So Carlsen went back to the Grunfeld and Anand went for the interesting 5 Qb3 variation and then soon after we had the sharp …Na6 line
A curious choice by Carlsen which seems to suggest he is up for a fight today and happy with a complex game. If I had to make a prediction I would say that I think he will win today [usually a draw is by far the most likely result of course]. The reason being that I think his prep will be good enough to see a dynamically equal position and both players will at some point be left on their own and when it gets too tense I think it more likely that Anand will falter.
The position below is very complex indeed.
After…Bf5 14 Rad1 One of the seconds of Anand had previously played a game with this line as White but lost.
So presumably they know this line well enough and anyway Black was the first to deviate by playing 14…Ne4 instead of 14…Qb6
Another Berlin in the Lopez. Who cares? Boring game [relatively speaking of course]. It is not that the Berlin can’t lead to rich and interesting play, it is just at this level it really is very boring and this short draw only underscores this. The final position is just equal and if White was to push for more he could easily end up worse.
A good result for Anand which will boost his confidence again. It is by no means over yet and I think Carlsen is ready to pounce if he gets half a chance. Anand has real chances now, and a win really would and could potentially cause panic for Carlsen.
So Anand held on easily enough in game seven and is only one win away from leveling the match. Can he do it, and what is the outlook for the match now generally? Well I have to admit that at the outset I was of the view that Carslsen would pretty much destroy Anand and win the match by an even bigger margin than the last match they played. This, though flying in the face of perceived conventional wisdom, was because although it was true that Ananad has had a good time on the chess board since he lost his crown and very impressively won the candidates tournament that earned him the right to play Carlsen in this match I think an objective and clinical look at his games will not reveal that he was exactly a player on fire.
Rather it seemed to me that Anand was still in “Match Mode” and was just going to be very hard to beat and very focused on that while being motivated enough to be still good enough to take his chances when offered, and so this is more or less how he won the candidates tournament so deservedly but not quite so impressively as we might at first think. In the contest of him having lost such a bruising match with Carlsen his candidates tournament win was very impressive and even inspiring, but from a purely chess point of view not earth shattering.
So therefore while I expected to see a far more stable and determined Anand with renewed self confidence and belief I also felt that if he got dealt a couple of blows from Carlsen this might all start to unravel and he would again be fragile [relatively speaking of course]. So many people seem to forget or are n aware of the famous Kasparov – Anand match in 1995 when the first eight games were all drawn. Then it was even Anand who got the first win in game nine only to lose four out of the next five games and draw the match out with four more draws. Point being that was Anand at the same age as Carlsen is now! So no excuses about age issues can be mentioned.
Si it seems to me that Anand has certain potential vulnerabilities against exceptional players and for his part I thin that Carlsen will have been bruised and somewhat frustrated by his own performances of late, though here too some people seem to forget that his results were not actually bad, just below par for his standards. So I figure that Carlsen would be very eager and hungry to prove to himself and the world that eh was till clearly “The Best” and would be very determined to impose himself on Anand and win in some style or show a certain dominance.
Considering all these things I felt sure that on balance Anand was in for a beating, the like of which he would never forget. Not that I wanted that as if it turned out that he somehow managed not to lose and instead win the match then that had a fantastic narrative and inspiring story. Especially considering that he is a player of my own generation and we actually played in the World Junior same year back in Baguio all those years ago. He won it in a year that saw an incredibly strong field.
So if Anand did manage to win this match with Carlsen I would indeed find it inspiring to see a man in his 40s defeat a man in his 20s. However I am really be happy to see the best player win and I simply think that is Carlsen. The combination of youth, energy, brilliance and hunger being too much. At the start of the match that was very much confirmed for me, but when Anand struck back straight away I almost had doubts, even though that game was mainly just preparation and not so much a pure reflection of his chess prowess or outplaying Carlsem.
However after a few more games I began to think that Anand was very much back in the match but then he had this tragic loss where he fell apart after missing a golden opportunity to most likely win after Carlsen blundered in game 6. Then yesterday he showed his best qualities with an impressive defense and well deserved draw. Now I am not at all so sure of how the match will go, and Anand is still in with a chance.
So back to today’s game. A QGD Bf4 line in which it seems Carlsen was the first to deviate or bring the game more into his preparation. Firstly it is good to see that he has gone fr an active game and the game looks interesting and complex already.
Blacks last move seems to be a novelty and the move Bg5 played by White was not the most popular either, likewise 9…Re8 was also not the main line. The way the game has gone since, it seems that it is all still in preparation for Carlsen and he has no difficulty.
After a few more natural moves we reached the position below which looks interesting and complex. But that did not last long and the game quickly fizzled out into a very boring and drawn sort of position.
This is probably the least exciting or interesting game and is sure to be a draw. A clean success for Carlsen and a slight frustration for Anand. The position below is just before the mass exchanges that leave it hard to see how the game can continue much further.
There is so little left of interest in this position that I will leave with the position below as I can’t see anything but a draw and imagine there might be a draw very soon. Nothing else really to do here?
Well I came a bit late to this game, to the position at move 24 to be exact, and to be honest I am already quite bored with this game. I find it rather depressing to see the Berlin on the board and both players follow theory for so many moves with no great sign of anything interesting.
After 24 g4 Nd6 25 Rh7 Nf7 I think the position is still very sterile and White has no appreciable advantage. I expect a draw is surely the only logical result. Very disappointing game really. It turns out that the position after 23…Be6 has been played before but 24 g4 seems to be a new move but nothing very special.
After 26 Ne3 Kd8 27 Nf5 c5 28 Ng3 Anand played Ne5 which is funny considering that in the last game 26…Nxe5 was a big move that he did not play. However in this game 28…Ne5 seems one of the weaker moves available to Black and he may have given Carlsen a chance to obtain a workable advantage.
One variation of interest is 29. Rh8 Rg8 30. Bxe5 fxe5 31. Rh5 Rf8 32. Ke3 Bd5 33. Ne4 Bxe4 34. Kxe4 Rf4 35. Ke3 Rb4 36 Rxe5 Rxb2 37 Rxc5 When we have the position below.
If the game does go this way then White does have an advantage. Probably still a draw with best play but not easy to play. Svidler is suggesting that after 30. Bxe5 fxe5 31. Rh5 Black can give up his Bishop on g4 but after 31…Bxg4 32 Fxg4 Rxg4 White has 33 c3 which seems to be close to winning for White, though not easy to play.
Well, well, well Anand has gone for it and followed the line suggested by Svidler. But Carlsen did not play 33 c3 and moved very quickly with 33 Rxe5 instead. Maybe this is just as good or better but White seems to have real chances of winning now.
After 33 Rxe5 b6 34 Ne4 Rh4 35 Ke2 Rh6 36 b3 Kd7 things have become very clear. Black is just trying to draw and White is the only player with chances to win. If I had to bet I would say Carlsen will win but I don’t see how. Anand will probably crack at some point but his experience could insure he gets a draw.
So after a lot of pushing wood we reached the position below, which I still don’t see any good plan for White.
Anand has defended well and this is an easy draw at the end. A big result for him which keeps his chances very much alive.
So what to expect today as Carlsen has the first of two White’s in a row. He must be pretty eager to stamp his mark on things right about now. It has looked really good for him after the first two games but he has not looked his best since then. He will know that if he fails to win at least one of the next two games then this will hand the momentum back to Anand.
So what will his approach be to the game today? Which first move will he play? My guess is that he won’t play 1 e4 today. Why? Well perhaps the Anand team will assume that he will have done work to prepare against the Sicilian (Anand might then switch back to 1..e5) so they would be surprised by him not playing 1 e4. Then Carlsen could have something prepared with either 1 d4 or just want to get a game with 1 c4.
My guess is that Carlsen will play 1 c4 but I really would not bet on it either. If he does play 1 e4 and Anand does play the Sicilian then I do think he has to take on Anand in a main line variation and he could just get the breakthrough he needs now. I also think that if Carlsen does play 1 e4 then Anand should play 1…e5 as I think it will annoy or frustrate Carslen a little, cause a bit of confusion or doubt and most likely be the most safe and sound way to insure a draw, which would increase pressure on Carlsen and may cause Carlsen to make some rash choices?
The scenario in which the match stays level with each round is not in my view a 50-50 situation for the players. With every round that goes by in which Anand simply avoids losing, there is a small increase of an edge in favor of Anand. He now he even has the confidence to actually pounce if Carlsen falters. This potentially changes the dynamics of the contest greatly, but Carlsen is a very astute and self aware player too, so he may well just be patient and then torture Anand in at least one of the next two games. Either way, I have the feeling we might be in for a great game today.
So it is a Sicilian after all. But sadly not really! Anand plays the Paulsen/Kan variation and Carlsen plays 5 c4 which when I was growing up, was understood to be a weak line, as in, it allowed Black an equal game very easily and quickly. The reason being that Black can play 5…Nf6 6 Nc3 Bb4 and White usually then plays 7 Bd3 Black responds with Nc6 and White plays 8 Nxc6 and after 8…dxc6
A well known position soon occurs [after 9. e5 Nd7 10. f4 Nc5 11. Bc2 Bxc3 12. bxc3 Qxd1 13. Kxd1] which is worth looking at briefly.
This endgame is basically an easy draw for Black and one of the reasons why I used to avoid playing the Paulsen/Kan was because of this very variation which becomes a sterile position with no winning chances.
However Carlsen avoided this main line of the 5 c4 variation by playing 7 Qd3 but I don’t think this changes much really. Black plays in the same manner and after a few logical moves, Nc6 8. Nxc6 dxc6 9. Qxd8 Kxd8 10. e5 Nd7 11. Bf4 Bxc3 12. bxc3 Kc7 when we have a very similar endgame with the difference being that White has the option to castle and he has not played his pawn to f4 which preserves more scope for his black squared Bishop. But nevertheless I think this is an easy position for Black to play.
Already I would predict a draw and judge that Carlsen has wasted a game with the White pieces. This line, even with the 7 Qd3 twist is an insipid variation and not a good choice even practically. A bad day again for Carlsen and another disappointment from a chess point of view.
Apparently Peter Svidler thinks differently and suggests that White has some edge and Black has not yet obtained an equal position, but I just don’t agree. I think this is an easy position for Anand to play and White is just blowing hot air with no real chance to start a fire. The first sign of something that might be called a critical position occurred after 13. h4 b6 14. h5 h6 15. O-O-O Bb7 16. Rd3 c5 17. Rg3 Rag8 18. Bd3 Nf8 19. Be3 g6 20. hxg6 Nxg6 21. Rh5 Bc6
22 Bc2 Kb7 23 Rg4 has then been played but I don’t see any progress for White. I am amused that after 23…a5 24 Bd1 Svidler still feels that White is making some progress but I can’t see it at all. 24…Rd8 and 25 Bc2 was played so is Carlsen offering a draw? Presumably Black will play 25…Rdg8 and it is back over to Carlsen to find something.
Yes it is back over to Magnus to find a way to keep chances for White. Astounding! Carlsen just blundered! After 26 Kd2? Anand could and should have played 26…Nxe5 but instead he played 26…a5-a4 and now after 27 Ke2 a4-a3 28 f2-f3 and Anand is deep in thought reflecting on what he just missed as he surely must have realized it.
One has to fear for Anand now as although the position is fine for Black I also don’t like this plan of pushing the pawn to a3 either and he must be in turmoil. He probably should just remind himself that it could have been him that blundered and he would have lost, so at least as he has not blundered he has no reason to feel he can not get a draw. Anand has instead been a bit rattled and played 28…Rd8 which seems a bit rash and we now do have a critical position.
29 Ke1 Rd7 30 Bc1 is the reason I did not like pushing the a pawn, as now it can be attacked. Black defended with 30…Ra8 but Anand is under pressure now. A few moves have been played 31. Ke2 Ba4 32. Be4 Bc6 33. Bxg6 fxg6 34. Rxg6 Ba4 and this looks like a total collapse from Anand. 35 Rxe6 Rd1 36 Bxa3
A few moves later 36…Ra1 37. Ke3 Bc2 38. Re7 and Anand had to resign. A sad and unlucky loss. He seemed to have been badly affected by the missed chance he had and played poorly thereafter.
So the match is all square after four rounds and most likely the edge goes to Anand at this stage. Despite the two players saying that everything was all even between them. This hardly seems credible really. Anand has managed to come back straight away after a very painful loss and difficult first game struggle, and then get a win against Carslen for the first time since 2010 and the first ever in their two matches so far. This has got to give Anand a boost, and his confidence must be growing now.
However it needed to, as the first two games were simply not impressive and he was being outplayed relatively easily. Now things have changed and this huge win has saved him from what could have been a downward spiral of unstoppable proportions. Now that he has struck back, he then consolidated further with a pretty comfortable but well earned draw in game four, but what now?
Well that is the key question, while I don’t think Anand can, or will, win this match, there is now a window of opportunity for Anand. All he need do is keeping holding Carlsen at bay with Black and try put real pressure on him as White. If he can do that for another 4 games then there is even the chance of him causing a huge upset and causing a crisis within Carlsen himself.
On the other hand, one of the great strengths of the world champion is that he is very objective and self critical so with that kind of self awareness I think it likely that he will simply address the problems he has, fix them and then go back to dominating Anand. Today I think we will see another 1D4 from Anand and probably an offer of a Nimzo Indian which Anand will again decline and Carlsen might well play a Queens Indian. Hard to tell really but it is vital that Carslen not lose, and this fact alone could put huge pressure on him.
He may well just be content to make an easy draw, which would be a very sound plan, as he gets two White’s in a row after this game. I think the match at the moment is surprisingly well balanced and while I think Anand has a slight edge overall he almost has to win to keep that edge. A loss and he is again in potentially serious trouble and a draw will give the edge back to Carlsen who could then build on this and create a new momentum in his favor. If I had to predict, I would say it will be a draw today.
So my guess was right! A Queens Indian but with the twist that Carlsen is the first to deviate with a slight surprise. His move 7…c6 is not played so much and I suspect that we will be more in Carlsen’s preparation today. I am thinking that Carlsen will draw pretty easily today now.
So after some thought Anand played the most natural looking 8 e4 and then after 8…d5 9 exd5 which seems a bit odd or at least less common than 9 cxd5, black replied with 9…cxd5 10 Ne5 0-0 11 0-0 Nc6 and we already have what I think is a critical moment in the game. I simply do not like this for White and feel it is already equal and pretty sterile at that. Seems a little strange the way Anand has played this. I think this is heading for a draw already. White has got nothing from the opening and does not even look like he tried for much.
Yes an odd game from Anand as this looks like it will fizzle out into a very sterile position which offers few chances for either side really. After 12 cxd5 Nxe5 we seen the funny in-between move 13 d6 which was countered by the simple and calm 13…Nc6.
There follows 14 dxe7 Qxe7 and after 15 Bg5 h6 white tried 16 d5 and Black just played 16…Na5 and then Anand thought for a while before playing the perfectly safe 17 Bxf6 Qxf6 and we are left with Anand again having a think about how to proceed further as his opening advantage hopes dissipate further.
No surprise then that Anand took on e6 but this just confirms that he has nothing from the opening and the game is headed towards a draw. This is a small victory for Calsen, not so much just because he got a draw with Black easily but because of the message he is sending. Namely that he can out prepare Anand and diffuse any threats or hopes Anand might have for an opening edge if he wants. Carlsen was bitten once but not again! Now Anand will have to face Carlsen as Black twice in a row which will be a tough test.
This games is all but over. In fact Carlsen played the most natural 18…Qxe6 which according to the engine is the weaker of the possible replies. It seems 18…Bxg2 was the simplest way for Black to play, based on the idea that after 19 exf7 check 19…Qxf7 20 Kxg2 Nc4! Gives black more than enough counter-player for the pawn to be equal. Carlsen played the human move which I think is still fine, as after 19 Re1 Qf6 I still don’t see any real threats or way to an advantage for White. I assume 20 Bxb7 Nxb7 will follow but how then to proceed?
So this line surely would have seen Carlsen secure a draw as Black using less than 15 minutes on the clock? That would be a minor victory. This game would not be of any further interest really and the only thing hard to figure out is how do they actually end the game and make the draw?
Instead Anand played 20 Nd5! which actually does force Black to be careful. Carlsen still plays it safe and solid by taking on d5 with 20…Bxd5 Then I assume 21 Bxd5 Rad8 22 Qf3 When I still don’t see any real problems for Black. Best then might be 22…Qxf3 23 Bxf3 Nc4! 24 b3 Nd2 25 Bg2 Rd7
Wow! Carlsen has just played 22…Qxb2 and now after 23 Rad1 I think we have a game again. Black will now come under pressure and have to play really well to defend the position. This game just came alive!
Carlsen has now played 23…Qf6 (23…Rd7 was an option? – one line being 24 Qf5 Rc7 25 Be4 G6 26 Qf4 Rfc8 27 Qxh6 Qf6, though it is easy to understand why Black would be nervous of this variation.) and the ending after 24 Qxf6 gxf6 25 Re7 Kg7 26 Ra7 Nc6 looks like Black might well be able to hold it.
Critical moment was perhaps back at move 26 when White could have improved with either 26 Kg2 or 26 Rc7 both of which seem to keep the pressure up on Black.
Instead what was played was 26 Ra7 Nc6 27 Rb7 Nb4 28 Bb3 Rxd1 29 Bxd1 Nxa2 30 Rxb6 Nc3 31 Bf3 f5 32 Kg2 Rd8 33 Rc6 Ne4 34 Bxe4 fxe4 and the rest was trivial. Overall this was a pretty boring game, at least compared to the games so far.
A great result for Carlsen as I thought he was almost in a bit of trouble. Anand may come to regret not pushing a bit more on move 26. Now Carlsen has White twice which will be a big chance for Carlsen. The impression from the press conference afterwards was that Anand was content enough to know he is playing well enough to cause Carlsen problems and if he had a few more games like the one today an odd win would not be at all surprising.
For Carlsen it appeared he is mindful that he has his work cut out and is determined to go for it now that he has those two White’s in a row. I sense a hint of frustration and he may even be putting himself under pressure with a strong desire and expectation of being able to push ahead with a win from one of the next two games.
The match is still very much a contest and already Anand is doing better than I had thought would be the case. With each round that goes by that he can stay on level terms his chances start to increase.
A lot of interest in this game and how Carlsen would react to his first loss to Anand since 2010, I think. Well as I missed a fair bit of the live broadcast I will just give some impressions of the game from this round. In the first instance I thought the choice of 1…c5 by Anand was perfectly well timed. It really did put it up to Carlsen and declared that he was confident enough to want to play for a win.
Great anticipation for this third game already. Even so early in the match this feels like a potentially critical game. Certainly could be critical for Anand who is now under great pressure indeed. So what will his approach be today? Will he try mix things ups and go for a complex game, or will he just play it safe and just try for a small slow advantage?
My guess is that Anand will play 1d4 and we will possibly see Carlsen change opening and play something else other than a Grunfeld. Yes so indeed it has come to pass. Black went for a Nimzo Indian but after 3 Nf3 Black went back into a Queens Gambit Declined and Anand has gone for the Bf4 variation which I think indicates that Anand is in the mood to try play for a win. This seems especially true in the case of the c4-c5 variation.
However they have moved very quickly and already as of just 12:06 they have ten moves played. Given the speed they are playing my guess is that Anand has prepared something specific and it will be interesting to see how things unfold now. This seems to be indeed the case as after a few more moves, which seem like they have been played before, we see Carlsen being the first to have a big think.
I don’t understand the position very well as I am not very familiar with this variation. The first critical moment has come with 17 Ng5 which looks amazing, yet this has all been played before! One assumes that it is unknown to Carlsen that they are following the game Aronian – Adams from last year in Bilbao which was a draw, and Black responded by now playing 17…Ndf6. I would guess Carlsen will also play this move, but it is a very complex and unusual opening. Perhaps worth noting that Black cannot take twice on g5 because White can then play his Knight into d6 attacking the queen and the c pawn moves forward.
Yes indeed Carlsen has played the same move that Adams played and I guess it will be for Anand to show us where he intends to improve on the play by Aronian. Anand has not moved immediately but that could be because he might want to conceal the fact that Carlsen has walked into his preparation. Or perhaps this was the end point for his preparation? It will become clear very soon.
So Anand still follows the same path of Aronian by taking on e4 and then after Nxe4 he plays 19 f3, to which Adams now responded by playing 19…Ra5. That game is worth checking out as I suspect Anand has some improvement ready. But we will see who is the first to deviate and that might be very revealing.
Yes Carlsen also followed what Adams played by playing …Ra5 but Anand is the first to deviate and I am sure this is part of his preparation, which on this occasion has worked out well. White has a slight advantage now and Carlsen will have to be at his best to hold this position. No reason to think he will not be able to hold yet though. He is doing the right thing by taking his time and working out the best plan. Unlike the first game of the match I think White actually does have an advantage here today.
Carlsen took on a3 which I think was not the best and we have this very curious position below which I am sure Anand will have had on the board before in his home preparation. This is looking like a great chance to win for Anand as 20…bxa3 seems like a mistake to me and instead 20…dxe4 was much safer.
If I had to make prediction now I would say Carlsen is going to lose today! That would be a real sensation which would truly ignite this match. Carlsen took on d5 with his rook on move 23 after which I assume Anand will play 24 Qxb6 and then the position is very hard for Black to defend. This is a real test and if he does manage to draw then I think it will be another blow to Anand and put huge pressure on him going into the game tomorrow. Still I like the position for White and will be very curious and impressed to see how Carlsen holds on in this game.
He played 24…Qd7 which seems odd to me as after 25 Qa6 I think that with best play Black is just lost! I am going to take a break now (14:15) and be back around 15:00 I will not be shocked if the game is either over or Carlsen is just about hanging on.
Well, what with traffic and the weather today here in Dublin I did not make it back [16:40] until long after the game was over. Not at all surprised by the result so much as the way the game actually went. Carlsen more or less simply collapsed.
But before getting into that, let me dispense with the diagram above which is what might have happened rather than what did happen. If White had reached that position then I think it is a pretty hopeless position for Black, but instead of 25…Rc8, in response to the very strong 25 Qa6 which was better than what Anand played Black should play 25… Qc8 with better chances to hold on.
As it happens Anand played it safe with 25 0-0 and risked no longer having a winning advantage, but still managed to increase his advantage and pile on more pressure, which resulted in Carlsen losing his way and then just collapsing.
After 25 0-0 black played Rc8 which was fine now, as if White then played Qa6 Black has …Rb5 which offers good chances to defend. Instead Anand played the stronger move 26 Rc6 which keeps White well on top. The choice by Carlsen to then lash out with 26…g5 must have been born of frustration and the realization that this was a very difficult position to defend indeed.
He was no doubt regretting his opening choice today and felt under pressure when he was running low on the clock too. Anand did not play the very strong 27 Be5 but still opted for safe and calm waters with 27 Bg3 which paid off after 27…Bb4 was met with the fine move 28 Ra1 that then saw Carlsen just buckle under the pressure and blunder with 28…Ba5, after which there was no way back and the rest was, as is often said, just technique.
In the above position Black is much worse but he may not be lost and now 28…g4 gave the best chance to hang on and keep things uncertain. In the game White has it all his own way after 29 Qa6. 29…Bc7 is tantamount to resignation as there are no good lines for Black after 30 Qc4. The remaining four moves were ignominious for Black 30…e5 31 Be5 Rxe5 32 de5 Qe7 33 e6 Kf8 34…Resigns
So to conclude. What to make of this result and game in the context of the match overall? Well it is great for the match and Anand especially, He will take great encouragement from this huge win, and regardless of what score he losses the match by (for I think he will lose this match anyway) he will always have today to look back on and enjoy. It just might give him the sort of self belief he needs.
However an objective view might suggest that this was really just a bump in the road and Anand has really little or no chance to win the match but just a great chance to win more fans throughout the world, by at least coming out fighting and showing that he is able to inflict a defeat on Carlsen after all. While it is indeed refreshing to see even a great player like Carlsen caught out in opening preparation, which as it happen extended to 24 moves, ultimately anybody can have a bad day.
The Armstrong Cup is without doubt a venerable and curious competition. One which I have participated in many times over the years. There is a detailed review of the Armstrong Cup by the current ICU Vice Chairman and former Irish Olympiad player Paul Cassidy which gives plenty of insight into the nature and background of the Armstrong Cup at http://www.leinsterchess.com/ArmstrongReview2013.pdf which is well worth a look.
This year I got off to a particularly bad start which was both frustrating, and a bit of a blow to me. My chess has always been prone to being up and then down, in varying degrees, but as one get’s older, and even more jaded, the down’s seem to increase. But still there are almost always lessons to be learned or interesting aspects to losses.
Since the Olympiad in Tromso, in which I was enjoying my chess so much, I have not been playing well really, and simply not “in the chess zone” so after a very poor performance in the City Of Dublin I then played rising star David Fitzsimons of Elm Mount with Black. This was a fine game by David but also a pretty lame effort by me. The days of not doing serious prep for an opponent like David are long gone.
Previously I had managed to outplay David with Black the last time we played in the 2014 Irish Championships, but to no avail. As although I was a fraction better at one point, the game ended up with a dead drawn position, until, that is, I went a bit crazy and instead of settling for a draw played on a couple of moves too many, blundered very stupidly and lost.
Since then I had forgotten the variation we played, failed to do any prep for our Armstrong game and found myself in a variation that is very double-edged and even risky in practical play. At a critical moment I took a huge chance trying to frustrate the attacking ambitions for White within the position, but it backfired after David improved on previous theory with a fine thematic piece sacrifice typical of what often occurs in the Sicilian which essentially wins on the spot.
The two key positions from the game are below: Fitzsimons – Daly Armstrong Round 3
The first critical moment came when I decided to try delaying castling for one more move and took the risk of trying to make a central break first before castling. This turns out to be a fatal choice and Black should now have played castling now regardless. The resulting position is very unclear and offers chances for both sides. Instead after I played 13…e6-e5 White played the expected 14 Nd5 Nxd5 15 exd5 and after 15…0-0 we had the position below. The position is not new but David plays a very natural and strong new move.
White now played Nf5! which I think wins on the spot, as I can see no good way for Black to react. A very strange state of affairs, but that is sometimes the price to be paid for playing the Sicilian. When it goes wrong it is usually very bad indeed. The rest of the game is amusing if nothing else. So my first game in the Armstrong is a complete disaster. Well at least there is something learned about a variation that needs total accuracy.
My second game in the Armstrong was a very different affair and a game I could be very annoyed and disappointed with myself for botching up so badly. Basically the opening went fine and we reached a complex middle game which should equal on paper but in practice gives White good chances to play for an advantage. But Black just sacrificed a piece and was soon just lost. The first critical moment was from the position below.
Just seven moves later White had established that Black did not have enough compensation and we had the position below. Only for White then to blunder and throw away the advantage completely. Click on the diagram to see how the game developed.
The game took yet another turn and after White over-pressed trying to win, a combination of time pressure and inaccurate play resulted in a difficult position that should have been still drawn but was not easy to defend.
After Black plays …Ke7 White could have held the position by playing Qb2. Click on the diagram to see how the game went and some of the notes.
So game two features another Berlin “declined” which is something of a disappointment relatively speaking. A curious choice by Anand and yet more evidence of the solid reputation of the Berlin variation against the Lopez. So much so that Carlsen declines to go into the main line and instead plays the quite 4 d3, which is what I played myself when I faced the Berlin against Stephen Brady in the 2011 Irish Championships.
A game which, in a must win situation, I lost after getting outplayed in the opening, and then after getting a very bad endgame missed a couple of clear draws. My approach was rather aimless and far less logical than what Carlsen has played.
The choice of Carlsen to take on c6 on move 7 seems to be a typical Carlsen approach. He is playing for a safe edge with no risk and after a few more moves the position was transformed to an unusual situation in which the position looks very equal and unexciting. However I think this is actually deceptive and from practical play White has real chances to test Black a bit and Anand will have to be very careful to avoid giving Carlsen some chance for real pressure.
I like this idea of Ra3 and after Black played 14…Nf8 there followed an exchange on e5 and a few very straight forward moves which on move 20 offered an interesting option of Bh6!? A move which neither of the commentary team mentioned. Probably because it looks like it might only draw.
But there are some very odd variations possible. One line sees White have several pawns for a rook. For example after 20 Bh6 if Black takes on h6 then 21 Rxg6 hxg6 22 Qxg6 Kf8 23 Qxf6 Qf7 24 Qxh6 Ke8 25 Qh8 and White’s next move is Qxe5 which is a very odd position that I think is a slight advantage to White!
As interesting as that line is, Carlsen instead played the perfectly logical 20 h4 which seems to have prompted Anand to go badly wrong and decide to take on f5 and then after this, allow a further exchange after 21…Nf4 22 Bxf4 exf4 23 Rc3 when White has a clear advantage. It is really quite amazing that Anand has gone for this as it seems to play right into the hands of Carlsen who now has another endgame in which he has all the chances and Black has to just try hang on.
Even if the position is not a win for White with best play I feel very confident in saying White willl most likely win this game, and thus the match massacre that I fear will occur in this match will be underway in earnest. Even after a few sub par moves from Carlsen the position did not show any sign of hope for Black. A key position below had a nice variation which Anand must have seen and avoided.
In the above position it is curious to note what can happen if Black plays 31…Qxf5, which was initially suggested by Peter Svidler, but then later discarded after his colleague pointed out the winning line, White can play 32 Rxb4 cxb4 33 Qc4 Kh8 34 Qf7 Rg8 35 Re8 wins Instead Black played 31…Qd6 and after 32 Qf3 Rxe4 33 Qxe4 f3 34 g3 Black blundered badly with 34…h5 and after 35 Qb7 it was over.
The position was surely lost anyway and it was a very well deserved and comprehensive win by Carlsem. I think Anand is going to suffer a lot in this match.
So the first game has been played and we got a real fight. A good start to be sure. The general consensus seems to be that Anand got a good opening but then went a little wrong and was then a little worse, but hung on and drew what could have been a difficult and even fatally passive position.
I tend to disagree with this narrative and already I feel that Carlsen has struck a huge blow to Anand’s ambitions and confidence. Why? Well to start with, I don’t think Anand did get a good opening at all.
In fact what happened with the opening was very curious and impressive. At first it seemed that White had somehow caught Black out in his preparation with Anand having a huge time advantage and looking very comfortable but Carlsen was most impressive by simply using his time well and working things out over the board and showing a deep understanding of the position.
A curious weekender tournament this was indeed.
Last year I won this event by half a point ahead of Petr Nueman, Dragos Dumitrache and David Fitzsimons but this year I had to settle for joint first with Petr Neuman, Sarunas Sulskis and Hugh Doyle who all had 5/6.
The event this year however was very skewed and this was a little unfortunate in some respects. On paper there were only three people really in contention to win, as the gap between the lowest rated of the top three to the next player was around 300 rating points. The next players being Ciaran Quinn and Hugh Doyle who are both nevertheless capable and dangerous players, and whom, as it happens, both gave Petr Nueman and Sarunas Sulskis, if not a fright in their respective individual games, then certainly at least a run for their money in round three.
However despite their valiant attempts to cause an upset, the two Grandmasters stayed on 3/3 and ended up playing each other in round four.
In the meantime I had a nice enough win over Pat Twomey who played the Four Pawns Attack against my Kingsindian, and after we followed 12 moves of known theory Pat deviated with a new move on move 13 and it seems to be slight improvement on previous moves.
However he followed up wrongly and somewhat passively which seemed to allow me get a pleasant enough advantage. Only for one mistake by me allow Pat play a series of fine moves that resulted in a dynamically balanced position with chances for both sides. Thereafter we had a critical sharp position in which Pat missed some tactics, exposed his king and Black was well on top and on the way to winning.
So in round four the top two seeds drew a fairly tame game while I had a fairly easy win against rising star Tom O Gorman who blundered in a complex but difficult position while on the Black side of another Kingsindian. Tom is a very young player who recently played in the world youth championships in South Africa and he clearly has potential. A good attitude and enthusiasm for the game were very much in evidence and you have to think he is destined for good things in the coming years.
The setting for round five then was for me to play Petr Nueman as Black while Sarunas Sulskis would surely win in his game against Gabriel Mirza. This did indeed happen, and when Petr offered me a draw early on, after I had got such a comfortable position as Black, I thought it best to take the draw conserve my energy for the last round, when I would have White, even if it seemed almost certain that Petr would win his last round game too, and so I would need to win to gain outright first. On the other hand, a loss would be a disaster. Especially as Hugh Doyle had a great chance to also win and end on five points too, thus insuring that first, second and third would be shared by three, and 4.5 would be outside the prizes.
This was indeed the way it went, though not before Sarunas and I had a really good high level battle in which I pushed hard for a win, had some practical chances, but the correct play from Sarunas insured it was always only ever going to be a draw.
Overall, a fairly pleasing tournament for me as it was the first time since the Olympiad that I felt I was playing well and “in the chess zone” with my chess. It was, on the one hand, somewhat frustrating to share first with not two, but three, other players. But on the other hand, it is nice to see a young player like Hugh Doyle share the spoils.
I have done very detailed notes from my last round game [see above diagram] as there is quite a lot to the game and it was the last game to end at the tournament too. A large crowd observing things right up to the very end. The ending type of position is very instructive and there is a fine example from practical play between Gelfand and Grischuck of this very ending from this opening.