Winter is almost upon us, but the temperature in Chennai seems set to scale new highs. We are a third of the way into an engaging duel between world champion Viswanathan Anand and the young challenger Magnus Carlsen. If this was a battle for the ages, somehow the conch hasn’t been blown yet. The first four games have helped these two extremely gifted human beings measure each other out through a short series of polite exchanges. And they have exchanged more smiles than they have pawns. Yes, the fourth game was a bit of a scuffle, but in the end even that one fizzled out. It won’t remain this way for long though, blood will be spilled sooner than later.
The games have begun to lengthen after the all too brief skirmishes in the first couple of days. Carlsen, even had the temerity to refuse an offer to draw from Anand in the third game on Tuesday. The Norwegian has favoured the Knight in both his openings, while Anand has advanced his King’s pawn to e4 with his whites.
Anand has been steady, reading mostly from his well prepared lines. Carlsen seems more eager to break away and explore the wild unknown. Considering that Anand neutralised the Caro-Kann rather easily, Magnus resorted to the Berlin variation of Ruy Lopez in the fourth game. Both players flirted with danger. Anand exposed himself to a degree of risk, when he sacrificed the pawn yesterday, but then Carlsen could not really activate his pieces till the 41st move, the queen locked away in a static corner.
As much as the computers reckoned that the game was being run by the black pieces, GM Pendyala Harikrishna refused to read too much into the few possibilities thrown up by the machines thus far. This is a World Championship, he reminded us, more than once explaining how terribly difficult it is even for these seasoned grand masters to read and play at the board at the same time.
The opportunities have been marginal, says Harikrishna. The first few games have been more about sizing up each other’s preparations and understanding how they might respond to the match situation. The sizing up is done now, felt the grand master from Hyderabad, and fireworks and not too far away. We can barely wait. Chess is a deceitfully civilised endeavour. The finest of these men own a beastly mind, tucked away neatly behind a sophisticated smile.
Not for them the brandishing of swords, they taste blood by wielding a bagful double edged ideas. We can only wonder how these men summon their thoughts to indulge in a bloody battle, sitting quietly upon a maze of 64 squares, punctuated by their weaponry. The commoners among us just watch in awe, knowing it is beyond us to even try and fathom the gruesome destinations of their tender footsteps.
But even as they walk you quietly to the nook and corners of their gory, devious plans they are seeking a narcissistic pleasure that comes from insulting the intellect of another equally devious genius. They are within punching distance from one another, but all they can afford is a cold stare with a mean streak. No more, no less.
There are eight games left to play, with Carlsen resuming with white on Friday. Chess fans are eager to see what he might do with his knight this time around, but the openings and responses have offered some insight into the people behind the scene. A great example of that came on the tenth move of the fourth game.
The Berlin defence has gained currency ever since Vladimir Kramnik employed successfully against the surprised Gary Kasparov in London, at the turn of the millennium. While it was interesting that Carlsen gave the Caro-Kann a pass in favour of the Ruy Lopez, he gave away much more with his tenth move. Bishop to e7 has not been a very popular variation, with the exception of Jon Ludvig Hammer.
It was immediately surmised that the man who played it three out of four times in the past was obviously working with his good friend. Anand though is no pushover, preparation aside, his ability to respond to a grave situation came to the fore late on Wednesday. Besides, it was Anand’s lieutenant, Surya Shekhar Ganguly who used the same variation to defeat Hammer in one of those three instances.
There have times, especially during games three and four where there was an illusory opportunity for one or the other. To their credit, both Carlsen and more importantly Anand in the fourth game played with great poise and stoicism to once again underline his solid defensive skills to hold off his patient opponent. While Carlsen has pursued the games in his vaunted style, seeking a prolonged end game, Anand has been spot on too.
The Indian has been playing with almost computer like precision to ensure things remain even at the end of the first phase of this intriguing contest between two players with almost diametrically contrasting styles. Any apprehensions that Sachin Tendulkar‘s swansong might steal the thunder might only prove misguided. All it will take to bring the roof down at the Hyatt in Chennai will be a result in the next game.Published 14 Nov 2013, 18:39 IST