Great warriors would rather die standing than live on one’s knees.
History is replete with such examples. In a battlefield where pride is as important as performance leading to victory, true fighters have had their moments of glory, without necessarily coming out triumphant.
On Thursday, the fighter in Viswanathan Anand made such a moment become a reality in the battle for the World chess crown.
The World champion fought gallantly and produced some of his best attacking tactics, seen in recent times, against World No. 1 Magnus Carlsen.
Down on his the knees and up against the odds, the World champion chose to take the fight to the challenger’s camp. The resultant bravado raised visions of the 43-year-old coming out stronger.
Going all out for the ‘kill’, Anand moved closer to land the knockout punch. It was here that Anand realised he had lowered his guard. But it was too late. Carlsen made his move and left Anand stunned.
The 28-move defeat for Anand in the ninth game took Carlsen closer to the title.
The 23-year-old now needs just a draw from the remaining three games to dethrone the five-time champion. Carlsen, who plays white in the 10th game on Friday, is widely expected to seal the title with two games to spare!
It is easy to assume fate was unkind to Anand on this day. Sometimes, in chess, it is rather unjust to end up with a zero after producing such high-quality play for the better part of the game.
Carlsen’s words reflected his relief. “It was really a tough game. From the start it was clear that it was going to be extremely unbalanced. I was in serious danger of getting (check) mated, which I hadn’t in the previous games.
“I just had to deal with the situation. There were amazing lines of complicated lines here. I was not sure what to do. As it happened, my moves were not complicated.
“I had to play the ‘only’ moves all the time. And fortunately, for me, he (Anand) blundered.”
Anand, understandably devastated after getting it wrong on the threshold of a possible victory, said, “Well, I needed to change the course of the match drastically.
“That’s why, I kind of, went for it. I had a rest day to get familiar with all the material because it is a very complicated line.
“I had to go with something like this. I still think I had to do this. It was the correct choice.”
No wonder, for the first time in nine games, Anand looked relaxed. He blitzed the opening moves of Nimzo-Indian Samisch variation more rapidly than Carlsen.
Anand, for his first 18 moves, took only 34 minutes. In comparison, Magnus used up 67!
In simple terms, the battle was more about Anand trying to seize the initiative from the kingside and Carlsen pressing for some counter-activity from the queenside.
With both players choosing to counter-attack instead of defending, the stage was set for some thrilling action.
Though Anand was slow on the queenside, with pawn-weakness very apparent, he had to concentrate on staying ahead with his plan to checkmate Carlsen.
The situation was hanging in balance till Carlsen made his 22nd move, pushing his queenside pawn to the sixth rank.
At this point, Anand took a whopping 45 minutes to choose between two lines of attack. With Anand in deep thought, the champion’s 32-minute advantage turned into a five-minute deficit.
Considering the game was at a crucial juncture, Anand checked and re-checked his choice but overlooked Carlsen’s line of defence.
He carried on with his plan to checkmate Carlsen and let the challenger get a second queen on the board.
This second queen also brought with it, a clear defensive plan that was to foil Anand’s ploy to force a checkmate. Once Anand realised what he had overlooked, he resigned at once.
The result: Game Nine: Viswanathan Anand (India, 3) lost to Magnus Carlsen (Norway, 6) in 28 moves.