The World Chess Championship 2013 between defending champion Wisvanathan Anand and challenger and contender Magus Carlsen is well under way with 4 games, a good third and a phase of its own, already behind us and still tied 2-2.
What may we glean from these games so far? Quite a bit, both psychologically and chess-wise.
First, the psychological aspect and context:
4 games and 4 draws, with chances to play for a win game 3 (29...Bxb2), suggest Anand may suffer from lack of resolve or resoluteness. He does not seem (mentally) prepared to go all out, i.e. taking the chances that come along, which, according to Jan Timman, suggests good form. He might plan to make 12 draws, but if so, it shows a different, though still legitimate, kind of sportsmanship, being more concerned with winning the match than producing good games to entertain an audience.
On the other hand, Anand plays better than in a very long time and we're experiencing the difference between match-play and tournaments, i.e. Magnus scores well against the top, whereas Anand may draw Magnus in individual encounters but scores less well against weaker opposition.
Being the world champion suggests some decorum; play for a win, if not at all costs, but Anand hesitates at crucial junctions.
He must be careful not to start a trend of being over precautious since this hesitation might result in him being mentally unable to dig in his heels when under a real onslaught from Magnus. Also, pressing when possible gets you into the right state of mind required to pull through. Anand may appear untouched by Kasparov's presence but who knows what is really going on in his mind. He knows Magnus is half his age and in much better shape than himself, which amounts to being able to play more tougher games in a row.
By now Magnus appears comfortable and to have settled well in the role of contender and challenger and comes across much more composed than the two first games suggested. His movements, taking his jacket on and off, how he moves the pieces and presses the clock, indicate a new found confidence. At the beginning of the match, fair enough, he seemed to be wearing his nerves on his sleeves.
Often Magnus needs a few games to get warm and is known to be slightly slow starter, but once the snowball starts rolling, it soon transforms into an avalanche. Magnus' growing confidence also shows in his decisions; he went for the critical 18...Bxa2 in the fourth game, whereas Anand in game 3 never got to 29...Bxb2. Anand may already be thinking of saving energy for later instead of working out the most critical variations, although the position after a possible 29...Bxb2 remains complicated. However, being willing to enter such complications, on a psychological level, sends a clear message; you're not that concerned with losing and are enjoying chess for what it is; a game between gents. Anand’s skilled defensive play in game four should also provide him a well deserved confidence boost.
When Anand hesitated to play 29...Bxb2, he displays the kind of insecurity world champions are not allowed, i.e. hesitation might be grist to Magnus' mill, telling Magnus he has more mental space, so to speak, more leeway, to play on, knowing that Anand, because of suffering from lack of resolve, might not be able to withstand a push materialised in going for risky continuations, exhibiting the confidence to come out on top.
Anand not going for critical lines shows Magnus that he, instead, might venture the most critical, as Anand may be too scared since a mistake in the malstroem may lead to a loss, which is to be avoided at all cost. However, playing it safe, might be overplaying it when facing enterprising players like Magnus, who plays for a win not matter what and also are willing and able to do the math and take the risk.
Chess-wise, Anand's lack of resolve shows in concrete moves; avoiding critical variations, he perhaps is trying to safe the match home. In game 3, Magnus tried a bluff (and succeeded) because Anand did not call it by picking up the gauntlet (29...Bxb2).
Were Magnus calmer in game 3, he appared even calmer in game 4, confidently playing for a win even being on the black side of the rather sterile (opinions differ on this matter, of course) Berlin Wall.
Anand certainly misplayed the opening, and since he did not blunder, a pawn or a piece, deceased Ukrainian GM Efim Geller (1925-1998) suggested there must be something wrong with the general strategy in this particular game, his set-up did not work out as possibly planned.
Magnus looked very confident in game 4, moving and pressing the clock resolutely, knowing how far he can go, what risks he can take etc., acknowledging Anand might not be up to the challenge. Magnus also has less to lose, next shot at the title will already come in Nov. 2014 and then Anand will be 45.
One more point favours Magnus; he goes to the rest day knowing he played a very solid game with Black against the world champion. Anand might be worried, knowing Magnus easily neutralised his initiative and at the same time slightly more confident by holding what many assumed to be a lost game.
Hopefully, Magnus (a.k.a Mr. Pretty-Whatever-Opening) will start the second phase and 5th game Friday 15th in an upbeat mood, and play the openings at least a tad sharper and more ambitious that what we hitherto have seen.