Carlsen-Anand after eight rounds

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.

Game 5

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.

Game 6

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. Let's see the excellent notes to this game at


Sicilian Defence
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 (Magnus has tried 3.g3 in the 4th game) 3...cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 (this variation is named after Soviet master Kan) 5.c4 Nf6 6.Nc3 Bb4. One of Anand's seconds in the match, Polish GM Grzegorz Gajewski, has this line in his repertoire.

​7.Qd3!? Nc6. Many other replies are possible as well. If 7...Qc7 then White has an important idea 8.a3 Bxc3+ 9.Qxc3, and the pawn is poisoned: 9...Nxe4? 10.Nb5! axb5 11.Qxg7 Rf8 12.Bh6 Qc5 13.f3. The game Anand - Svidler (Monaco 2005, blindfold) saw 7...d5 which is in fact not the most popular move.

8.Nxc6 dxc6 9.Qxd8+!? Instead of this quite natural exchange, 9.e5 is usually played. For instance, Alexei Shirov chose it this year against the expert of this line Normunds Miezis in their rapid game.

9...Kxd8 10.e5!

10...Nd7. The game Flores Rios - Lemos (Villa Martelli 2008) went 10...Ne4 11.a3! Bxc3+ 12.bxc3 Kc7 (12...Nxc3?! 13.a4! is much better for White) 13.Be3 b6 14.Bd3 Nc5 15.Bxc5 bxc5 16.0–0–0 with the stable advantage for White, although maybe not decisive one.

11.Bf4 Bxc3+. This capture wasn't necessary. Black can also play 11...Ke7, for example: 12.0–0–0 Ba5 13.Ne4 Bc7
14.Nd6 Rd8, and now White can prevent 15...Nxe5 by 15.Re1!. 11...f5 makes sense too, although White's position is preferrable anyway. In general, Anand's opening choise is hard to explain, as the endgame isn't promising for Black at all; the only thing Black could hope for is to save the game after a long struggle.

12.bxc3 Kc7.

13.h4 (obtaining long-term advantage on the king's side) 13...b6 (13...h5!? might be the lesser evil - A.D.)

14.h5(14.Rh3!? was also possible; to me, Carlsen's move looks more precise, as there is no 14...h5 anymore - A.D.)14...h6. If 14...Bb7 then the pawn march could go on: 15.h6, and after 15...g6 White prepares f2-f4-f5 slowly but surely.

15.0–0–0 Bb7 16.Rd3 c5 17.Rg3! Rag8 18.Bd3 Nf8 19.Be3! This subtle retreat is the prophylaxis against g7-g5. However, Anand decided to move his g-pawn anyway.

19...g6?! "He can go something like 19...Bc6 and then 20...Be8, but anyway it's really not very nice." -- Carlsen.

20.hxg6 Nxg6 21.Rh5! Bc6 22.Bc2 (the h6-pawn won't escape, so White is trying to reach the optimum setup)22...Kb7 23.Rg4 a5 24.Bd1 Rd8 25.Bc2 Rdg8.

26.Kd2?? Having repeated the moves once, the world champion makes a horrible blunder. As he mentioned at the press conference, the same idea of bringing the king to the center could be realised by 26.Kd1!?. Besides, White had some other good moves as well.

26...a4?? A very simple combination 26...Nxe5! would have changed the decorations. Incredibly, Anand with his brilliant eye for tactics misses this strike too. Carlsen: 'I was extremely lucky'. After 27.Rxg8 Nxc4+ 28.Kd3 Nb2+! Black is just 2 pawns up; even though the h6-pawn falls inevitably, White would have struggle in pains for a draw.
27.Ke2 a3! 28.f3! Rd8 29.Ke1!? (Carlsen rejected 29.Bxg6 fxg6 30.Rxg6 Be8 31.Rg7+ Rd7 32.Rxd7+ Bxd7 with definite drawing chances for Black) 29...Rd7 30.Bc1 Ra8 (30...Rhd8!?) 31.Ke2 Ba4!? According to Carlsen, Black could resist better by 31...Ne7, which in fact isn't so certain.

32...Bc6?! Black had to give up the exchange: 32...Ka7! 33.Bxa8 Kxa8. Now White doesn't have a good way to stop ...Rd1. The following lines demonstrate that the fight is going on, even though White is better: 34.Bxa3 Rd1 35.Rxh6 Ra1 36.Rg5 Rxa2+ 37.Ke1 Rxa3 (or maybe 37...Ra1+ 38.Kf2 Rxa3 39.Rh7 Be8 40.Rxg6 fxg6 41.Rh8 Kb7 42.Rxe8 Rxc3) 38.Rh7 Rxc3 39.Rxf7 Bc2 40.Rf6 Rxc4 41.Rxe6 Kb7 42.Rgxg6 Bxg6 43.Rxg6 b5.

33.Bxg6 fxg6 34.Rxg6 (now Black is in real trouble) 34...Ba4 35.Rxe6 Rd1 36.Bxa3! Ra1 37.Ke3. The position is winning for White, as he has collected nearly all the black pawns.

37...Bc2? (37...Rxa2 or 37...Re8 would have been more persistent) 38.Re7+. 1–0 Anand resigned due to the coming 39.Rxh6. "Usually you feel happy when you win, today it was mostly relief. I think it was a good game to some point, and then, I mean, when you get such a gift you just feel massive relief." -- Carlsen. (Annotated by GM Mikhail Golubev, translated from Russian by GM Andrey Deviatkin).

Game 7

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!

Game 8

At one point in Game 8, defending champion Magnus Carlsen was so bored he slept
At one point in Game 8, defending champion Magnus Carlsen was so bored he slept

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.

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