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Viswanathan Anand's 23-move dismantling of World No. 3 Levon Aronian at the Tata Steel tournament is already being touted as one of the greatest games ever. Of more practical consequence could be the effect the result has on his own form and the plans of the contenders ahead of the World title bout later this year, says Raakesh Natraj
For chess amateurs and beginners, one of the chief and more obvious joys of the game has been in reliving the classics — Adolf Anderssen's Immortal and Evergreen games, the attacking masterpieces of Paul Morphy, Frank Marshal and Mikhail Tal, the 13-year old Bobby Fischer's Game of the Century are among the more popular. The geometry of the pieces on the board, the counter-intuitivity of multiple sacrifices, the stark elegance of the stripped down but irresistible attack have captured the imagination of several generations of chess practitioners.
The chronology of these games is instructive. Anderssen's Immortal and Evergreen games were informal affairs played in 1851 and 1852. Morphy retired from chess to devote himself to his legal practice in 1859 aged just 22. Marshal's concluding move against Stefan Levitsky so thrilled the onlookers who had gathered in the cafe in which the game was played that they showered the participants with gold coins, or so the story goes. The year was 1912. Fischer's annihilation of the former US champion Donald Byrne announced his genius to the world in 1956. Tal's most annotated game came in 1965 against Bent Larsen.
A certain degree of antiquity is one of the necessary attributes of classicism, but it is equally true that the adventurism that characterised these games would be impossible in the present age of saturation computer analysis, ever increasing player strength and fidelity to accumulated theory. It was considered impolite to refuse a gambit in the 19th century. The same moves that were daring and even revolutionary back then have now been, when subjected to engine analysis, rendered sub-optimal or even theoretically refuted. In the digital age, all games are immediately anthologised and catalogued weaknesses are seldom repeated, certainly not at the elite level. The other defining trait of the classics is that, while exhilarating, they came against opponents who were strong but never really in the same league as the masters. Tournament play, on the other hand, rarely pits players in different leagues in the same field.
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