The Importance of Being Monotonous

This was published in the latest Informator 120, the Maracana edition. Soon I’ll also post my other article from the same book.

The Importance of Being Monotonous by GM Aleksandar Colovic

Anand’s victory at the Candidates was a surprise for many, yours truly included. How could a player who struggled for several years, lost a World Championship match without winning a single game (following Lasker and Kasparov) and was generally considered way past his prime, stage such a convincing come-back?

The answer can be summed up in two words, quite popular in the world of tennis – unforced errors.

Anand showed that he learned quite a lot from his lost match to Carlsen. What he learned was the meaning of the word ‘monotonous’.

Back in the 1950s Smyslov used to say that he would play 40 good moves and if his opponent would match them then the game would be a draw. In the 1970s Spassky said that Fischer’s play was “solid and monotonous” while Taimanov described Fischer’s play as “a wall coming at you.” They were talking of a style of play that puts you under pressure throughout the whole game, of moves of high quality whose level never drops. Today this style of play is known as computer style, but you can see that there’s nothing new under the sun.

Carlsen beat Anand because his play was solid and monotonous. Anand’s play was also solid, but not as monotonous – he committed errors in positions where they weren’t really forced, the endgames he lost in games 5 and 6 were pretty equal for most of the time. He simply couldn’t withstand the pressure of Carlsen’s solid and monotonous play.

But Anand learned and he showed it in Siberia. There were four other players who won the same number of games as him, three, but all of them also lost at least three games, while he didn’t lose a single one. He played solid moves on a constant, regular basis throughout the whole game, round after round. Add to this his excellent opening preparation – he didn’t have a single bad position after the opening in the whole tournament – and you have the recipe for a victory.

Anand had another advantage in Khanty. He didn’t have the Monomakh’s cap with him this time, the burden of the title (remember Spassky words that his championship years had been the most unhappy in his life), the pressure of the public. After Chennai, nobody was expecting anything of him, but most important, he wasn’t expecting anything from himself. As he said it, he was hoping to do well, but that was all. Compare this attitude to the attitude of the other players, especially the favourites Aronian and Kramnik. They came to Siberia to win. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but they put so much importance on that, so much pressure on themselves, that eventually they cracked. They also played good, solid chess, but they lacked the monotonous part, exactly because of the pressure they were feeling. They couldn’t concentrate completely on the task at hand and while they could still cope with the pressure at the beginning of the tournament, when they were still fresh and had energy, as the tension increased they started to lose control and break down.

Going back to the unforced errors from the beginning, we can see that they weren’t exactly unforced. From a purely chess perspective they were, as Kramnik, for example, wasn’t forced to blunder on move 7 against Karjakin, but he was “forced” in another way – he was forced by the pressure he put on himself, the burden of the role of the favourite, the importance the event had for him. The same was for Aronian, Svidler, Topalov, Mamedyarov. Anand didn’t have any of those problems. That’s why he won.

Botvinnik was 49 when he lost convincingly to 23-year old Tal in 1960. Tal was “a genius” and Botvinnik was written off after the match as “too old”. The whole world was expecting the new and young king to rule for many years ahead. We all know what happened only one year later and the situation certainly does sound familiar. Anand is 5 years younger than the Patriarch and the rematch will definitely be more interesting and hard-fought – and if history is considered, anything is possible!
Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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  • Jul 25,2014 at 10:59 am

    Thanks, I will certainly try to do that when an opportunity presents itself. Check out my my other article which I will post after the weekend!

  • Anonymous
    Jul 25,2014 at 8:24 am

    If I understood well, to play monotonous means that one must have high class and excellent technique. In my humble opinion, there are not many of these chess players! It would not be bad to write something interesting about each of them … because you've already begun. Carry on. Your texts are simply "swallowed".

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