gave Anand an award of some sort, but is there something else going on that gives them reason to offer up the full surveillance of the KGB to support and Indian player?

Carlsen has strongly supported the dissident Kasparov and opposed the notion of Russian domination of FIDE, the major chess organization.

Thanks TC for that amplification; for a moment I thought you were being dramatic for the sake of playing to the gallery, always a dangerous strategy. Carlsen apparently was not against Sochi as a venue but wanted to delay the match so it would not be played in November in Sochi (though why a Norwegian would be afraid of cold in November is not clear, see more here: .

As for Anand receiving tips from the Russians, it's not clear who Anand's seconds are, and no doubt they would be receiving the tips, as it strikes me as unseemly and beneath Anand's character to stoop so low and receive tips from eavesdropped conversations (but not out of character for his seconds).

Speaking of eavesdropping, by George, as discussed before on this blog, in Masonry Lodges the Tylers were placed on rooftops to warn of approaching Cowans to the lodging Masons (literally a physical barrier to entry for the Cowans by the Tylers, as these Cowans were as skilled as the Masons but nevertheless excluded, see more here: Pejoratively the Cowans were defined as: "[an] eavesdropper[,] one who listened to conversations not intended for his ears. The word comes from the practice of lurking between the eaves-drop (the line along which rain ran off the eaves) and the wall of the house while listening. An old catechism speaks of a "cowan or listener" being punished "by being placed under the eaves till the water runs in at his shoulders and out of his shoes""

Yeah, but Anand & his camp would need to be pretty unethical to take advantage of that?

So on the one hand we have ethics. On the other, we have money (possibly for the seconds, not Anand) and fame. It is by no means obvious that ethics is favored

"Any chess innovation which he speaks to his seconds in his hotel room or leaves on his hard drive will end up being distributed to the camp of his opponent." T

It is unfair to Anand to imply that he is this unethical. While it is true that he did not support Kasparov , it is a stretch to imply that he will stoop to this. I agree with the rest of TC's points. Carlsen did much worse than Caruana recently and like George Foreman or Agassi , an older Anand may have his last wind to win this.
The future would be Carlsen vs Caruana.

Agreed. Anand is well known for being an honest and honorable person.

Agree on Anand, but you don't have to think that he is the active agent in the wrongdoing. Imagine being Anand's second and simply getting an anonymous email "Study the Breyer more!"

'Imagine being Anand’s second and simply getting an anonymous email “Study the Breyer more!”'

Then imagine being stupid enough to treat an anonymous email as relevant to a match.

That may have been a bit too short. A truly anonymous e-mail would be stupid to take seriously. A not exactly anonymous but plausibly deniable e-mail would be a separate category - a situation where one believes it is plausible to deny the source makes one complicit in using that source for advantage.

Would it make sense for Carlsen in his Sochi hotel room to practice lines he isn't planning to use? Or practice them much differently than he plans to play them?

"Carlsen suffers from having to play in Sochi, which is basically a KGB village with extreme surveillance. Any chess innovation which he speaks to his seconds in his hotel room or leaves on his hard drive will end up being distributed to the camp of his opponent."

Is there any, you know, proof of this? Or you just know it from the general principles (Sochi = Russia = USSR = KGB = surveillance of chess players)?

Time-tested general principles, to be sure.

A terrible slander against our fine city! Come visit and stay at our clean hotels, many of which have working plumbing! And don't worry about the dogs. We took care of them.

Western mediocracy builds on the Goebbels' postulate that "hundred times repeated lie becomes a truth." And where to best repeat the lies than in mainstream media or Hollywood movies? The priorities of US diplomacy have shifted, and in accordance, the thick-accented stereotypical Arab with missing teeth waving a Kalashnikov in the desert has been replaced by the stereotypical Russian agent with fur cap, vodka bottle and thick-accented, bad English. In result, some people are very confused, especially in New York, a city ruled by the cocaine sniffing bankers and Thompson-wielding gangsters in fedora hats. I bet it's black and white, just like Sin City...

@HoB - - "The spies were planted in the United States by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (known by its Russian abbreviation, SVR). Posing as ordinary American citizens, they tried to build contacts with academics, industrialists, and policymakers to gain access to intelligence." These spies also visited Northern Virginia. Academics. Hmmm.. Not to start a McCarthy-style witchhunt, but TC is an academic and rumor has it he has Russian affiliations.

Carlsen will win it easily. I predict Anand scores no win in any game. However, I would love to see Anand win it.

I'm rooting for Carlsen. However, I must say, I'm not into chess like I was when I was in HS. I used to believe chess was a match of intelligence until I read later on about studies that showed it's just a memory test - when they changed the starting locations of pieces on the board, grandmasters weren't any better than average people. I've got better things to sore in memory now.

@Tom--like what? Have you not read, Average Is Over? The machines have won, in all lines, man! There's nothing you can do as a human that they cannot do better. So you might as well enjoy chess.

There are no studies showing any such thing, that is preposterous.

Tom is ironically misremembering that study. The study actually showed that chess experts weren't (much) better than ordinary people at *remembering* board positions when the pieces were placed randomly on the board, rather than when they were positions from actual games.

The conclusion of the study was actually that grandmasters are able to remember the positions of pieces on chess boards more rapidly because experience has given them the ability to read a board holistically rather than having to memorize the position of each piece. That ability didn't help them on random boards.

As Justin pointed out, the study in question had to do with remembering positions, not competing at chess. In a game with the pieces starting on random squares (sometimes called Chess960 or Fischer Random) a grandmaster will crush an average person, just like in normal chess.

The utility of chess is that it soaks up Bryan Caplan's attention and reduces the quantum of time he has to make a nuisance of himself. Other than that, it's a waste.

This isn't quite related to the post, but it is something I have been wondering about. In chess, it appears that on average white wins more often than black. Suppose there was a "fair cake cutting" variant of chess in which white still made the first move, but black was then able to make one of two decisions:

1. Black could accept white's first move, and play would continue as normal. Or,

2. Black could turn the board 180 degrees and step into the shoes of the original white player. He would have to accept the original white piece placement as his own. The initial white player would become the new black player and place the first black piece on the board. Under this option, the first two piece placements are by the same individual.

Would this eliminate the first-move advantage?

Probably not, would be my first pass answer. No good player as white would make a truly atrocious first move in the hope his/her opponent would take the the position. Thus white would likely make the standard opening moves you see today like e4, d4, or c4. Now, he may well end up on the black end of those opening moves, but then he gets the same opportunity playing the other color.

Where the difference would arise, if it did, would be in white making less obviously bad first moves, but, again the reciprocity would seem to make this fairly unlikely to work as any kind of strategy, and you would likely end up right back where you started- with players making what theory and experience have determined to be the optimal first moves with, at best, every player as black choosing to play white instead.

Now the question I would have to study deeply to give a more calculated answer would be how the distribution of 1.e4, 1.d4, and 1.c4 is changed by your idea. On that, I have no answer at the moment.

I would like to disagree vigorously with the idea that Anand's camp would ever receive any pilfered ideas from Carlsen, whether via Russian help or in any other way. I was one of Anand's seconds in his 1995 World Championship match via Kasparov, and I have known him for many years. Anand is as honest and decent as they come. He would never cheat, and he would never tolerate or condone it among his team. Period.

Shame on you, Tyler. I love your blog and am a big fan of yours, but you should not be impugning Anand's character just to make a cute speculation.

Holy molly you read this blog too? Next well have economists GM Colin Couch and GM Ken Rogoff as guest commentators too, and we can have a correspondence match right here in the Comment section.

Actually if I was Anand's second I would not tell my boss (Anand) that I got secret information, since it would upset him, but I would use it to help my boss. I would argue that it's a breach of your fiduciary duty not to. If a "hot tip" comes into your office, Mr. VC, and you have no reason to think it's inside information, would you use it or turn a blind eye? Of course you would use it, for the sake of your investors. Same principle here.

In what chess-related scenario would a hot tip be anything but inside information. Honestly, I'm trying to imagine any hot tips that aren't inside information, but especially not if we are talking about chess strategy.

@Sam -inside trading laws are complicated. There are scenarios--you have to just take my word for it--that a tip is "hot" and likely good but technically it's not inside trading. The one that might be familiar to most people involved Mark Cuban (Google this), or better, since most of the articles are sensationalism, read carefully this one by a law professor: (in a brief nutshell, you can create a insider trade relationship out of one that is not, but you have to be specific and both sides have to believe in what they are saying and hearing. In Cuban's case the relationship was not specific enough: all Cuban implied to the hot tip giver over the phone was that Cuban would keep the hot tip confidential, not that he would not trade on it; the jury seemed to agree (though I bet they voted for Cuban since they liked him, but that's another matter)).

If you're a fan of the blog, you should know that Tyler is just bsing in posts like these.

Thanks, Patrick, but again I am not accusing Anand of anything dishonest at all. The mere prospect of being watched and spied upon would disorient many a player. All a Russian spy would have to do is let it be generally known -- on public web sites if need be -- that they observed Carlsen preparing the Breyer (or whatever), and that would be enough to give him serious seconds thoughts about using it.

@TC - but Patrick is taking a very hard line here--I suspect he has not thought through his reasoning in the same careful manner that he would to make a chess move--is that Anand's *team* would never use such information ("I would like to disagree vigorously with the idea that Anand’s camp would ever receive any pilfered ideas from Carlsen, whether via Russian help or in any other way."). So even if the Anand team read from Pravda's chess section that rumor has it Carlsen is preparing the Breyer (, they would not study this variation or do anything other than follow their normal training routine. A bit idealistic if you ask me.


Tyler, you may not have meant it, but reread what you actually wrote. You basically implied that Anand would willingly receive audio tapes or computer files directly from Russian spies. That is cheating, and I don't think Anand would ever do that or stand for it in his camp.

@GM P. Wolff - "Any chess innovation which he speaks to his seconds in his hotel room or leaves on his hard drive will end up being distributed to the camp of his opponent." is what TC says,and that in no way implies "You basically implied that Anand would willingly receive audio tapes or computer files directly from Russian spies." The "camp" of Anand is not the same as Anand. Anand may disapprove but his seconds may have second thoughts about foregoing valuable information, maybe even from a Russian grandmaster who is friendly with Anand's seconds, and tells them in strong language that he has a strong suspicion of what Carlsen is studying. C'mon GM Wolff, have you forgotten how devious chess players are?

"Amberley excelled at chess – one mark, Watson, of a scheming mind" - Sherlock Holmes, ‘The Adventure of the Retired Colourman’

IS there any site I can bet on this match. Ideally decent amounts of money. Obviously Carlsen is the favorite but if people are doubting him at all I want to put big money on Carlsen now.

Betfair - 1.22 Carlsen v 4.9 Anand. c. 80% of the money are on Carlsen.

" It is often easier to win a rematch than to defend a championship."

Here’s the data on chess championships, assembled by Spektrowski. The discussion mostly focused on age.

Counting the following as rematches, I end up with 6 cases in which the previous player won the rematch, and 6 cases in which a different player won.

I do not reject the null hypothesis that the rematch has a win probability of .5 ;)

There are different ways to count the multiple rematches of Karpov and Kasparov, and the data set is small, show I’m showing my work below:

year player1 player2 winner who won rematch? Same or different than previous winner?
1934 Alexander Alekhine Efim Bogoljubov Alexander Alekhine same
1937 Alexander Alekhine Max Euwe Alexander Alekhine different
1985 Anatoly Karpov Garry Kasparov Anatoly Karpov same
1986 Anatoly Karpov Garry Kasparov Garry Kasparov different
1987 Anatoly Karpov Garry Kasparov Garry Kasparov same
1990 Anatoly Karpov Garry Kasparov Garry Kasparov same
1981 Anatoly Karpov Viktor Korchnoi Anatoly Karpov same
1969 Boris Spassky Tigran Petrosian Boris Spassky different
1896 Emanuel Lasker Wilhelm Steinitz Emanuel Lasker same
1961 Mikhail Botvinnik Mikhail Tal Mikhail Botvinnik different
1957 Mikhail Botvinnik Vasily Smyslov Vasily Smyslov different
1958 Mikhail Botvinnik Vasily Smyslov Mikhail Botvinnik different

Yes! Finally someone writes about articles.

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