Vintage Vishy! - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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The life of a professional chess-player is mentally and physically challenging. After the age of 40, for most professionals, there is a seemingly inevitable slide down the rankings. Garry Kasparov retired at 42, rated #1 in the world, but I suspect he felt that the chasing pack was getting too close for comfort. His old-time foe, Vishy Anand, is now continually questioned about his retirement from the Indian media – but the 48-year-old is not ready to hang up his pawns yet!

Anand, a five-time ex-world champion, dramatically fell out of the world’s top-10 for the first time after he hit a rough patch in 2017, and again the retirement speculation mounted – but Anand hit back by rolling back the years with a stunning year-ending performance to clinch the World Rapid Championship title, and then following that up with capturing the bronze medal at the World Blitz Championship in Riyadh in late December.

And now, in the first major of the year, at the 80th Tata Steel Masters in Wijk aan Zee, Anand is again showing that retirement is far from his mind right now, as yet another vintage performance sees the timeless veteran sharing the lead with the Dutch #1, Anish Giri, after he brilliantly beat the US #1, Fabiano Caruana – and with it, Anand has moved back into the top-10 in the unofficial live ratings.

And with World champion Magnus Carlsen lurking in the chasing pack just a half point behind the leaders, there now the intriguing scenario playing out of a race to the finish for Anand and Carlsen in order to break the record of the most Tata Steel/Wijk aan Zee titles. Currently, on the roll of honor, both jointly hold the record with 5 titles each – but if either wins the title, they will hold the all-time record.

Standings:
1-2. V. Anand (India), A. Giri (Netherlands) 3/4; 3-5. M. Carlsen (Norway), V. Kramnik (Russia), S. Mamedyarov (Azerbaijan) 2.5; 6-10. S. Karjakin (Russia), W. So (USA), Wei Yi (China), M. Matlakov (Russia), G. Jones (England) 2; 11-12. F. Caruana (USA), P. Svidler (Russia) 1.5; 13. B. Adhiban (India) 1; 14. Hou Yifan (China) 0.5.

Photo: Anand turns on the style to beat Caruana | © Tata Steel Tournament

GM Vishy Anand – GM Fabiano Caruana
80th Tata Steel Masters, (3)
Petroff’s Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 Before the revival of the Berlin Defence during the Kramnik-Kasparov World Championship match in 2000 in London, this was the dreaded system Black player’s would adopt to thwart aggressive opponents – and it was the chess equivalent of watching paint dry, as I sat through many super-tournament press rooms in Wijk and Linares during the second half of the 1990s. 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3 Bd6 7.0-0 0-0 8.c4 c6 9.Qc2 At the London Chess Classic in December, MVL played 9.Re1 against Caruana. Rather than that, Anand opts for the alternative. 9…Na6 10.a3 Bg4 11.Ne5 Bf5 12.b4 Nc7N Normally played here is 12…f6 – but Caruana’s new move looks like a blunder, as it seems to be losing a piece.  But this is actually part of Caruana’s deep opening preparation, and he has a tactical solution at hand. 13.f3 Capturing first on d5 doesn’t help matters any, as Black has an added resource thanks to …Nc7: 13.cxd5 cxd5 14.f3 Rc8! the big idea being that if 15.fxe4 dxe4 16.Rxf5 Ne6 17.Qd1 Nxd4 18.Bxe4 Rxc1! and the cunning …Na6-c7-e6xd4-e2 fork wins the queen! 13…Bg6! After the game, Anand admitted he’d missed this move that Caruana had clearly prepared. He thought Black had to play 13…Bxe5 14.dxe5 Bg6 where he had two promising options in 15.Rd1!? or 15.Be3!? – but Caruana’s play avoids all of this. 14.c5 The point to Caruana’s new move is that 14.fxe4? Bxe5 15.dxe5 dxe4 16.Be2 Qd4+ picks up the rook on a1. 14…Bxe5 15.dxe5 Ng5 16.Bb2 d4!? A radical solution to the problem of activating his knight – and more dynamic than the other option of 16…a5 17.f4 Bxd3 18.Qxd3 Ne4 19.Nd2 axb4 20.axb4 Rxa1 21.Bxa1 f5! 22.exf6 Nxf6 where White may well have the slightly better prospects with a space advantage and the bishop bearing down on the long-diagonal – but Black has a very solid position, and with careful play should be OK here. 17.f4 Nd5 18.fxg5 Ne3 19.Qd2 Bxd3 20.Qxd3 The alternative was more tactically trickier, as after 20.Rf4 Qxg5! 21.Rxd4 Rad8 and it is difficult to see how White continues, as after 22.a4 Be4! 23.g3 Rxd4 24.Bxd4 Qg6 25.Qxe3 Bxb1 where, if anything, Black stands better with his rook coming to the d-file; not only that, but White also has a chronic white-square weakness. 20…Nxf1 21.Kxf1! Better than the natural-looking 21.Qxf1 as now after 21…Qxg5 White lags behind in development, as can’t get in the freeing Nd2 as he does in the game. 21…Qxg5 22.Nd2 Qxe5 23.Nf3 Quite an understandable move, as it simultaneously hits d4 and defends h2 – but Anand regretted not playing what he originally intended here: 23.Nc4! Qxh2 24.Qxd4 f6 25.Nd6 with the knight not only shutting out Black’s rooks but also there’s long-term threats of Qc4+ and Nf7+ looming. 23…Qh5 24.Qxd4 At least Anand has nicely solved the problem of unravelling his pieces. He has the better position – but it will not be easy for him if Caruana can quickly dominate the central d- and e-files with his rooks. 24…f6 25.Qc4+ Kh8! The best option. If 25…Qf7 Anand intended 26.Qxf7+ Rxf7 27.Nd2, and the knight heading to d6 via c4 gives White a big advantage. 26.Bc1! Anand is now giving us a masterclass with this timely retreat, instantly recognising his bishop had better potential to lock out Black’s rooks with the simple manoeuvre Bb2-c1-f4. 26…Rfe8 27.Bf4 a5 Caruana is now beginning to lose the thread of the game – he should have tried 27…Qf5 28.Bd6 Re3! where at least his queen is better placed and he can now follow up with Rae8 doubling rooks on the e-file. 28.Bd6 axb4?! This was described by Anand as “a gift”, as it just allows him a free hit on b7. Better was 28…Qg6! with the threat of …Re4 looming that will indirectly undermine White’s queenside pawns. 29.Qxb4 Qd5 30.Qxb7 h6 31.Kg1 Anand is looking at creating a bolthole for his king by playing h3 and Kh2-g3 – and once his king has an escape route to safety, White’s minor pieces will come to life. 31…Ra4 32.h3 Rc4 33.Qb2 Qd3 34.Ra2 Qd1+ 35.Kh2 Rc1 36.a4! Caruana has no attack on Anand’s king with the g3 bolthole and the Nf3 covering any vulnerable checks. And with the danger over, Anand simply starts pushing his a-pawn up the board – though not to queen it, but instead to use it as a decoy for a stunning attack on Caruana’s king. 36…f5 The lesser evil. Caruana is losing, and he has to do something, as after 36…Re3 37.Qf2 Re8 38.a5! Qh1+ 39.Kg3 Ra1 40.Rxa1 Qxa1 41.Qd2 and the running a-pawn will be a major problem. 37.Qb7 f4 38.Bxf4 Rxc5 It looks as if Caruana has managed to activate his rooks, which could well stop the a-pawn – but Anand has a big surprise coming. 39.Rd2! Qxa4 Anand sacrifices the a-pawn – but in return, all his pieces suddenly spring to life for a winning attack on Caruana’s king. 40.Qf7 Rg8 41.Be5 Qc4 A natural reaction, because if Caruana can somehow exchange queens here, he should be able to hold the position – but Anand has a simply stunning rejoinder. 42.Rd6!! [see diagram] 1-0 It’s vintage Vishy with Caruana resigning, as the five-time ex-champion finishes with a dramatic game-winning queen sacrifice! The point being that if 42…Qxf7 (Of course, if 42…Rxe5 43.Qxc4 Black loses his queen) 43.Rxh6 is mate!

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