As things stand, after nine rounds, Magnus Carlsen leads Viswananthan Anand 5-4 in the World Chess Championship. Three rounds remain. Game ten will be played today but the two games thereafter will be separated by a rest day.
So far, the format has been two games and then a rest day. By introducing a rest day between each of the last games, the organisers are ensuring that the players have enough time to prepare.
But at this point – as we witnessed during the 20-move draw in Game 9 – Carlsen seems to have made up his mind. He will not play ball. He will not make it interesting.
When he has a chance, he will go for the quick draw; when he has the chance, he will go for the clean swap of pieces. It is match strategy and it is not necessarily dictated by what’s happening on the board. Simply put if a top Grandmaster decides, he wants to play for a draw, he will, in all probability, get it.
As OlimpiuUrcan said on twitter: “There were more questions in this press conference (28) than actual moves in the game itself (20).”
Carlsen followed a well-known game by Leinier Dominguez-Ruslan Ponomariov played in 2012 – till the 13th move and then set the stage for repetition. After the quick draw, Carlsen went straight to the basketball court.
This is the point where the defending champion feels that the title is within his grasp. He may relax; he may decide, as Grandmaster Karjakin said: “I don’t think Magnus will win any more games. He will try to draw. Safe & solid.”
But therein lies the danger for Carlsen. If he gets passive and starts playing for a draw then it might just give Anand a chance to assert himself and go for the kill. But to even draw out errors from the Norwegian, the Indian GM will have to risk it all. He just can’t hold himself back anymore. It’s either that or the battle is lost.
As Garry Kasparov said on twitter: “Berlin aside, I also learned that this is a dangerous path. Giving up quick draws with white is a betrayal of Kaissa & she does not like it!”
For the uninitiated, Kaissa is the goddess of chess.
Kasparov went on to further add: “Carlsen has a lead and only 3 games to go. But if he starts to believe he can coast to the title it is very dangerous psychologically.”
These, of course, are scenarios that Anand is well aware of.
“Well, I can count,” he said after the quick draw. “I know the score but I think I still have some chances.”
But more than the math, the writing on the wall is pretty clear for Anand. And given an option, he’d rather be running on empty at the end of the race than finish second with enough fuel in the tank.