Thursday, November 21, 2013

World Chess Championship, Game 9

We almost have a new champion.  Magnus Carlsen, the 22-year-old challenger from Norway, won today's game against Viswanathan Anand, the 43-year-old champion from India.  It was Carlsen's third victory of the Championship, and the second time he has won while playing black.  Carlsen now leads 6-3.  Since he needs only 6 1/2 points to win the championship, he will be the new champion unless he loses the next three games in a row.  Based on how he's played so far, I don't see that happening.

Here's what happened today (Anand playing white):

1.  P-Q4

This move, which signaled that Anand would be going all out for a desperately-needed victory, was greeted with applause from the audience.

1.                N-KB3
2.  P-QB4  P-K3
3.  N-QB3  B-N5

Black's play here is known as the Nimzo-Indian Defense, which is generally regarded as very effective against P-Q4.

4.  P-B3

This response by white is called the Samisch Variation.  It is perhaps the most aggressive response to the Nimzo-Indian Defense, and underscored Anand's decision to go for the win rather than tolerate another draw.

4.                P-Q4
5.  P-QR3  B x N
6.  P x B  P-B4
7.  BP x P  KP x P
8.  P-K3  P-B5

Black normally castles at this point, but Carlsen decided to press this pawn forward instead.  This will lead to a situation in which black is attacking on the queen's side of the board, while white is attacking on the king's side.

9.  N-K2  N-B3
10.  P-N4  O-O
11.  B-KN2  N-QR4
12.  O-O  N-N6

Black's knight now threatens both white's rook and bishop.

13.  R-R2  P-QN4

Black now has a triangle of pawns at QN4, QB5, and Q4, and a knight at QN6.

14.  N-N3  P-QR4  (Black continues to attack on the queen's side).
15.  P-N5  N-K1
16.  P-K4  N x B
17.  Q x N  R-R3

At this point the game was very evenly matched.  Each side has lost one pawn, one knight, and one bishop.  Black has four pawns and a rook marching down the queen's side.  White has a lot of firepower lined up on the king's side -- the side of the board where the black king can be found.  Anand is trying to figure out how to trap black's king, which is blocked in by three pawns and a rook.

18.  P-K5  N-B2
19.  P-B4  P-N5

Each man continues to push his pawns.  But Anand decides to make an exchange.

20.  P x P  P x P
21.  R x R  N x R
22.  P-B5  P-N6

Black now has a pawn that is only two squares away from queening.  But his king is still blocked by pawns and a rook, and white's pieces seem all lined up to attack that king.  At this point, with his crown very much on the line, Anand spent 45 minutes trying to figure out how to win the game.

Go ahead:  take 45 minutes and see what you come up with for white.  OK?  You ready?  Here's what Anand did:

23.  Q-B4  N-B2

This puts the white queen behind the three white pawns at K5, KB5, and KN5.  Black starts to call back his knight.  White presses ahead.

24.  P-B6  P-N3 (Carlsen now has a little triangle of pawns in front of his king.)
25.  Q-R4  N-K1
26.  Q-R6  P-N7

These moves were all played very quickly.  So white now has his queen and pawns within a few squares of the black king, and black has a pawn that is only one row from becoming a queen.  Very exciting stuff!

27.  R-B4  P-N8 (Q)ch

OK, here's the situation.  White sent his rook forward to continue the attack.  He needs that rook to get to KR4.  Then it will be behind the white queen, who will then be in a position to take the black pawn on KR7 and checkmate black.  But because the white rook has moved, there is no piece immediately available to capture the black pawn when it becomes a queen.  In fact, there is no piece between the new black queen and the white king, so the white king is in check.  So this means that white has to stop its attack in order to prevent the check.  What should happen is something like this:  28  B-B1  Q-Q8  29.  R-R4  Q-R5.  That would put the new black queen between the white rook and white queen, thus preventing the checkmate.  But then white would play 30.  N x Q  P x N  31.  R x P  B-B4.  So the new black queen would be gone, the white rook would be right behind the white queen, but black's all-important king's rook pawn would be protected by the bishop.  That's one potential line, but there are many others -- which is what Anand was thinking about during his 45 minutes.  Anyway, in the course of these calculations, he lost track of the importance of keeping his knight at KN3 so that he could still move his rook behind his queen.  And so the game, and probably the match, was lost by the following move:

28.  N-B1  Q-K8

And now white is done for.  He can't play 29. R-R4, because the new black queen will take his rook.  But he will have to sacrifice some piece in order to get rid of the new black queen.  And that will put him at a hopeless disadvantage.  Anand realized what he had done, and resigned.  So this very dramatic match had a very dramatic (and sudden) ending.  But credit should go to Carlsen, who has been unflappable throughout this match, and who again played a wonderful game under brutal pressure.

This is a very fun match to analyze.  Even the position of the pieces on the board ends up looking really cool.  I urge you to play it out for yourself at this web page.

After nine matches:

V. Anand (IND) 3 - 6 M. Carlsen (NOR)

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