Former world champions tend to largely become forgotten figures of chess. But Viswanathan “Vishy” Anand is different. After the Indian ace was dethroned by Magnus Carlsen in 2013, he was largely written off, with speculation that - like his old foe Garry Kasparov - he would soon be announcing his retirement. But that 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 in 2014, again they speculated about an “imminent retirement” - and now, after squeezing the dear life out of Levon Aronian (in the Armenian’s own words, "it was quite one sided") in round nine of the Moscow Candidates’ Tournament for the only decisive game of the day, the veteran five-time ex-champ has now joined Sergey Karjakin as co-leader and could well be set for another spectacular comeback that would put Frank Sinatra to shame!
The 46-year-old has been slogging through world championship chess matches since before most of the field in Moscow probably first saw a chess board let alone play on one. And with the tension mounting, and experience in such circumstances being a big bonus, whose to say we won’t see Anand-Carlsen III? And right now in Norway, between gigs in his new career as a stand-up comedian, Magnus is probably cursing himself for deleting the Anand database file from his hard drive.
Despite the bookies giving Anand odds of 50-1, Carlsen’s coach, Peter Heine Nielsen thought their old sparring partner could well be the dark horse in the Moscow Candidates, because with his vast experience he’s capable of fighting all the way to the finish line. And as we now enter the critical home stretch, who would now bet against Anand winning through yet again?
If he does, it would be full-circle for Anand, as he lost the first world championship match he contested in New York to Garry Kasparov back in 1995 - amazingly 21-year's ago! And just like Sinatra, Anand could well stage a similar comeback to yet emerge as the victor from the Moscow Candidates’ singing “New York, New York”.
Photo © | Moscow Candidates Tournament
Anand 1-0 Aronian
Giri draw Caruana
Nakamura draw Karjakin
Topalov draw Svidler
Standings: 1-2. Sergey Karjakin (Russia), Vishy Anand (India) 5.5/9; 3-4. Fabiano Caruana (USA), Levon Aronian (Armenia) 5; 5. Anish Giri (Netherlands) 4.5; 6. Peter Svidler (Russia) 4; 7. Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 3.5; 8. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) 3.
Rest day Tuesday 22 March.
GM Viswanathan Anand - GM Levon Aronian
FIDE Moscow Candidates, (9)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.0-0 d6 5.d3 This line of the Giuoco Piano usually transposes into a sort of Ruy Lopez-type position: White will play c3 and a4 and - rather than Nbd2-f1-e3 as in the Lopez - follow up with Na3-c2-e3. 5...Nf6 6.c3 a6 7.a4 Ba7 8.Na3 Ne7 Just as White wants to control the f5 square with his knight, Black similarly wants to control f4 with his knight. 9.Nc2 Ng6 10.Be3 0-0 11.Bxa7 Rxa7 12.Ne3 Ng4 13.Qd2 a5 14.d4! Ra8 15.dxe5 N4xe5 The only recapture possible, as 15...dxe5 16.Qxd8 Rxd8 17.Ng5 (17.Rad1 Rd7 (Not 17...Bd7? 18.Rxd7 Rxd7 19.Nxg4 winning.) 18.Ng5 Nh6 19.Nd5 and with all Black's pieces being awkwardly placed, White stands much better. 16.Nxe5 Nxe5 17.Bb3 Nd7 The knight is heading to c5 to challenge the influence of White's bishop; perhaps following up later with ...Be6 if White retreats to a2. 18.Bc2 Re8 19.f3 b6 Aronian is trying to find a way to develop his bishop - and in doing so, he leaves himself with long-term endgame weaknesses that Anand quickly capitalises on. 20.Rfd1 Nc5 21.b4 Nd7 22.Bb3 Nf6 23.Qd4 Qe7 24.Nd5 Nxd5 25.Bxd5 Ra7 26.b5! The big clamp is now on c7 - Aronian is going to be on the torture rack. 26...Bb7 27.c4 Qe5 28.Rac1 Qxd4+ 29.Rxd4 Kf8 30.Kf2 Ke7 31.f4! Not content with just sitting on this position, Anand strikes quickly with the options of either pushing forward with e5, expanding on the kingside by moving all of his kingside pawns up the board, or perhaps just using the third rank to switch his rook over to the kingside. All of these plans will be problematic for Aronian to deal with - and such is Anand's strangle-hold on the position, he can pick at his leisure which it will be. 31...f6 32.Rc3! Aronian didn't much care for allowing Anand e5 (nor the attack on f7 that stopped his king moving across to the queenside), but ...f6 now leaves his kingside vulnerable to Anand's rook now switching over to the kingside. This is really a masterful performance from Anand, as he squeezes Aronian. 32...Kd7 33.Rh3 h6 34.Rg3 Re7 35.Rg6 The squeeze is well and truly on. 35...Bxd5 36.cxd5 Ra8 37.Kf3 The king march Kf3-g4-f5 is not a difficult choice here. 37...Rae8 38.Kg4 Aronian is virtually paralysed, and also worth considering here to prolong his agony was 38.Rc4 Kc8 39.f5 Kd8 40.Rg3 Kc8 41.Kf4 Kd8 42.Rgc3 Kc8 (You can also use a rook shuffle, but the bottom line is that Black is in a stranglehold that allows White to get this set-up) 43.g4 and follow-up with h4, Rg3 and g5. I think, in reality, this might have been better for Anand than what he opted for. 38...Rxe4 Aronian can't allow Anand to play Kf5 - this is his only chance of a lifeline, even although Anand's king and rook are so active and so far up the board. 39.Rxg7+ Kc8? (See Diagram) It looks OK, but for reasons that will soon become obvious, Aronian had to play 39...Kd8! for any remote chance of saving this. You wonder what the difference could be, but we now see that after 40.Rd2 Rxa4 41.Rc2 Re5! Black's rooks are now active and he's threatening the weak pawns on d5 and b5. This is what makes the big difference between losing and saving a game - and crucially, the error was likely caused by Aronian looking to safely reach the time control at move 40 now coming up. 40.Rd2! Kb8 If Aronian had his king on d8, he wouldn't need to waste time first defending c7, as now after 40...Rxa4 41.Rc2 Re5 42.Rgxc7+ is mating. In the previous note, after ...Kd8, there's no mate after Rgxc7 because Black has an extra move to play ...Rxd5 and the king has an escape route via e6. Such are the vagaries of chess, that this little differences in king moves turns the game into a win for Anand. 41.Rc2 Rc8 42.Ra2 Rd4 43.Kf5! The crippled pawns on f6 and h6 are prime targets. 43...Rxd5+ 44.Kxf6 Rf8+ 45.Rf7 Rxf7+ 46.Kxf7 Rf5+ 47.Kg6 Rxf4 48.g3! Stopping the only little hope Aronian had: a possible ...Rh4. 48...Rc4 49.Kxh6 d5 50.Kh5 I was always schooled that the passed pawn the furthest away from your opponent's king was what you should pass; so I was anticipating here 50.Kg5 to allow h4-h5 etc. But I guess Aronian's king is so far from the action it makes not a jot. 50...d4 51.g4 d3 52.h4 Rd4 No better is 52...Rc2 53.Ra3 d2 54.Rd3 and the White rook not only dominates the d-pawn from behind, but it also cuts off Black's king from moving across the board. 53.Rd2 Kc8 54.g5 Kd7 55.Kg6 This is one of the reasons why I said in an earlier note that the wisdom is that you push the passed pawn the furthest away from your opponent's king. Even although the h-pawn now falls, the rook and pawn ending is easily won for Anand - but I am sure with 50.Kg5! it would have been a more clinical win for him. 55...Rxh4 56.Rxd3+ Ke8 57.Ra3 Rc4 58.Kg7 Stopping Aronian's king coming to f8, which would have taken the game into likely draw territory. 58...Kd7 59.g6 c6! It's a forlorn shot, but a shot nevertheless. Aronian is trying to engineer a position where he can exchange off Anand's b- and a-pawns, and perhaps sacrifice his rook for the g-pawn, hoping that his a-pawn on the opposite end of the board supported by his king can draw the game. 60.Kf6! Rightly, Anand goes straight to the heart of the matter: that g-pawn is big. However, as an example as to what you should aim for even in such hopeless positions, it is easy to stray into a draw here after 60.bxc6+ Kxc6 61.Kf6 Rg4 62.g7? (62.Rc3+!) 62...b5! 63.axb5+? (63.Rc3+!) 63...Kxb5 which is a draw, as Black can easily sacrifice his rook for the g-pawn. 64.Kf7 a4 65.g8Q Rxg8 66.Kxg8 Kb4 and the White king is too far away to stop Black promoting his a-pawn. 60...cxb5 61.g7 Rg4 62.axb5 Rg1 If 62...Kd6 63.Rc3! cuts the king coming over to c5; which is crucial, if you are trying to engineer that drawn endgame scenario again. 63.Rd3+ Ke8 64.Re3+ Kd7 65.Re5 The last little wrinkle - Anand is going to play Rg5 to safely shepard the g-pawn home. 65...Rxg7 66.Rd5+ 1-0