World Chess ChampionshipOn Wednesday and Friday at the World Chess Championship in Sochi, Games 4 and 5 ended in draws. But these were not the boring and goalless draws of a football match. After the decisive outcomes of games 2 and 3, the next two games played on either side of Thursday’s rest day were truly exciting. On Wednesday, if Carlsen had whites for Game 4 then it was Anand on Friday, who began with the white pieces. The patterns of the games were different but both games had identical result after top-class chess between two elite players.

In Wednesday’s 4th Game, Magnus Carlsen began by moving his white king’s pawn two squares up, or e4. Anand responded with c5 that is pushing up his pawn two spaces up on the c-file. In Game 2, Anand had gone for the Berlin Defense and finally lost the match but in game 4, he made his intentions clear; he had to be aggressive! This was the classic set up that develops into the legendary Sicilian Defense, which is the most aggressive response, when white plays e4. The keenest observers of this Carlsen-Anand opening line couldn’t contain their utter pleasure to see the classical Sicilian. It was indirectly a statement of the fact that Anand didn’t want a draw but a win regardless of the color of his pieces. The Sicilian tries to create unlimited variations, which could be deeply intriguing. Why? Because the e-pawn and the c-pawn look unbalanced; like the two pieces floating in space. The game, however, continues in a manner of two separate games that are destined to converge violently at some point.

But Carlsen quickly tried to diffuse the explosive situation by adopting a quiet Sicilian line of play. Anand, however, continued to build an attacking set-up before the 20th move. Both his bishops and his queen aimed for the white king with threats of checkmate emerging from g & h files. Since Carlsen was playing white, it was really his turn to be aggressive but instead the white pieces formed a defensive ring around his castled white king. It was a reversal of an expectedly aggressive position from Carlsen, who waited instead, for a miscalculated attack by Anand so that he could launch a counter-attack. The very idea of the black playing the Sicilian is provoking conflict and chaos to finally elicit a win. Such games can develop into a jam and lots of pieces can quickly come off the board. Anand was building on his opening theory that he used in Game 3 and it was like asking Carlsen to take the risk. Anand could not have lost from this position with his best outcome being a win and the worst; a draw. After Anand developed a powerful position, Carlsen spent most of his time in diffusing the threat. After 120 minutes, it became a bit of blitz game and the board only had kings, queens, and pawns and the result could have come only from the queen’s endgame. But the minus side is the perpetual check, where hours can be lost. Therefore after two perpetual checks, the players called it a draw after understanding that they had produced something beautiful and yet frustrating.

After Thursday’s rest day, the match resumed with Game 5 on Friday. Anand had the white pieces now and he started again with d4. But this time, Carlsen came up with a new response, famously called the “Queen’s Indian Defense.” He played the black knight to f6 and followed it by moving the pawn to e3. By opening with the QID, Carlsen was inviting Anand to the center. The pawns at the center can quickly become targets for black’s pieces and Carlsen had such an aim.

The QID went along for a while with Carlsen moving quickly in the first 30 minutes. But suddenly, Anand had a well-placed bishop in the middle with the pair of rooks. Carlsen also had the rooks, but his knight was on the corner. The white queen, bishop, and rook on e1 control much of the board. The black knight on a5 is not of much use. Anand had a chance to create a mess by leaving an undefended pawn on b2 to work as bait for the black queen to capture it. Anand played Qf3 as an offer to exchange queens and also eliminating Carlsen’s corner knight. Carlsen took the bait and removed the pawn, but he wasted one move by jumping back to the original square. The queens were exchanged and Carlsen ended up with “doubled” pawns on f-file, which is a huge liability in the endgame. At this point, Anand had a chance to go for a win but that would have consumed time. So he settled for a draw in a classic risk-reward setup.

Game 5 was interesting and at one time it looked dangerous for Carlsen but even after playing white, Anand was content to go for the draw after 39 moves. After the fireworks of the first 3 games and sharpness of Game 4, the players paused for a breather in Game 5. With 7 Games still remaining, the WCC promises enough for the chess connoisseurs. Last year at Chennai the match started with four draws before Carlsen took control finished Anand in 10 games. No one wanted to have the repeat of that scenario and the players have obliged. Game 1 was a fighting draw; Games 2 & 3 were emphatic victories and the last two Games were intriguing draws.