How Anand played into Carlsen’s hands

CARLSEN VERSUS ANAND in Game Nine of the World Championship in Chennai last year. The way Anand planned his attack after opening with a sharper line in Nimzo-Indian was a beauty. But Carslen defended correctly, while Anand committed a blunder.-PTI

In Chennai last year, it was more a case of Anand losing than Carlsen winning. The young Norwegian, no doubt, played superbly, but he didn’t face Anand at his best; it was rather Anand at his worst in a World Championship match, writes P. K. Ajith Kumar.

Viswanathan Anand made two big mistakes against Magnus Carslen in the 2013 World Championship in Chennai. The first mistake was he overestimated Carlsen, and the second was he underestimated himself.

The score-line of the match might tell you that Anand had got the estimation all right. After all, Carlsen won three games and he didn’t win any.

However, the match was nowhere near one-sided. It certainly wasn’t like the way Anand himself had demolished Alexei Shirov in the 2000 World Championship final in Teheran.

In Chennai, it was more a case of Anand losing than Carlsen winning. Yes, the young Norwegian was superb and played remarkably accurately for most of the time, and that is no mean task. However, he didn’t face Anand at his best; it was rather Anand at his worst in a World Championship match.

Terrible blunders led to Anand’s defeats. As Anand himself later pointed out, those mistakes didn’t happen themselves. Carslen’s excruciatingly patient, waiting game played a key role in inducing those mistakes. Still, when you make mistakes like that in a World Championship, you are making things very easy for your opponent.

Carlsen is someone who could make you pay even for the slightest of errors. His game is built on the theory that in a long game, players are bound to make a mistake, just make sure you don’t make any serious one. Carlsen is strong enough — mentally and physically — to wait for that tiny bit of chance.

So what does one do against such an opponent? The least one can do is to not allow him too many situations like that. One should try not to play into his strength. Strangely, Anand did that and paid the price.

Anand thought he would feel better if he could match Carlsen in the waiting game. He was encouraged by the draws in the early part of the match.

It is always better if one plays to his strengths without worrying unduly about the strong points of his rival. Anand’s strength lay in playing sharp, tactical chess. But when he chose to play such a game in the must-win Game Nine, it was way too late. The way he planned his attack after opening with a sharper line in Nimzo-Indian, threatening checkmate all the time, was a beauty. It raised expectations of an unlikely comeback late in the day, but Carslen defended correctly while Anand committed a blunder.

That game, however, proved how Anand could have put Carlsen under pressure. It was Carlsen who was struggling in that game right upto the end.

Anand also had a problem in estimating the position of the board correctly during the match. When he should have pressed for a win, as in Game Three, he didn’t. He calculated, incorrectly, that he didn’t have enough advantage and settled for a draw too soon. Then, on another occasion, when he saw Carlsen’s position getting stronger, he gave up far too soon. The position wasn’t as intimidating as he had imagined.

Looking back at the match, Simen Agdestein, who trained Carlsen when he was 10, had this to say: “There wasn’t much difference in the chess between the two at the World Championship. But Anand gave too much respect to Carlsen. When you do that, you become unsure of yourself. And Carlsen knew it, and took advantage.”

R. B. Ramesh, the former Commonwealth champion who was a television commentator for the World Championship in Chennai, was of the view that Anand also suffered from the pressure of playing at home. “Wanting to do his best in his hometown probably got to his nerves,” he said. “And there were far too many unkind, unwarranted questions during the press meets after every game. All that must have contributed to his lacklustre performance in Chennai.”