24 Jun

The Comeback Kid

Former world champions tend to become the forgotten figures of chess. But Vishy Anand of India bucks that trend. After he was dethroned by Magnus Carlsen in 2013, he was largely written off, with speculation rife that - like his old foe Garry Kasparov - he would soon be announcing his retirement rather than be embarrassed by the newer generation. But those plans of a retirement turned into a dramatic comeback, as he sensationally won the Candidates tournament to have another crack at Carlsen.


And when he lost that rematch, again they speculated about retirement - and again a defiant Anand continued to make yet another comeback. And now, at the 3rd Norway Chess 2015 Tournament in Stavanger, Anand, 45, is again defying the odds of his advancing years with a superb - almost flawless - performance, where he could now be on the cusp of a truly remarkable victory.

He hammered Norway’s Jon Ludvig Hammer in round eight to notch up a +3 score of 5.5/8, as he moves to within a half point of another veteran on the comeback trail, the tournament leader, Veselin Topalov, 40, whose luck finally ran out as the Bulgarian dramatically lost to the rising Dutch star Anish Giri (a crucial win for the Dutchman, as it further improves his chances of the second FIDE rating spot behind Topalov into next year’s candidates tournament).

But all the talk is of Anand’s majestic performance in Stavanger, that now sees the ex-champion overtaking Topalov in the race for the world No.2 spot in the unofficial live ratings behind Magnus Carlsen - and he’s now just four rating points off of bettering his peak rating of 2820, set in January 2011. And both veterans are now set for a very unlikely pre-tournament betting final round decider, as they meet in tomorrow’s big clash of round nine.

There’s now only 44 rating points between Anand and Carlsen - and it could well have been less than that, as the world champion’s run of bad luck in his homeland looked as if it was going to continue. In today's diagram, we see the critical moment in the encounter between Carlsen and Levon Aronian. And with 4 minutes left on his clock, the world champion had to play 36.Nh4 - but instead, he erred with 36.Rc2? (36.Nh4! Qxf2 37.Nxf5 exf5 38.Rc2 (38.Qxf5+ Rg6 39.Qe4 Nxg2 40.Rf3 Qb2 41.Kh1 Qa1+ 42.Kh2 Qb2=) 38...fxe4 39.Rxf2 Nd3 40.Ra2 Rd4 41.Rxa5 g5 and White's better, though there's still a lot of work to be done here) and Aronian - with over 6 minutes left - remarkably played 36…Qa1? (Failing to spot 36...Qb8! and suddenly he’d be in the driving seat, due to the possibility of the discovered check down the b8-h2 diagonal).. The game then dramatically finished with 37.g4! Qf1 38.Ne1! (Amazingly, Aronian must have had what we politely call a 'brain fade', and must have thought he was mating the world champion, as it looks as if he simply missed this possibility - and what a 'possibility' it is, as it defends g2, allows the rook to defend h3, stops Black from mating with …Rd1, and wins the rook on f5. Finally Lady Luck was shinning on Carlsen in this tournament, because in the space of a couple of moves, he's gone from being very bad to now very much winning. Such is the vagaries of chess.) and after 38...Nh5 39.gxf5 exf5 40.Qc4 a forlorn Aronian now resigned.

Round 8:

Anand 1-0 Hammer
Giri 1-0 Topalov
Nakamura draw Vachier-Lagrave
Carlsen 1-0 Aronian
Grischuk draw Caruana

Round 8 standings: 1. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 6/8; 2. Viswanathan Anand (India) 5.5; 3-4. Anish Giri (Netherlands), Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 5; 5-7. Fabiano Caruana (Italy/USA), Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) 3.5; 8-9. Levon Aronian (Armenia), Alexander Grischuk (Russia) 3; 10. Jon Ludvig Hammer (Norway) 2.

Viswanathan Anand - Jon Ludvig Hammer
3rd Norway Chess 2015, (8)
English Opening
1.c4 Poor Jon Ludvig must have thought he was somehow playing in an English Opening thematic tournament, as all of his opponents with White - if we include Caruana’s English/Reti - have opened with the English Opening against the Norwegian No.2. And after this defeat, perhaps we can see why, as his opponents have scored 4/5 with it! 1...e5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Nc3 Nb6 6.d3 Be7 7.Be3 0-0 8.Rc1 f5 9.Nf3 Nc6 10.0-0 Be6 11.b4 And as Anand explained after the game, this is just a Sicilian Dragon Levenfish Attack in reverse - the crucial difference being that White has the rook on c1 and not a1, which allows for this - known - tactical advance. 11...a6 Taking the pawn runs into 11...Bxb4 12.Ng5 Bf7 13.Nxf7 Rxf7 14.Bxb6 Bxc3 (14...axb6? 15.Bd5!) 15.Bc5 Bd4 16.e3 Bxc5 17.Rxc5 Qd6 18.Rb5! Nd8 (18...b6? 19.Qc2 Rf6 20.Rc1!) 19.Bd5 is winning; and 11...Nxb4 12.Nxe5 offers White good long-term prospects with the better pieces. 12.a3 Kh8 13.Na4 Play in this line usually evolves around control of the c5-square. 13...Nxa4 14.Qxa4 Bd5 15.Bc5 Bd6 If 15...Bxc5 16.Rxc5 followed by Rfc1 and White has the better long-term prospects, with pressure down the c-file. 16.Qc2 Qf6 17.e4 Be6 18.exf5 Bxf5 19.Be3! As Vishy explained, this is the best move, as Black doesn't have the annoying ...f4 available now, and his bishop will be more active on g5. 19...a5 20.b5 Ne7 21.Bg5 Qf7 22.Qc3 h6 23.Bxe7 Qxe7 24.Nh4 There's nothing fundamentally wrong with Black's position - but around here, the Hammer fails to hit the nail on the head. 24...Bxa3 Also worth a thought was 24...Bh7, but perhaps Hammer rejected it because he didn't like 25.a4 Rab8 26.Be4 where White can try for a set-up of Ng2, f3 and Ne3 controlling the white squares. 25.Bxb7 Bxc1? For reasons we'll soon see, much better was 25...Rab8! 26.Nxf5! This simple, yet obvious capture just wins Vishy a pawn - AND with the compensation, as the chess-saying goes. 26...Rxf5 27.Bxa8 Ba3 28.Qxa5 Bc5 29.Be4 Rf8 30.Kg2 Casually moving out of the pin - the rest is just Vishy ruthlessly mopping up now. Nevertheless, instructive to watch how a class act does it. 30...Qd6 31.h4 h5 32.Qd2! With the threat of Qg5 picking off another pawn. 32...Qf6 Black is in dire straits here, as there's a tactical nuance that's going to lose more pawns. Mind you, the alternative didn't look all that attractive, either: 32...Qe7 33.Qe2 Qf7 34.f4! winning easily. 33.Qe2 g6 34.Bxg6! Bingo! 34...Qxg6 35.Qxe5+ Kg8 36.Qxc5 1-0

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