2012 was a busy year in chess. From a World Championship match to a new record in chess excellence, there was plenty to discuss, debate, and watch unfold over the last twelve months. Here's a look back at the biggest stories in the chess world during 2012!
Anand Defends World Championship
Heading into 2012, all eyes were undoubtedly on the World Chess Championship match between defending champion Viswanathan Anand and challenger Boris Gelfand. For most observers, Anand was the heavy favorite; as an all-time great up against a player who was outside the top 10 in the ratings list and had never been considered one of the truly great players in elite chess, it was assumed that Anand would cruise to victory - or at least come out ahead without any major hiccups.
But the match, which featured only two decisive games, was a very difficult one for Anand. The first six games all ended in draws, and it was Gelfand who would ultimately draw first blood to take the lead. Anand struck back quickly in Game Eight, when Gelfand blundered to allow Anand to draw even at 4-4. The last four games were drawn, sending the match into rapid tiebreakers, where it was widely assumed that Anand would have an even bigger advantage. The quick games resulted in some sloppy play, but Anand was able to score the only win, and that was enough to retain his World Championship.
With Anand's struggles to beat Gelfand, his lack of impressive results in tournament play, and the likelihood that he may have to play Magnus Carlsen, Levon Aronian or another top contender in his next title defense, all eyes are now on the 2013 World Championship match - one in which Anand could very easily be considered an underdog.
Carlsen Breaks Ratings Record
Or at least the last couple of years, there has been significant speculation that Magnus Carlsen would eventually break Garry Kasparov's record for the highest FIDE rating ever. While the mark wouldn't necessarily make Carlsen the strongest player ever - there has been some ratings inflation over the years - it would certainly have great historical significance.
While Carlsen had been over 2800 for some time, he really started to separate himself from the pack at the start of 2012. Wins in the Tal Memorial, Grand Slam Chess Final and at the London Chess Classic were joined by strong performances in Wijk aan Zee, Biel, and other events. The London Chess Classic victory was enough to push his rating to 2861, enough to break the record when the January 2013 rating list is released. Could a World Championship or a 2900 rating await Carlsen in 2013?
FIDE Adds New Rating Lists
2012 saw the introduction of two new ratings lists from FIDE: a rapid list and a blitz list. While these lists will never get the kind of attention that the classical list does, they promise to add a bit more gravity to events that were previously seen as exhibitions. Technically, such lists do not exist yet, as FIDE is waiting for more games before publishing rankings. However, looking at player profiles does reveal their rapid and blitz ratings along with their standard ratings; for instance, on the December 2012 list, Magnus Carlsen had not only his widely known chess rating of 2848, but also a 2845 rapid rating and a 2856 blitz rating.
Chess Players Make Media Waves
This was a great year for chess in the mainstream media. There were at least three stories that grabbed major headlines or screen time this year, keeping chess in the public consciousness.
There was the story of I.S. 318 in Brooklyn, New York, as told by the documentary Brooklyn Castle. Receiving rave reviews (and garnering additional attention as I.S. 318 managed to become the first middle school to win the U.S. National High School Chess Championship), Brooklyn Castle went from being a small film that might have proven popular in chess circles to a true hit that was praised by mainstream critics and movie fans.
Not surprisingly, Magnus Carlsen's achievements at a young age have been well documented, and he was a popular choice for media stories in 2012. Most notably, Carlsen appeared on a segment of 60 Minutes, the popular television news series. The Carlsen story also gave 60 Minutes an excuse to unearth some great footage from a story they did on another chess great back in 1972: Bobby Fischer, on the eve of winning his World Championship.
Finally, even ESPN - a network that has been surprisingly kind in its chess coverage over the years - got into the act this year. Uganda's Phiona Mutesi, a 14-year-old girl who came from extreme poverty to become a Women's Candidate Master and one of the top female players in her country, was profiled in ESPN: The Magazine, and also had the chance to visit ESPN studios and make an appearance on television.
Armenia, Russia Win Olympiad Golds
The 40th Chess Olympiad was not one for those who love major upsets, as a couple of the world's great chess powers dominated the proceedings. In the Open competition, the Armenian team led by Levon Aronian and Sergei Movsesian took the gold medals ahead of Russia and Ukraine. In Women's play, it was Russia who came out on top, just ahead of China and Ukraine. American chess fans were left without medals this time around, with the Open team taking 5th and the Women's team finishing a surprisingly low 10th.