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On Chess: World chess battle of kings underway

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon - It has begun: The battle between two kings who will fight in one culminating epoch for the world’s throne.

The one match to rule them all started over the weekend, with the first games of the 12-round FIDE World Championship kicking off in Chennai, India. Defending is current World Champion Viswanathan Anand of India, undisputed since 2007 and, though likely witnessing the twilight of an illustrious career, now on the cusp of attaining, perhaps, his crown jewel.

Sitting across from him is one of the finest players to ever sift from of the world’s population: Norway’s 22-year-old phenom Magnus Carlsen is not just the highest-rated player in the world, the highest-rated player ever. The new definition of prodigy, earning the moniker the “Mozart of Chess,” Carlsen’s fast rise to the upper stratosphere has captured chess fans worldwide in romance, singing for renaissance.

With no control on timing, a new documentary on Carlsen was released last week named Last Big Title, which captures his ascent from the beginning and ultimately cliff hangs us at this 2013 World Championship match. To say the least, I’m sure the creators would find it extremely convenient to their efforts if Carlsen would just go ahead and win his last big title right here – for many share in the enthusiasm.

I’ve mentioned before that the general question posed to Carlsen as World Champion is not an “if,” but a “when,” and apparently many feel that “when” is right now, his very first crack at the title – enough to dub him the favorite heading into this match. We will find out soon if that assumption was a blatant oversight of Anand’s abilities or not.

Many storylines will prey on this championship as “one for the ages,” because the comparisons are too obvious to miss. Anand, now 43, is the perfect opposite to the youthfulness of his prodigy challenger, and he will just as certainly pass his long-burning torch as his opponent is certain to one day hold it.

But that day of passing may not be today. Every argument that decries Anand as past-his-prime is refuted by one touting experience. He has been here, done that – literally, done it all – and found himself quite comfortable at the top, producing continued success at the pinnacle level for well over a decade. And, suddenly, this man is an underdog?

Lest we forget that, as much as we love to believe Carlsen is infallible, he is not: In his moment to clinch that seat as the world challenger, Carlsen did fall, losing the final round of the 2013 Candidate’s Tournament. He eventually earned the seat through the backdoor, finding tiebreaking fortune from someone else’s loss. He needed help just to sit in that seat today.

All the pressure is on Carlsen who, make no mistake, now plays in the exact center of unfamiliar surroundings. And with everyone expecting his victory, Carlsen’s own legendary status only serves to shine Anand’s crown. GM Yasser Seirawan – a four-time U.S. Champion and one of chess’ kings in his own right – said in his book Chess Duels: My Games With the World Champions that a victory over Carlsen would place Anand in his top-three all-time chess players, moving him ahead of Bobby Fischer. A staggering thought.

The 2013 World Championship has proven to be one of the most hotly anticipated battles in recent history, and the play within is certain to be some of the finest the game can deliver. The match’s 12 games will played one-a-day through the rest of the month, with the final round scheduled for Nov. 26, a potential tiebreaker scheduled for Nov. 28, and rest days scattered throughout.

Unfortunately, the sun will be watching the event, leaving us quite literally in the dark. Afternoon games in Chennai, India, make it 3 a.m. locally – but the Chess Club has you covered: Grandmaster-in-Residence Ronen Har-Zvi is offering free lectures, reviewing the recent games and breaking down the action, every Wednesday from 7-9 p.m. and every Saturday from 1-3 p.m.

Will we see reign or renaissance? 

Brian Jerauld is a chess instructor to area students, including his own children, and a student of the game himself through the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. He is also a Mizzou journalist with a decade of experience writing about boats, sports and other odds and ends. This column is a weekly look around St. Louis, the U.S. Capital of Chess.