The Carlsen years (1): A new era begins

by Carlos Alberto Colodro
11/18/2021 – With the World Championship match in Dubai scheduled to kick off a bit over a week from now, we get ready for the showdown between Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi by recapping the four previous matches, which were all won by Carlsen. In the first instalment, we recount what went on in Chennai in 2013, where a 22-year-old Carlsen got a commanding victory over local hero Vishy Anand. | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

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Almost the youngest

Magnus CarlsenAfter barely winning an incredibly dramatic Candidates Tournament in March 2013, Magnus Carlsen got to challenge then world champion Viswanathan Anand in Chennai. The match took place on November 9-22 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in the capital city of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Twelve games were scheduled, but the match was decided in ten encounters, as Carlsen had already secured overall victory after scoring three wins and seven draws.

The Norwegian was the pre-match favourite, but that did not take away from the shocking effect of his victory — after all, the Norwegian had just become the second-youngest world champion in chess history, only surpassed by Garry Kasparov, who was a bit farther away from his 23rd birthday when he clinched the title.

Kasparov himself confessed that he was rooting for the youngster, noting in an article for Time Magazine that “the guard has been changed at the top of the chess world”. Clearly, the period of Anand, Vladimir Kramnik, Veselin Topalov and a few more fighting for top spots both in round-robin tournaments and the World Championship cycle seemed to be coming to an end.

A young, witty Norwegian, who had been modelling for G-Star Raw since 2010, was the new king. In an article for Indian Express, Nigel Short went as far as to describe the match as “the biggest chess clash since Bobby Fischer vs Boris Spassky in 1972”.  

A nervy start

Going into the match, most pundits considered Carlsen — already world number one at the time — to be the clear favourite, albeit with some caveats. Anand had won the World Championship multiple times and under different conditions, even at times when he seemed to be having problems in elite tournaments. Moreover, the Indian was known for his stupendous opening preparation. Thus, there was a chance that the perfect combination of experience and theoretical knowledge might end up giving the defending champion yet another victory.

The other relevant factor was the home (dis)advantage. It was not clear whether playing in India, an enthusiastic country which had Anand as a national idol, would end up benefitting or harming the champion’s performance — handling that level of pressure is something football or basketball players are more used to than even the best chess players in the world.

Once the match started, both contenders needed some time to quiet their nerves, as they kicked off the contest with two rather quiet draws. A young Carlsen was dealing with a new challenge, while Anand tried to find focus amid a swarm of fans wishing to get a chance to celebrate their hero on home soil.

The first one to get winning chances in the match was, in fact, Anand.

 

Black is better in this position, but he must now decide if it is a good idea to grab the undefended pawn on b2. Anand shied away from capturing and played 29...Bd4, fearing his opponent’s counterplay while trying to keep all his positional trumps. This turned out to be a missed chance, as the text move gave White time to regroup and eventually save a draw.

Viswanathan Anand

Anand missed his chance in game 3 | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

Another draw followed, with Carlsen eventually getting good play with black out of a Berlin Defence. Anand recovered from his missed chance by showing excellent tactical awareness in a couple of critical positions to keep the balance.

 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games

Long endgames favour the (young) challenger

Carlsen had climbed to the very top of the world ranking by showing incredible persistence in positions that some of his colleagues would simply consider as fully equalized — i.e. while others played a couple of inertial moves before agreeing to a draw, Carlsen kept on looking for potential imbalances.

This factor, added to the fact that Anand almost doubled his opponent’s age, was crucial in games 5 and 6. The young challenger won back-to-back encounters by outplaying his opponent in lengthy, tricky endgames that were decided past the fifth hour of play.

Magnus Carlsen

Poised — Magnus Carlsen | Photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

In game 6, Anand erred on move 60.

 

Black will advance his h-pawn on the next move, freeing his f-pawn to continue marching down the board. Precise calculation is needed here to figure out that 60.b4 is the only way to get a draw with White, while Anand’s 60.Ra4 was responded by the aforementioned plan of 60...h3 61.gxh3 Rg6, when White’s counterplay is way too slow. Carlsen 4 - 2 Anand.

 

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The sharp ninth game

An experienced fighter, Anand decided to get his head in the right place in the following two games, playing principled chess that led to clean draws after the two back-to-back, painful losses. The Indian noted in the press conference after game 8 that he would “liven it up” in the next encounter.

And that is exactly what he did in game 9, responding to Carlsen’s Nimzo-Indian with a sharp, attacking system. 

 

In an impressive cold-blooded defensive effort, Carlsen here played 26...b2. Facing an extremely menacing attack, the Norwegian had correctly calculated from afar — he foresaw this whole line from an earlier point in the game — that after 27.Rf4 (threatening Rh4-Qh7#) he had 27...b1Q+ 28.Nf1 Qe1, preparing to sacrifice the new queen to avoid mate and eventually win the game with his extra material.

Moreover, the line with 28.Nf1 was not the sharpest in the position. Had Anand played 28.Bf1, Carlsen would have responded with the remarkable sequence 28...Qd1 29.Rh4 Qh5

 

The only defence! Now after 30.Nxh5 gxh5 31.Rxh5 Black has 31...Bf5, defending the h7-square just in time. In the game, Anand resigned after 28...Qe1.

Carlsen had a 3-point advantage with three games to go. Anand went for the Sicilian Defence in game 10, but he could not get much against the challenger, who in fact missed a few chances to fight for a win. A draw was agreed after 65 moves, and a new champion was crowned! A new era had begun.

Once the match was over, there was a lot of talk about Anand’s mistakes in games 5 and 6, with the newly crowned champ noting with a smile: “I would like to take some responsibility for his mistakes”. 

 

Select an entry from the list to switch between games

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Carlos Colodro is a Hispanic Philologist from Bolivia. He works as a freelance translator and writer since 2012. A lot of his work is done in chess-related texts, as the game is one of his biggest interests, along with literature and music.
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AntonioFarina88 AntonioFarina88 11/24/2021 10:16
What is said in the introduction is wrong. Carlsen didn't won all four previous matches. He only won the two matches against Anand, the other two (Karjakin and Caruana) were tied. He retained the title thanks to the rapid and blitz tiebreak, but did not win those matches. I think there's a big difference.
genem genem 11/21/2021 09:01
{Quote: Nigel Short went as far as to describe the match as “the biggest chess clash since Bobby Fischer vs Boris Spassky in 1972”. EndQuote}

No Nigel, Anand-Carlsen 2013 was not the biggest such clash. Rather the biggest MWCChamp matches since Spassky-Fischer 1972 were Karpov-Kasparov 1985 (which settled the controversy over the K-K 1984 no-result fiasco), and Kramnik-Topolov 2006 (which reunified the MWCChamp title).
genem genem 11/21/2021 08:57
If using "Tie Odds" (not "Draw Odds") for the defending Match World Chess Champion, so as to avoid these unpleasant Rapid playoffs, then the schedule should be for an odd number of games - so that the Challenger has the white pieces in one more game than does the MWCChamp (as a compensation for the unfairness of Tie Odds).
karban karban 11/20/2021 08:08
@Lajossapard. Ok, I'm fine with draw odds like it was during most of the history. But lot of people don't want this including FIDE and players.
If tgeyy want rapid tie-breaks then it's more practical to play it before match. That's it.
BKnight2003 BKnight2003 11/19/2021 09:11
@karban: No! Playing tie-breaks before match assigns even more importance to those (rapid) games.

@lajosapard: Yes! Draw odds for the champion is the right incentive for the chalenger to be agressive. And only by beating the best we may call him best.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 11/19/2021 02:01
@karban he had an advantage in the last game which gave him chances to win the match outright. As far as I remember he could have played on without great risks and press his opponent. Instead he decided to go to the tiebreaks. One of the main reason I hope he will lose his title is specifically that he did not want to win the match in classical terms when he had the golden opportunity. If he didn't have an opening advantage or the position was risky in the last game, then it would have been normal to opt for the draw. I strongly disagree with rapid chess deciding the world chess championship. A coin toss would be more honest. If the champion has draw odds, that changes the dynamic of the match. And it is reasonable too to say that to be the best you need to beat the best.
karban karban 11/18/2021 08:54
@lajosapard - article is about 2013 match. In 2018 he was right to go for 4-games rapid match where he dully made mincemeat from his opponent instead of gooing all in in the last classical game. What's surprising here?
Remedy is easy - just play tie-breaks before match it'll create log lasting imbalance which will have last till the very last classical game.
lajosarpad lajosarpad 11/18/2021 01:49
Carlsen might have won officially all his World Championship matches, but in the last two his approach to the match was less convincing, especially in his 2018 match against Caruana, in which he drew the very last game, where he had winning chances in order to go for a playoff. I wonder whether he will have the same approach against Nepo, will he choose to play more aggressively, as he did against Anand, or is he going to choose some approach he did not show so far. What we can say for sure is: Nepo will show an approach he has never shown in World Championship matches so far :)
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