Pushed by the World champion, the challenger pulled the “emergency brake” at the first sign of a crisis.
Viswanathan Anand called the 16-move draw a “satisfactory result.” In certain ways, it was more than satisfactory. The 90-minute opener left Magnus Carlsen “uncomfortable.”
It was indeed a pleasant result for Anand who denied Carlsen a hat-trick of victories with white pieces in their head-to-head clashes.
“No damage done,” was how Carlsen tried to cheer himself up, ahead of the second game on Sunday when he will sit behind the dark pieces.
The early finish was contrary to the image Carlsen has acquired in recent years. The Norwegian was straightway expected to engage Anand in a tiring battle with white pieces. The short draw, following a repetition of moves, brought out a little-known aspect of Carlsen’s.
For those wondering how often Carlsen has agreed to a 16-move draw with white pieces in a classical game, here is the answer. Not even once in the past four years!
The rare event was last seen in Carlsen’s game against Gata Kamsky in the 2009 Corus Tournament in Wijk aan Zee (the Netherlands).
The only other evidence of Carlsen playing white and opting for a draw — in 13 moves — dates back to 2004 when, as the World’s second youngest Grandmaster, he signed peace with Eduardas Rozentalis in the Politiken Cup.
On Saturday, from the moment Carlsen entered the playing area — separated from the spectators by a sound-proof glass wall — he looked fidgety.
He arrived ahead of Anand, occupied his place, adjusted the pieces and gave a cursory glance at the battery of photographers clicking away as though there were no tomorrow.
Within moments of Anand’s arrival, with 10 minutes still to go for the scheduled 3 p.m. start, a restless Carlsen left his chair.
Soon, both players came face to face again, and FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov made the first move on behalf of Carlsen.
“After thinking about it for months and months, well, today it finally started. (It was) almost a relief to finally get to play. As for the game, it developed, kind of, fast,” was Anand’s initial reaction to the game.
The choice of Reti Opening, not known to be among Carlsen’s favourites, did not really surprise Anand, who said, “You come to a match expecting surprises.”
On the ninth turn, Anand chose a line rarely played by the elite players, and clearly shook Carlsen’s confidence. He traded his queen-pawn with Carlsen’s queen-bishop pawn.
At this stage, it was apparent that Anand was eager to get his pieces into action and seize the initiative.
Sense of danger
But Carlsen’s sense of danger did not desert him.
“Generally, in these positions the play develops a bit more slowly. But here, there was an immediate crisis and it did not appear that any of my options were particularly promising. From there on, (after the 13th move), I had to pull the emergency brake and go for a draw,” he said.
Carlsen’s words clearly spelt out his desperation. “Well, I am not thrilled with the way the game went,” he said.
But both players chose not to read too much into the brief proceedings.
“You can’t be reacting to every twist and turn. There will be many twists and turns in a lot of games. Today went satisfactorily. That’s clear. (It was a) fairly comfortable draw with black,” said the World champion.
Carlsen, who recalled “a couple of embarrassing draws” with white made during the Candidates Tournament in March-April this year, summed up saying, “As Vishy (Anand) said, a comfortable draw with black is satisfactory, I would say, an uncomfortable draw with white is not satisfactory.”