Sochi WCh G1: Climbing back up Mount Olympus

by Albert Silver
11/9/2014 – The World Championship match between Magnus Carlsen and Vishy Anand has finally started and what a match we are in for. The first game was an exciting draw with ups and downs and drama aplenty. Nevertheless, the very idea of this match was already a long shot, if not an impossibility, in the eyes of many, even in the challenger's. Consider how we got to this point.

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FIDE World Chess Championship Carlsen-Anand 2014

The FIDE World Chess Championship match between defending champion Magnus Carlsen and his challenger Viswanathan Anand is taking place from November 7 to 27, 2014 in Olympic Media Center located in the Adler City District of Sochi, Imeretinsky Valley, on the Black Sea.

The match is over twelve games, with time controls of 120 minutes for the first 40 moves, 60 minutes for the next 20 moves and then 15 minutes for the rest of the game, with an increment of 30 seconds per move starting from move 61. The games start at 3:00 p.m. Sochi Time, which is the same as Moscow time:

Moscow (Russia) 3:00:00 PM MSK UTC+3 hours
New York (U.S.A. - New York) 7:00:00 AM EST UTC-5 hours
Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) 10:00:00 AM BRST UTC-2 hours
Paris (France) 1:00:00 PM CET UTC+1 hour
Beijing (China - Beijing Municipality) 8:00:00 PM CST UTC+8 hours

Arriving to Sochi

After Anand's nasty fall from grace, it was regarded as the end of a generation, with some of the more hysterical fans discussing 'retirement' as if somehow the great Indian had lost the ability to play top chess. Aside from the long drought of tournament wins, with seven years since the last outright victory, this final loss of his title was considered the last straw. In spite of his Top Ten rating, it appeared as if he had lost the will to fight.

The discussion came up as to whether he would even bother to take part in the upcoming Candidates, even though he certainly had the right by virtue of having played the previous match. According to Anand, he himself had deep doubts and was still hurting, but a conversation with colleague, friend and rival, Vladimir Kramnik, at the London Chess Classic changed this as the great Russian insisted that he thought Vishy had real chances. Finally the announcement was made that he would indeed take part, putting an end to that particular rumor mill.

At the 2013 London Chess Classic shortly after the match, Vishy Anand is paired
with Alex Zane in the Pro-Celebrity Challenge

Nevertheless, when the Candidates tournament loomed on the horizon, the predictions all but dismissed Anand's chances, and suggested that a 'good result' such as appearing in the top half or third, would help repair his bruised reputation. The reality was a cold shower that left everyone gaping. In the opening round he took on world no.2 Levon Aronian and effectively steamrolled him in a breathtaking display of technique that even Magnus could only compliment. The wins and results just kept on accumulating and all of his rivals faltered at key moments, while the Indian kept his cool and showed the extent of his grit and determination.

From the onset of the 2014 Candidates, Anand defied the expectations
by beating one of the pre-tournamnent favorites, Levon Aronian

In spite of the predictions, perhaps Grischuk said it best: "The fact is that the winner of this tournament will be a different person than he was before the start of the competition. So even if we take, for example, Anand, this 'other' Anand would definitely not be easy for Carlsen."

When it was a done deal, Anand had actually set a new undocumented record: that of the widest gap between World Championship match qualifications. Assuredly, Lasker held the title for 27 years, and thus had a match with a 27-year gap, but he was the incumbent champion. Anand first went through the qualification cycle to challenge for the title in 1995, and now, a full 19 years later he had done it again. No other player has managed this feat. Even Anatoly Karpov in the Opening Ceremony commented that after such an abysmal match less than six months earlier this was nothing short of heroic. One thing is certain: he will never be underestimated again.

Game One

Fast forward six months later, and the stage is set for a great return match, Carlsen-Anand II. After answering the more immediate and obvious technical questions such as who will play white first, or who their respective seconds would be, the most important question still needed to be answered: how would Anand play, and what could we expect? It is not an issue of winning or losing, an issue of result, but rather a matter of approach and attitude.

The opening move was 1.d4, an indication of things to come

The very opening moves said volumes for the discerning experts. No Berlins was key, suggesting
he would keep his options open for more challenging choices.

A Grunfeld was a very curious reply by Magnus, as he is not a noted expert of the line, but
a promising choice for an exciting match

The opening soon took on a surprising turn. Grandmaster commentators noted that White's
choice of Nf3 is not considered the best continuation, though it was obviously the result of
extensive preparation. Soon Magnus fell into deep thought and was behind on the clock by
as much as half an hour, highly unusual for him.

GM Peter Svidler who is one of the official commentators at the FIDE site said, "Simply in terms of the outcome of the opening, this is a dream position for Vishy. He is close to a half an hour ahead on the clock, he is quite clearly in very familiar territory, and he also got a sharp position with threats against the black king."

A key turning point was at move sixteen, when many wondered whether Anand would be
willing to compromise his pawn structure in the interest of pursuing the initiative. When he
did, Nigel Short immediately tweeted, "Oh yes! We have a different, far more dangerous
Anand this time"

The fans watching were more concerned about making a good match of it than the final result

Peter Svidler agreed and noted, "This is exactly the kind of game we were hoping for. You can't really call one game a trend, but if this is how the game will proceed, at least parts of it, we're in for an excellent spectacle. This will be very very exciting."

Despite warming to the idea of a possible upset in the very first round, both players showed
signs of nerves and the game swung the other way as imprecisions allowed Carlsen to wrest
the initiative. Suddenly the talk was all about whether Vishy could save the game.

However, the Indian was not going to wilt and he battled his way back

The shadow of a win evaporated and Magnus was forced to come to terms with this

The key move was Qh1, ensuring a draw thanks to the threats of a perpetual

Ultimately they shook hands as the draw was agreed. One thing is certain, the match is more than a second encounter between the two players, it is different. The hard-fought game, with ups and downs and enough drama to dissuade those with heart conditions from watching it, promises an exciting match with thrilling struggles. No matter who you favor, what all fans really want are memorable games that live up to the prestige of the greatest title in the game. Today was an auspicious start.


M. Carlsen 2863
V. Anand 2792


The games are being broadcast live on the official web site and on the chess server If you are not a member you can download a free Playchess client there and get immediate access. You can also use ChessBase 12 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs.

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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