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Title Fight: Viswanathan Anand’s Houdini act

Vishi's 'miracle move' earned him a draw,which at one point seemed a daunting prospect.

Written by Raakesh Natraj | Chennai |
November 14, 2013 2:13:59 am

There is little by way of conventional action in chess and when a game goes on for close to six hours as Wednesday’s did,the (rare and tenacious) fan usually flips between several sources of information to get a feel of the pulse of the game: the body language of the players on the live feed,time left on the players’ clocks,commentators’ analyses,engines that evaluate each position,opinion of Grandmasters on Twitter and so on. Midway through game four,most of these indicators predicted that Viswanathan Anand was in big trouble.

As with his first white game,Anand began with 1. e4 but Carlsen replied with the hyper-solid Berlin defence. The danger in dealing with the Berlin is that in trying to get through black’s strong defences,white often ends up over-extending his position and ends up worse off than before. Anand sacrificed a pawn (allowing 18… Bxa2) and in return,was ahead in development,though it was difficult to see how exactly he could make this count. Carlsen’s rooks and light squared bishop found themselves in their starting squares well into the middle game and white had a passed pawn on the e file. The window was fast closing on Anand though and Carlsen was already getting his pieces out of the bind. A pawn push (a5) and a pawn break (g6) threatened to open up the files for his rooks and let them loose. Carlsen had,in chess talk,almost digested the offered pawn.

Chess engines said Anand was close to losing. Boris Gelfand,commenting for a Russian website,said only a ‘miracle’ could save Anand. “What to do now? No more active play Anand is on the verge of losing,” tweeted local GM SP Sethuraman. Jon Ludvig Hammer,widely recognised to be Carlsen’s second,made a direct reference to a game for the first time since the match started. “Guts (Bxa2),calculation (a5) and technique (g6). Game on,Vishy!” he tweeted.

Improbable move

The ‘miracle’ that would bail Anand out was Ne4,an improbable ‘computer move’ that the engine suggested,Ne4. Any other move and Anand’s position,already difficult to hold,would just be completely lost. The reason why Ne4 did not appear a human or for that matter a likely move was that it required Anand,who was already a pawn down,to give up another for nothing more concrete than piece activity. What was more,Anand had to find the move under severe time pressure,with just eight minutes left for six moves before the first time control.

Anand found the move and played it. For the players,it was just one of 64 moves in the game,and in any case,the battle was far from over (in fact the game went on for another 29 moves and two hours) but it may well have been the move of the match so far. A few moves later,when Carlsen realised that the win that had appeared his for the taking had somehow slipped away,he swore silently but clearly.

A Race against time

Throughout the latter part of the game,Anand had very little left on his clock but still had to play accurately to come away with the draw. Carlsen had nothing to lose and carried on in a four rooks and pawns endgame. The Norwegian had declined Anand’s draw offer in a theoretically equal ending in game three and it was no surprise that he played on here,especially when a tired mistake would have Anand walking into mating nets. The champion survived the nearly six-hour-long game,keeping the match score level.

Though all four games so far have ended in draws,they have gotten progressively longer and closer to resolution. The result seems around the corner.

Game four: Ruy Lopez,Berlin Defence

Anand-Carlsen: 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4 Nd6 6. Bxc6 dxc6 7. dxe5 Nf5 8. Qxd8+ Kxd8 9. h3 Bd7 10. Rd1 Be7 11. Nc3 Kc8 12. Bg5 h6 13. Bxe7 Nxe7 14. Rd2 c5 15. Rad1 Be6 16. Ne1 Ng6 17. Nd3 b6 18. Ne2 Bxa2 19. b3 c4 20. Ndc1 cxb3 21. cxb3 Bb1 22. f4 Kb7 23. Nc3 Bf5 24. g4 Bc8 25. Nd3 h5 26. f5 Ne7 27. Nb5 hxg4 28. hxg4 Rh4 29. Nf2 Nc6 30. Rc2 a5 31. Rc4 g6 32. Rdc1 Bd7 33. e6 fxe6 34. fxe6 Be8 35. Ne4 Rxg4+ 36. Kf2 Rf4+ 37. Ke3 Rf8 38. Nd4 Nxd4 39. Rxc7+ Ka6 40. Kxd4 Rd8+ 41. Kc3 Rf3+ 42. Kb2 Re3 43. Rc8 Rdd3 44. Ra8+ Kb7 45. Rxe8 Rxe4 46. e7 Rg3 47. Rc3 Re2+ 48. Rc2 Ree3 49. Ka2 g5 50. Rd2 Re5 51. Rd7+ Kc6 52. Red8 Rge3 53. Rd6+ Kb7 54. R8d7+ Ka6 55. Rd5 Re2+ 56. Ka3 Re6 57. Rd8 g4 58. Rg5 Rxe7 59. Ra8+ Kb7 60. Rag8 a4 61. Rxg4 axb3 62. R8g7 Ka6 63. Rxe7 Rxe7 64. Kxb3 1/2-1/2. Overall score: Anand 2 Carlsen 2.

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