Carlsen's endgame wizardry cracks Anand

A superb effort by Carlsen in Game 5 of the World Chess Championship helped the challenger beat Anand.

Magnus Carlsen plays against Vishwanathan Anand in Game 5. (Reuters)

“Nothing lasts forever
And we both know hearts can change
And it's hard to hold a candle
In the cold November rain”

It would be stretching the truth to describe Chennai rain as cold but it is certainly November and it was drizzling through much of yesterday. The GnR classic started playing in an endless loop in my head yesterday morning as I saw India’s permanent no.4 finish what is likely to be his last test innings.

It continued playing through the six hours of game five as Magnus Carlsen showed us why he is the world no:1 and favourite to take the world title away from India’s other sporting legend. It was an astonishing display of endgame wizardry from the 22-year-old Norwegian who somehow found ways to keep the pressure going until Viswanathan Anand cracked.

Anand isn’t a cricket fan by Indian standards and he tends to retreat into a bubble before a game. But this he knew about and it may just have affected his focus a tiny bit because he feels a certain affinity to Sachin. India had few sporting heroes when they both got started and their career paths have run in parallel for the last 25 years.

This is not to take anything away from Carlsen who seems finally to have figured out ways to get his kind of position. Game four was a Carlsen special – a complex superior endgame – except that he couldn’t convert. Game five was on the same lines and less advantageous for Carlsen in objective terms. But this time he did the trick.

The opening of Game five saw both players duck and weave a bit. First, Carlsen actually transposed into a Triangle Semi-Slav (Black’s formation of c6, e6, d5) abandoning his experiments with the Reti/ English. When he played 4.e4, Anand headed for a wild gambit line with 5.- Bb4+. The common response of 6. Bd2 offers the Queen’s pawn and frequently, the g-pawn as well.  However, Carlsen played the saner 6.Nc3 and on move 10, he produced a novelty with 10.Qd3.

On move 12.O-O-O, white castled queenside. This looks dangerous in that black can try for a bald-headed attack. But the centre was open with a very high probability of a queen exchange and indeed, Carlsen exchanged queens soon.

What was left was close to equal but difficult to evaluate. Black had the bishop pair and a potential weak pawn to target on e3. White had a target on c6, control of open files for his rooks and the chances of getting a pawn roller moving on the queen side. Black’s light-squared bishop was a somewhat passive piece tied to defending pawn weaknesses.

By move 23, this had crystallised into a small but clear edge for white. Anand should probably have played more energetically at this stage of the game. But he allowed an exchange of his dark-square bishop for the white knight. In the double-rook and bishop ending, black has weaknesses on a7, c6, e6 while white’s only weakness is the unapproachable e3. White’s bishop is also clearly the dominant minor piece and he has chances of penetration down the f-file.

It is the kind of position where black would expect to suffer for a while but remain well within the orbit of a draw. Carlsen’s genius lies in his ability to continuously generate pressure in these situations. Anand played actively, trying to drum up counterplay, first with pawn pushes on the king-side and then by hitting white’s queenside structure. He did manage to free his bishop to some extent and finally he got his second rook into action, with 34.—Rd4. This was double-edged however, in that it abandons the king-side pawns. If the activity isn’t enough, white has a free ride on the king-side.

Carlsen penetrated the king-side with one rook while trying to hold his queenside structure with R+B+K. Interestingly, both of the players seemed to be somewhat pessimistic about their chances at this stage. Anand felt he had over-estimated his chances of getting active play while Carlsen felt he had lost his edge when Anand got Rd4. It is some measure of how difficult this sort of position is, to evaluate and to handle. The engines continued to claim white was slightly superior.

Anand might have actually made a small error on move 39- a4 when he hurried with a queen-side advance. Both players were in time trouble at that stage and the best move, 39- g4, depends on first, seeing a small tactical combination, and more importantly on assessing the resulting position. One key difference compared to the game was that white wouldn’t get the e-pawn in the alternative line and another is that black’s king becomes active.

Anyhow, the position continued to look slightly better for white but Anand did get play on the queen-side. The crisis came on move 45. Black has to find the exact way there to transpose into a rook endgame that will soon arise. He can either take the a-pawn, or he can take the g-pawn. In both cases, he will be materially down but rook endgames are rarely decided on material.

If black plays 45-- Ra1 and takes the a-pawn, he has enough play to draw. Anand chose to take the g-pawn instead and that, as Carlsen said and proved emphatically, was technically lost. Once he got the edge on move 45, he played a string of perfect “only” moves to take the rook endgame.

A superb effort by Carlsen and a loss that will hurt for Anand. The world champion must try to hit back now in the next two games when he gets two whites in a row. He also has to take a look at his meta-strategy for the match.

Anand may, in a larger sense, have lost this game by being a little too conservative in the early middle game and assuming that he could draw from a slightly inferior position. It is not an uncommon mistake and world title matches have hinged on it before. Botvinnik lost to Petrosian in 1963 for the same reasons and Karpov lost to Kasparov in 1985 and ’86 for similar reasons. In each case, the older player assumed incorrectly that he had the requisite skills to dig in and hold an inferior position. In each case, lashing out might have worked better.

Keeping the queens on by 13.—Qe7 and playing for an attack may have looked risky given that Carlsen was in preparation. But it would have reached for positions that suit Anand more than the technical manoeuvring that resulted from his choice of13-  Bc7. Such choices will arise again in the match and he probably should look for the more complicated option when they do.

Yesterday we saw the end of one astonishing sporting career. Another man who has held the candle aloft for just as long is now struggling to keep it alight. It’s still raining in Chennai .

Game score

White: Carlsen,Magnus  Vs Black:Anand,Viswanathan (2775) [D31]

Game 5, World Championships, Chennai 2013

1.c4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Bb4+ 6.Nc3 c5 7.a3 Ba5 8.Nf3 Nf6 9.Be3 Nc6 10.Qd3 Carlsen plays a new move. The idea is to take on c3 with the queen if required and to castle queenside. 10...cxd4 11.Nxd4 Ng4 12.0–0–0 Nxe3 13.fxe3 Bc7

Maybe 13.—Qe7 looking for a big fight is better. This ceded white a small advantage. 14.Nxc6 bxc6 15.Qxd8+ Bxd8 6.Be2 Ke7 17.Bf3 Bd7 18.Ne4 Bb6 19.c5 f5 20.cxb6 fxe4 21.b7! Rab8 22.Bxe4 Rxb7 White's advantage may not look like much, but black has weakness of c6, e6 and white has much the better bishop. Also he will own the f-file. 23.Rhf1 Rb5 24.Rf4 g5 25.Rf3 h5 26.Rdf1 Be8 27.Bc2 Rc5 28.Rf6! h4 29.e4 a5 30.Kd2 Rb5 31.b3 Bh5 32.Kc3 Rc5+ 33.Kb2 Rd8 34.R1f2 Rd4

If black cannot m,ake something of his activity, he will lose because he has abandoned his kingside. 35.Rh6 Bd1 36.Bb1 Rb5 37.Kc3 c5 38.Rb2 e5 39.Rg6 a4? The sharper 39...g4 40.Bd3 Rxb3+ 41.Rxb3 Bxb3 42.Rxg4 c4 43.Be2 Kd6 44.Rxh4 Kc5 gives black lots of play and probably draws without trouble. Both players were in time trouble 40.Rxg5 Rxb3+ 41.Rxb3 Bxb3 42.Rxe5+ White wins the e5 pawn. 42...Kd6 43.Rh5 Rd1 44.e5+ Kd5 45.Bh7


45...Rc1+? Black must play 45...Ra1 46.Bg8+ Kc6 47.Bxb3 Rxa3 48.Rxh4 Rxb3+ 49.Kc2 Ra3 and he should draw easily enough due to the more active king and more advanced pawns. Now white’s probably winning 46.Kb2 Rg1 47.Bg8+ Kc6 48.Rh6+! Precise, knocking out chances of K-d5. 48...Kd7 49.Bxb3 axb3 50.Kxb3 Rxg2 51.Rxh4 Ke6 52.a4 Kxe5 53.a5 Kd6 54.Rh7! Accurate as always. 54...Kd5 55.a6 c4+ 56.Kc3 Ra2 57.a7 Kc5 58.h4 (1–0). One of the rook pawns queen.

Devangshu Datta is an internationally rated chess-player and correspondence player. A senior journalist and columnist, he has also assisted Vishwanathan Anand in writing his autobiography.

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