A couple of months ago I predicted that the Norwegian chess player Magnus Carlsen would beat the Indian Viswanathan Anand. Until today, Anand had been the undisputed World Champion since 2007. Although he had won the title for the first time in 2000, he failed to defend it in 2002 but then won again the World Championship in 2007 in Mexico City. In 2008 he defended the title successfully against former champion Vladimir Kramnik, and in 2010 he won again a match against former champion Veselin Topalov. Last year, Anand also defended successfully his crown against another formidable challenger, the Jew Boris Gelfand.
After Anand became India’s first Grandmaster in 1988 he has had a spectacular score against the mentioned World Chess Champions and also against Karpov. Only the retired (Jew) Kasparov has a favorable score against Anand. Anand also has favorable scores against the rest of contemporary Grandmasters, including Carlsen—until today.
Carlsen earned the right to challenge Anand’s crown this November but the match was celebrated in Anand’s own town, Chennai in India.
The final score of this match, that just finished today, is three wins for Carlsen, zero for Anand and seven draws of a total of ten games played. In competition chess draws count for half a point for each player; loses zero, and wins a point. The games limit of this match for the world’s crown was twelve games, although the first player to reach 6 ½ points automatically wins the match.
Anand, now a former champion, is forty-three years old and the new champion, Carlsen, only twenty-two: the youngest champion since Wilhelm Steinitz, the first undisputed champion from 1886 to 1894. (This is official chess history which Kasparov endorses in the first volume of his magnum opus My Great Predecessors, but in my humble opinion the American Paul Morphy, who like Carlsen was also a chess prodigy and who died in 1884, should be considered the first champion in history.)
The Ninth Game, with Anand playing the white pieces and Carlsen black, was the most exciting of the entire match insofar as it was the only one of the series with really serious mating threats. For those familiar with the technicalities of chess, let me say that for this game Anand chose a sharp ramification of the Sämisch Variation against Carlsen’s Nimzo-Indian Defence.
These are the moves of the Ninth Game of this historic match:
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. f3 d5 5. a3 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 c5 7. cxd5 exd5 8. e3 c4 9. Ne2 Nc6 10. g4 0-0 11. Bg2 Na5 12. 0-0 Nb3 13. Ra2 b5 14. Ng3 a5 15. g5 Ne8 16. e4 Nxc1 17. Qxc1 Ra6 18. e5 Nc7 19. f4 b4 20. axb4 axb4 21. Rxa6 Nxa6 22. f5 b3 23. Qf4 Nc7 24. f6 g6 25. Qh4 Ne8 26. Qh6 b2 27. Rf4 b1=Q+ (Carlsen queens his pawn having now two queens over the board) 28. Nf1?? Qe1 29. White resigns. (In chess jargon two question marks mean a gross blunder.)
Instead of that losing move, the computer gives the best line in the post-mortem analysis of the game: 28.Bf1 Qd1 29.Rh4 Qh5 (Black has to sacrifice his newly crowned queen if he wants to avoid being checkmated) 30.Nxh5 gxh5 31.Rxh5 Bf5 32.g6 Bxg6 33.Rg5 Nxf6 34.exf6 Qxf6 and 35.Rxd5 probably draws. Therefore, well played the Ninth Game would have meant splitting the point for both players. In the press interview both Anand and Carlsen explained a few of the many complex ramifications of Anand’s pretty scary assault on Carlsen’s castled king, with the young Norwegian defending so well.
But we must not be too harsh on Anand’s mistakes in this and the other two games that he lost. I have played chess tournaments and know firsthand the overwhelming stress that chess players suffer during serious competitions. In YouTube for example you can watch the entire Anand-Carlsen match with some games lasting six hours, which means six hours of strenuous intellectual activity. Anand’s mistake in the Ninth Game can be easily explained by what he himself confessed at the press conference: “The thing is, I had been calculating for about forty minutes…”, calculating for forty minutes a single move!
I confess that I spent many hours watching the match’s games live online thanks to the magic of the internet. This is very different from a mere reproducing of games as in the above algebraic notation, or a mere replaying all the games of the match (here).
A few minutes ago, after a fighting Tenth Game extended to a knights-and-pawns ending, a yelling could be heard from the Norwegian fans visiting India when it ended in a draw, as Carlsen thus obtained with that draw the 6 ½ mandatory points to win the crown.
Chess fans can see a lively audio-visual explanation of eleven minutes of the Ninth Game in Daniel King’s very entertaining YouTube channel (here). If you prefer watching the whole game, almost four hours of visuals of Anand and Carlsen actually playing with some moves commented by Grandmaster Susan Polgar, click here.
The king of chess is dead, long live the king.