NOVEMBER 6 — Magnus Carlsen will defend his title against Viswanathan Anand in the World Championship match to be played in Sochi from November 7-28, 2014.
Russia is a Mecca for top-level chess; one of the few places in the world where chess is held in the highest regard and from the time of the Soviet Union a brilliant organiser of world championship matches so there is no doubt at all the event will meet the highest standards possible.
Furthermore, given the current geo-political challenges resulting from the conflict in Ukraine and subsequently Russian President Vladimir Putin agreeing to a desperate FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s request to underwrite the match in the lead-up to the FIDE elections last August, we can be even surer that this match will become a showcase to help legitimise both of them.
There is a lot, however, to be concerned about; some which directly concern the result of the match but perhaps more pertinently, the future of world chess.
First, of course, is the fact that no one wanted the match.
Well, it was not so long ago that Anand lost his title to Carlsen in Chennai in the 2013 World Championship Match sanctioned and underwritten by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram (“Amma” or “Mother” as the former Bollywood star is popularly known locally) who has since been jailed for corruption.
And it is also well known that FIDE has been at war with Norway Chess since it announced support for Gary Kasparov in the FIDE election leading up to the Tromso Olympiad.
This put Carlsen in a difficult position as he clearly hoped for Kasparov to win and the match organised elsewhere but he was forced to subsequently agree to defend his title in Sochi, given a very short deadline imposed, on the threat of forfeit.
This occurred while he was playing in the Sinquefield Cup (ironically organised and sponsored by American billionaire Rex Sinquefield who was the treasurer on the Kasparov ticket) which was billed as the strongest such event in history.
Second, Kasparov has told Carlsen privately (and given the nature of the man, also in public) his reservations about whether the match would be fair which has of course gotten the now standard FIDE reaction, “Bullshit.” This time via its highly controversial appointed FIDE Vice President Israel Gelfer.
I personally do not think Carlsen or his team would allow the match to deteriorate to that level and Anand, even though clearly a much more acceptable champion to FIDE and Russia, is also known for his fair mindedness and correct behaviour even if admittedly it will be hard for him to consciously refuse to accept some psychological advantages. For sure that kind of pressure will be applied to Carlsen.
The bottomline is that Russia has too big a stake and too much respect for the game they want to own to mess it up and there is great of respect for both Carlsen and Anand.
During the Anand-Carlsen match last year, I was a guest of AICF (India Chess Federation), and it was particularly interesting to see how Carlsen’s team managed to completely shield him from any possible distraction by successfully creating an environment where he was happy and relaxed and could just give all his focus to playing.
I am curious that in his position now as champion as opposed to challenger (although a big favourite then as is now) and playing in Sochi, Russia, if it will be possible to do the same but then again it might actually be even easier! (On Twitter I read that knowing how much Carlsen enjoys physical activity and in particular soccer, they have arranged games for him against local teams!)
Third is the fact that the prize fund is now half of what it was in Anand-Carlsen match held in India! But I suppose that is better than no World Championship match as in the case presently for the women although I do expect China will do it to save face or some Middle East country like Iran will agree or one of the nine Emirates will eventually be persuaded to help.
I see the inability of FIDE to attract sponsorship to be its biggest problem. Not many know that FIDE actually came into being to take control of the World Chess Championship on the death of holder Alexander Alekhine in the days when the title was practically private property.
Despite FIDE entering into numerous commercial partnerships with various entities over the years that have become defunct i.e. FIDE Commerce, Global Chess, Chess Lane and most recently, the controversial Agon which has failed to raise any money and whose ultimate ownership has been questioned (see http://www.chess.com/news/deal-between-paulson–ilymzhinov-revealed-in-yet-another-leaked-document-6252). Yet Agon, which apparently gets royalties despite its complete failure, is now joined for Sochi 2014 by another new and equally opaque and mysterious company World Chess Events Corporation as organiser (http://www.sochi2014.fide.com/organizers/).
Now to no one’s very big surprise it has emerged that amongst the sponsors are Russian state owned oil giant Gazprom, a company under sanctions from both the EU and USA, a matter that is causing some alarm within the Norwegian camp.
Magnus Carlsen remains the highest ranked player in history at 2863, a comfortable 34-point margin ahead of the man a year younger he had long identified as one of his likely future challengers, Fabiano Caruana at 2829 (who in fact was the runaway winner of the Sinquefield Cup), while Anand who has played well recently after several years of indifferent play has now moved up back to 2792, a rating currently good enough for sixth place.
Without exception, the ratings favourite has always triumphed as has usually been the younger man (except in the case of Mikhail Botvinnik who won every rematch after losing his title!) so it is hard to say if Carlsen’s less than recent stellar results (do we expect too much?) or Anand’s apparent revival (are we hoping too much?) will change these facts too much.
But there is no doubt that Anand is much better prepared this time and it will be easier psychologically as he has nothing to lose and it will be Carlsen who will be the one under pressure.
I have known Anand since he was 14, he has been a friend for a long time. Not many today know that after he created records for Asia by winning the World Junior Championship and soon after became India’s first grandmaster, he helped repay a long friendship started even earlier with his elders in the Madras chess community when he was just a promising young player amongst many, by being the guest of honour at the Selangor Open sponsored by Royal Selangor Pewter which I helped organise that year and so making it very special for Malaysian chess.
So my sympathies are with the “old man” but objectively the match is still Carlsen’s to lose.
Like all chess enthusiasts world wide who will follow the match online, we want the best match that is possible and two great players at their best, and so I wish that Anand will play without the obvious “fear” he had in Chennai because then he clearly did not believe he had a chance and that should Carlsen, as most expect, ultimately emerge as the winner, it would be because he had to show his full class and to publicly acknowledge that it was with Anand’s help he won because he had to bring his game to an even higher level than we have seen before.
NOVEMBER 13 — The World Chess Championship Match which is underway has now reached the fourth game of the 12-game contest.
It has so far been a fascinating affair; as expected, the veteran ex-World Champion and now again Challenger Viswanathan Anand is showing how well prepared he is in the openings while the young Champion Magnus Carlsen has tried to steer play into “playable” middlegames and endgames. No question that this is very much both a clash of styles and philosophy as well as between generations.
Game 1 must have been disappointing for Anand as he got what he wanted in the opening but Carlsen showed all his resourcefulness and over the board improvisation to get away and in the end was even trying to win! A fighting draw was a good way to get the match started.
Then came Game 2 and the hesitant play by Anand which so characterised his game when giving up his title a year ago in Chennai gave Carlsen a chance to break through.
But in the very next Game 3 played after a rest day where the pundits were lamenting Anand’s approach, poor form, etc., and offering all sorts of advice, the older man came up with the equaliser. This was a completely crushing win. Carlsen admitted after the game that he never had a chance after being caught in Anand’s carefully worked outcould be met by 29…Ra5. Anand was planning to improve his position furthermore by Qb7 at some point, but it’s not the clear win yet.
Everyone’s question was what would Carlsen come up with in Game 4. He does not like to lose and often comes back with a vengeance!
The first surprise was that Anand went for the more aggressive Sicilian Defence after Carlsen continued with 1 e4 and of course it was not going to be a theoretical fight. Carlsen opted for a line he has often played with 3 g3 and for a long time the probing got nothing with Anand always finding a safe continuation. Then he forced the position to open up, then finding moves to keep the game going and try as he might there was never quite enough and in the end had to take the draw.
Here we have it — a standoff at 2-2. Perhaps Anand could take more positives in that he had finally managed to win against Carlsen and it is clear that he had the big edge in openings. And yet as frustrated as Carlsen might be at the lack of risk being taken by Anand and his inability so far to push him harder him in the middlegames and endgames he so excels in, he did manage a win too and as the match goes on the older man would be expected to start to tire.
NOVEMBER 20 ― With the score tied 2-2 after four games of the 12-game Carlsen-Anand World Chess Championship Match, many experts saw Game 5 to be pivotal with Viswanathan Anand having the advantage of the White pieces before defending champion Magnus Carlsen enjoyed two Whites in succession as a consequence of the match passing the halfway mark.
Anand, as expected, had showed how well prepared his openings were, choosing to play 1 d4 (as when he surprised and beat Russia’s Vladimir Kramnik to be declared undisputed world champion in 2008) and so far, each time he had white he was very much dictating play; his win in Game 3 to equalise the score coming with hardly a move played out of his pre-game preparation!
In Game 2 Carlsen had taken full advantage of Anand’s hesitancy to take the lead but it was also clear so far in all the games that he had no advantage going into the middlegame where he is considered to be the stronger player strategically and generally the slightly tactically superior Anand has been able to find enough to hold.
The question really then for the pair of Game 5 and Game 6 after the rest day was whether Carlsen would be able to neutralise or at least mitigate Anand’s overwhelming superiority with White and on the flip side, also if Anand would not become too passive in the equal positions arising when Magnus would naturally press on as on that, even if still early days, the results might determine momentum of the match in favour of one of the contestants and perhaps even decide the final outcome.
A familiar pattern unfolded in Game 5. Anand played 1 d4 and it was clear that Carlsen came prepared, both players playing their opening moves quickly. But nonetheless Carlsen was soon in trouble as Anand has again seen much deeper at home. Carlsen was forced into falling back on his usual ingenuity in a difficult position but one that was yet not quite without resources as in the game he had lost earlier.
While everyone expected a long drawn out suffering by Carlsen to hold the game, tellingly Anand did not seriously press and in fact quick simplifications followed which made it the shortest draw to date. It was very disappointing indeed to see the lack of fight by the challenger.
The drama in Game 6 was all about the huge blunder Carlsen made and on the 26th move, a gift that was not taken by Anand. Instead Carlsen who had been building up a winning position at that point after very passive play by Anand who seemed fixated in getting a draw, gratefully took his second life and went on to win in impressive fashion.
With the halfway mark reached, the colours were reversed and so Carlsen got his second successive White. It was clear that Anand’s approaches in both Game 5 and Game 6 had all gone wrong and it would be a surprise if he continued in the same vein and yet there was still no need to go for broke with Anand also having three Whites more. The question was if he could hold or even win if a Carlsen who is not at his best would over press?
Anand decided to go back to the Berlin where he suffered his first loss in Game 2 when Carlsen opted for an Anti-Berlin continuation. This time, in Game 7, both players clearly came well prepared and it was Carlsen who innovated first in a well-known position. Despite being a pawn up, this was Carlsen’s type of game and Anand found himself under some pressure, yet found a way to sacrifice a piece to try and build a fortress. This meant, as Carlsen put it ” I thought he already signed for suffering” and in this quite fascinating endgame where even many illustrious grandmaster commentators struggled to explain play, play continued 122 moves, by just two moves, only the second longest game ever in world championship history before a truce was agreed with no mating material left!
The attention now shifted to Game 8 where Anand now had the first of his three Whites in the five games left, some calling it the moment of truth for the challenger, and clearly a win would ensure the momentum would be back with him.
It started out well enough for Anand with 1 d4 and going into the Queen’s Gambit Declined with 5 Bf4, his chosen weapon for this match. But Carlsen avoided the current theory where he was completely out prepared in his only loss, instead choosing the old main line where White is considered to have a plus. His unusual move 9…Re8 to take Anand out of book did not surprise and after some initial attempts to build an attack it became clear that the pieces were coming off with an easy draw.
So we have it at 4.5-3.5, one win and one point separating the players with four games to go, and with the young defending champion looking very comfortable indeed.
NOVEMBER 25 — Magnus Carlsen came alive with a stunning win in Game 11 that ensured he retain his title over Viswanathan Anand, the five-time world champion he so easily dethroned a year ago in Chennai, India.
In a position where Carlsen’s pressing in yet another Berlin had gone nowhere and when he was drifting into a difficult position after he overlooked Anand’s brilliant 23…b5, all it took was a miscue missing 26…Be7 and instead opting for an easily misjudged exchange sacrifice for the younger man to turn the tables around with exactly calculated sharp moves played quickly with absolute confidence.
This time around Anand put up a much better fight in this match but in the end Carlsen proved to be the much better player overall and the final score of 6.5-4.5 was probably a fair reflection of their respective abilities.
Carlsen showed many of his strengths in this match but it was obvious that he is not quite the complete player. Clearly this “rematch” just a year later came a bit too quickly for a young man who was starting to be busy being world champion and he will have to do rather a lot more work to win against a younger rival should that be the case in his next title defence.
In several respects Anand showed how good he was and how superior preparation in the openings could be a winning weapon but age had taken its toll and he also did not seem to believe he was the better player or had a real chance to win.
After 8 games into the 12-game match, World Champion Magnus Carlsen enjoyed a minimal one point lead over challenger and former World Champion Viswanathan Anand with the score standing at 4.5-3.5.
Several experts were even saying that everything was still possible as the last few games of a match is different while other pundits were certain that Carlsen was sure to retain his title given Anand’s apparent reluctance to take too many risks.
In Game 9, Carlsen had White, knowing a win would all but ensure he would remain world champion and it was again a Berlin after 1 e4. The game was unexpectedly short, once again Anand showing superior preparation and Carlsen quickly deciding to bail out by taking a draw through perpetual check after understanding very correctly to try and continue would have led to a position where Anand had everything to play for.
This handed the initiative back to Anand in the next game where he had White notwithstanding he was a point behind as a win would not only equalise the score but strike a huge psychological blow while giving him the momentum.
Anand as expected played 1 d4 and surprisingly Carlsen opted for the Grunfeld which he had some trouble with in the very first game of the match and it became quite clear that he and his team have not quite solved all the problems with Anand building up an excellent and perhaps more importantly a sharp position but as we had seen so many times in this match, at critical moments the older man chose a safer continuation and once again Carlsen escaped. What was even more worrying was Anand, as he had also done before, did not try very hard, in fact initiating the simplifications to make the draw.
So the stage was set for the last two games, a win in the penultimate Game 11 with White for Carlsen while a win for Anand would set up a decider in the last game where he would have the White pieces.