Every time Anand seemed to be close to checkmate, Carlsen had an escape route, writes IAN ROGERS
The great Viswanathan Anand is set to give up his world title on Friday to the phenomenal Magnus Carlsen, but the world champion refused to go quietly.
Luck may be an overused term in chess, but there is no doubt that the margin between winning and losing in a world championship game is slim, as Anand found to his cost on Thursday.
Knowing that quiet play had proved insufficient against the Norwegian master of manoeuvring, the world champion threw everything at Magnus Carlsen and was within a single move of crashing through with his attack against Carlsen’s king.
On move 20 Anand calculated his way through a long and complicated variation where it seemed that his opponent might be defenceless despite an extra queen. (When asked later if he had been scared during the game, Carlsen replied “All the time!”).
Three moves later Anand paused. He had seen a defence for Carlsen, a single defence which held the line.
For the first time since game 4, Carlsen did not have the position under control and Carlsen knew “I was in serious danger of being mated.”
On move 22, Carlsen spent 15 minutes on his move, falling half an hour behind Anand on the clock and expecting the worst.
The young Anand would have been brimming with confidence at this point, and would have used Carlsen’s thinking time to decide his next move, replying almost instantly.
Instead the roles were reversed.
Anand, convinced there must be a way through Carlsen’s defences, spent 45 minutes searching through a forest of variations.
Every time he seemed to be close to checkmate, Carlsen had an escape route. One line looked roughly equal but given the match situation Anand had to go for more.
Finally, Anand went for broke, giving Carlsen an extra queen — with check — in order to progress his attack.
In response, Carlsen started to play like the young Anand, thinking on his opponent’s time and spending a minute or less on each move instantly.
Then, having looked far, far ahead, Anand forgot to look around.
Anand had seen a long series of moves where he forced Carlsen to give up both his queens, after which the result of the game and the match would be up in the air.
Misses trivial move
Unfortunately Anand had missed a trivial move by Carlsen which forced him to resign the game instantly.
This was the sort of blunder which has been cropping up more frequently in Anand’s games in recent years, most notably and expensively in game six of this world title defence against Carlsen.
One would expect experience to make a player stronger as they become older and learn more, but chess is a ruthless sport, with one mistake capable of ruining hours of steady strategic play.
As a player ages, certain mental faculties become less sharp.
Opening variations become harder to memorise but, far more importantly, sight of the board fades.
Outside Anand’s range of vision
Before the title match it was noted that Anand’s two most recent losses against Carlsen had come in games where a particular move fell outside Anand’s range of vision, and his mistake on Thursday, overlooking Carlsen’s 28th move completely, fell into the same category.
Anand did everything he could to defeat Carlsen in this match, and in Thursday’s game in particular.
But there was a hungry young lion waiting to take control of the pride and eventually the veteran was forced to cede.
Anand can look back on a phenomenal world championship record, with three successful title defences — a feat achieved by very few.
Carlsen has not looked back
Yet in November 2013 in Chennai, he was no longer strong enough to hold back Carlsen — the youngster who took over the world number one position from Anand just over two years ago and has not looked back.
One expects Anand to hand over the title on Friday with a short draw and a generous concession speech.
There is only so much raging against the dying of the light that a great champion can do — as Sachin Tendulkar and Roger Federer know.
Australian Grandmaster IAN ROGERS is in Chennai