For more than three years, Magnus Carlsen, a 22-year-old Norwegian, has been the uncrowned king of chess. It appears increasingly likely that within the next few days, he will officially wear the crown of world champion.
Carlsen has been the No. 1 player in the world almost continuously since January 2010, but the world champion has been Viswanathan Anand, 43, an Indian grandmaster, who won the title in 2007. To become world champion, it was necessary to defeat Anand in a match, but Carlsen did not earn the right to face him until last March, when he won the Candidates tournament in London.
The match for the title began a week ago in Chennai, India, Anand's hometown. It is a best-of-12 series, with wins counting as 1 point and draws a half-point. On Saturday, Carlsen won his second straight game. He now leads 4 points to 2, with 6.5 points needed to clinch the title. The seventh game will be Monday.
Though the match is technically not over, the deficit Anand faces is enormous, particularly against an opponent like Carlsen. The winner of the match will receive 60 percent of the prize fund of about $2.5 million.
The match started slowly with two quick draws. They were followed by two hard-fought draws. On Friday, in Game 5, Carlsen finally broke through, beating Anand in a game that lasted 58 moves and more than 5 1/2 hours.
Carlsen had Black on Saturday, which is considered a disadvantage because White moves first. But after 20 moves, chances were equal. Then Anand made a small mistake, giving Carlsen the tiniest edge.
Against almost any other player, that would probably not matter. But against Carlsen, who is already being compared to some of the greatest players, it is a terrible deficit. He loves positions in which he has a tiny advantage and will squeeze and squeeze his opponent, hoping to force an error.
As he did in Game 5, Anand fought on, and though he was down two pawns at one point, he achieved a position that he should have been able to hold to force a draw.
But Carlsen kept pressing with computerlike precision, forcing Anand to solve problem after problem. Finally, just as happened in Game 5, after hours of play, Anand erred, this time by moving his rook when he should have pushed a pawn.
That was all that Carlsen needed. He was able to push one of his own pawns rapidly, and Anand resigned after 67 moves, just as Carlsen was about to promote the pawn to a queen.
Psychologically, Anand must be feeling very dispirited, as he has played well but still lost. It is also possible that he may be starting to feel intimidated. Even before the match began, Vladimir Kramnik, Anand's predecessor as champion, suggested that would be a factor in an interview with Pune Mirror, an English-language newspaper in India.
"The only problem that I think Anand is facing is that he - this is just my opinion - is somewhat intimidated by Carlsen," Kramnik said. "He is playing unconfidently against him - he's scared of him, I would say."
© 2013 New York Times News Service