Chess blindness of the Champions

by Johannes Fischer
11/16/2014 – Strange things happened in the sixth game of the World Championship in Sochi: Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand both suffered from an attack of chess blindness and overlooked a combination a lot of amateurs would have seen in a blitz game. In the end Carlsen was lucky and won the game. But has such a double blunder ever occurred in a World Championship match? Have a guess!

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Chess blindness of the Champions

It was an exciting moment. In the sixth game of the World Championship match between reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen and challenger Vishy Anand in Sochi, Russia, Carlsen had the better position, but after thinking for a minute before his 26. move he committed a serious blunder.

Position after 26.Kc1-d2? (With 26.Kc1-d1 White avoids all tactical tricks.)

A blunder which easily could have cost Carlsen the title. Because now Anand had the tactical trick 26...Nxe5!. After the practically forced 27.Rxg8 the knight on e5, which is attacked by the rook on h5, saves itself with the zwischenzug 27...Nc4+ and after 28.Kd3 Nb2+ the beast is totally safe - but has won two pawns en route. Black is winning.

But in the game something incredible happened. Anand apparently got infected by Carlsen's chess blindness and missed the chance to win the game and to take the lead in the match. He thought for about a minute and then played 26...a4? to pursue his strategic plan to create counterplay on the queenside.

The live-transmission shows the crucial moment.

Norwegian fans were probably relieved, fans in India probably shocked. Carlsen and Anand were also relieved and shocked because immediately after having made their moves they realized what they had done or not done.

The end of the game: Anand resigns, visibly frustrated.

A mistake that raises questions: Has there ever been a similar case of mutual chess blindness in World Championship matches? And, a bit more soul-searching, why do such mistakes occur?

Well, at least the first question can be answered rather quickly. You only need to have a look at the entertaining book Chess Lists by Andy Soltis, which was first published in 1984 and republished in an edited and revised version in 2002. In more than 70 short articles and under headings such as "Tragic Losses", "Nobel Prize for Literature Players", "Nineteen Master Games with Illegal Moves", etc., the American Grandmaster and prolific writer here lists trivia, facts, and interesting coincidences from the world of chess.

Andy Soltis, Chess Lists

The heading "The Nine Worst World Championship Games" promises an answer to the question of mutual chess blindness in World Championship matches. However, in most of the games Soltis quotes one side commits a serious blunder which the opponents exploits, and which thus leads to an immediate loss. Pretty normal, after all. But Soltis also gives two World Championship games with remarkable cases of mutual chess blindness. One is the 16. game from the World Championship match between Alexander Alekhine and Max Euwe in 1937.

A. Alekhine-M.Euwe, 1937, position after 25.Nc3

Black now made a mistake and played 25...Qe5 allowing White a simple tactical trick. Well, Alekhine was everything but a tactically weak player, yet he nevertheless overlooked this opportunity and returned the compliment with 26.Bb2?. But Euwe still did not see the threat and played 26...Bc6?. Alekhine again refused the present and played 27.a3?, after which Euwe replied 27...Bd6, finally relieving all his fans who were present in Rotterdam from anguish. The game later ended in a draw. Both Alekhine and Euwe had overlooked that White after 25...Qe5? could have won a pawn with 26.Qh8+ Kxh8 27.Nxf7+ followed by 28.Nxe5. Black is two pawns down in the endgame, has no  compensation and is clearly lost.

Alexander Alekhine

However, this game had hardly any influence on the outcome of the match. Alekhine, who in 1935 had unexpectedly lost his title in the first match against Euwe, losing 14.5-15.5, won the rematch in 1937 convincingly 15.5-9.5

Max Euwe

Another comedy of errors was the 18. game of the World Championship match between Mikhail Botvinnik and Vasily Smyslov in 1958. It was their third match. The first, in 1954, had ended 12:12 but because the reigning World Champion defended his title in case of a tie Botvinnik remained World Champion. Three years later, in 1957, Smyslov again challenged Botvinnik and this time he won 12.5-9.5. However, in the rematch in 1958, in which the following game was played, Botvinnik regained the title.

Mikhail Botvinnik



Had he won this game Smyslov would have had good chances to win or draw the match, but as it was, he lost 10.5-12.5.

Vasily Smyslov

Anand will also find it difficult to turn the tables after losing the sixth game and missing a golden opportunity. But who knows? Anand has already staged more than one surprising comeback in his career. Maybe he will strike again. His next chance to do so will come on Monday, 17th November, 3 pm local time. The game will be broadcast and commentated live on the server. Don't miss it!


M. Carlsen 2863
V. Anand 2792

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Our team of commentators will analyse and comment the games of the match live on the server. In four languages: English, German, French, and Spanish.


Monday 17.11.2014 Round 7 Simon Williams, Loek van Wely
Tuesday 18.11.2014 Round 8 Daniel King, Loek van Wely
Wednesday 19.11.2014 Rest day  
Thursday 20.11.2014 Round 9 Simon Williams, Irina Krush
Friday 21.11.2014 Round 10 Daniel King, Simon Williams
Saturday 22.11.2014 Rest day  
Sunday 23.11.2014 Round 11 Chris Ward, Parimarjan Negi
Monday 24.11.201 4 Rest day  
Tuesday 25.11.2014 Round 12 Simon Williams, Rustam Kasimdzhanov

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Our team of World Championship commentators (English)

Irina Krush: The female in the commentator team, several times US Women's Champion.
Daniel King: Well known, popular, experienced, and very good. Author of many Fritztrainer DVDs

Simon Williams: English grandmaster, author of two popular ChessBase King's Gambit DVDs.
Chris Ward: Dragon expert and chess commentator at the London Chess Classic.

Niclas Pert: Grandmaster, trainer, and author of a number of excellent Fritztrainer DVDs.
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Rustam Kasimdzhanov: The FIDE-World Champion 2004, former second for Vishy Anand

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Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".


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