The Sochi Equation
The following analysis of the match in Sochi was published in the latest Informator, number 122. I have been a regular contributor to the legendary publication for almost a year and I must say that I’m proud to be part of chess history – the first Informator was published in 1966 and for many decades it was the go-to source of top-quality information.
The Sochi Equation
When Anand finished his final press conference he received a long and warm applause from the crowd. The moment he descended from the podium where the press conferences were held looked like a scene from a film, the ageing hero accepted his defeat and left the stage.
This match was always going to be more about Anand than Carlsen. Carlsen is a known variable, always performing on an extremely high level with only small deviations from the norm. Carlsen wasn’t at his best in Sochi, but even sub-optimal Carlsen is the best player in the world. Anand was the unknown variable in the Sochi equation, fresh from the Siberian triumph, but with not yet fully healed Chennai wounds.
Anand was better prepared in Sochi, mainly with white, as he realised in Chennai that winning with white in the Berlin was impossible against Carlsen. So a switch to 1 d4 was the only move for him and it did provide him what he wanted – in all his white games, except for Game 8 when he ran into deep Carlsen preparation, he got great positions with pressure and initiative. But he only managed to win one of those, Game 3, when it was Carlsen who fell into his preparation. It turned out that to win against Carlsen the advantages he was getting out of the opening weren’t enough – the quality of Carlsen’s moves was sufficiently high that he didn’t really have a chance to win another game.
Both players had problems when playing black. Carlsen’s strategy was to “jump around” and surprise Anand with his constant changes, similar to Leko’s strategy against Kramnik in 2004. He started with the Grunfeld in Game 1, not a regular feature in his repertoire, and followed it up with a Queen’s Gambit Declined in Game 3, which he lost badly due to bad preparation. This was followed by a Queen’s Indian, the Tiviakov line, in Game 5 and another Queen’s Gambit Declined in Game 8 (a different line this time, introducing the rare 9…Re8 and drawing easily – his only successful preparation with black). Game 10 saw the return of the Grunfeld with the lately-neglected Kasparov favourite 9…Na6 in the Russian System.
Anand’s black strategy wasn’t very different from Chennai and this was a surprise. This time he mixed the Berlin with the Sicilian, but people usually don’t play the Sicilian to get passive positions like the one he got in Game 6 from the Kan Variation. Surely they analysed it deeply and considered it holdable, perhaps he thought that with more confidence he can draw the inferior endgame, but why go there in the first place?
Much was said about the fateful Game 6 and indeed it proved decisive. Winning with black from a very dubious-looking position is huge in match play and undoubtedly it would have turned the fortunes of the players.
The mutual blunder in Game 6 was a cruel sign for Anand. When Fate unequivocally wants to show us she has made up her mind, she gives us a chance and watches us squander it. Anand had a unique opportunity, to win with black and take the lead in the match. But he didn’t take it, he only saw it after missing it and the inner flagellation that followed was inevitable. His inner peace was disturbed, he could not continue defending calmly and lost the game easily.
The inner peace was getting more and more difficult to maintain as the match progressed. The culmination happened in Game 11. Anand showed wonderful preparation in the Berlin and after 23…b5 he found himself in an unusual situation – for the first time in the match he got the initiative with black. Positive changes are also stressful and he had to adjust to playing for a win with black. The pressure led to loss of clarity in his thinking and the natural desire to defuse the tension as soon as possible. Keeping the tension is one of the most difficult things to do, waiting for the most appropriate moment to convert the advantage. This requires strong nerves and self-control, but Anand’s were shattered by this point and he obviously lost the self-control when he played the hasty 27…Rb4 and 28…cb4, his final mistake in this match.
Anand looked peaceful at that last press conference, content with the knowledge that this time he didn’t let himself down, he showed to himself that even though he may not be the best anymore he can still play with the best on equal terms.
Carlsen’s future lies in another direction. He has set his sights upon Kasparov’s record of 7 successful World Championship matches and even though the competition is getting stronger that will only serve as an additional motivation for him. The next match in 2016 should bring him a new opponent and a new challenge for which he will undoubtedly be more than ready.