Sinquefield Cup: Viswanathan Anand achieves a fighting draw against world champion Magnus Carlsen in fourth round

An intense battle between Viswanathan Anand and world champion Magnus Carlsen ended in a gripping draw after 54 moves in the fourth round of the Sinquefield Cup chess tournament, part of the Grand Chess Tour circuit of tournaments. Fabiano Caruana showed that extra grit in playing a determined game to outwit his US team mate Hikaru Nakamura to join four others in lead with 2.5 points, in the only decisive game of the day.

Anand and Carlsen are two players who have played each other the maximum number of times among all the participants of the Sinquefield Cup, with the number of their recorded encounters standing at an impressive 113 right now. Does it feel significant to play against him in a tournament, after all the battles they have fought, including two world championship matches? “It is special, but it happens 3 or 4 times in a year. So, he is also a (just) guy on the circuit. (The matches) happened too far back”, said Anand in an exclusive chat.

Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen in action in the fourth round. Image credit: V Saravanan

Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen in action in the fourth round. Image credit: V Saravanan

Carlsen’s choice of employing the 2…Nc6 line of the Sicilian Defence in this tournament against the king pawn opening – 1.e4 – has been a mild surprise. He employed it against Vachier-Lagrave in the 2nd round and again today against Anand, indicating that he might play either the sharp Sveshnikov variation or the strategically-oriented Accelerated Dragon. The surprising element is that he hasn’t employed these openings since 2015 for three long years, which is an unusual duration in chess for anyone to ‘drop’ an opening from their repertoire.

At the top level, when anyone masters a particular opening and it becomes part of the arsenal. There is no reason for it be abandoned unless the opening itself becomes unplayable, which is rare.This is where an insider of professional chess will point out the psychological warfare at the highest levels.

Playing the Sicilian, after many years, need not be a necessity or a gameplan for Carlsen for this particular tournament. With the world championship match against Fabiano Caruana being just a couple of months away, Carlsen is probably hiding his real preparation from his challenger just for this single tournament, thus not giving out any hint on his opening choices for the match. Or, arguing with inverse logic, he may actually be planning to play the Sicilian in the match at least for a limited number of games, and playing them here may give his challenger a wrong scent, making him complacent about the whole direction. One will never know till the actual match takes place.

Anand was not in a mood to probe Carlsen’s ‘substitute’ repertoire on this occasion and instead chose the Rossolimo variation, which avoids getting into the sharp variations but gives white a stable position to operate from. However, the variation further chosen by Anand indicated his dynamic intentions as he exchanged black’s dark bishop and started an attack on the kingside. Though the attack didn’t materialize in a grand way, he succeeded in creating a position of dynamic imbalance, the kind of position considered as his forte.

However, his decision to keep his king in the centre of the board to create a complicated position appeared to be too risky. Carlsen came up with a pawn sacrifice on the 22nd move to rip the position open, thus making the white king lose its pawn cover and the initiative seemed to pass over to him. At this point, the position appeared getting risky for Anand.

Anand kept playing actively and fast even in a dangerous looking position, and was rewarded when Carlsen missed playing active continuations to attack Anand’s king. Once Anand managed to hide his king to safety, he exchanged the queens to enter an ending where he had a rook and knight against Carlsen’s rook and bishop. Though the side with the bishop generally holds the advantage in such positions, Anand’s eternal preference to a knight over the bishop helped him to use it actively to defend against all threads and achieve a draw in 54 moves.

The other three games ended in draws, resulting in a large group of 5 players lead on 2.5 points at the end of 4 rounds, including Carlsen, Caruana, Aronian, Mamedyarov and Grischuk. Anand and Vachier-Lagrave follow them on 2 points.

Results (Fourth Round):

Anand (2) drew Carlsen (2.5)

Mamedyarov(2.5) drew Aronian(2.5)

Grischuk(2.5) drew Vachier-Lagrave (2)

So (1.5) drew Karjakin (1)

Caruana (2.5) beat Nakamura (1)


Updated Date: Aug 22, 2018 22:42 PM

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