05 Feb

Rock Anand Hard Place

When the Financial Times calls your tournament the strongest and best-organised event of its kind in the world, and the Sunday Times says - admittedly, all doing so before any announcements were made on the latest edition of the Qatar Masters Open, that was won late last year by Magnus Carlsen - it is the most prestigious Open on the planet, you know as an organiser you have a good thing going for yourself. 


That was the scenario organisers of the Tradewise Gibraltar Open enjoy. The annual event staged on the strategic British colony of 2.3 square miles of land mass, at the mouth of the Mediterranean, dominated by the 1,300ft limestone Rock of Gibraltar (that fewer than 30,000 people call home), has built in little over a decade a stellar reputation as a world class tournament anyone can enter. But just how do you make it better?

They did so by carefully cultivating the player they always wanted to invite to the tournament: India’s Viswanathan ‘Vishy’ Anand, the five-time ex-world champion. But Anand soon discovered that moving from the higher echelons of elite closed invitations to the hurly-burly of an Open - his first in 23 years - had plenty of hazardous pitfalls.

Anand probably regarded playing in Gibraltar as a light confidence-booster ahead of next month’s Candidates tournament in Moscow to determine Magnus Carlsen’s next challenger. Unfortunately, Anand soon found himself caught between a Rock and a hard place with a series of slip-ups that saw him him dramatically exit the world’s top 10 for the first time in his career (plummeting four places on the live rating list to No.12) - a performance that probably dented his confidence ahead of the Candidates.


Things started badly and then went steadily downhill for Anand.  In the opening round, he drew with Szidónia Lázárné Vajda - a Romanian-Hungarian Women’s Grandmaster rated just 2359.  He then went on to suffer bad loses to further lower-rated opponents, Adrien Denuth (France) and 16-year-old Benjamin Gledura (Hungary), to finish on a lacklustre score of 6.5/10.

IM Benjamin Gledura- GM Viswanathan Anand
Gibraltar Masters, (7)
Semi-Slav Defence
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 I suppose in reality someone of Anand's strength and experience should be looking to play a system that retains the tension against a much weaker player. But throughout his career, Anand has never been one to play the King's Indian or the Grünfeld; instead keeping the faith in his favourite tried and tested systems of Slavs and Semi-Slavs. 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Bd6 7.Bd3 0-0 8.0-0 e5 9.cxd5 cxd5 10.e4 Alternatively, 10.Nb5 Bb8 11.dxe5 Nxe5 12.Nxe5 Bxe5 was seen in So-Anand, Bilbao 2015 that led to an easy draw. 10...exd4 11.Nxd5 Nxd5 12.exd5 h6 13.Nxd4 Qh4 14.Nf3 Qh5 15.Bh7+ Kh8 16.Qf5! A line that's been popular of late at elite level (which may well have helped Gledura), and one that sees the queens coming off with White having a slight pull in the position. I would have imagined that the young Hungarian was already sensing he was going to get a result in this game against a living-legend - however, I doubt he had visions of ever winning this. 16...Qxf5 17.Bxf5 Nf6 18.Bxc8 Rfxc8 There's a reason for taking this way, as it avoids losing a tempo by having to defend a7 after Be3. 19.Rd1 Rd8 The subtle point is that White cannot defend his extra pawn on d5; so we end up with an endgame with a symmetrical pawn structure and pieces, which in elite grandmaster circles normally ends up in an easy draw. 20.Be3 Be7 21.d6 It is slightly better for White to return the pawn this way, as he gains a tempo on attacking the bishop. 21...Rxd6 Black can also recapture 21...Bxd6 22.Rd2 and again there is nothing in this position - they only difference being that White can double rooks on the d-file, which is a little annoying. This is the reason best praxis shows to exchange a set of rooks going into this ending. 22.Rxd6 Another alternative Anand would have been firmly aware of is: 22.Re1 Bf8 23.Rac1 Nd5 24.Bc5 Ra6 25.Bxf8 Rxf8 26.Red1 Nf4 27.Rc7 Rxa2 28.g3 Ne6 29.Rxb7 Kg8 30.Ne5 Re8 31.Rd5 f6 32.Nc6 Kh7 33.Kg2 Rc8 34.Nd4 Nxd4 35.Rxd4 a5 36.Rdd7 Rg8 37.Rd6 Kg6 38.Ra6 h5 39.h4 Rc8 40.Raa7 Rc2 41.Rxg7+ Kf5 42.Rgb7 Rcxb2 43.Rxb2 Rxb2 44.Rxa5+ Kg6 45.Kf1 which is a technical draw, and indeed was agreed a draw here in Vachier-Lagrave-Anand, Paris/St. Petersburg 2013. So as we can see, Anand is well versed in knowing what endgames are coming his way - and endgames that he should really easily know how to hold. 22...Bxd6 23.Rd1 Also known to Anand was: 23.Bd4 Ne8 24.Rc1 Kg8 which he easily drew in 40 moves, Gelfand-Anand, also Paris/St. Petersburg 2013. 23...Bc7 24.Kf1 a6 25.h3 Kg8 26.b3 Rd8 27.Rxd8+ Bxd8 28.Ke2 The only advantage White has here is that his king is a little more active. That alone doesn't account for Anand losing this - he needs to also play inaccurately, which, remarkably for a player of his calibre, he does. 28...h5?! And this is where it all starts to go wrong for the five-time ex-champion. In the middlegame, such a small inaccuracy wouldn't be so bad - but in an endgame, with so few pieces left on the board, ultimately fatal. Safer was 28...Nd5 29.Kd3 (29.Bd4 Nf4+ 30.Kf1 Be7=) 29...Nxe3 (Not 29...Nb4+? 30.Kc4 Nxa2 31.b4! Otherwise the knight is lost. 31...a5 32.bxa5 Bxa5 33.Nd4 and despite being a pawn up, Black still has problems trying to get his knight out.) 30.Kxe3 Kf8 31.Ke4 Ke7 32.Kd5 Kd7 33.Ne5+ Ke7 and Anand should easily hold this, as he can set-up a fortress position stopping White's king from infiltrating. 29.Bg5! Gaining valuable tempo to get his king up the board by pinning the knight, and Black can't play ..Bc7, b6 or a5, as Bxf6 would cripple his pawn structure and a hopeless endgame. 29...Kf8 30.Kd3 Ke8 31.Bxf6 Bxf6 32.Ke4 Bd8 Suddenly White is very active, very quickly - and around about here, on the live video feed, there was a sort of 'glazed look' in Anand's eyes as suddenly it was dawning on him that he was going to lose this with accurate play. He could also have tried 32...g6 but after Kd5 White will also have ideas of a timely Ne5. This is just not easy for Black to defend, regardless of how strong the player is with the Black pieces. 33.Ne5 Ke7 34.Kd5 Bb6 The defence looks a little awkward, but perhaps Anand's last chance was to go for 34...Bc7!? 35.Nd3 Kd7 36.Nc5+ Kc8 37.Ne4 Kd7 38.g3 Bb8 39.f3 White retains the better position, but at least by keeping his bishop on the board, Anand has good chances of salvaging a draw with a fortress. 35.Nd3! Much stronger than 35.f4 , and we'll soon see why. 35...Kd7 36.Nc5+! With the minor pieces off, White's king is far superior that something will have to give in the ensuing pawn ending. 36...Bxc5 The pawn ending is lost for Anand; but so is the alternative: If 36...Kc7 37.Ne4! the knight eventually coming to d6 will win. 37...Kd7 38.Nd6 Bxf2 39.Nxb7 and eventually the a-pawn will fall. 37.Kxc5 Kc7 Anand can't even get in 37...h4 as the same technique as in the game will see White win: 38.Kb6 Kc8 39.g3! g5 40.gxh4 gxh4 41.a4 Kb8 42.b4 f6 43.f3 f5 44.f4 Kc8 (44...Ka8 45.Kc5! and the kingside pawns fall) 45.Ka7 Kc7 46.b5 axb5 47.axb5 b6 48.Ka6 etc. 38.h4! (See Diagram) The star move, and without which, Anand perhaps had drawing chances. But now with Black's kingside pawns being fixed, Gledura simply goes about exploiting his very active king to force the win. 38...Kd7 No better was 38...g6 39.f3 f6 40.b4 Kd7 41.a4 g5 42.hxg5 fxg5 43.Kd5 and the king marches over to capture Black's kingside pawns. 39.Kb6 Kc8 40.b4 Kb8 41.f3 Kc8 42.g4 hxg4 43.fxg4 Kb8 44.h5 f6 45.a4 Kc8 46.Ka7! Kc7 47.b5 a5 48.Ka8! 1-0 Now if 48...Kc8 49.b6! the b7 pawn will soon fall. 

2 Comments February 5, 2016

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  • Tommy Barrett

    Brilliant title John but 13000ft? The Barbary apes would be more like brass monkeys 😎

    • John Henderson

      Ooops…one zero too many there! Corrected. Many thanks for spotting.