Viswanathan Anand survived a few hairy moments but held on for a draw in round 13 of the Candidates tournament, guaranteeing him a re-match against current world champion Magnus Carlsen. When the title bout gets underway in November this year, it will be the first time in more than two decades that the same set of finalists will have fought it out for the world title in successive cycles. The November match will be chess’ first world championship rematch since the two Ks, Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov, faced off in successive finals in 1990.
Anand almost paid the price for playing passively in search of a convenient draw — Levon Aronian, who had to win on Saturday to have any chances of catching up was losing almost right out of the opening — as Karjakin was heading towards a favourable ending. Anand rode his luck a bit and when Karjakin missed the direct winning lines in the endgame, the Indian built on his break with some workman-like defending to pull off a draw. Aronian went on to lose against Dmitry Andreikin, putting Anand a point and a half ahead of his nearest rivals, making the results of Sunday’s final round games irrelevant.
The final two rounds were supposed to be relatively straight-forward for Anand, who was effectively a point and a half ahead with just two games to play. Almost all possible permutations favoured Anand heavily. If Anand were to beat Karjakin, who would win the tournament irrespective of what happened on the other boards. Were he just to draw, Aronian would have to win to stay in touch. If Anand lost, however, things would get messy. Andreikin, on the back of his hypothetical win against Anand would be back in the race with the added advantage of a better head-to-head against the leader. A win for Aronian, coupled with Anand’s loss would effectively make the last round a three-way shootout.
Though the prospect of the loss would have been horrifying, there was no reason to suspect Anand would indeed suffer a last minute blip in form. After 12 rounds, Anand was the only unbeaten player and his opponent Karjakin, against whom he has never lost before, held no special horrors for him.
Karjakin, however, has had a fairly good second half at Russia, and his endgame technique in the win against Peter Svidler especially stood out. The Russian’s plan was to take Anand out of a familiar opening early and see if he could find play in the middle game. Anand was not worse off as play moved beyond the Queen’s Gambit Declined opening, sacrificing a pawn but staying ahead on development. Anand’s plan was to trade away the continued…