Carlsen close to title as Anand cracks under endgame pressure
The outcome of the world championship match now just past the halfway point in Chennai, India, may have been sealed in Saturday’s Game 6 in what rates as a truly multicultural moment: a Norwegian defeating an Indian in a Spanish Game through the use of the Chinese water torture.
Young Norwegian challenger Magnus Carlsen, imperturbable, indefatigable. implacable and irresistible when he obtains the tiniest of advantages, took a commanding lead in his scheduled 12-game match with defending champion Viswanathan Anand of India with a second straight arduous endgame win. After Carlsen easily equalized in a 32-move draw Monday, Anand trails 41/2-21/2 and could soon relinquish the title he has held for the past six years.
At 22, Carlsen is 21 years younger than the champ, but he plays like an old soul, eschewing flashy opening play and perfectly content to play on in near-lifeless positions in the hopes of grinding down his opponents late in the playing session. It’s a style of play that calls for immense stamina and concentration, for even one lapse can let an opponent escape.
After four draws to open the match, Carlsen employed his slow-cooker method to perfection in Game 5 and 6, earning victories when the champion finally cracked under relentless pressure in two straight difficult endgames.
Game 5, played Friday found both players with chances in the complex middlegame that arose from the sharp Noteboom Variation of the QGD.
While Anand was on the defensive for the most of the game, he found a nice way to activate his pieces with 34. R1f2 Rd4! (Carlsen admitted he missed this move) 35. Rh6 Bd1 36. Bb1 Rb5. Even though Black gives up a pawn at the first time control at Move 40, the activity of his pieces should have let the champion hold the draw after 40. Rxg5 Rxb3+ 41. Rxb3 Bxb3 42. Rxe5+ Kd6 43. Rh5 Rd1 44. e5+ Kd5 45. Bh7 (see diagram), when the post-mortem showed that the game is level after 45...Ra1! 46. Bg8+ (Rg5 Rxa3 47. Bg8+ Ke4 48. Bxb3 Kf4 49. Rh5 Rxb3+ 50. Kc4 Kg4 51. Rh7 Kf5) Kc6 47. Bxb3 Rxa3! 48. Kc4 Rxb3 49. Rh6+ Kd7 50. Kxc5 Rb2, and the rook ending is drawn.
Instead, Anand’s shaky 45...Rc1+? 46. Kb2 Rg1 47. Bg8+ Kc6 48. Rh6+ Kd7? (the final mistake; Black should keep the king near the White a-pawn with 48...Kb5 or 48...Kc7) 49. Bxb3 axb3 50. Kxb3 Rxg2 51. Rxh4 Ke6 52. a4 Kxe5 53. a5, and Black can’t restrain the White pawns on opposite edges of the board. Anand soon resigned.
Psychologically, Game 6 proved a second helping of the same dish, with Anand again failing to hold a drawish endgame in the face of Carlsen’s constant pressing. Anand as White varies from the tack he took in Game 3, also a Ruy Lopez Berlin that ended in an absorbing 56-move draw. Black equalizes rather easily and the position appeared to be heading for a draw, but Carlsen managed to saddle his opponent with a pair of weak, isolated e-pawns and, once again, begins hammering away at the target.
In what looks to be a good practical decision, White gives up a pawn to reach a pawn-down rook ending, but one where it appears Black has little chance of a decisive breakthrough: 38. Qg3!? (hard to tell if this was inspiration or panic — White could have hunkered down for a long time with more passive play) Rxe4 39. Qxd6 Rxe3! (keeping alive his one hope for a win; 39...Qxd6+?! 40. Rxd6 Rxe3 41. Rd5 b4 42. cxb4 Rb3 43. b5 Rxb2 43. Rc5 is a dead draw) 40. Qxe7 Rxe7 41. Rd5 Rb7, and Carlsen is in his element, free to press for the next 50 moves or so for a win with no danger of a loss.
Anand’s realization that he was once again in the clutches of a Nordic anaconda may explain why he once again proves unequal to the defensive task. Black succeeds (with Anand’s help on 50. Kh3?!) in pinning the White king to the side of the board, and his only winning chance is a coordinated push of the f- and h-pawns in the hopes of obtaining a winning passed pawn.
Black bravely lets his queenside pawns go by the wayside and the critical position appears to be 59. Rxc4 f4, when the cold-blooded computer move 60. b4!, getting White’s own passed pawn in gear, may just hold in lines such as 60...h3 61. gxh3 Rg6 62. b5 f3 63. Rc7. Instead, Anand’s 60. Ra4? does nothing to improve his rook’s placement while losing valuable time.
In the finale, after h3 61. gxh3 Rg6 62. c4 f3 63. Ra3+ Ke2 64. b4 f2 65. Ra2+ Kf3 66. Ra3+ Kf4 67. Ra8 Rg1, White’s pawns are not far enough down the board after 68. Rf8+ Ke3 69. Re8+ Kd3 70. Rd8+ Kc3 71. Rf8 f1=Q 72. Rxf1 Rxf1 and wins; Anand resigned.
Game 8, with the challenger having the advantage of the White pieces, will be played Tuesday.