Anand defused the first firecracker without even singeing his hands, writes Ian Rogers
Game 1: A 16-move draw. Nothing happened. “No damage done,” said Carlsen.
Not so fast...
Holding the World No. 1 to a draw with the disadvantage of the black pieces in less than two hours, in a game where only Anand could choose whether to play for advantage, is a more-than-useful achievement by the Indian World champion.
Carlsen tried to delude himself that this sort of result was not unusual, saying, “In the Candidates [tournament — the qualifier for this match] I played a number of embarrassing draws with the white pieces, so that's OK.”
Embarrassment of sorts
In fact, Carlsen played only three draws in London, the games going 30, 37 and 41 moves. That is nothing like as embarrassing as playing white and seeing your opponent begin a repetition of moves on move 13, with the game concluding three moves later.
Saturday's first encounter should have been a danger game for Anand — he had lost twice with black against Carlsen in the past 13 months, instead the underdog handled the favourite with consummate ease.
By the end of the game Anand was half-an-hour ahead on the clock and briefly flirted with the idea of avoiding the repetition and playing for the full point. Wisely, he decided to force the draw, in doing so showing the game would be drawn only when he, the World champion, wanted to repeat moves, since Carlsen's last three moves, moving his queen backward and forward were 100% forced if he wished to avoid immediate defeat.
Carlsen, by choosing a version of the Reti Opening favoured by one of his helpers, French Grandmaster Laurent Fressinet, showed he was looking for trench warfare.
Instead, by move 10, Anand had initiated hand-to-hand combat and Carlsen, unable to find a way to combat Anand's sharp plan, had to “pull the emergency brake” as he said twice! — at the post-game press conference.
A few pointers
While “it's a long match” as Carlsen was keen to point out, one can already draw some conclusions about the likely course of the title contest.
Unless he was feinting in the first game — quite unlikely, given his demeanour afterwards — Carlsen has not changed his slow opening strategy, which some pundits had opined would not be good enough at World championship level.
Anand, on the other hand, was well prepared even for a second move which Carlsen had played only once previously in tournament play, and that in a ‘blitz’ championship — a tournament of five-minute games, T20 chess.
On Sunday, Anand, with white for the first time, will be looking to keep control of the match. A win would be gold, but Anand wouldn’t mind another draw as long as he remains the player pushing his opponent around.
Needed, sharper opening
Carlsen, however, needs to steer the game in his direction, but this won’t happen unless his opening play is sharper and more precise. Carlsen has had two long training camps, in Norway and Oman, with Grandmaster assistants, so he should have arrived in Chennai with plenty of ammunition.
Anand defused the first firecracker without even singeing his hands so it is time for Carlsen to upgrade to more serious weapons in the opening phase. From the look of the first game, Anand will be ready and waiting.
(Ian Rogers is an Australian Grandmaster based in Sydney)