Reports Nov 9, 2013 | 6:00 PMby Colin McGourty

Anand-Carlsen, Game 1: The emergency brake

The event of the year is finally underway after reigning World Champion Vishy Anand held Magnus Carlsen to a quick draw with the black pieces in the first game in Chennai. Nothing in chess can match the level of anticipation at the start of a World Championship match, and although there were few fireworks on the board chess24’s Jan Gustafsson explores what we learned from a game where Carlsen was forced, as the Norwegian put it in the post-game press conference, “to pull the emergency brake”.

After months of preparation for the players and organisers, and speculation from chess fans and pundits, it all came down to a narrow stage behind a glass screen in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chennai.

Carlsen was left waiting alone in the full glare of the cameras and looked uncharacteristically nervous. He later admitted, "there were some butterflies" | photo: Anastasiya Karlovich 

World Championship veteran Anand submits to a final check before taking the stage | photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

The media presence of some of Vishy's fellow Indian GMs already looks set to be one of the highlights of the match. As the players got ready Parimarjan Negi joked (or at least half-joked!):

Fears were unwarranted, however, and at 15:00 Chennai time on Saturday 9th November 2013 the match got underway. Over to chess24's Jan Gustafsson:

1. ♘f3  For me it's extremely exciting to watch the first few moves of a World Championship match. Each move gives the opponent, his team and us fans information about the respective match strategies. 

FIDE President Kirsan Ilyuzmhinov makes the first move - Carlsen's 1.Nf3 | photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

So let's start with this one. By choosing 1. Nf3 Carlsen is saying:

  • He's not curious to find out what Anand has prepared against his main move, 1. e4. 
  • He'd rather surprise the match-savvy Indian a little (1. Nf3 features in less than 10% of Carlsen's white games). 
  • Choosing 1. Nf3 instead of 1. d4 may also indicate that Carlsen expects Anand to go for the Grünfeld against 1. d4 - Vishy did that against Topalov, albeit not very successfully. 1. Nf3 gives White more flexibility to choose an "Anti-Grünfeld" setup, and since nobody has a clue what to do against the Grünfeld 1. Nf3 has become an extremely common move for 1. d4 players who expect the worst.

1... d5 Anand's turn to give us some info: the Grünfeld is probably NOT his main defence. Since White could go 2. d4 now, transposing into Queen's Gambit territory, it's unlikely Anand prepared this exclusively against 1. Nf3. It's more likely he'd have gone for these complexes against 1. d4 as well.

1... ♘f6 2. c4 g6 3. ♘c3 d5 4. cxd5 ♘xd5 5. g3 would be one example of the Anti-Grünfeld systems mentioned above.

2. g3 No 2. d4, no main lines. 2. g3 has become more popular over the last year thanks to the efforts of Vladimir Kramnik, who's used it quite a bit. Still, Magnus is mainly sending the message, "let's play chess and get off the main roads quickly". That's no surprise, as few would question Anand's advantage over Carlsen in deep main-line preparation... or the latter's edge in long games and endgames. 

However, Vishy isn't out of book just yet.

2... g6 A clever little move. By postponing Nf6, Black retains the option of playing Bg7 followed by e5, occupying the centre. To prevent that White would have to play d4 himself, leading to a symmetrical position considered alright for Black.

3. ♗g2

3. c4 is the other principled way to disrupt Black's intended setup.

3... ♗g7 4.. ..e5 could be next, so it's decision time for Norway's finest.

4. d4 No giving up space - symmetry it is!

4... c6 Another interesting moment. The most natural and popular move is

4... ♘f6 There's nothing wrong with it, but it does allow 5. c4 , transposing to a g3-Grünfeld line which might not have been part of Anand's prep. It's considered fine for Black after 5... dxc4 Anyway, by starting with 4...c6 Anand tries to impede a quick c4 from White.

5. 0-0

5. c4 dxc4 could be the difference. There's no immediate way for White to regain the pawn, though the story doesn't end there. A line like 6. ♘a3 b5 7. ♘xb5 cxb5 8. ♘d2 ♕xd4 9. ♗xa8 ♘f6 , with compensation for the exchange, might be fun to analyse further. Anyway, Magnus is having none of it.

5... ♘f6 6. b3 Preparing c4 without giving up a pawn.

6. c4 dxc4 has been considered fine for Black ever since Romanishin-Anand in 1994. Carlsen was four-ish then, but he might have gone through Anand's games before the match...

6... 0-0 7. ♗b2 A fairly natural move. As usual,

7. c4 is an alternative. While that's arguably more flexible than 7. Bb2, it does give Black an option to go 7... dxc4 8. bxc4 c5 leading to another well-known theoretical position which became quite popular after Boris Avrukh first recommended it for White in his 1. d4 books and then for Black in his Grünfeld books.

7... ♗f5 A sensible developing move. I can't see that many useful alternatives.

7... a5 , intending to advance the pawn further, is the only one that comes to mind.

8. c4 Finally!

8... ♘bd7 Another normal developing move. We haven't yet left the realm of theory as there are recent games by strong players in this position. Judging by the next two moves, however, I'm reasonably sure Carlsen was relying on his own not inconsiderable brainpower here, while Anand was still in book.

9. ♘c3? What move could be more obvious? It's a mistake, though. Not an obvious one, but this move allows a forced sequence that leaves Black in good shape.

9. ♘bd2 is "correct". It's more passive, but it provides extra support for the c4-pawn. Curiously that move was played in a recent game by Fressinet. I say curiously, because Fressinet is allegedly on "Team Carlsen" for the match. 

Speaking of teams: Anand has made some changes to his team for this one. Kasimdzhanov left (to work for a dodgy chess website), Nielsen left, Ganguly left... He announced new recruits Leko, Sasikiran and Sandipan, while Wojtaszek has been around for past matches as well. As for team Carlsen... he's playing his cards very close to his chest, with his friend Jon Ludvig Hammer the only official second at this moment of writing... Back to the game: Nc3 no good - get some coaches, Magnus!

9... dxc4! A very concrete reply, exploiting the temporary lack of cover for the c4-pawn. Sorry my annotations keep circling around only one of the 64 squares, but it's kind of key - there's not much happening on g2 or c8 at the moment. Anyway, the move is given instantly by comps and I'm sure this was part of Anand's prep.

10. bxc4 ♘b6 The follow-up. Black's last move is positionally dodgy, so it has to be seen in the context of the whole sequence. All of a sudden there's no good way for White to defend his c4-pawn.

11. c5 It can't be defended, but it can be advanced. However, I learned from some old book that a square remains weak even if the weak pawn occupying the square disappears. Please post in the comments who came up with that theory, if you know... sounds a bit Nimzowitschy!

11. ♕b3 ♗e6 doesn't solve the problem. 12. d5 (12. ♘e5 ) 12... cxd5 13. cxd5 ♘fxd5 14. ♘g5 might give White some compensation for the sacrificed pawn, but hardly more. 14... ♘f4 15. ♘xe6 ♘xe6

11. ♘e5 ♘fd7!

11... ♘c4 All with tempo! White faces another tricky decision.

12. ♗c1 Back to base - keeping the bishop. White still has a better structure (more pawns in the centre), so before White can reestablish coordination the onus remains on Black to play actively... which is what Vishy does:

12. ♕b3 is the move Anand expected according to the press conference, when 12... ♗e6 13. ♕c2 b6 also looks fine for Black.

12... ♘d5! Played quickly as well - the focus is switching from c4 to c3.

13. ♕b3 The best option.

13. ♘xd5 cxd5 looks nice for Black. (13... ♕xd5 looks nice too.)

13. ♕e1 was mentioned at the press conference by Magnus, who said he underestimated the reply 13... ♘b4!

13... ♘a5 Once again with tempo! No matter where the white queen goes, Black will at least have the option of repeating moves.

14. ♕a3 looks better than the only alternative,

14. ♕b2 , since you don't want to place the queen on the same diagonal as the enemy bishop. Looks might be deceiving here, though, as the computers prefer Qb2. The difference is that after 14... b6 15. cxb6 axb6 all of a sudden b2 is a much safer haven than a3 (just look at the rook on a8!) .

14... ♘c4 15. ♕b3 ♘a5 Repeating once... White has been unable to avoid this drawing mechanism ever since his ill-advised 9. Nc3.

15... b5 was mentioned by Anand at the press conference: 16. cxb6 ♘a5 17. ♕b2!

16. ♕a3 ♘c4 Anand is happy with an effortless draw with Black in Game 1.

16... b6! was the way to play on - while Black isn't necessarily better there's no obvious way for White to untangle - 17. ♘e5 (17. ♖e1 ♘xc3 18. ♕xc3 ♗e4 and I'd slightly prefer Black.) 17... ♘c4! 18. ♘xc4 ♘xc3 is one key trick. 

So what have we learned today? Carlsen is avoiding his usual repertoire. Anand is well-prepared in sidelines as well... Carlsen less so. Anand seems happy to draw with Black after he chose not to play on in a reasonably good position.


It was a short game, which no doubt meant even less time to rest for the players' seconds:

There was some speculation that Russian GM Sergey Karjakin was a second for one of the players, but if he was he was going to extreme lengths to hide the fact... tweeting from Egypt! He didn't seem overly impressed with the first game: 

In the post-game press conference Anand was obviously glad to have got the match off to a confident start. When asked if he could have played on at the end he responded:

I didn’t see anything specific. I suspect the computer will like Black because he has one piece further up the board than White, but I didn’t know if there was anything substantial or not. It’s possible the computer will say =+ [Black is slightly better], but I’d need to know more. If you give me a forced line I can tell you, but I didn’t see it.

Carlsen was less pleased with the game:

Vishy said that a comfortable draw with Black is satisfactory, so obviously a short uncomfortable draw with White is not satisfactory, but again, it’s a long match – no damage done... Sometimes you just have to pull the emergency brake and that’s what I had to do today because there were no chances after ten moves, basically.

For a moment Magnus bristled at a question on whether he was feeling "at home" in India: "We’re still in India, aren’t we?" Then diplomacy kicked in: "No, I’ve settled in, of course, and for me I usually don’t play tournaments at my home turf anyway, so it’s fine. If you’re asking in terms of whether I’m feeling some kind of hostility or something, then definitely no" | photo: Anastasiya Karlovich

You can rewatch the whole official live broadcast of Game 1, including the press conference, below:

In Game 2 tomorrow we'll find out what Anand has prepared with the white pieces - don't miss it!

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