After Viswanthan Anand’s crushing loss in game #1, many were wondering if the “Ashgate” ordeal he faced was affecting him. In fact that question was raised in the press conference. Anand did not offer his harrowing 40-hour trip as an excuse, but he certainly was “shellshocked” as described by some observers. However, today was a new day.
Anand played had to break the rhythm and sidestep Veselin Topalov’s famous preparation. He trotted out the “Killer Catalan” a name given to an opening employed by Vladmir Kramnik. Kramnik has made this positionally-nuanced opening a killing maching and has won countless games. In fact, Kramnik used it with great effect against Topalov. Perhaps Anand has studied these games intently.
In today’s game, Anand played a very practical line that bore few risks (unlike his Grunfeld Defense). He held a lasting spatial advantage and kept his options wide open. Fans and pundits gawked at the Anand’s 15.Qa3. The move received strong consternation from many GMs including Anish Giri and Nigel Short. Short had this to say:
I am speechless. 15. Qa3 is a shockingly bad move. White has no winning chances whatsoever after this. Black wasn’t threatening anything, so why exchange off the queens, ruin your pawn formation and make things easy for Black all at one go? And this dubious decision has come VERY early in the game.
After 15…Qxa3 16.bxa3, Giri liked 16…Nc5! and said that white would have to battle for a draw. Sergey Shipov had more reverance for Anand’s ideas.
15.Qa3 Praise the chess gods, we’ve left the worn tracks. Moreover, Vishy’s made a move that you really won’t think up in a minute… The novelty of the season! It’s rare to find a queen exchange on white’s initiative in this sort of position. I remember something analogous at the end of the Kasparov-Smyslov candidates’ match, I think, the 9th game… Garry also exchanged queens in a similar manner, and even doubled his pawns – and then won convincingly.
A few moves later white’s plan was revealed as he burrowed into white’s position with his rooks and was able to win a pawn to boot. Thereafter, he wrapped up the point in a neat ending. The victory is a big boost for Anand as he has broken the effect of the “home-field advantage” and neutralized a devastating loss the previous day. This will certainly give Anand some momentum. (See Game #2)
Topalov trying to figure out what went wrong.
Photo by ChessBase.