- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What next for Magnus the Magnificent?

The victory of the young, dynamic Norwegian GM Magnus Carlsen in dethroning world champion Viswanathan Anand in their title match last week has sent an electric thrill through fans of the game worldwide.

The genial, unassuming Anand has been a worthy world champion, a brilliant competitor and an inspiration for a generation of chess stars in his native India, but it was clear many in the chess world were rooting for the media-friendly, model-handsome 22-year-old Norwegian to be the new standard-bearer for the game. The 16th undisputed world champion, Carlsen is the second-youngest titleholder ever — Garry Kasparov was a few months younger when he took the title in 1985 from Anatoly Karpov — and is the first champion from Western Europe since Dutchman Max Euwe briefly ruled the chess world in the mid-1930s.

Carlsen has already sparked a craze for the game in his native Norway, and here’s hoping his new prominence will attract new fans and new sponsors for the game here in the United States as well.

The match, thankfully, was decided at the chessboard, with a complete absence of the outside distractions, controversies and personality clashes that have marred other title matches. Carlsen, who has long been the world’s top-rated players, overcame what he himself admitted was a shaky start to score a no-doubt-about-it 6½-3½ victory, with wins in Games 5, 6 and 9 to go with seven draws.

Anand-Carlsen, Game 9, after 27...b1=Q+.
Anand-Carlsen, Game 9, after 27…b1=Q+. more >

After the match, the new champion cited his ability to draw Games 3 and 4 as critical, allowing him to “settle in” and play his brand of implacable, grind-it-out chess that repeatedly forced blunders from Anand at crucial points.

Game 9 was easily the most dynamic struggle over the match, packing a ton of tension into just 28 moves. The inability of Anand, a legendary tactician and calculator, to negotiate the positional thickets here virtually sealed his fate in the match.

Well behind in the match, Anand finally got the sharp opening game he was seeking with the 4. f3 Nimzo-Indian Saemisch. Black’s 8. e3 c4!? was part of Carlsen’s pre-match preparation, but it also plays into White’s plans, as Anand will have a relatively free hand to attack on the king’s flank.

After 16. e4 Nxc1 (removing what could be a dangerous attacking piece) 17. Qxc1 Ra6 18. e5 Nc7 19. f4!? (the most aggressive tack, but many thought White should take just a move for the prophylactic 19. Rb2 to restrain Black’s queenside expansion and avoid an exchange of rooks; the passed pawn Carlsen will obtain on b3 proves critical to the outcome of the game) b4 20. axb4 axb4 21. Rxa6 Nxa6 22. f5 b3, Carlsen later admitted he was playing “scared” for the remainder of the game, as White’s kingside pawn armada becomes truly imposing.

Anand thought for 40 minutes before playing 23. Qf4 (h4-h5 was another way to continue the attack, while 23. f6 g6 24. Ne2 Nc7 25. Nf4 Bf5 seems to lead nowhere), and Black shows nerves of steel in the ensuing play: 23…Nc7 24. f6 g6 25. Qh4 (looking for mate either on g7 or along the h-file; Black’s position hangs by a thread, but no one so far has found a forced win for White) Ne8 26. Qh6 b2 27. Rf4!?, allowing Black to queen with check while still searching for the elusive breakthrough. Black also defends on 27. Ne2 Qa5 28. Nf4 Be6 29. Nxe6 fxe6 30. Bh3 Qa6.

Anand’s crown was effectively surrendered on the next moves from Black and White: 27…b1=Q+, and here Anand’s legendary calculating skills deserted him as he got lost in the thickets while calculating 28. Bf1! Qd1 (the only move to stop mate along the h-file) 29. Rh4 Qh5 (Carlsen gives up his queen, but, luckily for the Norwegian, it is his extra queen) 30. Nxh5 (Rxh5?! gxh5 31. Nxh6 Qa5 32. Ng7 Qxc3 33. Nxe8 Qxd4+ 34. Kh1 Qe4+ 35. Kg1 Qg6 and wins) gxh5 31. Rxh5 Bf5, and a fierce debate is still raging over whether White can keep up the attack. The consensus seems to be that after 36. g6! (Bh3 Bg6 33. e6 Nxf6 34. gxf6 Qxf6 35. e7 Qxe7 36. Re5 doesn’t give White enough to win) Bxg6 33. Rg5 Qa5 34. Rg3 Qa3 35. h4 Kh8 36. Bg2 Rg8 37. Bxd5 Qa1+ 38. Kh2 Qa2+ 39. Rg2 Qa5 40. Rxg6 Qxd5 41. Rxg8+ Kxg8 42. Qg5+ Kh8 43. Qh6 Kg8 allows Black to escape with the draw.

Unable to find a win with 28. Bf1, Anand hastily went with the alternative and overlooked the huge hole in the alternative 28. Nf1?? Qe1, and 29. Rh4 Qxh4 30. Qxh4 Bf5 is an easy win for Black; White resigned.

Needing just a draw in Game 10, Carlsen actually came very close to winning in a Rossolimo Sicilian. Black never gets any counterplay going and the Sicilian pawn on d6 just becomes a backward weakness on a half-open file. The players exchange blunders on 28. a5 Qg5? (Rcd8 29. b4 Qg5 30. Nc3 is better, but White had nothing to fear in this position either) 29. e5! Ne8, when 30. Nc3! (eyeing either e4 or the b6 square via a4) Rcd8 31. Na4 Qe7 32. Red3 f6 33. f4 fxe5 34. fxe5 would have cost Black at least a pawn in light of the looming 35. Nb6.

White’s uncharacteristically hasty 30. exd6? Rc6 31. f4 Qd8 32. Red3 Rcxd6 33. Rxd6 Rxd6 Qxd6 35. Qxd6 Nxd6 36. Kf2 Kf8 37. Ke3 costs him the immediate win, but even here Carlsen has the better chances in a knight-and-pawn ending with his more active king.

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