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Magnus a draw from title

- 28th-move blunder costs world champion the 9th game

Magnus Carlsen and Viswanathan Anand during a media conference, in Chennai, on Thursday. (PTI)

Chennai: What seemed to be a brave and bold start ended in a stunning and dreadful defeat for Viswanathan Anand, as Magnus Carlsen virtually assured himself of the world championship title after winning the ninth game, here, in Chennai.

What promised to be an exciting and thrilling contest will most likely end in 10 games, as Carlsen needs just half a point from the remaining three games to win the title. Carlsen now leads 6-3. The audience in the auditorium actually broke into applause when Anand abandoned his King Pawn on the first turn with white and played 1.d4.

Without showing any surprise, Carlsen went for the Nimzo Indian, one of his mainline defences. Anand stuck to the Samisch Variation, which has been his favourite choice for dynamics.

Just needing a draw in this game, which would mean that he will have two white pieces in the remaining three games, Carlsen still allowed Anand to choose a dynamic opening system. Not only was it a silent proclamation of his guts to welcome Anand to attack him in an open position, it was also a subtle way of saying that he is ready to score more than just a draw in the process, if and when Anand oversteps.

The game followed a dynamic course during the opening to Middlegame transition, and things came to a head by move 18, when Anand had obvious space advantage in the Kingside, but black’s counterplay in the Queenside was more than dangerous.

It reached a classic case often witnessed in attacking games, when white was given all the chances for a Kingside attack, but is obliged to finish the job and checkmate his opponent’s King. In case of failure on the Kingside front, black’s advanced pawns on the Queenside would give white no hope for survival in an endgame.

The capacity crowd was thus lusting for wild tactics for the first time in the match, wishing a victory for the attacking side and thus a possible comeback for Anand. Things looked to be going his way too, as Anand had more than 30 minutes gain on the clock than Carlsen by the 22nd move.

Carlsen’s test of judgement and will power came on the 22nd move, when he had an option to play for broke by fixing the Queenside pawns, thus acknowledging Anand’s attack on the Kingside and keeping faith in his defensive resources to beat back the attack. The alternative was to play it safe by trying to breach the solid looking centre.

To his credit, Carlsen took a long time over the board and decided on 22b3, thus welcoming Anand to attack him on the Kingside but confident of beating back the onslaught.

Now, it was left to Anand to find a breakthrough with his attack and checkmate Carlsen’s King which looked claustrophobic in its corner. However, Carlsen’s indigenous defence borne out of a hidden subtlety saved him the day.

The audience was treated to a rare sight when Anand allowed Carlsen’s b-pawn to be promoted to a Queen on the 27th move, three queens thus showing up on the board. However, the same extra queen was the saviour of Carlsen’s defence, with a hidden resource based on placing the extra Queen on d1 (or e1).

Anand came up with a terrible blunder 28.Nf1 only to resign the game immediately after Carlsen’s obvious reply 28Qe1, overlooking a simple future capture at h4.

The essence of Carlsen’s victory and ability was summed up by Russian Peter Svidler, “It seems to me Carlsen’s strength isn’t something incredible but making good, solid, natural moves for longer (time) than his opponents.”

No one would disagree with that.