Thursday, November 21, 2013

26. … b2! What a Chess Move.

Young Magnus Carlsen now leads Viswanathan Anand 6 to 3 in a 12-game match for the world chess championship. Carlsen will become the next world champion if he draws or wins any of the remaining three games, a likely conclusion. I’ve been following this match. The games begin too early for me, so I joined today’s decisive ninth round at about 7 a.m., in the middlegame.

Carlsen made a defensive move that looked desperately ugly, 25. … Ne8. It seemed obvious that Anand had a simple mate in four with his queen and rook. I eagerly went to the live commentary. Was there any way Carlsen could avoid mate?

The first words of the analyst I heard were, “I don’t see how Carlsen can avoid checkmate.”

We watched and waited, and then Carlsen played b2, threatening to queen his pawn if Anand’s attack persisted. Anand could have withdrawn his pieces to defend against this pawn, but if he did, a victory seemed unlikely. Instead, Anand moved his rook up to proceed with his mating plan, leaving his first rank undefended, and Carlsen queened his pawn with check.

There are many exciting games in which a player sacrifices his queen for a mating attack. This was different: Anand allowed Carlsen to have two queens on the board while he proceeded with his attack. Carlsen’s defensive tactic was obvious: if he could sacrifice his extra queen for any of Anand’s four attacking pieces, he would blunt the attack. This exciting chess position deserves a lot of analysis, but so far it appears that with best play, the game should have been a draw. Sadly, Anand, twice Carlsen's age and suffering both physically and mentally from the stress of this match, blundered and resigned.

26. … b2! What a move.

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