León 2011: Anand and Shirov have exciting start

6/4/2011 – After a fairly ho-hum Candidates cycle, chess fans were famished wolves in search of excitement on the chessboard. True, neither Anand nor Shirov has a reputation for boring chess (knock on wood), but the proof is in the pudding. Thankfully they were rewarded for their faith, and the first two games were exciting battles. Anand's win in game two was annotated by GM Elshan Moradiabandi.

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The Anand-Shirov six-game match in León, Spain, is being played under the FIDE Active Chess rules. Each player has 45 minutes per game + 30 seconds increment after each move. Two games are played each day, and all six games will be played, even if the match winner has been already decided. In case of a tie, a pair of five-minute games will be played immediately after the sixth regular normal game. If there is still a tie, and Armageddon will decide the winner: White gets five minutes against four minutes for Black, who will be considered the winner if there is a draw.


Viswanathan Anand
Alexei Shirov

The Leon match has become a classic in which the players evolved from the "Advanced" chess concept instigated by Kasparov, to classic rapid chess games, using the ratified FIDE rules on the modality. This year's match is between Shirov, the number one player in Spain for a long time, and Anand, the world champion as well as number one in the world ranking after a great last twelve months. The games have promised to be exciting, and after a fairly ho-hum Candidates cycle, they were a refreshing splash of cold water for chess fans.

The opening ceremony with Leontxo Garcia, the organizer, with Vishy Anand, Alexei
Shirov, and the arbiter Joaquín Espejo.

Vishy Anand, Joaquín Espejo, and Alexei Shirov prior to the drawing of lots.

The traditional headless chef helps determine the starting colors

Game one

Shirov,Alexei (2709) - Anand,Viswanathan (2817)
XXIV Magistral Ciudad de León León (1.1), 03.06.2011

The world champion, Vishy Anand, drew the black pieces in the in the drawing of lots held by international arbiter Joaquín Espejo in the celebrated halls of Hotel Conde Luna. The match which will pit him against Alexei Shirov in a best of six games played at 40 minutes per game with a 30-second increment after each move. 1.e4 c6. The Caro-Kann defense that Anand has employed with great success against Shirov in the past with four victories and four draws. A result that is nothing to spit upon. 2.d4 d5 3.e5. Shirov, true to himself, employs the most agressive system. 3...Bf5 4.Nf3. 4.Nc3 e6 5.g4 Bg6 6.Nge2 is a variation much to Alexei's taste, but which has not yielded good results against the Indian GM. 4...e6 5.Be2 Ne7. A continuation used by the Vietnamese phenom Le Quang Liem, never played by the two protagonists however. 5...Nd7 6.0-0 Ne7 7.Be3 Bg6 8.Nh4 Nf5 9.Nxf5 Bxf5 10.g4 Bg6 11.f4 f5 was an interesting struggle which ended in a draw in Shirov,A (2690)-Anand,V (2725) Wijk aan Zee 1996.; and 5...c5 6.Be3 cxd4 7.Nxd4 Ne7 8.c4 Nbc6 9.Nc3 Nxd4 10.Bxd4 dxc4 11.Bxc4 Nc6 12.Bb5 Be7 13.0-0 0-0 14.Bxc6 bxc6 15.Ne2 c5 led to an equal game that Anand was able to turn to his favor in Shirov, A (2710)-Anand,V (2770) Linares 1998. 6.0-0 c5 7.dxc5 Nec6

This is the idea behind Ne7, reserving the d7 square for the queen's knight. 8.Bg5 Be7 9.Bxe7 Qxe7 10.c4 dxc4 11.Na3 c3 12.bxc3 Nd7

13.Nb5 A new idea prepared in advance by Shirov if one is to judge by the little time spent. In the aforementioned game they played 13.Bb5 Qxc5 14.Nc4 0-0 15.Qxd7 Qxb5 16.Nd6 Qb6 17.Qxb7 Nxe5 18.Qxb6 Nxf3+ 19.gxf3 axb6 20.Nxf5 exf5 21.Rfb1 Ra6 and only Black can aspire to anything in Naiditsch,A (2684)-Le Quang Liem (2681) Dortmund 2010. 13...0-0 14.Nd6 Nxc5 15.Bb5 Bg4. Of note was 15...Be4 pressuring the e5 pawn as in the game and keeping the option of capturing the knight on c6. 16.Bxc6 bxc6

We can now take stock of the opening: Anand seems to be about equal but it did take over twelve minutes while his opponent still has his initial 40 minutes almost intact and a strong knight on d6 which may give Black a serious headache in the future. 17.h3. Not 17.Qd4?! since after 17...Bxf3 18.Qxc5 Qg5! 19.g3 Qh5 and White is starting to get into trouble. 17...Bh5 18.g4!? Shirov fights for the initiative.

Shirov has no trouble upholding his reputation as one of the most dynamic top players

18...Bg6 19.Qd4 Nb7! Another option was to play against e5 with 19...Nd7 20.Rad1 f6 21.Rfe1 fxe5 22.Nxe5 Nxe5 23.Qxe5 Rf3 24.Re3 Rxe3 25.Qxe3 and now both 25...e5 (as well as 25...Rd8 26.Qe5 seem to give White an advantage.) 26.f4 20.Rad1 c5! 21.Qa4?! 21.Qe3 was safer, keeping c5 under attack and control of the kingside. 21...Nxd6 22.Rxd6. Not 22.exd6 Qf6 23.Kg2 Qxc3 and White would have to deal with both his material deficit and kingside weaknesses. 22...f5!? highlighting the weakened kingside, though also giving White full control of the d-file. 23.Rd7 Qe8. 23...Be8 was less convincing due to 24.Rxe7 Bxa4 25.Rb1 fxg4 26.Ng5 Bc6 27.hxg4 even though the position doesn't give White anything clearcut. 24.Rfd1 fxg4 25.Qxg4 Rf7! Anand neutralizes White's rook activity. 26.Rxf7 Qxf7 27.Ng5 Qf5!

28.f4. After a long think, Shirov decides to forgo 28.Nxe6 Qxe5 29.Rd7 Qe1+ 30.Kg2 Be4+ 31.Kg3 Qxc3+ (not 31...Qg1+? 32.Kf4 winning.) 32.Kh2 Qe5+ and Black holds. 28...Re8 29.Qxf5 Bxf5 30.Rd7

30...Rf8! Capturing the h3 pawn with 30...h6?! would be less precise since after 31.Nf7 Bxh3 White can play 32.Nd6! (Not the superficial 32.Rxa7? Rf8 33.Kh2 Rxf7 34.Rxf7 Kxf7 35.Kxh3 g6! which leads to a won pawn endgame by Black.) 32...Ra8 33.Rc7 and White gets the advantage. 31.Re7. As a result of Black's perfect defense, Shirov liquidates into an equal rook endgame, in which White is the one who must play with care. 31...h6 32.Nxe6 Bxe6 33.Rxe6 Rxf4 34.Ra6 Rf3! Anand chooses the continuation that gives him the most practical chances: if the h3-pawn is eliminated, the position could become perilous for White. 35.Rxa7 Rxh3 36.e6 Re3 37.Re7. 37.a4 seems drawn after 37...Rxe6 38.a5 Re2 39.Rc7 Ra2 40.Rxc5 g5 41.c4 Kg7 42.Rb5 Kg6 43.c5 and White would have no trouble holding the draw. 37...Kf8. 37...g5 38.Kf2 Rxc3 39.Re8+ Kg7

40.Rh8!! A study-like move that forces the draw.; 37...Rxc3 leads to a draw. 38.Re8+! Kh7 39.Kf2! Rc4 40.Kf3 Rc1 41.Kf2 38.Rf7+ Kg8 39.Re7 Kf8 1/2-1/2. [Click to replay]

The players have set a tone for a rousing fun match to watch

Game two

Game two marked a win by Anand in a tesne, spectacualr battle which went sour for Shirov very early on. Here are the comment of GM Elshan Moradiabadi.

Anand,Viswanathan (2817) - Shirov,Alexei (2709)
XXIV Magistral Ciudad de León León (2.1), 03.06.2011 [Elshan Moradiabadi]

1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5

A good sign! All the chess fans are tired of the boring chess in Kazan and this choice of opening in this Rapid match is the least they could expect! 5...h6. Shirov deviates from his "pet" line. He is addicted to the "Botvinnik system"! 6.Bh4 dxc4 7.e4 g5. This is the "tabiya" position of the Moscow variation. 8.Bg3 b5 9.Be2 Bb7 10.Qc2!?

An odd choice by Anand. The following moves are considered as the main line. 10.h4; 10.Ne5; 10.0-0 Anand's main plan is to opt for an early d5 breakthrough by means of Rd1. However, one should not forget that Anand had chosen this against Kramnik in his WCh match in 2008! 10...Nbd7 11.Rd1 Nh5!?N 11...Bb4 is what everyone considers as "theory" in this position. 12.Ne5 is the line Anand tried against Kramnik, which only brought him an ending a pawn down, which he then managed to save successfully. (12.0-0!? transposes to one of the most fashionable lines in this system.; 12.h4 g4 13.Ne5 Rg8 1/2-1/2 Feller,S (2649)-Spiess,G (2429)/Germany 2010/CB00_2011 (54) is one of the many other options in this line which has already been examined in practice.) 12...Qe7 13.0-0 Nxe5 14.Bxe5 0-0 15.Bxf6 Qxf6 16.f4 Qg7 17.e5 c5! 1/2-1/2 Anand,V (2783)-Kramnik,V (2772)/Bonn 2008/CBM 127 (45) 12.d5. Anand goes after his plan. 12...Nxg3. 12...cxd5 13.exd5 exd5 14.Nxd5 Nxg3 15.hxg3 Bg7 16.Ne3 Qc7 17.Nf5 Kf8 could be another alternative. White's compensation for the "gambit" pawn is indisputable. The position is rich in tactics and attack and counter-attacks. I believe that in order to play this position with Black, one has to have deep analyses. 13.hxg3

13...Qb6?? I do not understand what is going on! I cannot believe my eyes. Shirov's plan reminds me of the Botivinnik system but this is the Moscow Variation isn't it?! 13...exd5 14.exd5 cxd5 (14...Bb4? 15.dxc6 Bxc6 16.0-0 is just bad for Black. White has serious threats and Black cannot handle them all.The position is almost winning for White. This becomes one of many positions in the Moscow variation that shows just how fast Black can lose.) 15.Nxd5 Bg7 transposes to what we have already seen. 14.dxe6! fxe6 15.Nxg5. White is winning at this point.

Vishy Anand has been in the form of his life

15...Bc5. 15...0-0-0 16.Nxe6! Bc5 17.Nxd8 Bxf2+ 18.Kf1 Rxd8 (18...Bxg3 also loses to 19.Bg4 Rf8+ 20.Bf5) 19.Rxd7 Rxd7 20.Bg4 is winning for White. 16.Bh5+ Ke7 17.Nxe6! Ne5! Shirov tries to collect himself. He makes the most of his position. Unfortunately for him, this is not enough against the world champion! 17...Nf6 18.Nf4 loses on the spot. 18.Nxc5. 18.Ng7 could have been another way to triumph! 18...Qxc5 19.Be2?! too timid. Silicon minds cry to bring the knight to f4 and I believe they are right about it! 19.Ne2 Rad8 (19...Nd3+?? 20.Rxd3) 20.Nf4 Rxd1+ 21.Bxd1 Qd4 22.Rh5 White does not need to castle! 22...Nd3+ 23.Nxd3 Qxe4+ 24.Qe2 Qxe2+ 25.Bxe2 cxd3 26.Bf3!

White will collect the pawn on d3 after which Black's position will fall apart. 19...Raf8 20.0-0 Rhg8 21.b4!? 21.Qd2 Rxg3 22.Qxh6 Rfg8 23.Qh4+ R3g5 would have been another story, inspite of the fact that White is still much better.] 21...Qxb4. 21...cxb3 22.axb3 and White's threat of Nd5 is decisive. 22.Qd2 Qc5 23.Qxh6 Bc8 24.Qh4+. 24.Nd5+ cxd5 25.Rxd5 Qc7 26.Qh4+ Kf7 27.Bh5+ Kg7 28.Qg5+ Kh7 29.Qxe5 Qxe5 30.Rxe5 Does not seem conclusive enough to me. Anand seeks a more convincing continuation. 24...Ke6. 24...Kf7 25.Qh7+ Kf6 (25...Rg7 26.Bh5+ Kf6 27.Qh6+ Ng6 28.e5+! freeing the e4 square for the knight. 28...Qxe5 29.Rfe1 And Black's torture would be over!) 26.Nd5+! We will see this move over and over again! This is the main outcome of Anand's 21.b4!? 26...cxd5 27.Rxd5 Qb6 28.Qh6+ Ng6 29.e5+ Kf7 30.Rd6 Qc7 31.Rf6+ seals his fate. 25.Qh6+. 25.Nd5! cxd5 26.Rxd5 Qb6 (26...Qc7 27.Rfd1 is also winning.) 27.Qh5! would have finished things earlier. 25...Ke7 26.Qh5 Kf6. 26...Be6 27.Nd5+ cxd5 28.Qxe5 Qd6 29.Qc3 b4 30.Qe3 could have been another way for Black to lose! 27.Qh4+ 27.Nd5+ cxd5 28.Rxd5 and White wins! 27...Ke6 28.Nd5! Finally! Anand plays this move, now the curtains fall! 28...cxd5 29.Rxd5 Qb6. 29...Qc7 30.Rfd1 would not change anything. 30.Qh5 Qb8. 30...Qc7 31.f4 31.Rfd1. 31.f4 31...Rf6 32.Rxe5+! A beautiful final blow! 32...Qxe5 33.Bg4+ Rxg4 34.Qe8#

A deserved final picture for an exciting battle. It is a pity that Shirov's self-destructive blunder made this battle a "one-sided" affair! 1-0. [Click to replay]


Thursday, June 2nd Arrival, drawing of lost in Conde Luna Hotel
Friday, June 3rd Games 1 and 2 (16:30), León auditorium
Saturday, June 4th Games 3 and 4 (16:30), León auditorium
Sunday, June 5th Games 5 and 6 (16:30), + Tiebreaks
Monday, June 6th Closing ceremony, Prizegiving (14:30)
Simuls (17:30), León University


The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server Playchess.com. If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 11 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

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