Anand finds a way to hold Carlsen

Updated - November 17, 2021 11:06 am IST

Published - November 09, 2014 12:20 am IST

Despite Anand’s brisk start, Carlsen slowly seized the initiative to become theaggressor in the opening game on Saturday.

Despite Anand’s brisk start, Carlsen slowly seized the initiative to become theaggressor in the opening game on Saturday.

“If you don’t hit first, you get hit.”

This much-believed maxim among those pursuing combat sports, like boxing, seemed to be Viswanathan Anand’s mantra against on Magnus Carlsen in the opening game of the World championship in Sochi on Saturday.

Anand began with an aggressive intent but it did not last long. Carlsen slowly seized the initiative to become the aggressor. Between moves 30 and 40, Anand played “some imperceptibly careless moves and things started to get annoying” and conceded the kind of miniscule ground that Carlsen seldom misses to exploit. Later, in the press conference, Anand chose Move 34, “to pick a number,” from where he felt things started to go wrong for him.

So optically, from a position of comfort in the first 20 moves, after getting what he wanted to get out of the opening phase of Grunfeld Defence, Anand gradually lost his way.

The body language of the players changed dramatically. Carlsen, sensing his chances, looked increasingly keen whereas Anand kept shifting nervously in his chair.

Eventually, Anand’s stubborn defence coupled with Carlsen’s questionable choice of square to place his rook on the 42nd move, gave the game a late twist. Anand’s queen found a way to Carlsen’s king and forced a draw by perpetual checks after 48 moves.

“To be honest, it (the position) did not require so much (to hold). In the end, I am happy to have found a good way out,” said Anand about his defensive idea that Carlsen admittedly missed.

The Norwegian said, “I was a bit tentative at the start. Then I was a bit worse but managed to get a slightly better position. Once Anand found the queen-move (on the 44th move) I did not see how I was winning. Overall, I am happy to start with a draw with black pieces.”

To start with, seated behind the white pieces, Anand chose to test the World champion by opening with the queen-pawn, unlike the king-pawn start he adopted in Chennai last year, and the resultant Grunfeld Defence gave rise to some exciting possibilities.

Brisk start

As though to make a statement, Anand blitzed the first 13 moves in just four minutes while Carlsen consumed more than 45! Early exchanges of minor pieces followed, as seen in this kind of set-up, before Anand sat thinking after he castled on the queen-side.

With the players choosing to castle on opposite sides of the board, Anand’s fractured pawn-structure on the kingside gave Carlsen some hope of a favourable endgame if the contest reached that stage. Anand had to tread carefully.

Anand took his time and the game slowly hung in balance. Now it was Carlsen’s turn to pose questions. Anand had to ensure that the position remained dynamic and not drifted into a dry, equal endgame where he would be playing long for a draw.

Gradually, after further simplification, the players were left with a queen, a rook and two pawns each on both flank as the game headed for the first time-control and made 40 moves in their two hours of stipulated time.

Though computer analysis projected Carlsen as fractionally better after 21 moves, Anand was never in any danger of losing. However, around the 40th move, Carlsen had left Anand worried for the first time in the game.

Anand’s choice of opening was clearly influenced by the kind of start he got in Game 9 of the last World championship clash. Though he blundered to lose that game after holding a promising position for the better part, it was clear that a pro-active approach from Anand was the only way to push Carlsen on the defensive.

On this day, Carlsen gained ground as the game grew longer. He continued in an equal position, something he loves to do. Unlike most players, Carlsen neither offers nor accepts draw in positions where he convinced that he cannot lose.

This was one such position and he pressed on. Anand had to summon his best defensive skills to stay out of harm’s way. And he did.

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