Lull before the storm?

Quick draw...Game No. 2 between Anand and Carlsen had the potential to develop into a sharp battle before it petered out into a draw in 25 moves.-R. RAJU

The most anticipated World title match in history since Bobby Fischer took on Boris Spassky got off to a sedate start with two quick draws. By P. K. Ajith Kumar.

The ground floor of Hyatt Regency in Chennai resembled a high security zone on the afternoon of November 9. There were policemen all around; everyone was being checked more than once. The bags, the laptops and the mobile phones had to be deposited with officials before you entered the ballroom.

Such tight security perhaps was not entirely out of place, for the ballroom was about to witness a battle for a precious crown — the World Chess Championship. And the world had been waiting eagerly for that battle to begin.

Viswanathan Anand, the five-time World champion, was taking on Magnus Carlsen, statistically the strongest chess player of all time. A clash between two generations — at 43, Anand is 21 years older than his rival — and styles.

It was the most anticipated World title match in history since Bobby Fischer of the United States took on Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union in Reykjavik, Iceland.

However, what one saw on November 9, when the first game of the best-of-12 matches was played, was a quiet beginning. It was all over in just over an hour (everyone was bracing up for a battle of some six hours, for Carlsen tends to play long games and dislikes short draws).

The Norwegian prodigy began unexpectedly enough, with a knight move. In a way, that wasn’t entirely surprising because opening theory was always going to be his weakness and Anand’s strength in this match. So, he would have wanted to take Anand on to less familiar territories.

He didn’t succeed in his endeavour though, as it became evident soon that he got nothing out of the opening (Reti transposed to Fianchetto Grunfeld). The player with the white pieces is expected to have some advantage in opening, but Carlsen didn’t have any against a confident-looking Anand.

With the black pieces, the reigning champion would not have been too unhappy to take a draw in the opening game, and he got that with little trouble. The game was drawn, by a repetition of moves. And it lasted just 16 moves.

“Yes, it was a satisfactory result for black,” Anand admitted at the press conference. “Though the computers might have liked my position more, it was difficult to find a strong line for me to press my slight advantage.”

Carlsen said he wasn’t thrilled with the way the game went. “The crisis developed quickly in this game, and any of my options didn’t look particularly promising,” he said. “I had to pull the emergency break and go for the draw.”

Some 24 hours later, they were back at the media centre, to explain another short draw, which also ended with repetition of moves (a game could be drawn when three positions are repeated). This time, the game lasted 25 moves. Carlsen had replied to Anand’s king-pawn push with Caro-Kann Defence and the game had the potential to develop into a sharp battle before it petered out into a draw.

Anand admitted he was surprised to see his rival employing Caro-Kann. The Indian has had excellent results in the past with that line of opening, and Carlsen’s decision to take him on along the very line was probably a statement.

The gentleman he is, Anand apologised for the two short draws. “I am sorry to have disappointed the fans, but I promise there will be better games than today,” he said.

The player to score 6.5 points would be the champion. If it is 6-6, the match would be decided via the tie-breakers.

Quite a lot of people came to watch the action live at Hyatt Regency for the first two games, paying Rs. 2,500 for a ticket. There were even spectators from overseas, like Josh Barber, a London-based lawyer who travels the world to watch World Championship matches live.

The Chennai match was inaugurated by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, J. Jayalalithaa, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium. The stadium was packed long before the ceremony started. And there was plenty of dance and music. Actress and Bharatanatyam dancer Shobana, Bharatanatyam dancer Urmila Sathyanarayanan and veena artiste Veena E. Gayathri were among the performers. A breathtaking show by the Villniss Dance Company was the highlight of the programme.

Anand and Carlsen both seemed to enjoy those graceful, powerful and creative moves of the dancers. As the World Championship gathers momentum, the two Grandmasters are too sure to come up with some exciting moves on the board.