Carlsen Dominating Sochi Match So Far
By Leontxo Garcia   
November 10, 2014

Vishy Anand does not suffer the weight of the crown anymore, nor the tremendous pressure from the Indian media, as in Chennai. However, the quality of his play is now worse than two months ago in Bilbao (Masters Final), not to mention his amazing victory in the Candidates Tournament last March, at the age of 44, a few months after being dethroned. It looks like he is psychologically dominated by Magnus Carlsen.

 “What I admire most about Fischer is his ability to make look easy what is actually very difficult”, Carlsen told me on January 17th, 2008, a few hours Bobby passed away. I thought that was a genius describing another genius. Having the privilege to witness Anand finding marvellous moves in a few seconds, I think he is a genius too. Consequently, the match in Sochi is a clash of genius. But, for some reason, only one of them is performing like that so far.

Let’s have a look at the first game after move 13.

Carlsen, who had already shown his discomfort by investing 16 minutes on move 9 gave a recital of gestures during the 21 minutes he took for the 13th: moving the swivel chair back and forth, stretching, his body bending from the chair to the board and his head nearly touching the pieces, suddenly sitting on the edge as if he was to jump... The position was slightly worse for him, and he had 40 minutes less on the clock. But eight moves later he was a bit better already, and after the time control he even missed a move that would probably lead to a win (42 ..Re3!)

Position after 42.Rd4

 In game two, Carlsen played 4. d3 against the Berlin variation for the fifth time against Anand. After only three minutes of play, with plenty of photographers and TV cameras still working in front of the board, Anand left his chair, went to the end of the stage where the two deputy arbiters are (by the way, according to FIDE regulations, their fee is 4,000 euro each), and gave his jacket to the Uzbek Husan Turdáliev. Everything indicated that we were going to witness another great battle.


But what happened was very different. Anand underestimated White’s attack, which Carlsen conducted very well although he could be more precise when the position was already winning (29 Re7!). Then Anand had his opportunity to make things more difficult for the champion, but 34 ..h5 (instead of Qd2) was a terrible blunder.

“There wasn’t too much going on, to be honest”, said Carlsen a few minutes later, at the press conference. And he added: “Today I feel that I didn't play in the most precise way after I gained an advantage so I still need to improve."

Only he knows if those words had the intention of hurting his opponent even more after a very painful defeat. But the first two games indicate Anand’s problem is not only biological (21 years older) but psychological as well.

Kramnik told me in Moscow few days earlier: “It is clear Anand has all trumps in his hands. He learned a lot of lessons, I suppose, from the previous match. He did many things really wrong then, strategically and psychologically. I would be very surprised if he would not learn the lesson. And then he can be dangerous, although Magnus is still the favorite, like 60-40.”

What surprised Kramnik last year was the kind of positions Anand was willing to play: “He was playing Carlsen’s games for the whole match. In these simplified positions, Carlsen is the best in the world, if not the best ever. It was a clear mistake from Anand to keep playing like that, and it was clearly psychological, because he knows it.” And he concluded: “If Anand does not solve this psychological problem, being unsure, as he was in the previous match, he has no chance. That is clear. But if he manages to create complicated positions, we can see a very tight match.”

Now it is a difficult task for Vishy, his wife (Aruna), his chief of delegation (Hans-Walter Schmitt) and his three declared seconds (Sasikiran, Wojtaszek and Gajewski). According to what he said at the opening press conference, he felt good in Sochi: “All the facilities are impressive. The whole Olympic Park area is lovely to go for walks and so on. And no traffic jams. I feel happy here." But most likely his feeling is much different after the second game.

Security around the match is nuclear power station style. Besides a number of policemen, you have to pass through three metal detectors before getting to the playing hall. Mobile phones are jammed after the third control. But they could not build a glass wall between the stage and the spectators (not many of them so far, by the way), like in Chennai last year, because the roof is too high. However, neither of the players think this is a big issue, because they trust each other.

Although chess is not as important in Russia nowadays as it was in the USSR 30 years ago, president Putin has been personally involved in the organization, probably because he wants to show a good image while Russia is suffering international sanctions, which could soon include sport and cultural events as well.

Putin came to Sochi a few weeks ago and had a meeting with the Krasnodar federal region Governor, Alexander Tkachyov, whose name is included in the last list of sanctions. According to a witness, the president said: “Governor, the World Chess Championship must be very well organized. This is very important. Do you understand?”
Journalists at the World Championship, including Leonxto Garcia (left), for CLO and El Pais Photo

The fight continues on Tuesday at 7 AM EST. For all the best live and post-game viewing options, see GM Ian Rogers' Couch Potato's Guide and look for more reportage from Leonxto Garcia as the match progresses.