The most decisive moment of the World Championship arrived without fanfare or theatre. Magnus Carlsen took a giant step towards the title not through a crushing attack or a strong novelty but when a tiring Viswanathan Anand blundered in the fifth hour of game six. The back-to-back victories put Carlsen ahead 4-2 at the halfway stage,leaving Anand with the improbable task of winning half of the remaining six games to retain the title that has been his since 2008.
Carlsens stamina and superior endgame technique give him something to play for even in positions that are considered drawn or holdable. Anand defended accurately for long stretches but once more,as in game five,faltered late in the game. Mistakes in endgames prove decisive for the same reason that a drop or a misfield at the end of a chase costs the fielding team dear. There is simply very little time to recover. With the game so near its conclusion,there are no small mistakes. An inaccuracy that puts a piece even a square away from its optimal post during the endgame might mean it is too far away to prevent a pawn from queening.
Game six simplified into a rook and pawn endgame,the type of position that is known to be so drawish that,on air,GM Abhijeet Gupta advised youngsters to trade into this kind of an endgame if they found themselves down by a pawn to assure themselves of the half-point. The game dragged on,and from Carlsens perspective,it made sense. He was a pawn up and was in no danger of losing. In any case,he was unlikely to make a mistake in an area of the game he was exceedingly familiar with. The longer each game lasted,the more it favoured the younger Norwegian. On the other hand,Anand,who had sat at the board for more than four hours for four successive games,and who hadnt slept the night (this was not much of a surprise; Anand had said in an interview that he spent a sleepless night after losing a game to Boris Gelfand in the last championship match too),and was defending an inferior position,was far likelier to err.
On move 60,discounting outright blunders,Anand could have moved one of two pawns (b4 or c4) or his rook to one of several possible squares. What made choosing between these moves exceedingly difficult was that there were no immediate threats,and each of these moves would not have drawn an immediate,fierce rebuttal. There was nothing that suggested that it was a crucial moment. Anand chose to move his rook (Ra4). It was not the optimal move (which was b4) but still the engine,analysing to a depth of 22 moves,could not sense too much of a change in momentum. But something had,indeed,changed.
For sometime until that point,Carlsen would make a move,leave the board for a bit and return only after Anand had tapped his clock. Carlsen would stump out a quick response and walk away once more. After 60. Ra4,Carlsen sat down,realising things were somehow different now,if only subtly. He pushed his h pawn a square further,where it could be captured by whites g pawn. Now the engines jumped. This was a pawn sacrifice whose power Carlsen had instantly apprehended. From being a pawn up in the R+P ending,he was now a pawn down,but with whites g pawn diverted,blacks f pawn would queen no matter what white replied with.
It was only a couple of moves later that Anand perhaps realised that his careful defence,which had lasted for four hours,had somehow been breached. A few minutes later,he resigned.
Games six: White: V Anand; Black: M Carlsen; Ruy Lopez,Berlin variation,C65
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. c3 O-O 6. O-O Re8 7. Re1 a6 8. Ba4 b5 9. Bb3 d6 10. Bg5 Be6 11. Nbd2 h6 12. Bh4 Bxb3 13. axb3 Nb8 14. h3 Nbd7 15. Nh2 Qe7 16. Ndf1 Bb6 17. Ne3 Qe6 18. b4 a5 19. bxa5 Bxa5 20. Nhg4 Bb6 21. Bxf6 Nxf6 22. Nxf6+ Qxf6 23. Qg4 Bxe3 24. fxe3 Qe7 25. Rf1 c5 26. Kh2 c4 27. d4 Rxa1 28. Rxa1 Qb7 29. Rd1 Qc6 30. Qf5 exd4 31. Rxd4 Re5 32. Qf3 Qc7 33. Kh1 Qe7 34. Qg4 Kh7 35. Qf4 g6 36. Kh2 Kg7 37. Qf3 Re6 38. Qg3 Rxe4 39. Qxd6 Rxe3 40. Qxe7 Rxe7 41. Rd5 Rb7 42. Rd6 f6 43. h4 Kf7 44. h5 gxh5 45. Rd5 Kg6 46. Kg3 Rb6 47. Rc5 f5 48. Kh4 Re6 49. Rxb5 Re4+ 50. Kh3 Kg5 51. Rb8 h4 52. Rg8+ Kh5 53. Rf8 Rf4 54. Rc8 Rg4 55. Rf8 Rg3+ 56. Kh2 Kg5 57. Rg8+ Kf4 58. Rc8 Ke3 59. Rxc4 f4 60. Ra4 h3 61. gxh3 Rg6 62. c4 f3 63. Ra3+ Ke2 64. b4 f2 65. Ra2+ Kf3 66. Ra3+ Kf4 67. Ra8 Rg1 0-1.
After the second loss,Anand loses patience
At the end of a loss that perhaps put his title defence in doubt,Viswanathan Anand cut a morose figure,losing his cool for the first time since the match began more than a week ago. Carlsen agreed that he was lucky and that it was Anands late blunder that gave him the game. The inevitable question on Sachin Tendulkar popped up during the interaction,but Anand said he had other things on his mind last night. Excerpts.
On the game
Carlsen: I though I got a solid position out of the opening. Then at some point I was little bit better. But nothing much going on. He sacrificed or blundered a pawn. After that I got a good rook ending. I am not at all sure if it is winning. It was a draw… (After the mistake) It is very difficult. Maybe impossible to hold after that. His pawns seriously inhibit the rook and h3…f3 is coming very fast.
where it went wrong
Anand: Magnuss manoeuvre with the knight was quite good. Then I started wondering what to do. Then I thought with Qg4 (the 23rd move) with the major pieces I could get a solid position. Then I dont know … one mistake after the other. I just blundered…
On two wins in a row
Carlsen: It is good. Today I got a pretty solid position early on. But I thought I should cut glass and win yesterday and to press him today. Today there was not much to risk. I was little bit lucky and I won in the end. Obviously I am in a good mood now. I won two games and with six games to go thats obviously a healthy lead.
On the loss
Anand: Well,what can I say. Some days goes like that…I mean,today was a heavy blow. I will not pretend otherwise. Nothing to be done. You just go on.
On his plans
Anand: You just do your best. (When the question was posed again) Doing your best means doing your best. I dont know why you dont understand English.
On Sachins last game
Anand: I was following what he was doing. But there are other things in my mind.