The Big Clash: Anand vs Carlsen

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This is the second part of the article prepared by IM Saravanan, featuring the first game of the World Chess Championship match 2014, Sochi, between Vishy Anand and Magnus Carlsen.


If you missed the first part, you can check it out here. Now, let’s continue with the game! 🙂
Vishy Anand vs Magnus Carlsen

White to play


White continued with 21. Rhe1 (congratulations if you found this move and analyzed this variation!)


A logical-looking move! After all, ‘rooks belong on open files‘ (when there are no pawns present at all on that file) and semi-open files (when only your opponent’s pawns are present).


[Vertical straight lines are known as files: a-file, b-file, etc. Horizontal straight lines are known as ranks: 1st rank, 2nd rank, etc.]


Observe how almost all White’s pieces are centralized and quite active. This compensates for his structural weakness – the ‘doubled’ pawn on the f-file and the ‘isolated’ pawn on the d5 square. [An isolated pawn is one that cannot be supported by pawns in the adjacent files.]


This, people, is typical Vishy for you! This is what general wisdom would say, but there is more to it in this position than meets the eye. White may have centralized his pieces, but there is another important positional element here: Black’s knight.


White’s pawns at d5 and f4 may be weak, but they prevent Black’s knight from getting active. Hence, White should keep that knight passive, not allowing it to be exchanged for White’s bishop on e6, and later bring his kingside rook from h1 to e1, to eye Black’s pawn at e7, which is weak. (It is typically referred to as a backward pawn, one that is struck on the 2nd rank and cannot move easily.)


Hence, it was essential to play 21.Kb1, to move the king away from checks on the c-file, to play 21…Nd8 22.Bg4, preserving the bishop.

Vishy Anand vs Magnus Carlsen

Black to play


If you are observing keenly, this is the second concession Anand allows, and it leads to problems. Such kinds of position are precisely Magnus Carlsen’s forte – playing logical and solid positional chess, and the ability to play such moves with deep perception of the position for lengthy periods. Such precision, applied for hours and hours over the board, makes his opponents wilt under pressure.


This single aspect of play, ladies and gentlemen, is what Carlsen has brought to the world of chess!! I prefer to call it Carlsen’s Dance.
Vishy Anand vs Magnus CarlsenIn the history of chess, there were indeed players who evinced great depth in such positions, the twelfth world champion Anatoly Karpov being foremost among them. But with Carlsen, the depth and precision are at much more profound and sustained levels.


Does this mean that Vishy is not adept at playing such chess? Definitely not, for he is a universal player who can play any kind of chess; but his strongest points are more on the dynamism front. Also, due to a multitude of reasons, he was not able to manage such positions against Carlsen in the previous match, to withstand Carlsen’s Dance.


21…Nd8 22.f5

Vishy Anand vs Magnus Carlsen

Black to play


The problem was 22.Bg4 e6 [The pawn on d5 gets lost for White, the Black queen joining the operation with… Qb6-c5+ later on] 23.Bf3 cxd5 24.Bxd5? Qc5+ 25.Kb1 Nc6 and the White bishop is in danger.


22…Nxe6 23.Rxe6 Qc7+ 24.Kb1 Rc8 25.Rde1 Rxe6 26.Rxe6 Rd8 27.Qe3 Rd7

Vishy Anand vs Magnus Carlsen

White to play


The situation has changed a lot. First of all, we have entered a pure major pieces ending (the bishop and knight are referred to together as minor pieces, and consequently the queen and rook are major pieces).


Now, Black has only one obvious pawn weakness, at e7, whereas White has to worry about his d5-pawn as well as his disjointed pawns on the h and f-lines. Neither king is very safe, being liable to exposure to checks and attack. So, overall, the position has slowly tilted in favor of Black, but only very very mildly.


But more than anything, there is a tiny perceptible momentum shift: from now on, it may be Black that is calling the shots.


How did Carlsen achieve this? Well, this is his specialty. And he is at his best when having such a position and the initiative on his side. It was precisely in such positions that he defeated Anand in the 5th and 6th games in Chennai 2013.



Vishy Anand vs Magnus Carlsen

Black to play


A pawn ‘sacrifice’, when material is given to the opponent willingly for positional compensation, or with the conviction – concrete or intuitive – that the material given will all come back in due course. It is very difficult to judge here whether this is the best continuation, but it is typical of Anand to open lines and go for a dynamic position, believing in the activity of his own pieces.


28…exd6 29.Qd4 (attacking the Black pawn on f6) Rf7 30.fxg6 hxg6 31.Rxd6

Vishy Anand vs Magnus Carlsen

Black to play


More clarity. Now, leaving out the kings, only 14 of the total 30 pieces remain, and that, too, in a similar-looking pawn structure. Therefore, what can give Carlsen that tiny bit of edge here? Well, more than anything, he likes playing such positions, where he can concretely create small threats against White’s position, and the disjointed pawns on the kingside are the first objective here…


31…a6 32.a3 Qa5 33.f4 Qh5


Just as predicted, hitting the pawn on h2. Note that, always, a ploy to exchange the rooks with 35.Rd7?? will be met with the disastrous 35…Qf5+ with a fork.


34.Qd2 Qc5

Vishy Anand vs Magnus Carlsen

White to play


Observe how Black’s queen has improved her position by coming that l.i.t.t.l.e bit more to the center, pushing the White queen back a tiny bit in the process. Carlsen has started dancing and – oh boy! – he does it well.


35.Rd5 Qc4 36.Rd7 Qc6


Carlsen is even ready for a swap of rooks, reasoning that, in the resultant queen ending, he will also be able to pressurize White’s pawns on the kingside.



Vishy Anand vs Magnus Carlsen

Black to play


Vishy decides otherwise. We may wonder if playing such easy positions, even with a tiny bit of disadvantage in the structure, will lead to such problems against Carlsen. But it is much more complicated than that!


1) First of all, there is no way that Black is risking anything in such positions while playing for a win. So, it makes it very comfortable for Carlsen to push his advantage, however small it might be.


2) Second, this is Carlsen’s bread and butter! For Vishy, it is definitely not an easy scenario, sitting at close quarters to a young and energetic opponent who seems to have all the patience, against whom almost the whole world is scared to play such positions!

Vishy Anand vs Magnus CarlsenHence, more than the position itself, it’s with his reputation and record of how he plays such positions that Carlsen gets into the head of his opponents.


3) Third, Magnus Carlsen has seemingly mastered this craft and has been consistently breaking all records in the past few years, playing such chess and steamrolling his opponents along the way.


Believe me, to an untrained eye, this line of play may even look boring. But to someone who understands Carlsen’s craft, it is bloody fascinating! How many of you wouldn’t mind watching a real-time spider patiently spin his web, especially when a fly is bound to come its way soon?!


I hope you get the picture, at least somewhat. Basically – Carlsen’s Dance.


37…Qe4+ 38.Ka2 Re7 39.Qc1 a5 40.Qf1 a4

Vishy Anand vs Magnus Carlsen

White to play


In chess, the immediate moves preceding the 40th move are always crucial, as that is when the time control is reached.


(For this world championship match, the time control is: each player has 120 minutes for the first 40 moves, 60 minutes for the next 20 moves, and then 15 minutes for the rest of the game, with an increment of 30 seconds per move starting after move 60.)


Getting low on clock time means that one won’t have sufficient time to contemplate one’s moves. (One NEVER has sufficient time on a chessboard!). This leads to the chess player’s nemesis – time pressure!


Though Anand is considered one of the fastest ever in the history of chess, with passing years he, too, occasionally gets bothered by the clock. In the past couple of moves, he has really given some ground to his opponent and is staring at Black beginning to dominate the position. Just compare the previous two diagrams with blank eyes – you can see that Black has done better for himself!


41.Rd1 Qc2 42.Rd4 Re2?

Vishy Anand vs Magnus Carlsen

White to play


Strangely, in the process of tightening the noose around his opponent’s neck, it is Carlsen who errs. With this move, he attacks White’s pawn on b2with his queen + rook battery (generally denotes any combined friendly forces in a straight line). But in his eagerness to advance the rook to the 7th rank – remember the wisdom about the 7th rank?! – he misses a tiny but important detail.


Instead of the actual move made, 42…Re3 was a better choice, creating the thunderous threat of 43…Re3xa3!! – with check, as 44.Kxa3 loses to 44…Qb3+ mate! Of course, White would easily have parried such a threat, but the pressure would have remained constant and the dancer would have continued dancing!


43.Rb4 b5 44.Qh1!

Vishy Anand vs Magnus Carlsen

Black to play


Tall people always have an advantage in playing chess, since they have long hands and can always see sweeping piece moves quicker. 🙂 Now, suddenly, the White queen springs into life, threatening to harass the Black king. Now there is a complete change of tempo.


By the way, it is not even necessary to attribute such a move to Anand’s facility for spotting dynamics over the board – he is capable of much more!


44…Re7 45.Qd5 Re1 46.Qd7+ Kh6

Vishy Anand vs Magnus Carlsen

White to play


47.Qh3+ Kg7 48.Qd7+


A common drawing mechanism – perpetual check. If any identical position is repeated thrice, voluntarily or otherwise, the game is ruled a draw.


A little summary:


  • The opening phase of the game was full of surprises, from both sides. These are early days, and the first four games are always exciting, watching the unfolding of months and months of opening preparation by both sides.


  • True to his reputation, Anand had something special against his opponent’s choice of the Grunfeld. As we saw, Anand once again dazzled in his territory – opening preparation – and got to play a dynamic position.


  • Carlsen found his niche when he started consolidating and defending. At a crucial moment, his psychology in offering an exchange of queens turned the tide.


  • Understanding that his position had basic structural weaknesses, Anand started defending dynamically and managed to bring some clarity into the position, inching towards equality.


  • This is when Carlsen’s Dance started, as he slowly started spinning his web and improved his position, inch by inch. And in the period preceding the time control, he managed to improve his advantage considerately.


  • Just when the noose was tightening, Carlsen made an error in execution, allowing Anand to spring out with counter-play and nail the draw.

Vishy Anand vs Magnus Carlsen

Psychologically, it is much more complicated. Thus, showing his high preparation level even against an unexpected opening, Anand demonstrated once again why he is considered a connoisseur of opening theory. And he almost got a good dynamic position that was slightly favorable, but with reduced pieces. This was the plus he could take.


Though somewhat foxed in the opening, Carlsen’s defensive skills stood him in good stead and he did very well to turn the game around. This must be a worrisome factor for Anand, as Carlsen managed to do it even with the Black pieces.


Carlsen being allowed to ‘dance‘ (though only a little) would be the biggest minus for Anand in this game; also, that he could not further the dynamic plusses he managed to achieve out of the opening.


P.S. Did you enjoy this interesting article by IM Saravanan? Please write your suggestions and feedback in the comments below. 🙂
Comments: 6

Comments 6

  1. Very good article, one of the most entertaining authors. He appreciates well the psychology factor during chess games and its influence over making decisions.

  2. Very good article, one of the most entertaining authors. He appreciates well the psychology factor during chess games and its influence over making decisions.

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