Making a mockery of all pre-event speculations, Viswanathan Anand produced a scintillating display to topple favourite Levon Aronian in the opening round of the World Candidates chess tournament at Khanty Mansisyk, Russia, on Thursday.
Deadlocks on the remaining three boards meant Anand held the lead ahead of his second-round clash against former champion Veselin Topalov.
Anand, at 44 the oldest among the eight Candidates battling to earn the right to challenge World champion Magnus Carlsen later this year, foxed Aronian following the opening phase of Ruy Lopez. Anand benefited immensely as the Armenian erred while facing acute time pressure to complete 40 moves in the stipulated two hours of clock time. Aronian gave up on his 47th turn, early in the fifth hour, when he saw no way of rescuing his trapped knight.
This was Anand's third career-victory over Aronian and first with white pieces. Anand's last victory over the World number two came in the elite Tata Steel tournament at Wijk aan Zee, near Amsterdam, in January last year.
Since the players were separated by 60 rating points, the victory for Anand was worth 5.8 points and took his live rating to 2775.8. As a result, Anand temporarily moved up a rung, to the seventh spot, in the world rankings.
The Spanish opening is considered Anand’s forte from the white side.
On this day, Anand was not required to reveal any unused variation from his in-depth preparations done prior to last year's World title clash.
Anand negotiated Aronian’s Anti-Marshall rather well. Aronian, who later admitted having underestimated the ensuing position and treated it as “very simple” realised the gravity of the situation by the 20th move. It was at this stage that Anand returned a central pawn gained on the 12th move and exchanged the queens. Aronian took 38 minutes on the 23rd move without improving his chances.
Thereafter, Anand targeted Aronian's vulnerable queenside by a clever rook-move. Armed with a pair of bishops, Anand looked increasingly formidable, enjoying space and control. Eventually, Aronian managed to complete 40 moves with just two seconds remaining on his clock but committed a fatal blunder on the 39th move — and got his knight trapped. When Anand closed in on capturing the knight, Aronian resigned.
Anand's victory came after the remaining boards ended in unenterprising draws. Second seed Vladimir Kramnik settled for a 32-move draw with black pieces against fellow Russian Dmitry Andreikin in Nimzo Indian. This game saw a series of exchanges before the players signed peace in rook-pawn ending.
In another all-Russia affair, Peter Svidler and Sergey Karjakin took just 26 moves in Sicilian Paulsen to agree to a draw following repetition of moves. Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Topalov took 10 moves longer in Slav Defence to reach a similar agreement.
The results: First round: Viswanathan Anand bt Levon Aronian (Arm); Dmitry Andrekin (Rus) drew with Vladimir Kramnik (Rus); Sergey Karjakin (Rus) drew with Peter Svidler (Rus); Shakhriyar Mamedrayov (Aze) drew with Veselin Topalov (Bul).
Second round pairings: Topalov-Anand; Kramnik-Karjakin; Aronian-Mamedyarov; Svidler-Andreikin.