Can Viswanathan Anand bounce back from two stunning losses? Yes, he surely can. If Magnus Carlsen can win two out of six games, so can Anand.
However, it is far easier said than done. In the span of about 24 hours, the race for the World chess title looks different. With Carlsen delivering two punishing blows to send Anand reeling, a premature end to the 12-game contest appears possible.
Much like a heavyweight boxer, sitting in his corner and reflecting on the battering received in the previous two rounds, Anand now needs re-strategize his approach to the next six. He knows well that the last two rounds belonged to Carlsen who will be in a hurry to land the knockout punch.
The Norwegian would have also anticipated a bruised Anand to throw punches like never before. One more mistake and Anand could well firmly be on the mat. As things stand now, Anand has much to play for.
His first step, with white pieces in Monday’s seventh round will be to break Carlsen’s winning momentum.
A draw — preferably, a comfortable one — can surely sooth the World champion’s nerves. After all, the first-ever loss with white pieces to Carlsen on Saturday is something Anand will find difficult to forget in a hurry.
Secondly, it is apparent now that Anand’s bravado in walking into Carlsen’s territory and trying to tame the Norwegian has backfired, not once, but twice.
Therefore, it is time for Anand to show his preparations, aimed at drawing Carlsen out of his comfort zone.
In terms of quality, the match so far has produced some thrilling moments. Contrary to what Anand’s two losses reflect, he has played strongly.
With both colours, he has come out of the opening without giving anything away to Carlsen.
The problem area, so far for Anand, has been his inability to figure out the correct continuation in endings involving rooks and pawns.
In most equal endgame of this kind, draw is the likely outcome. But in the last two games, Carlsen has managed to improve his position gradually by picking up the best options available, thereby forcing Anand to do the same. However, Anand faltered once in each game and Carlsen got what he wanted. Most likely, in the next two games, Anand will concentrate on keeping more pieces on the board and go for sharper lines. Carlsen, in three games so far, succeeded in triggering off series of exchanges to gain positions of his liking.
Since the challenger is yet to be tested in a tactical battle, at least for the next few games, Anand should avoid any positional debate with Carlsen.
For those who believe Anand has already reached a point of no return — going both by his form and choice of lines played so far — it is important to remember that the World champion can now be expected to play more freely. Like a relieved driver, who no longer worries about his new car inviting the first noticeable scratch, Anand can now move on with a different mindset. However, being rash is not an option.
In the last two matches, against Veselin Topalov (in 2010) and Boris Gelfand (in 2012), Anand bounced back from singular defeat to level the score at the first available opportunity. Here, the deficit so far is double. The task on hand, no doubt, is difficult but not improbable. After all, Carlsen is human enough to commit mistakes.
If the Norwegian is ahead by 4-2, it is not because of any surprise element. He led Anand to the same course that the champion was well aware of. He engaged Anand in long, equal battles and eventually forced an error by the fifth or sixth hour of play.
It is indeed incredible that Carlsen continues to make moves of optimum strengths, defying fatigue. The same cannot be said of Anand.