Two serious blows

Different moods... Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand at a press conference after the sixth game of the World Chess Championship match in Chennai.-R. RAGU

In both the decisive games, Viswanathan Anand’s errors crept in only beyond the fourth hour of action. Whether these dubious choices from Anand were a result of fatigue or genuine error of judgement, all credit is due to the consistency of Magnus Carlsen. Here is a mid-match review at the end of the first six games. By Rakesh Rao.

Sometimes, it is interesting how interpretations of certain actions change as dramatically as the action itself.

When World Champion Viswanathan Anand and Challenger Magnus Carlsen drew the first two games of their 12-game World Chess Championship title-match, the short draws were seen as the players’ way of testing the waters.

When the next two games, too, failed to break the deadlock, these battles were deemed to be projecting the intimidating tactics of the players.

When the following two games saw Carlsen torture Anand in long battles and winning both, the inference drawn was that it was virtually all over for the World Champion.

Going by the manner in which Carlsen dealt two serious blows to the local favourite’s title-defence, it seems difficult for Anand to draw level unless he produces a new trick or two in the remaining six games.

In fact, the predicted script for the match between the five-time World Champion and the game’s highest-rated player, had pointed to such a progression.

Carlsen 22, was expected to engage Anand, 43, in long battles. The Norwegian is not known to agree for short draws in equal position. He relies on his ability to filter the best option in every position, thereby making it difficult for Anand to consistently find moves of optimum strength.

In both the decisive games, Anand’s errors crept in only beyond the fourth hour of action. Whether these dubious choices from Anand were a result of fatigue or genuine error of judgement, all credit is due to the consistency of Carlsen. It is truly amazing how a player, who unlike his several illustrious predecessors, does not strive too hard to get advantage in the opening phase but plays the rest of the game like a master beyond his age and experience.

Anand, for all his experience of playing World Championship matches, has not been able to live up to his reputation. Seen as very strong in endgames, especially the ones involving rooks and pawns, Anand twice failed to get it right in the space of 24 hours.

At the halfway stage of the championship, it will not be fair to question Anand’s stamina and search for the fatigue-factor for the two defeats. Clearly, Anand willingly walked into Carlsen’s territory, played the kind of position the Norwegian loves but could not get out without getting seriously hurt.

So far, barring the fifth game, both players have looked comfortable with black pieces. It indicates the superior preparations of the contestants against white. Since Carlsen has shown a way to win with both colours, Anand can be expected to be more pro-active in his approach.

Adopting sharper lines, with more tactical possibilities in the middle game, has been Anand’s forte. So far, Carlsen has not allowed Anand the liberty of dictating the pace. It is indeed to the credit of the Norwegian that he has steered the battles to the lines of his liking and succeeded in breaking the Indian’s resistance.

It is not that Anand has played badly in any of the games. He gave away very little out of the opening phase with black pieces, though a mistake each in the fifth and sixth games has blotted Anand’s notebook.

Carlsen is following his trusted path. He loves playing positions that offer equal chance for both sides. He has an uncanny ability to keep improving his position without looking overly intimidating. Should the rival fail to match Carlsen’s progress soon, it is too late to save the game. Ask Anand who succumbed twice to the mounting pressure of constantly matching the potency of Carlsen’s moves.

Call it coincidence, in both the games that Anand lost, his choice of rook-checks proved decisive. The errors committed by Anand also point to his lack of adequate preparation of the endings. Perhaps, the focus has been far too much on the opening lines with black pieces. It is indeed hard to explain Anand’s choice of moves in endgames involving rooks and pawns.

If one were to look at Anand’s games in the past two years, he has seldom won an endgame battle. Most of his draws have been in the third hour, thereby leaving very little chance for Anand to test his endgame skills. Twice, when it mattered, Anand failed to reproduce his mastery of the time-tested techniques.

Carlsen, on the other hand, hunts the best in endgame positions. He must be pleasantly surprised to note the manner in which Anand made it easy for him. In fact, following the sixth game, Carlsen rubbed it in during the post-game press conference by indicating how Anand fell for his “little trap” in a seemingly drawn position.

Anand knows he has more than just a theoretical chance of bouncing back. This is where his experience should come to the fore.

(This article was written at the end of the first six games, on November 16, 2013)