SANDS: Missed chances as Anand, Carlsen start world chess title match in Chennai, India

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Like boxers cautiously feeling out their opponents in the early rounds, world champion Viswanathan Anand of India and Norwegian challenger Magnus Carlsen produced short, tentative draws in the first two games of their scheduled 12-round title match now underway in Chennai, India. But even though no hard punches were landed, the first two games did provide quite a bit of insight for the rounds ahead.

Anand, the underdog in his fourth title defense, scored the first psychological point in Game 1, easily equalizing on the Black side of a Reti Defense with a rare side variation that took his younger opponent by surprise. Already unsettled, Carlsen missed a key tactical resource for White and, in his colorful words, “reached for the emergency brake” by accepting a draw by repetition after just 16 moves. With just six games with the White pieces in the match, Carlsen gave away the first half-point far too easily.

But it was Anand who was reaching for the emergency brake in Game 2 after Carlsen surprised him with a sharp variation of the Caro-Kann Defense as Black. The result was another relatively short draw in 25 moves, but this time there was a lot more going on under the surface for both players to analyze.

Anand spent a large amount of time considering his options from Moves 12 to 14, worried that he might be walking into some pre-match preparation from the Norwegian. In the end, White does not repeat the move 14. Qe2 which won him a brilliant victory this year in the Alekhine Memorial against Chinese GM Ding Liren.

That game — which one can safely assume Carlsen knew intimately — continued 14…c5?! 15. dxc5 Qc7 16. b4 O-O 17. O-O a5 18. a3 Nxe5 19. fxe5 Nd7 20. Ne4 axb4 21. cxb4 Qxe5 22. Bc3 Qc7 23. Rad1 Rad8 24. Qg4! g6 25. Nd6 e5 26. Qc4 Nb6 27. Qe4 Nd7 28. h5 gxh5 29. Qf5 Bf6 30. Qxh5 Qc6 31. Rxf6! Nxf6 32. Qxe5, and Black resigned facing mate along the long diagonal.

Anand-Carlsen after 17...Qd5.

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Anand-Carlsen after 17…Qd5. more >

The champ instead backed down with the more modest 14. 0-0-0 0-0 15. Ne4 Nxe4 16. Qxe4 Nxe5 17. Nxe5 Qd5!? (see diagram), and once again White bails out with 18. Qxd5?! cxd5, when the postgame analysis suggested Anand could have complicated things favorably with the more pointed 18. Qg4!? Kh7 (Carlsen’s intended move, though 18…f5 19. Qg6 Qxa2 20. Bxh6 Rf7 may be stronger) 19. Kb1 f5 20. exf6 Rxf6 21. Bg5! Rg6 22. c4!, a deflection that leaves White clearly better after 22…Qxc4 23. Qe4 Bxg5 24. h5, with a material edge.

With Black threatening to take the initiative with his queenside play, Anand steers the game to placid waters with the careful 21. Rf1 Rac8 22. Rg3 Kh7 23. Rgf3 Kg8 24. Rg3 Kh7 25. Rgf3 Kg8, with a draw by repetition.

The players took turns sheepishly apologizing for the sleepy opening rounds, but the pace may pick up after Monday’s rest day.

As is traditional, few big-time events or tournaments are scheduled while the world title fight hogs the stage. But a few lesser events are going forward. Today’s second game comes from the first round of the Norwegian team championships in Oslo at the beginning of the month, featuring a very attractive attacking push from IM Torbjorn Hansen against fellow IM Kjetil Stokke.

In a Sicilian Rossolimo-Nimzovich Attack, Hansen already has sacrificial intentions in mind on 13. Bb3 f5?! (Black is opening up the game at a time when he lags in development, never a good strategy) 14. exd5! e4 15. dxe4 Bxa1 16. e5 Bc3 17. Qd3 Bxb4, and White has only a pawn for the lost rook, but his e- and d-pawns dominate the center of the board and his pieces can get quickly into the action.

Hansen pushes ahead with 18. Ng5+! Kg7 (accepting might be the better option here: 18…hxg5 19. Qh3+ Kg7 20. Bxg5 Be6! [Rh8? 21. Bf6+] 21. Qh4 Bxd5 22. Qxb4, with chances for both sides) 19. e6 Nxd5 (trying to give back some of his ill-gotten booty; 19…hxg5 loses now to 20. Bb2+ Rf6 [Kg8 21. Qd4 leads to mate] 21. Bxf6+ Kxf6 22. Qd4 mate) 20. Bxd5, when Black’s best practical chance now looks to be 20…hxg5 21. Qd4+ Kh7 22. Qxb4 Re8 23. Qc3, though White is clearly superior.

On the game’s 20…Be7?! 21. Nf7! Rxf7 22. exf7 Bf6, the material balance has been restored, but Black’s position is a mess. Now 23. Ba3 wins trivially, but White prefers the scenic route with 23. Qe3! Qxd5 24. Qe8 Qxf7 25. Bxh6+!, pulling the king neatly away from the defense of the Black queen. White’s queen and rook are more than enough to finish the job, which winds up with an old-fashioned king hunt after 27. Re1 a5 (what else?) 28. Re7 Bb2 29. Qh7+ Kg5 30. f4+ Kg4 31. Qh3+ Kxf4 32. Qh4 mate.

Anand-Carlsen, Game 2, World Championship Match, Chennai, India, November 2013

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6 6. h4 h6 7. Nf3 e6 8. Ne5 Bh7 9. Bd3 Bxd3 10. Qxd3 Nd7 11. f4 Bb4+ 12. c3 Be7 13. Bd2 Ngf6 14. O-O-O O-O 15. Ne4 Nxe4 16. Qxe4 Nxe5 17. fxe5 Qd5 18. Qxd5 cxd5 19. h5 b5 20. Rh3 a5 21. Rf1 Rac8 22. Rg3 Kh7 23. Rgf3 Kg8 24. Rg3 Kh7 25. Rgf3 Kg8 Draw agreed.

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About the Author
David R. Sands

David R. Sands

Raised in Northern Virginia, David R. Sands received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He worked as a reporter for several Washington-area business publications before joining The Washington Times.

At The Times, Mr. Sands has covered numerous beats, including international trade, banking, politics ...

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