Opinion Nov 10, 2014 | 1:55 PMby Colin McGourty

Tkachiev on Carlsen-Anand, Game 1: Hotchpotch

A chess feast! The first moves of the 2014 World Championship match | photo: FIDE

The first game of the 2014 Carlsen-Anand World Championship match already seems a long time ago. Events were only simmering back then, before the knockout blow in Game 2, but it’s worth revisiting the first day’s play in Sochi for a weird and wonderful account of the action by Vlad Tkachiev. The Russian grandmaster set out to cook a Russian salad in honour of Garry Kasparov and Mikhail Tal while watching Anand take on Carlsen. Find out what the Grünfeld Defence has to do with potatoes and why, “sometimes it’s better to play chess than cook”.  

This article is translated with permission from Vlad Tkachiev’s third Russian blog post entitled Vinegret, in his new blog ChEsSay. “Hotchpotch” has a similar idiomatic meaning to “vinegret” in Russian (a mishmash of different things), although what Vlad is cooking is very much the Russian salad.

Note that the game viewer below only shows the moves discussed - you can of course play through all the moves here.


(A gastro-commentary on the first game of the Carlsen-Anand match)

Today, the 9th November, saw the birth of Mikhail Tal. And it was also on this day in 1985 that Garry Kasparov became World Champion, defeating Karpov in the epic 24th game of their World Championship match. Now that was carnage! Mikhail Nekhemievich had a phrase for such occasions: “Tasty chess!” It turns out I’ve never been able to forget about either of those events, and therefore on their eve, the 8th November, I decided to prepare a celebratory vinegret. At around 15:00 Moscow time work was already simmering away. 

It’s a long and tricky task, but the Carlsen-Anand broadcast was at hand, so, full of optimism, I threw myself into cooking beetroot, potatoes and carrots. Right away I was cheered by Vishy’s first move —

1. d4 Thank god we'd avoided the Berlin, at least for now. However, the possibility of the Queen's Gambit was looming for about 4 seconds, until the saving Grünfeld Defence appeared on the screen. Phew! Now it was possible to go for a smoke while the players worked out what line they wanted to play, and the vegetables changed colour. After all, they were also engaged in a struggle to survive. 

So why nevertheless 1. d4, given Anand is being helped by Caruana, who's already beaten Magnus himself in the Berlin? Viswanathan probably said that specifically in order to send them off on the wrong track, while with his team of Sasikiran, Wojtaszek and Gajewski he of course got down to preparing closed openings with White. My thoughts on the balcony naturally tended towards conspiracy theories, a topic on which the Norwegians weren't mistaken (VG Sport | Dagbladet) — I've always had a weakness for them. By the way, how were the other ingredients faring? I ran back to the kitchen where all the events were unfolding.

15:13 — after 9. ♘f3 Magnus had a real think, as it seemed they were lying in wait for him there. 9. Bg4 was the only sensible move, but the Indian undoubtedly had a kilometre-long file prepared. But what time did I have for his problems — it turned out I first had to wash a pile of dishes. Oh, how I hate that! To the monotonous clatter of dishes Carlsen reluctantly brought out his bishop . At that moment the clock showed 15.20

Anand continues to blitz out moves, radiating confidence. Right on cue, a small novelty: 11. ♗xg7 , not given by the engines. After 13. O-O-O it finally became clear that the evening wasn't going to be dull - Vishy is terrifying in such positions. By 15.32 his advantage on the clock had already grown to half an hour. I even felt a little sorry for Magnus, with his new haircut, until I began to slice pickles and add in sauerkraut and Bonduelle peas. And to think some had already forgotten I'm a French chess player! 

16.00 — the second smoking break. The schedule was much tougher than in a tournament game, as there I manage to do it much more often. Meanwhile 13... c6 is already on the board — Anand must have analysed it, but he's in no rush to make his move. The carrots are cooked, while he's no doubt recalling his analysis.

16.19 — having shot off 14. ♕c3 f6 15. ♗h3 Vishy left the stage like a bullet. The impression is that, under the burden of what's taking place, the hair on the top of Carlsen's head has slightly reared up. Taking a closer look at that wonder I forgot to turn down the potatoes in time and they were overcooked. It's always like that with the Grünfeld Defence — at some point everything inevitably gets out of hand.

16.37 — 15... cxd5 16. exd5 on the ultramodern board in Sochi. At that moment I was struggling with an onion on my archaic slab of wood crisscrossed with cuts. I would have written board, but I was afraid of the verbal repetition. 

The Norwegian doesn't look happy and after serious doubts he chose the "Carlsenesque" 16... ♘f7 16.49 Anand is slowly drinking a glass of orange juice he's picked up along the way. I clink my bottle of blueberry juice with the screen, and then suddenly remember I've totally forgotten about the beetroot. It was time to turn it down. When on earth is there going to be a break in the broadcast? - I desperately want to smoke. I've probably ruined yet another ingredient! 16.52  16.58 — the moves 17... ♕d6 18. ♕d4 follow. Magnus takes his head between his hands. And then the long-awaited cigarette-break, during which the move 18... ♖ad8 appears. It turns out he's threatening 19...e5! I'd thought to drag my comp around the whole flat, and even into the toilet. Alas, my sense of anxiety for both players only increased there. 

A decent amount of time went on slicing the boiled vegetables, so whether I wanted to or not I got distracted. By that point — 17.27 — the black knight had taxied right on up to d8 . Strange, but White's advantage had gone. However, no particular problems were visible either. 

At 17.39 Vishy reluctantly pushed his pawn to f5 . Magnus, suddenly perking up, seemed to grow in height, and no doubt I looked the same, as the salad was almost ready. All that was left was to mix all the sliced ingredients together, pour on some oil and add salt. That's just what I did, while there on the stage they agonisingly laboured over the exchange of half the remaining pieces. On this occasion the break took place strictly on schedule — 18:00 — and in a blissful, peaceful manner. Now they would soon content themselves with a draw there, and I my hard-won salad. A heavy-piece endgame in Sochi, an easily-digestible salad in Moscow. 

But then something strange began to happen: while I was talking on the telephone, listening once more to all that was wrong with my first two blog posts, everything changed radically in the space of 50 minutes: Carlsen had managed to draw blood from a stone, laying siege to the white position with his two remaining pieces, although no — even potentially three, since after an exchange of queens the black king would be much closer to the action. 

And just how does he do it? — certainly much better than me — the salad turned out to have an odd taste. "Sometimes it's better to play chess than cook," I decided, and no longer allowed myself to be distracted from the game. 18.57  19.20 — a few cigarettes later Anand played 41. ♖d1 the computer's only move, as a colleague rooting for the Indian Skyped me. Cool, although that told you everything you needed to know about the quality of White's position. Magnus, still that same piranha, took 9 minutes to go in for the kill — 41... ♕c2 It was impossible to take your eyes off the screen given the mesmerising range of acting techniques Carlsen demonstrated at that moment: sprawling on the table he would then suddenly lean back in the pose of a Chairman of the Board of Directors of a major company, until he carelessly jumped up and ran off. How much better he performs, after all, and not only at chess! 

After 11 mournful minutes Viswanathan brought his rook up to d4 eliciting a strong temptation to turn on Houdini and check out the depth of White's fall in the last few moves. But what could I miss? It was clear, in any case, that after 42... ♖e2 — 19.48 — it was all Black. But then suddenly, seeing the only move 43. ♖b4 on the board, Carlsen sank into a 16-minute nirvana!!! Why that stupor, since 43... b5 leads to complete domination! Finally the move was made, and a couple of minutes later the reply — 44. ♕h1  "The Return of the Faqir" — is there such a Bollywood film? If not, there will be now — the prospect of perpetual check was looming, and the main thing was that the key d5-square was under control. Pressed into a corner, Vishy jumped right onto the ropes and all of a sudden changed the rules of the game — it was no longer boxing, but wrestling! Thinking over that analogy I somehow imperceptibly ended up on the balcony with a cigarette in my hands, and when I returned — it was already over. 

20.21 — Draw!!! 

P.S. At the press conference after the game both players expressed their satisfaction with the result and the overall quality of the game. "To be honest this position shouldn't require so much work... I was a bit wobbly for a few moves and then I got back on track". Hmm, Stockfish nevertheless shows a clear win for Black after 43...Re3. The salad ended up being rescued by the addition of normal instead of sweet onions. In future I'll try not to mix chess with anything else.

GM Vlad Tkachiev

Vlad was born in Russia but grew up in Kazakhstan and now represents France. A Kazakh and French national champion and the winner of the 2007 European Championship, his first love has always been rapid chess, which he hopes will become the main form of the game. In recent years he set up the website WhyChess and now writes a blog, ChEsSay. | photo: Irina Stepaniuk

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