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WHAT HAPPENED ON THURSDAY?
Viswanathan Anand suffered a painful defeat after failing to put the finishing touches to a masterpiece he created against Vladimir Kramnik in the first game of the third round chess24 Legends of Chess on Thursday.
In this classic clash involving two former World champions, a move before resigning, Anand missed a winning continuation.
All credit to Kramnik for finding the defensive moves and coming out stronger in 63 moves.
It is not often that one witnesses a player offering two pieces, to be taken, at this level. Anand did precisely that with a brilliant tactical idea by offering a bishop and a knight, with an idea to help his potentially-queening advanced pawn.
Kramnik, with his rook and knight pair almost out of play on the queen’s side, brought out his defensive resources in time to make Anand think again. But Anand stayed in control until he missed a knight move that would have prevented further checks to his king.
Anand missed the knight block and with it, what would have been a memorable win ended up in a loss that is going to hurt for long.
Late on Wednesday, certain results seemed to flow in continuation on what happened in the previous round. Anand cracked in the fourth game, Gelfand and Svidler won while Ding Liren lost again.
Anand, after proving equal to Carlsen in the first three games, overlooked a trick from the World champion while enjoying a clear positional advantage and resigned. Unlike the blunder committed against Svidler almost 24 hours before that, Anand fought on but lack of time on the clock made matters worse for him.
Without being among the favourites, six seasoned practitioners bring in a fresh flavour to the penultimate event of the million-dollar Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour.
Such being the scenario on the eve of the $150,000 Chess24 Legends of Chess event, the point of interest will be whether at least one of the ‘legends’ deny the four younger players monopolising the semifinal spots.
If Magnus Carlsen (aged 29), Anish Giri (26), Ding Liren (27) and Ian Nepomniachtchi (30) advance following a nine-round preliminary phase, it will be a repeat line-up of the Chessable Master held earlier this month.
Even if one, among Viswanathan Anand (50), Vladimir Kramnik (45), Boris Gelfand (52), Vassily Ivanchuk (51), Peter Svidler (44) and Peter Leko (40) makes it to the semifinals, it will be big news.
This being an online event, the younger players obviously have a distinct comfort-level, having learnt the game by moving more pieces on-screen with the help of a mouse, than physically placing the pieces on the desired squares.
With several players from the pre-computer era around, expect more cases of ‘mouse-slip’ over the next 10 days than the number recorded in the last three events of the Tour.
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On the brighter side, none of the veteran is under any pressure of expectations. Therefore, one can expect them to play more freely and cause a few upsets. However, the four-game format in every encounter tilts the scales in favour of the younger lot.
After many years, Anand will not be the oldest participant in a round-robin event. Moreover, the 2017 World rapid champion has always been a force to reckon with in the shorter time-format. No wonder then, he has a good chance to gatecrash into the semifinals.
In fact, in the Nations Cup in May, Anand stunned Nepomniachtchi in just 17 moves to let the chess world know that he could still recreate some of his old magic.
It is also good for Anand that he starts his campaign against Peter Svidler, against whom he holds a favourable head-to-head record in classical time-format.
Svidler has been commentating in all tournaments so far on the Tour.
That should give him some edge since he has analysed threadbare most those games with several new ideas.
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Kramnik could find it a touch difficult to get past the league phase.
Following his retirement in January 2019, Kramnik has spent most of his time in coaching and being involved in fund-raising activities in Russia in these times of pandemic.
The trio of Gelfand, Ivanchuk and Leko are well equipped to win a few games but going beyond the league appears difficult.
Among the three, Ivanchuk can inject lots of excitement with his style of play. Original and innovative ideas were the hallmarks of his play during his prime. The 2016 World rapid champion has it in him to grab the attention with some truly brilliant play.
On the first day, much of the focus will be on the most-anticipated Carlsen-Giri clash. Besides their form, the other factor that gets them all the attention from the chess world is their much-followed battle of wits on social media. In what promises to reproduce the thrills seen in the final of Chessable Masters earlier this month, a fast-improving Giri will be looking to avenge the loss.