Cool Carlsen may have to fear a moment of complacency

It is said that good judgement comes from experience, and experience from bad judgement. This past week, Viswanathan Anand has been living the dictum.

After two bad judgements resulted in successive defeats, the World champion showed good judgement in the next two games. After all, it was not such a bad idea to distance himself from the unpleasant results of Game Five and Six with two painless draws and move to Wednesday’s rest day in search of a more concrete plan for the games ahead.

So far, in the World chess championship clash, neither Anand’s much-acknowledged opening preparation, nor his vast experience of playing matches, has troubled challenger Magnus Carlsen.

On the contrary, Anand is facing trouble like never before in his title-defence. For the first time since winning his maiden world title in 2000, the five-time winner is trailing following two defeats.

Loss with white

The loss in game six was Anand’s first ever, with white pieces, as defending champion in a World championship match.

Clearly, after the two defeats here, Anand looked shaken. Worse, he was unable to hide his agony that came to the fore in an unanticipated display of anguish.

In a rare first, the defending champion snapped at an overseas journalist, “I don’t know why you don’t understand English,” after he was asked to elaborate his previous answer.

When analysing his lost games, Anand talked about moves that he thought proved decisive. However, computer analysis showed that, objectively, these moves were strong enough. But Anand’s insistence that he was “lost” once he played those moves, brought to the fore his deficient judgement in reading the position.

This becomes all the more pronounced when one considers Carlsen’s ability to find the best move, almost every time, in an equal position.

With Carlsen leaving very little margin for error, even a fractionally sub-optimal move from Anand tilts the balance. This is what precisely happened in the fifth and sixth games.

Looking ahead, Anand should avoid pointers from history. After all, Anand has not beaten Carlsen in 19 encounters since scoring his sixth victory in the London Chess Classic in December 2010. In this period, Carlsen defeated Anand five times, including twice here.

The time has come for Anand to show his feared opening preparation. He can stay optimistic knowing all is not lost, but should be aware that time is running out fast.

At Tuesday’s press conference, for the first time in this championship, Carlsen sounded too confident for his own good. Resting on a two-point cushion, the challenger obviously has reasons to feel relaxed. In the past two drawn encounters, unlike the two decisive games, Carlsen did not press hard for victory.

Though each draw takes the Norwegian closer to the title, a moment of complacency can bring the pressure on the challenger.

And what pressure does to Carlsen was best seen in the closing rounds of the Candidates tournament in London earlier this year when the Norwegian lost twice in the last three rounds.

Handling pressure

So far, Anand has not been able to bring Carlsen under pressure. Therefore, the world is yet to see how Carlsen handles serious pressure in his maiden World championship match.

Barring a brief period during the third game, Anand has not asserted himself at any point in the championship so far. He is either busy matching steps with Carlsen or trying to catch up. If, at all, Anand has prepared even one opening surprise move with white and black pieces, he will unleash them over the next two days.

After all, Anand needs no reminding that adding just one point from the next two games will be equal to conceding one point to Carlsen.

Therefore, a gain of less than 1.5 points for Anand before Saturday’s rest day will almost clear Carlsen’s course to the crown.

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