The much-awaited first game of the historic world championship match between the defending champion Viswanathan Anand and his youngest challenger for the crown – Magnus Carlsen of Norway – began with Grandmasters and chess lovers from all over the world entering the spectators’ gallery with a lot of expectation.
The Norwegian has rarely defeated Anand with black pieces, so everyone was expecting him to try hard to win every game with white. The challenger however, failed to rise to expectations on Saturday.
The energetic Norwegian had not been very successful against Anand with the King Pawn Opening, so it was expected that he would try to outwit the champion with Queen Pawn Opening since it had helped him win their last encounter.
Simple And Effective
However, Carlsen tried the Reti Opening, not a very aggressive way of beginning the game. Anand, with precise play on moves three, seven and eight, restricted Carlsen’s possibilities. By delaying the development of his own kingside knight, Anand forced the challenger to advance a centre pawn, thereby leaving Carlsen with less flexibility. By simple and effective moves, Anand seemed to have achieved a comfortable and fully developed position.
At this stage, Carlsen faced some real practical difficulties. He could develop the game in a manner Anand wanted or he had the choice of playing a weak and weakening move. Carlsen made a fundamental positional error on move nine, which enabled Anand to get dangerous initiative with aggressive play on moves 9 and 10.
As a result, Carlsen was forced to retreat while Anand seemed to enjoy an edge. I feel that the challenger’s positional error on the ninth move was a result of lack of positional knowledge and judgement rather than courage and will to win. Over 60 years, it has been known that the development of the queen’s knight at this particular square in this setup leads to severe weakening of an important square in white’s territory. Anand’s quick decision to give up the centre to launch an attack against Carlsen’s hanging central pawn mass seemed to push the challenger to the ropes as early as move 11.
Though Carlsen seemed taken aback by this sequence, I am sure Anand would have found out these moves just as easily and quickly even a couple of decades back.
Then came the final phase of the game. At this stage, Anand had an option of a couple of powerful choices at move 12, of which he chose the safer one. On moves 12 and 13, the champion decided to simplify matters by force rather than go for a sharp battle. Carlsen had no option but to repeat moves, thereby agreeing to a draw on move 16.
On Sunday, Anand will play his first game with white pieces in this contest and I look forward to a sharp battle where he will try to outwit a somewhat demoralised challenger who admitted at the media conference that the first round result was “not so satisfactory”.
The writer is India’s third Gm and has been playing for 42 years