15 November 2013

Carlsen -- Anand 2013, Game 5

Magnus understands chess much better than the commentators ever will.
Damon Smith, Chess.com Forum
Magnus Carlsen won today. He gained an advantage with the White pieces for the first time in this match, employing the Marshall Gambit against the Semi-Slav.* The challenger's advantage out of the opening was that his position was not worse. He also gained a lasting imbalance in the pawn structure that assured it would always remain possible to keep playing.

This World Chess Championship match is developing into one of the most exciting matches in history. Chess enthusiasts around the globe are following the games live. In my time zone that requires either staying awake all through the night or arising just over an hour after midnight. I am not following the openings live, but usually catch the ending. This morning I checked on the game at 3:00 am, saw an equal and unbalanced position, and returned to sleep. When I awoke again much later than my usual time, the game was near the finish and Carlsen had a clear advantage.

I read the commentary on a Chess.com forum that permitted me to observe changing perceptions of the battle as it developed. For much of the game, matters appeared equal. Even the tablebases asserted that the position was drawn at one point, someone reported.** However, Carlsen had won a pawn early in the endgame (or late in the middlegame--such lines are not clearly marked), and this material advantage put Anand under intense pressure.

At least some commentators following the game seemed to think that Carlsen's play with the White pieces offered him too little. However, it was pointed out in the Chess.com forums, "Magnus knows much better than the commentators what he needs to win" (IM Panayotis Frendzas). Mr Smith, who is quoted in my epigraph, later asserted that those were the words he was seeking when he offered his more strident criticism of the commentators.

Magnus Carlsen thrives with a minuscule advantage in a long game. Not only does he have the advantage of youth against Viswanathan Anand, but his style against those his own age is to make them play a long time. Players often will falter when they must find one accurate move after another in an unbalanced, but theoretically equal position. Today, the World Champion faltered.

Carlsen,Magnus (2870) -- Anand,Viswanathan (2775) [D31]
FWCM 2013 Chennai (5), 15.11.2013

1.c4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4

Black to move

Both players employed move order nuances to keep the other guessing, and then Carlsen offered a move that has been played a handful of times before the critical line made its appearance in 1902. Frank Marshall introduced the move 6.Bd2 at Monte Carlo 1902.

4...dxe4 5.Nxe4 Bb4+ 6.Nc3

6.Bd2 gives up the d-pawn, but White often strands the Black king in the center by covering f8 with a bishop. Correspondence players following the percentages would note that the gambit scores 57% for White and is played more than four times as often as the safe line Carlsen chose. The safe line scores 49% for White, well-below average.

For most players, a below average scoring percentage in a safe position serves to deter the adventure. However, White already has a queenside pawn majority and the assurance of a lasting pawn imbalance. Carlsen's opening strategy suits his style.

Black to move

ChessBase Online contains 404 games with this position.

6...c5 7.a3 Ba5 8.Nf3

Carlsen's move scores best, but with only 63 games in the databases, these statistics lack significance. 8.Be3 has been played nearly twice as often (34-18) as Carlsen's choice. 8.dxc5 has been played by the highest rated players who have found themselves in this position: Kiril Georgiev and Alexander Yermolinsky. Yermolinsky has also played 8.Nf3.


Marshall had the position after move 5 twice in 1902. In one of these, he chose the safe line. Here Anand deviates from the play of Richard Teichmann, Marshall's opponent.

Reference Game:

Marshall,Frank James -- Teichmann,Richard [D31]
London m3 London (5), 1902
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Bb4+ 6.Nc3 c5 7.a3 Ba5 8.Nf3 cxd4 9.Qxd4 Qxd4 10.Nxd4 Bxc3+ 11.bxc3 a6 12.Bf4 f6 13.Bd6 e5 14.Nc2 Ne7 15.Ne3 Nbc6 16.Nd5 Nxd5 17.cxd5 Ne7 18.c4 Bf5 19.Be2 Kd7 20.Bb4 a5 21.Bxe7 Kxe7 22.0–0 b6 23.f4 exf4 24.Rxf4 Bg6 25.Ra2 Kd6 26.Rb2 Rab8 27.Rf3 Bh5 28.Rfb3 Bxe2 29.Rxe2 Kc5 30.Re4 Rhd8 31.Rb5+ Kd6 32.Re6+ Kc7 33.Rc6+ 1–0


Black to move

Commentators Lawrence Trent and Tania Sachdev grew excited as they learned that fellow commentator Susan Polgar had played this position a number of years ago. Indeed, she has played both sides. In 1992, she had Black against Boris Gulko; the next year, she had White against Lajos Portisch.

Reference Games:

Gulko,Boris F (2560) -- Polgar,Zsuzsa (2530) [D31]
Aruba (2), 1992
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 cxd4 10.Nxd4 Ne4 11.b4 Nxc3 12.Qc2 Bc7 13.Qxc3 Be5 14.f4 Bf6 15.Rd1 0–0 16.Qc2 Qe7 17.Nf3 b6 18.Bd3 g6 19.0–0 Bb7 20.Be4 Rc8 21.Ne5 Bg7 22.c5 bxc5 23.Bxc5 Qc7 24.Bxb7 Qxb7 25.Nc4 Qc6 26.Ne5 Qb7 27.Nc4 Qc6 28.Ne5 ½–½

Polgar,Zsuzsa (2560) -- Portisch,Lajos (2580) [D31]
Budapest zt-B Budapest (8), 1993
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Bb4+ 6.Nc3 c5 7.Nf3 Nf6 8.a3 Ba5 9.Be3 Nc6 10.dxc5 Bxc3+ 11.bxc3 Qa5 12.Qc2 Ng4 13.Qc1 0–0 14.Be2 Nxe3 15.Qxe3 Ne7 16.0–0 Nf5 17.Qe4 Qxc5 18.Rfd1 f6 19.Bd3 g6 20.h4 Ng7 21.Qd4 Qxd4 22.cxd4 Bd7 23.Be4 Rab8 24.Rab1 Rfc8 25.Bxb7 Rxc4 26.d5 Rc7 27.dxe6 Bxe6 28.Be4 Rxb1 29.Rxb1 Nf5 30.Rb8+ Kf7 31.a4 Nd6 32.Bd3 Rc8 33.Rb4 Rc3 34.Be2 Rb3 35.Rf4 Ke7 36.Nd4 Rb1+ 37.Kh2 Bd7 38.Nc2 a5 39.Bf3 Nf5 40.h5 g5 41.Rc4 Rc1 ½–½

9...Nc6 10.Qd3

For all practical purposes, this move is the game's novelty. It has appeared once prior in a game this past summer. White was untitled, rated slightly over 2000, and lost to a FIDE Master. Their game offers instructive material for class players such as myself reaching towards their level, but would not offer much to Carlsen and Anand preparing for this match.

10...cxd4 11.Nxd4 Ng4 12.0–0–0 Nxe3 13.fxe3

Black to move

Another pawn imbalance has been created: an isolated center pawn. Engine analysis and expert commentary both suggest this position is equal, but there is play. As it turned out, there was a lot of play. Both players battled for advantage and both found the other had excellent resources.

13...Bc7 14.Nxc6 bxc6 15.Qxd8+ Bxd8 16.Be2 Ke7 17.Bf3 Bd7

White to move

Black has the advantage of the bishop pair, but his light-squared bishop is not particularly active. White seems to have more space to maneuver. Both players have isolated pawns. White has a queenside majority; Black has a majority on the kingside. Both kings are near the center.

Readers of Jeremy Silman's books know well that imbalances are the heart of chess strategy. This World Championship match is producing games that improving players will be able to study for years to come.

18.Ne4 Bb6 19.c5 f5!

Anand decided that the bishop pair was not an advantage worth keeping, and even that further pawn weaknesses are preferable to letting Carlsen keep his centralized knight. I can easily imagine many chess coaches scolding their pupils for the sort of moves Anand has made here, and yet Stockfish 4 appears to agree with the World Champion.

General principles must be tempered with concrete analysis. The needs of the position outweigh abstract generalizations.

20.cxb6 fxe4 21.b7 Rab8

White to move

22.Bxe4 Rxb7

Everyone who has watched the film Searching For Bobby Fischer (1993) knows Bruce Pandolfini's instruction to young Josh Waitzkin to count the number of pawn islands. Does this simple technique offer a solid basis for considering Carlsen's position superior?


Both of Carlsen's rooks are posted on open files. Is chess really so simple? Chess engines see equality. General principles claim an advantage for White. Engines know only concrete analysis. Humans must calculate as well as possible, steer with general principles where useful, and continue to make moves under the pressure of less and less time left on the clock.

23...Rb5 24.Rf4 g5 25.Rf3 h5 26.Rdf1 Be8 27.Bc2 Rc5

White to move

As I am playing through this game, knowing the end result, it is tempting to seek fault with Anand's moves. Turning on an analysis engine offers another temptation to identify a series of small errors on both sides. But, engines are of limited use in complex strategic positions. This game is headed for a rook ending or a rook and bishop ending. Pawn structure and piece activity are the critical elements.

The clearest difference that I perceive in the game is that Anand seems continually faced with more complex decisions. Here Anand has pinned a bishop, and threatens to pile on with Bg6. White must either prevent this bishop move or step out of the pin.

28.Rf6 h4 29.e4 a5 30.Kd2 Rb5 31.b3 Bh5 32.Kc3 Rc5+ 33.Kb2 Rd8

White to move 

Anand continues to harrass the bishop with the threat of another pin. Carlsen needs only to determine which rook moves to f2.

34.R1f2 Rd4 35.Rh6 Bd1 36.Bb1 Rb5 37.Kc3 c5 38.Rb2 e5 39.Rg6 a4 40.Rxg5

Black to move

Just as he reaches the first time control, Carlsen has won a pawn. Anand restores the material imbalance for a move, and then Carlsen gains another to remain one pawn ahead.

Was this the decisive turning point in the game? It does not seem so, but the material imbalance should mean that Carlsen will continue playing for a win, while Anand seeks a draw. Who bears more psychological pressure?

40...Rxb3+ 41.Rxb3 Bxb3 42.Rxe5+ Kd6 43.Rh5 Rd1 44.e5+ Kd5 45.Bh7 

Black to move


My engine suggests 45...Ra1 as the only move here that maintains equality. However, that initial assessment may be misleading. I have heard it said that some masters ignore all computer evaluations of less than half or two-thirds of a pawn. I have observed in prior World Championship games and in my own training, that engine evaluations of 2 1/2 pawns can be off in certain endings. See, for example, my two posts "Anand - Kramnik: Game 7" and "Latent Patterns". Even an A Class player such as myself could see that game was a dead draw, but my chess engine had Anand ahead a full 1.5 pawns.

Was this move the decisive error, or did it come two moves later.

46.Kb2 Rg1 47.Bg8+

Black to move


My initial analysis suggests that this move was the decisive mistake. Others may disagree, and more analysis than I have done today is necessary to be certain.

47...Kd4 looks promising for White, but after 48.Rxh4 Kd3 49.Bxb3 Rxg2+ 50.Kb1 axb3 the evaluation is equal. On the other hand, White may have improvements over 49.Bxb3.

48.Rh6+ Kd7 49.Bxb3 axb3 50.Kxb3 Rxg2 51.Rxh4 Ke6 52.a4 Kxe5 53.a5 Kd6 54.Rh7 Kd5 55.a6 c4+ 56.Kc3 Ra2 57.a7 Kc5 58.h4 1–0

*Is Marshall Gambit the correct term when White plays 6.Nc3, as did Carlsen today? No pawn was sacrificed.

**I must express skepticism on this point because the number of pieces remaining on the board when Carlsen gained a decisive advantage exceeds the capacity of existing tablebases, and will continue to do so for several more years in the future.


  1. Psychologically, 45...Ra1 is very difficult to play, since it looks like white's g-pawn might be a greater threat than his a-pawn, and since the rook look more active at g1 than a3. But, as it turns out, white's a-pawn is what wins the game. It could also be that Anand missed or underestimated 52.a4?

  2. Also, you may be right that 47...Kd4 is a better try than 47...Kc6. 47. . . Kd4 was actually the move I was expecting during the live feed. But, again, it's very hard to get yourself to play a move like that if you think you see a safer alternative, since it prevents the king from helping with the passed e-pawn in the future, and since it also gives white the option of playing Rxh4 with check down the road.

    1. Thanks Dave. I always appreciate your perspective. Putting Anand under difficult psychological pressure would seem to be Carlsen's best chance for victory. He certainly looked happy after today's game. But there is much work ahead, and both players will make the other suffer.