The strongest player in the world, Magnus Carlsen was crowned World Champion in 2013 and successfully defended his title in 2014. His ascendancy marks the departure of the extremely positional Viswanathan Anand, the Indian grandmaster. Carlsen’s play is usually described as boring. Carlsen makes and takes no risks, but he always plays for a win. In this sense Carlsen is not as memorable as the ultra attacker, Kasparov, or the magician, Mikhail Tal. But he is likely better than all of them.
In 2013, Carlsen kicked off with four draws in a row (see again: boring), before finally securing games 5 by winning a rook-and-pawn endgame. In game 6, he won another rook-and-pawn endgame. The match continued with another bunch of draws until Anand finally went into all-out attack in game 9. Carlsen cooly defended, and Anand lost the title.
This is the first episode in a 7 part series. We are in Game 5.
We have the English Opening from Magnus Carlsen. It’s less common than d4 but has a good reputation.
e6 2. d4 d5
In fact it transposed into a normal d4 opening.
3. Nc3 c6 4. e4
Interesting choice by Carlsen. Going straight for the center.
dxe4 5.Nxe4 Bb4+ 6. Nc3 c5
Rather strange to see Anand moving a pawn twice in the opening. But what do I know I’m just a patzer.
7. a3 Ba5 8. Nf3 Nf6 9. Be3 Nc6 10. Qc3
An amateur game would pretty much look like this as well. No clever ideas from either side yet.
cxd4 11. Nxd4 Ng4
Perhaps Anand could consider castling, before trying anything adventurous. Again, I’m not a grandmaster.
Active castling. The rook is controlling the open d-file already. Although the queenside does not look too secure for the White King. Perhaps Carlsen is provoked by Anand who is wasting time with multiple piece movements. Black can gain the bishop pair, but he’s spending 3 tempo.
Nxe3 13. fxe3 Bc7
Another piece movement! Is Anand dithering, or what?
14. Nxc6 bxc6 15. Qxd8+ Bxd8 16. Be2
Yeah, queens come off. White has more space, Black has the bishop pair.
Anand skips castling and leaves his King in the center. Perhaps this is what he had in mind all along.
With the queens off, the King is in less danger of being mated. So it’s ok not to castle. In fact, the Black King will be used as a key unit in this game later. It controls many key squares in Black’s territory, which will be used to defend it later from Carlsen’s rook invasion.
Targeting the isolated c-pawn.
Black defends. But the bishop looks passive.
Of course, there’s no other choice. When you give your opponent a big space advantage from the opening, there’s bound to be consequences like these.
It’s been said a bishop is stronger than a knight. But not right now…Carlsen’s knight is centralized, Anand’s bishop is at the back.
White has an isolated pawn too, so Black now targets it.
Simple, straightfoward message from Carlsen. Go away and don’t come back.
Anand refuses to go away. Actually he can’t. If the bishop retreats, then White has just gained a big outpost for his knight on d6.
So the bishop pair advantage will be lost, in return, White will also lose his strong knight. Fair trade.
20. cxb6 fxe4 21. b7
Important move by Carlsen. If he just routinely recaptures on e4, then Anand heals his isolated pawn structure.
This distraction keeps the isolated pawns…isolated.
Rab8 22. Bxe4 Rxb7 23. Rf1
Nothing too clever from team Carlsen. He just controls all the open lines and the superior bishop.
Why not Rhb8, activating the second rook, for some pressure along the b-file?
Given the way the game turns out, I have to admit that the deeply positional Anand sees something I don’t. The rook turns out to be quite useful on this square.
24. Rf4 g5
Anand slows Carlsen down from forming a battery on the f-file. Perhaps Carlsen got a little optimistic placing his rook in a vulnerable position.
25. Rf3 h5
Black has gained space on the Kingside. But is it going to be a weakness later when the White rooks get behind them?
Doubling the rooks.
Passive; necessary to stop Rf7.
27. Bc2 Rc5
Oo a pin!
Anand is finally getting somewhere.
Carlsen stops Bg6. Also putting direct pressure on Black’s isolated e-pawn.
Black advances even more on the Kingside.
Carlsen gains more space in the center. This also stops a black rook from getting to the d-file.
a5 30. Kd2 Rb5 31. b3
Anand is making progress on both sides of the board. If we discount the superior white rooks, Black is actually doing quite good.
- White has self-blocked his bishop, turning it into a bad one.
- Black has liberated his bad bishop, turning it into a good one.
- Black’s king and bishop is preventing further progress by Magnus Carlsen.
Bh5 32. Kc3 Rc5+ 33. Kb2 Rd8
With the rook swinging over to the d-file, now it is Anand who has better rook activity. The threat of Rd2 is especially concerning for White.
White stops the rook infiltration onto his second rank. But he can’t keep Anand’s rooks quiet for long.
Anand puts pressure on White’s isolated e-pawn.
Carlsen counterattacks on the bishop.
The equalizing blow. Carlsen is forced to retreat his bishop because a trade would give Anand access to the back rank. From that point, White’s isolated e-pawn would essentially be dropping off.
And I can hardly say Carlsen has a good bishop anymore, if its on b1.
36. Bb1 Rb5
Without the bishop’s protection, Carlsen’s “healthy” b-pawn is vulnerable to Black’s attack.
37. Kc3 c5 38. Rb2
If White has to play a passive move like this, Black probably has a slight advantage already.
The highly positional Anand has pulled a Houdini. I would definitely prefer Black in this position.
- Anand’s pawns are on the opposite color of his bishop.
- Anand has space on the Kingside.
- Anand’s attack on b3 is promising.
- Carlsen’s rook and bishop are passive.
This is not to say that Carlsen is without trump cards.
- White’s free rook can attack the black kingside pawns.
- Black’s King is cut off for the moment.
39. Rg6 a4?
The kingside pawns represent the bulk of Black’s space advantage in this game. Anand shouldn’t release them without a fight.
g4 is necessary. The White b-pawn is pinned and not going anywhere. Black can attack it with advantage when the time is right. First defend your weak pawns.
g4 40. Rh6 (unlike the g-pawn, the h-pawn can’t be defended) a4
This is only very slightly different from the game continuation, and yet, the extra space is enough to swing the game in Black’s favour. I will revisit this position later.
Carlsen must be quite pleased to capture this vital pawn without a fight. This will counterbalance the expected defeat on b3.
Rxb3+ 41. Rxb3 Bxb3
Black is going to lose his good e-pawn as well, because unfortunately White will get a free check.
42. Rxe5+ Kd6 43. Rh5
And the board position is steadily declining for Anand. The h-pawn is a goner as well.
Chess can be cruel. Little mistakes lead to total collapse.
Rd1 44. e5+ Kd5 45. Bh7
Here Anand plays the patzer check, turning his game into a lost cause.
The only defence is Ra1, actively going for White’s last queenside pawn. For example, 46. Ra1 Bg8+ 47. Kc6 Bxb3 48. Rxa3
Black seems to be hanging by a thread, but guess what? So is white lol. With White’s total collapse on the queenside counterbalancing his gains on the kingside, the computer says this game is headed for a draw.
46. Kb2 Rg1
See the problem with Anand’s attack is his King and bishop can be skewered. White can win another pawn.
47. Bg8+ Kc6 48. Rh6+ Kd7 49. Bxb3 axb3 50. Kxb3
Two pawns up Carlsen is really in the driver’s seat now.
Rxg2 51. Rxh4 Ke6
Anand tries to regain one of his pawns back. He definitely has zero winning chances now.
Carlsen generously donates his e-pawn to get his own a-pawn going.
Kxe5 53. a5 Kd6 54. Rh7 Kd5 55. a6 c4+ 56. Kc3
With the a-pawn so far up the board, and Black’s c-pawn going nowhere, Carlsen will win this game.
Ra2 57. a7 Kc5 58. h4 1-0
It is impossible for Anand to stop both White pawns. He resigns.
So, not a game to remember. The former world champion sells a pawn short, then loses the endgame.
G4: Game Changer?
Returning back to the variation that might have changed the result. What if Anand tried harder to hold his kingside pawns?
Here you can see that White can win Black’s h-pawn. But he’s not so easily able to access Black’s e-pawn, which dropped so easily during the game.
This subtle nuance may be enough to swing the game in Black’s favor.
41. Rxh4 Rxb3+ 42. Rxb3 Bxb3
Now if White takes the g-pawn, Black has a very strong move, Rd1, infiltrating White’s back rank.
A) 43. Rxg4 Rd1 44. Bd3 Unlike the real game, White’s bishop has no access to h7, because Black’s e-pawn hasn’t died yet. Ergo, no skewer. Ergo, the black bishop lives. Ergo, black keeps his a-pawn as well.
c4 45. Be2 Rc1+ 46. Kd2 Rc2+ 47. Ke3 c3
The Black queenside pawns look decisive. Taking Black’s g-pawn is not possible.
B) 43. Rh5
The computer actually recommends this as a superior alternative – going for Black’s e-pawn.
Black has the advantage after
Rd1 44. Bd3 Rc1+ 45. Kd2 Ra1
Pawns are hanging, so let’s resolve this.
46. Rxe5+ Kd6 47. Rg5 Be6 48. Be2 Ra2+
49. Ke1 Rxa3 50. e5+ Kd5 51. Bxg4 Bxg4 52. Rxg4 Ra2!
The White King is trapped on the first rank. The a-pawn is immediately winning for Black if White blunders trying to hold his extra pawn with Rg5. For example, 53. Rg5?? a3 54. e6+ Kxe6 55. Rxc5 Rxg2
So White has to let the e-pawn go, then Black captures it, and still remains with a space advantage in a materially equal position.
The takeaway from Carlsen-Anand, Game 5, is, defend your weak pawns. Don’t let the enemy take them without a fight.