World Championship Chess: The great Anand is dead on his feet
by Australia’s first Grandmaster Ian Rogers in Sofia|
May 07, 2010 1:20PM |EMAIL|PRINT
Before the introduction of game timers in 1883, the image of tournament chess as two old fogeys hunched over a chess board for hours had some basis in fact.
Since then, the rate of play has continually become faster and adjournments — where games were suspended overnight — have been phased out altogether.
As recently as the 1980s I was involved in a 13 hour game over two days — hard to forget, since I spoiled everything with a single bad move after 12 and a half hours.
Modern players, fortunately, need play no longer than seven hours except in very exceptional circumstances.
The ongoing World Championship is being played at an average rate of three minutes per move for the first two time controls and then the last part of the game moves to a rate of 30 seconds per move. In that 30 seconds a player must not only find a good move, but also keep a written record of the game. To fail to meet a time control is to lose a game, just as decisively as if a player was checkmated.
A typical Grandmaster game goes for three to four hours, so when Viswanathan Anand lost the first game of his title defence against Veselin Topalov in just two hours, many were surprised.
Since then, however, the two players competing in the €2 million Euros World Championship match in Sofia have more than made up for failing to give full value to the paying spectators on day one.
Since the title match approached the halfway mark, games have regularly reached the five hour mark and during Thursday’s ninth game, Anand and Topalov were forced to concentrate at high intensity for six and a half hours before Topalov saved a game that many pundits had given away as lost for the Bulgarian.
This was the epic battle that chess fans around the world – close to a million of them, watching and listening on multiple web platforms – had been waiting for.
Although the score was tied at 4-4 going into the game, few gave Anand, at 40, five years older than Topalov, much chance of recovering from Tuesday’s defeat.
The Indian proved everybody wrong with a hyper-aggressive performance, giving away his most powerful piece, the queen, early in the game to create activity.
This was chess on the edge. Time and again Anand seemed to be playing like a genius and have Topalov’s king caught in a checkmating net; time and again Topalov slipped away.
Then the clock became a factor. Anand ran himself down to a move per minute while searching for the elusive winning idea. Topalov, well ahead on the clock and not content with defending, constantly kept enough counterplay to make Anand fear that the tables could be turned at any moment.
Finally, after six exhausting hours, Anand missed his final winning chance and Topalov scrambled a crucial half point to keep the match tied at 4.5-4.5.
Anand looked shattered at the post-match press conference.
“I imagine I had a win somewhere,” he ventured. “Maybe twice, [maybe] more.”
It is so difficult to win a game at this level and Anand understood that to let so many opportunities go begging was near criminal.
Topalov, who plays with the first move twice in the last three games, tried to dampen down local expectations, even when a journalist quoted to him Garry Kasparov’s claim that if Anand could not win Thursday’s game, then the match was Topalov’s for the taking; “I was a little bit lucky today, so I am satisfied with the result, but we made a lot of mistakes. At the end of the match we will see if I really had luck today.”
Slipping out of the press conference without his usual game round-up for the Indian media, Anand looked dead on his feet while Topalov seemed little more than jaded. Topalov is moving in for the killer blow on Friday and it will take enormous mental toughness for Anand to resist.
Low on energy, low on morale, Anand must still turn up and play at a high level just to stay in the contest with Topalov. He has the expectations of a nation of a billion people on his shoulders and a million watching his every move live. There must be easier jobs.
World Championship 2010 Game 9
Opening: Nimzo-Indian Defence
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3
In earlier games Anand had opted for the wimpier 3.g3; today he goes for the throat.
With just three minutes left to reach the first time control, Anand panics and lets the Black king out of his cage. After 40.Re4 b4 41.Rxa7 b3 42.Rb7 b2 43.Kh2! White can stop the Black pawn and win the game.
40…Kd7 41.Rh7+ Kc6 42.Re4 b4!?
More risk taking by Topalov.
43.Nxe6! Kb6 44.Nf4 Qa1+? 45.Kh2 a5 46.h5!! gxh5
Too late Topalov realises that after the pawn race 46…b3 47.hxg6 b2 48.g7 b1(Q) 49.g(Q), Black can have two queens but he still loses after 49…Nxf3+ 50.Kg3!!.