I’m thrilled to see that Viswanathan Anand managed to finally win a game against World Champion Magnus Carlsen. For those of you who don’t know the world chess championship is currently underway between Anand (former world champion and current challenger) and Carlsen (current world champion). The two fought it out last year with Carlsen winning quite comfortably 3-0 (ignoring draws - the actual score was 6.5 - 3.5). It’s quite rare for a world chess match to end with one person not winning a single game but Carlsen was in top form and Anand… wasn’t.
In an heroic display Anand fought through a difficult candidates tournament to earn the right to a rematch. I was nervous though - Carlsen seemed to have the psychological edge in the previous match (Anand made a lot of mistakes) and I wasn’t sure that it wouldn’t end up being another curb stomp. And indeed Carlsen took the lead in the second game which meant that Anand hadn’t managed to win in 12 straight games against the world champ.
Playing Carlsen must be unnerving. It’s like sitting across the table from a master assassin who is quietly putting together his pistol. He takes his time slotting the pieces together, loading the magazine, oiling whatever needs to be oiled and then, when the gun is complete, he calmly shoots you in the head. There’s no general strategy to beat him - he’s an all round player that can handle almost any situation. If he has a weakness it’s in messy tactically complex positions - that is you need to drop the assassin into a war zone. (Note: I’m not saying that he can’t play those positions well - he’s the World Champion for a reason - just that they aren’t his strongest point).
So in yesterday’s game Anand did exactly that - he ambushed Carlsen with a ridiculously complicated theoretical opening. Carlsen, not prepared for the complications, fought hard but succumbed to the pressure handing Anand his first win in 13 games. It was great to see Anand back in form and it means we’ve already got a better competition than last year. What the chess world really needs is a humdinger of a fight and if Anand can keep this up we might just get it.
I’m not a good player (I’m best described as an enthusiastic amateur) but I’ll mention that I liked Anand’s 26. Rc6. There were a lot of great moves but this is one of those that I find personally very instructive - the idea is that the rook puts the black queen in a cage - she suddenly can’t go anywhere. It’s that type of positional nuance that I can never think of when I play. The top dogs play on a level I can barely comprehend so it’s nice to see a move with clear implications that might help my own games.
I should also mention that Carlsen’s comments to the press show what a class act he is. Unlike Garry ‘every excuse in the book’ Kasparov he rightly mentioned that Anand played better and refused to blame his lack of preparation on anyone other than himself.
My money is still on Carlsen to win but I think this time round he’s going to have to fight for it.