Viswanathan Anand – Still behind the Berlin wall

Viswanathan Anand – Still behind the Berlin wall

At a time when he needs to be a bit more adventurous,Anand opts for ultra-defensive response.

I played e4,he played Berlin,yada yada yada … let’s go to the doping controls.” Magnus Carlsen’s post-game comment might yet prove the most concise description of the action around game eight of the World Chess Championship.

The game itself was an insipid affair,ending in a draw after just 75 minutes of play. The only talking points were Viswanathan Anand’s choice of defence with black after Carlsen opened with e4 for the first time in the match and why the players took extraordinarily long to turn up for their post-match interaction with the media. Two points down and with just four games left after Tuesday’s game,it was widely expected that Anand would reply to 1. e4 with the Sicilian,statistically black’s most attacking response.

This was,however,not to be. After a bit of a ponder,Anand answered with the Berlin,which was puzzling on at least two counts. The Berlin is frequently used as a drawing tool by black. Why someone desperate to get back into the match would go for this approach remained unclear. Also,Carlsen,having played on the black side of the Berlin thrice already in the match,could be assumed to have an in-depth knowledge of the positions that could arise out of the opening. Anand would have had to come up with a strong novelty to surprise Carlsen and nothing of the sort happened.

20 minutes,33 moves

The pieces flew off the board and the draw was signed a little after the hour-mark. Carlsen had used up just 20 minutes of his two hours to bullet out 33 moves. It is safe to say he wasn’t troubled through the game. Both players had to take some time off after the game to undergo mandatory doping tests,a precaution which seems unnecessary in chess (Garry Kasparov is among those who said drugs can’t enhance chess-playing abilities),but a regulation that requires compliance if the sport is to be included in the Olympics at some point in the future. On the evidence of the game though,they needn’t really have bothered.


With the game over in double-quick time,it left a lot of room for idle speculation in the media box. The more interesting of these analogies attempted to fit Anand’s approach in the last couple of games within the MS Dhoni spectrum of dealing with adversity. When the opposition is in the ascendency,especially in overseas Tests,Dhoni is often criticised for turning ultra-defensive,posting spread-out fields and directing his bowlers to resort to a line of attack that focuses on cutting down the scoring rather than picking up wickets. Despite the attempt at damage control,the game typically slips further out of his side’s reach. There is a reasonable parallel that can be drawn with Anand’s seemingly passive approach in the last two games.

There is another theory that despairing fans often turn to,that the player has something hidden up his sleeve,that he knows something the fans and the opposition don’t,that with a sudden,precise attack the turnaround will be effected. To continue with the Dhoni example,the cricketer has pulled off this kind of a heist a fair few times in ODIs. With just the tail for company,Dhoni is content to play out an entire over at the death during a steep chase,backing himself to choose his moments to attack.

No signs of A late flourish

The analogy doesn’t really hold when you zoom in on the specifics (there is no weak fifth bowler to target in chess,for starters) but is worth considering as an overall strategy. Perhaps Anand realises that his best bet is to first right himself after the losses in games five and six,and then go for the win with white (he has two whites remaining) pieces. Maybe he believes that Carlsen will be more susceptible to nerves the closer he gets to the title.

The first of these strategies has enjoyed very little success and is often an admittance of powerlessness. The second has the potential to be spectacular when it comes off but rarely does. There clearly isn’t much of a choice here,which only goes on to show how precarious Anand’s position is. Game nine,where Anand has white pieces,will provide a more accurate indicator of the kind of approach the champion has settled on.

Game eight

White: Magnus Carlsen,Black: Viswanathan Anand

Ruy Lopez,Berlin defense

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. Re1 Nd6 6. Nxe5 Be7 7. Bf1 Nxe5 8. Rxe5 O-O 9. d4 Bf6 10. Re1 Re8 11. c3 Rxe1 12. Qxe1 Ne8 13. Bf4 d5 14. Bd3 g6 15. Nd2 Ng7 16. Qe2 c6 17. Re1 Bf5 18. Bxf5 Nxf5 19. Nf3 Ng7 20. Be5 Ne6 21. Bxf6 Qxf6 22. Ne5 Re8 23. Ng4 Qd8 24. Qe5 Ng7 25. Qxe8+ Nxe8 26. Rxe8+ Qxe8 27. Nf6+ Kf8 28. Nxe8 Kxe8 29. f4 f5 30. Kf2 b5 31. b4 Kf7 32. h3 h6 33. h4 h5 Draw.

Match score: Anand 3 – Carlsen 5

Anand says he’ll go for a win in game 9

Chennai: Carlsen had opened with the king pawn opening for the first time in the match and Anand more or less admitted,during the post-game press conference,that it was a surprise,saying he had “not prioritised e4” in his opening preparation. Anand also explained why he did not opt for the Sicilian while Carlsen made it clear he was playing for the draw.

On the game

Anand: “Generally it is a fairly solid system for white,not entirely without chances if black plays inaccurately. After Qd8 we just liquidate.”

On the Berlin

Carlsen: “He has played different systems against me in the past and today I had to reckon with the Berlin today. It was not a major surprise. With the line there wasn’t too much to think about and I wasn’t in a mood to think either.”

Anand: “I had to be ready for any scenario. After the first set of moves,this was all I could do. In a match you shouldn’t be surprised. But I had not prioritised 1. e4.”

Why not Sicilian

Anand: “The thing is I didn’t really know what his intentions were. Even with the Sicilian,if you want to play a dry system,they are available. Not like there are clear options there. I thought a bit and decided to go for this. Of course the match situation speaks for itself and my job is to level it up. I guess I will try in the next game.”

On opening preparation

Anand: “I am quite happy with my opening preparations. This is not the time to start analysing things. OK it is kind of a bonus evening (with the early draw) before the rest day,I will try and prepare something for the next round.

Carlsen: “Let’s discuss it after the match. Caruana is a very good player and a clever guy so there must be something to what he says. (Fabiano Caruana,said Carlsen,is good at choosing openings that are problematic for opponents.)

playing for a result


Carlsen: “I didn’t particularly mind the draw as was evident from my play. I was just hoping to set him one or two traps and it didn’t work.” ENS