King Carlsen keeps his cool

A beaming Magnus Carlsen after the victory in Sochi. Carlsen admitted he was "inconsistent" but underlined the fact that his game was "evidently good enough." He said, "I can still improve. I still did something good."-PICS:AP

The Norwegian’s 6.5-4.5 victory with a game to spare in the 12-game match in Sochi, Russia, was in keeping with the form and current standing of the players. By Rakesh Rao.

It was yesterday once more for Viswanathan Anand. A repeat dose of the bitter pill of defeat from Magnus Carlsen was hard to swallow but unlike the World chess title-clash in November last, Anand had reasons to feel less miserable.

Losing to the World’s best player is no shame. Anand started the match as an obvious underdog, trailed early, caught up at the first available opportunity and thereafter, could not cash in on the chances that Carlsen offered.

Carlsen’s 6.5-4.5 victory with a game to spare in the 12-game match in Sochi, Russia, was in keeping with the form and current standing of the players. The Norwegian retained the title he won in Chennai last year.

The rematch was possible after Anand won the year’s most-followed tournament, the Candidates, in March to earn the right to challenge Carlsen for the world title. During the course of this tournament, Anand performed exceptionally well and stayed undefeated in an elite field. His victims included then World No. 2, Armenia’s Levon Aronian.

Anand added the Bilbao Masters title to indicate to the chess world that he was in far better form to challenge Carlsen this year. On the other hand, Carlsen was not performing up to his own high standards.

So, the stage was set in Sochi for Anand, 44, to take another shot at Carlsen, 23, and the World title.

Viswanathan Anand and Carlsen fight it out in Sochi. Anand was categorical in his assessment. "I have to admit he was superior. His Nerves held up better. All things taken into account, he just played better."-

As things turned out, Anand after defending well with white pieces in Game 1, crashed to defeat in Game 2. The early setback saw Anand respond with a vengeance. He returned after a day of rest to turn the tables on Carlsen.

The match had come to life. Millions following the moves, in real time, on the internet were divided on how this match would end. Carlsen remained the favourite but Anand’s victory in the second game had raised exciting possibilities.

In Chennai, Anand was outplayed with an undefeated Carlsen winning three games and finishing the match with two games to spare. Anand later admitted that he regretted not getting a grip on Carlsen’s style through the match.

But the taste of victory had made Anand more confident in Sochi. The players kept pace till the end of Game 5. With the rules permitting reversal of colours (of pieces) for the players from the halfway stage of the match, Carlsen played white in Game 6 and Game 7.

This was seen as Carlsen’s opportunity to press home the advantage. And he did.

In Game 6, what turned out to be the most dramatic game of the match, Carlsen blundered on the 26th turn to virtually hand over to Anand an opportunity to win. Anand, who took a minute to respond, overlooked the ‘gift’ offered by Carlsen and continued with his defensive plan.

A “massively relieved” Carlsen went on to rub it in and won the game after dominating it. This painful defeat did shake Anand but he returned after the day of rest for Game 7 and defended stoutly with black pieces for 122 moves to earn the praise of the chess world.

In this game, Anand sacrificed a minor piece and then denied Carlsen a winning continuation. It was clear that Anand had seen more in this game than his rival.

Three more draws followed with Anand failing to cash in on the games with white pieces. In Game 11, Anand managed to get a promising position with black pieces and brought Carlsen under pressure. However, in what was an equivalent of a ‘self-goal’ in football and hockey, Anand self-destructed. An unjustifiable trading of rook for a bishop from Anand turned Carlsen’s position from worrying to winning.

The match was over with a “happy and relieved” Carlsen keeping the title without having to play the final game with black pieces.

Unlike the match in Chennai, Anand clearly played much better against an inconsistent Carlsen. The decisive difference between the players was Carlsen dealing with the pressure and complications better than Anand — a fact acknowledged by both players.

Even after 21 World championship games between the two, Anand did not succeed in keeping Carlsen under sustained pressure. The champion remained more stable during the key moments of the match and saw his opportunities more clearly than the challenger.

Unlike in Chennai, Anand had no reason to regret that he did not create chances to win. In Games 6 and 11, the result could have gone either way but Anand’s inability to grab the opportunity made the difference.

Carlsen admitted he was “inconsistent” but underlined the fact that his game was “evidently good enough.” He said, “I can still improve. I still did something good. For sure, Anand did better than he did last time. He really pushed me till the end.”

Anand was equally categorical in his assessment. “I have to admit he was superior. His nerves held up better. All things taken into account, he just played better.”