10 November 2013

Anand -- Carlsen 2013, Game 2

Draws in Pursuit of Truth

Chessplayers love to complain about short draws. They expect top level matches to be a fight. Spectators want two gladiators to slug it out until one of them surrenders or until only kings remain on the board.

There were expectations that this World Championship would not become characterized by the short draws that have been the norm so often before. First, there is the style of Magnus Carlsen. No other chess player in history has proven as adept at squeezing blood from a turnip. Carlsen frequently takes an even position that almost seems stale, makes his opponent play chess for four hours, and eventually gains a small endgame advantage that can be nursed to victory. Second, a rule for this match prohibits draw offers by the contestants prior to Black's move 30.

The players have yet to make it to move 30 and the score stands at one each due to two draws. Both games have been drawn by repetition.

I do not share with the majority of chess enthusiasts their antipathy to short draws. I agree with Boris Gelfand that commentators have the responsibility to explain why the players chose not to play it out. World Championship contestants are not afraid of a fight. Rather, they know that winning a match requires finding the appropriate moment to land a blow that will have some effect. Before that moment, the players must probe one another's preparation.

World Championship matches are characterized by deep exploration of a small repertoire of openings. Small truths often are revealed. Most possibilities never appear on the chessboard. Moves that are not played are central to the story. As the players seek victory by finding the correct moves, commentators explain to the rest of us why the roads not taken are less sound.

In the first game, Anand's ninth move had been played only a few times prior, and never by top players. White won the previous encounters due to unsound moves by Black. Anand's move was correct for the position, and it turns out that Black has a slight edge. The game soon ended in a draw.

In today's game, Anand had to stare down the devil himself. The diabolical Caro-Kann transforms White's initiative into an opportunity to make the first weakening moves. Black maintains a superior pawn structure. So long as Black can avoid sacrificial attacks that expose his king to danger, he will have the opportunity to start squeezing that turnip.

At the critical point in the game, Carlsen pulled out an uncommon move that appeared to offer Anand the chance for tactical complications. Anand admitted after the game that he was unprepared for these complications. It was equally clear that Carlsen had studied the position before the match. To step into an adversary's preparation without having done equivalent homework would be akin to walking on hot coals. Anand chose safety. Perhaps this position will appear again before the match is over.

[T]he Caro-Kann comes from the deepest pits of Hell.
Alex Shternshain, "In the Beginning was the Board..."
Anand,Viswanathan (2775) -- Carlsen,Magnus (2870) [B19]
FWCM 2013 Chennai (2), 10.11.2013

1.e4 c6

For many years, I have heard some chess players refer to the Caro-Kann Defense as the Devil's Opening. I would like to know when this term originated. The idea was certainly well-established before Alex Shternshain wrote his clever piece for ChessBase News: "In the Beginning was the Board..." (31 December 2005).

2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6

The moves so far are common ones and characterize the Classical or Capablanca variation of the Caro-Kann Defense.


This move is most common. 6.Nf3 is often played as well. I once caught an opponent unprepared playing 6.Nf3. Subsequent errors led to a quick knockout. I have also lost the Black side of a Caro-Kann in a mere twenty moves when I failed to anticipate a minor piece sacrifice after my opponent sacrificed a rook. This often quiet opening has tremendous possibilities for fireworks when players lack the tactical acumen of Grandmasters.

6...h6 7.Nf3
The Mark of the Beast in my Reference Database

White to move


Anand accepts Carlsen's invitation to post this knight. Anand had this position earlier this year in a game against Ding Liren, China's number two player.

8...Bh7 9.Bd3 Bxd3

No World Championship contender will fall for the beginner's trap and play 9...Qxd4 here. This position, however, will be part of this week's "lesson of the week" for the young players that I coach.

10.Qxd3 Nd7 11.f4 Bb4+ 12.c3 Be7 13.Bd2 Ngf6

If I had been playing a correspondence game using databases, looking at percentages, and making efforts to distinguish moves played by top players from the efforts of amateurs, I might have excellent chances of reaching this position. Both players appear to playing optimal moves.

White to move


Anand opts not to repeat his novelty from the game against Ding in the Alekhine Memorial. Is 14.Qe2 unsound? Does Anand fear Carlsen's preparation? Is he saving the move for later in the match?

Reference Game:

Anand,Viswanathan (2783) -- Ding,Liren (2707) [B19]
Alekhine Memorial Paris/St Petersburg (5), 25.04.2013

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.Qe2 c5 15.dxc5 Qc7 16.b4 0–0 17.0–0 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 1–0

14...0–0 15.Ne4 Nxe4 16.Qxe4 Nxe5 17.fxe5 Qd5

White to move


Anand chooses to steer clear of complications. He has learned that Carlsen prepared some lines in this opening. As White's prospects do not appear clear without more extensive analysis, preferably with his research team, it is wise to simplify.

18.Qg4 appears in three prior games available in my database, two of them drawn. The continuation 18...f5 19.Qg6 Qxa2 leads to interesting complications. Danny King's video offers some analysis of the possibilities.

18...cxd5 19.h5 b5 20.Rh3

20.Kc2 was another way to meet Black's minority attack. Anand's choice seems slightly better.

20...a5 21.Rf1 Rac8 22.Rg3 Kh7 23.Rgf3 Kg8 24.Rg3 Kh7 25.Rgf3 Kg8 ½–½

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