Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen have started hurting each other. The punches have left cuts and bruises on the embattled contenders. The deadlock continues but the scars are clearly visible.
Contrary to most pre-match predictions, the World champion is showing the eagerness to make things happen. For the second successive day, Anand willingly got into a position the Norwegian loves. He somehow lost the plot going into the middle game and then battled all the way past testing phases leading to the two time-controls for a 64-move draw.
The score is tied at 2-2 in this best-of-12-game battle of brains. But in all four games, the player sitting behind the black pieces looked brighter.
The Ruy Lopez enjoys an honourable place in Anand’s opening arsenal. Carlsen, too, has had good results from the black side of these opening lines. In this background, an engaging battle ensued.
Flurry of exchanges
Carlsen opted for the Berlin Defence, made famous by Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik during their 2000 World title-clash. Following a series of exchanges, the queens were off the board before the ninth move. This meant, Anand was ready to test Carlsen in the queenless position that the challenger is known to thrive in.
No wonder, Carlsen later said, “Well, I was very happy with the way the opening went. I was feeling pretty good.”
Fleeing with the king to the queenside was a natural option for Carlsen after the exchange of queens denied him the chance to castle.
Taking the bait
Soon, Anand, rather inadvertently, dared Carlsen to capture a queenside pawn in return for more active piece-play. The youngster took the bait.
There was excitement all around as the sequence of draws looked unlikely to continue. “When I won the pawn, I was very optimistic,” revealed Carlsen.
Anand, too, was candid in his admission. “Something went horribly wrong in the opening. I made one illogical move after the next. Then I just missed something (after offering a queenside pawn) and suddenly… I’m just basically lost.”
Perhaps, this statement in the post-game press conference was a bit exaggerated. At this stage, the position offered plenty of counter-play to Anand with no immediate danger. In fact, Kasparov, who was monitoring the game in the hotel’s business centre, observed Anand’s body language and said to Grandmaster M.R. Venkatesh, “Anand looks good now, he seems to have got his calculations right.”
What followed was a gripping battle worthy of being part of a world title-match. Both players were looking for opportunities, but the one missed by Carlsen on his 36th move gave Anand a chance to elude the Norwegian’s grasp.
Carlsen’s choice to keep Anand’s king under rook-check let the World champion move the king into a square that forced the black rook to retreat. This not only allowed Anand some breathing space but also raised his hopes of surviving the day. But there was still some work to be done. Thereafter, it was Anand who kept defending well while keeping his attacking options open.
Carlsen admired Anand’s play when under pressure. “He kept finding resources, I was missing something. He fought really well. Today, I could not do enough to break him.”
The fifth and sixth hour of play saw Anand closer to a draw and Carlsen happy to maintain the pressure. As Anand was to confess later, “Towards the end, it was a bit scary in the four-rook endgame. I was lucky that twice, close to the end of both time controls (for moves 40 and 60), I could give a check and make my next move and reach the time-control.”
Carlsen was left with a mixed feeling. “It’s a bit of a pity to have spoilt such a good position. It was a very good fight, so I can’t be too unhappy.”
The fifth game of the match will be played on Friday, after a day of rest.
The result: Fourth game: Viswanathan Anand (India, 2) drew with Magnus Carlsen (Norway, 2) in 64 moves.