Game 7 of the World Championship match in Chennai has ended in a workmanlike draw. It was a result that seemed to suit both players – Magnus Carlsen maintained a two-point lead and moved ever closer to the title, while Viswanathan Anand stopped the rot after two traumatic losses. Though understandable, the day's events failed to inspire either chess fans or experts. chess24’s Jan Gustafsson was reminded of watching Angela’s Ashes – “a long, boring and depressing experience”.
Anand had Sunday’s rest day to contemplate his options after losses in Games 5 and 6 left his match strategy in tatters.
When he was asked in the post-game press conference what he'd spent the day doing he replied:
Nothing really special – the weather doesn’t allow you to do very much. It’s a pleasant time to be here but you can’t really go out. So I stayed at the hotel and did some work.
Rain is one thing Chennai shares with Limerick, but although the five-star Hyatt Regency Hotel is a world (or at least a street) away from the abject poverty of mid-20th century Ireland, GM Jan Gustafsson was reminded of the film version of "Angela's Ashes" while writing his commentary on today's game:
Game 7. After losing two in a row will Anand go all-out for a comeback or will he try to play a solid game to cool off and get back in shape?
The good old Russian wisdom is to go for a draw after two losses in a row. Even though Anand is the guy who actually broke the stranglehold of the Soviet school, he's certainly familiar with those principles. Then again, the time left for a comeback in the match is limited...
1. e4 A small indicator that Anand prefers to play this one close to his chest. He didn't get much against the Berlin in his recent attempts, so armchair generals like yours truly were rooting for 1. d4 and going for a full point.
4. d3 Following Game 6 for now. Are people abandoning the search for an edge after
4... ♗c5 5. ♗xc6 Here comes the deviation. If you search for this move in a database of your choosing the six highest-rated players to have employed this move are Carlsen, Carlsen, Carlsen and Anand, Anand, Anand, so both players are still on familiar ground.
The chess justification for the delayed exchange is that the bishop is a bit misplaced on c5 in this structure (it will often go to d6 to free the way for a black pawn to go from c6 to c5). The resulting structure is a matter of taste. It's not considered overly scary for Black and he has a clear plan (Nd7, 0-0, Bd6, Re8 and c5 in most cases), but on the other hand the chances for activity are limited due to White's own rock-solid structure.
Personally I've disliked this with Black ever since losing a 124-move game against Luke McShane. Games in this structure remind me of watching Angela's Ashes: a long, boring and depressing experience.
I doubt Magnus shares those sentiments, given his prior outings and his actually beating McShane on the black side of this very structure.
6. ♘bd2 Probably the main move here. Alternatives include any other sensible move like
6. h3 or
6... ♗g4 But this is slightly unusual. More common moves are
6... 0-0 , intending to follow up with Re8, Nd7, Bf8(d6) and c5, and
6... ♗e6⁉ , getting the bishop out of c8 before playing Nd7.
8. ♘f1 Once again this well-known knight manoeuver - remember Game 6? This time round its main purpose is to break the annoying pin of the f3-knight without playing the weakening g4.
8. ♘b3⁉ is far from a typical move in this structure, but Houdini doesn't care and insists on it. That said, Black should be all right after e.g. 8... ♗d6 (8... ♗b6? 9. g4 ♗g6 10. ♘xe5 is the point.) 9. g4 ♗g6 10. ♘a5 ♗b4+ 11. ♗d2 ♗xa5 12. ♗xa5 ♕d6
9... ♗g6⁈ keeps the bishop alive, but out of play. Reactivating it with f6 and Bf7 would take time and give the white knights juicy squares on the kingside.
12. 0-0-0 0-0-0 Both kings instead settle down on the safer queenside. The development phase is over, so it's time to have a look around: White has maintained a tiny edge because of his superior structure. If someday he could manage to push d4 and exchange his d-pawn for Black's e-pawn his 4-3 majority on the kingside would be an asset (it could produce a passed pawn, while Black's 4-3 on the queenside can't). However, that won't be easy to implement, and in the meantime Black has no weaknesses or bad pieces. So both sides may have got what they wanted - Anand a risk-free and tiny edge, Carlsen a position he feels he can hold easily. And, of course, every draw will bring him closer to the world title.
15... ♔b7 This strikes me as a little odd. The move in itself is perfectly normal, but to my mind blocking White's expansion with
15... h5 would have been the obvious reaction.
16. h5 Of course.
16... ♗xe3 17. ♕xe3 Another interesting moment - interesting, that is, in the context of a very boring game and structure. To stay with the Angela's Ashes theme, it feels like those few minutes where the rain stops and the protagonist is confirmed, or whatever. So... here Anand had the option of spicing things up with
17. fxe3⁉ , giving himself the option of applying some pressure on the half-open f-file. Then again, that would probably have brought back unpleasant memories of Game 6, so Anand settles for maintaining the structure.
19... f5 also looks reasonable.
20... ♖h8 More exchanges are coming up.
26... f5 27. exf5 gxf5 The f5-weakness and the g3-weakness cancel each other out and Black's doubled pawns are well-defended. Further structural changes can't be achieved. Basically, it's a draw and the players waste little time finding a move repetition.
28... ♘e6 29. ♔c2 ♘g5 30. ♕f2 ♘e6 31. ♕f3 ♘g5 32. ♕f2 ♘e6 Game drawn. While it wasn't exactly exciting it was shorter and less depressing than the movie it reminds me of. Hmm, not sure it was, actually, as I guess both were around 3 hours. Match-wise that's another white game gone for Anand. His chances of a comeback look thinner than those of Christian Bale in The Machinist (another feel-good movie, by the way).
Jan wasn't alone in being underwhelmed by the day's play:
Garry Kasparov was once criticised himself for failing to come out fighting when his World Championship title was slipping away against Vladimir Kramnik, but he lost no time in twisting the knife:
It says all you need to know about the press conference that the best moment was when Carlsen responded to a monologue from an Indian journalist by pausing before responding, "That was a really long question...". He had a point, but at least the body language of both players was positive, with Vishy obviously more at ease than on the last two occasions when he'd faced the press:
It's been a theme of the match both in the build-up and during the event that Magnus wants long games at all costs, but he's nothing if not pragmatic:
Journalist: Are you disappointed that the game was relatively short today?
Carlsen: No, I’m fine with that. I have the lead and I won my last game with Black so this suited me just fine.
Time is running out for World Champion Vishy Anand, who now needs to win at least two of the next five games to have chances of retaining his title.
Is it time to burn some bridges? Garry Kasparov has few doubts:
Anand has the black pieces in tomorrow's Game 8. Don't miss it!
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