From a guarded beginning to a couple of gruesome battles, the World chess championship has truly come alive.
Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen may be separated by 21 years, but judging them on the barometer of chess mastery, maturity and spirit, there is little to choose between them. They have willingly walked into each other’s territory and eventually returned to their camp unscathed.
The players can reflect on Game Three and Four with a certain amount of pride. If Carlsen showed he had all the answers to the questions thrown at him by Anand on Tuesday, the World champion was equal to the challenge a day later. The quality of chess seen in Game Four has lit up the title-match.
In this battle of equals, it was Anand who gained a bit more with a display of sound defensive techniques, reminiscent of his form that saw him scale many peaks. Last week also saw Anand produce more than just glimpses of his glorious past. His pro-active responses in testing situations have not only cheered his fans but also left the challenger puzzled.
For instance, the manner in which Anand showed Carlsen that he was not afraid to take him on in a long, queen-less battle, allowed a peep into the champion’s strong mental make-up for the match.
For Carlsen’s followers, it was just the kind of position the World No. 1 has come to excel in. But, eventually, Anand gave nothing away.
Carlsen had the advantage of playing with an extra pawn on the board from the 18th move. He possesses an uncanny ability to enlarge miniscule gains into a decisive tool. Anand is no stranger to this aspect of Carlsen’s vast capabilities. But all credit to the Indian for consistently finding accurate answers till peace was signed after 64 moves.
In fact, rarely does Anand come under pressure to complete 40 moves in two hours (of thinking-time) or another 20 moves in the following one hour.
But on Wednesday, Anand was worried heading for the time-controls. It was indeed an unfamiliar territory for the original ‘Lightning Kid’ but he came out unharmed. He later described it as being ‘lucky’ to find the right moves that saw him complete his quota within the stipulated time-limit.
Another factor that has further enlivened the proceedings is Anand’s readiness to get into certain continuations over the board that lead to longer games. It shows Anand’s confidence in his improved stamina, one area where his younger rival clearly holds the edge. Though these are still early days in the 12-game match, the World champion has shown no signs of avoiding long battles of attrition.
Carlsen, who plays white in the fifth game after Thursday’s rest day, can be expected to test out a different opening from the ones seen in Game One and Three.
For the questions he asked Anand in Reti Opening, the responses were almost unnerving. The Indian clearly won the debates.
In fact, in all four games, the players’ opening preparation with black has stood out. White could not even find the slightest edge coming out of the opening phase.
In this respect, Carlsen will not be too unhappy. He is usually fine with getting into the middle game with no gaugeable advantage. It is the phase that follows where he is the most dangerous.
Most of Carlsen’s victories have been mainly due to his ability to find a series of moves, of optimum strength, in positions that most players find almost ‘dead’ — without exciting possibilities.
Anand, obviously, is no stranger to this fact. Going by the confidence reflected in the manner in which he has carried himself in the match so far, Anand can be expected to dare Carlsen again in areas considered to be the young Norwegian’s forte.
It is indeed a great sign that the usually ‘cool’ Anand is ready to meet fire with fire.