Why Two Draws Equal A Win For Carlsen

The first two games of the World Championship in Chennai ended in short, sweat-free draws. Not the most dynamic start to a match, to be sure, but also not completely unusual at this stage, as the players try to test the other to see on what sort of footing the match will land.

However, several commentators - some of them grandmasters - have called these two results a psychological victory for Anand. Their reasoning consists of two arguments:

(a) Carlsen is younger and so has better stamina than Anand, so reducing a 12-game match to essentially a 10-game match with two easy draws is better for Anand;

(b) Anand now has more information about Carlsen's openings, which his incredible team, combined with his own match experience, can use to out-prepare Magnus in the remaining games.

While there is undoubtedly some truth in these statements, I have a couple of problems with this assessment. Firstly, Carlsen may be half Anand's age, but chess stamina is slightly different to the traditional sense of the term. Anand's experience in championships means he knows how to take care of himself in big matches - how to relax, how to recharge. He doesn't have the same level of nervous energy as the challenger. He's also in his home city in India, and as I well know, playing chess in India can be perilous for a westerner. Besides, with six rest days to come over the remaining 10 games, I'm not sure how big a deal stamina is at this stage.

More importantly than this, however, is a realisation of each player's relative strengths. Unquestionably, Magnus is stronger at playing a 'normal' position that neither player has seen or prepared before, while Anand is better at match preparation and using a team of seconds and computers. That means that Carlsen is comparably most at risk in the early games of the match.

Camp Anand has been preparing solidly for half a year to unleash crushing novelties and powerful improvements that any moral would struggle to match over-the-board. These ideas, prepared over several months, are far more dangerous for Carlsen than anything Anand's team will prepare over the next few days - there's just no way that intra-match preparation can be as thorough as that which has come before. I said it before the match and I'll say it again: If Carlsen can weather the storm of opening preparation in the first couple of games, he'll be in good stead to take out the match in the second half.  In that sense, the Caro-Kann was an excellent choice; it's highly unlikely that Anand's team had prepared for it. Priority number one, if I was in Carlsen's shoes, was to dodge Anand's preparation in the early rounds, and so far he's done that pretty well.

The next four games are critical. Carlsen may seek to modify his opening choices slightly, particularly within the Caro Kann with Black, just to avoid Anand's team's preparation. However, he shouldn't deviate so much that he finds himself landed back in Anand's pre-match preparation, which could be a minefield to navigate under normal time controls. However, if the Norwegian can successfully negate the Indian's theoretical arsenal by round 6, he'll be a big favourite to win the match. Until then, every pair of draws is one more, albeit small, step up the ladder to Carlsen's last big title.


  • 3 years ago

    GM smurfo

    I guess I should reply to ex0du5's somewhat bizarre comment. Of course my article was not at all designed to be culturally insensitive; I have been to India four times (including most recently Bengaluru in June, as you can see from my website www.davidsmerdon.com), I live with an Indian, and I am in fact partially of Indian descent. Of my four trips to the sub-continent, I never once drank unbottled water, and I was only sick in New Delhi after eating food from a street vendor that my local Indian friends told me they would never have eaten from - it was entirely my fault :)

    However, the fact remains that many Western tourism departments advise tourists to be careful of getting sick (particularly stomach issues) when travelling to India. I mention this as a possible confounding factor in Carlsen's world title attempt (and, in fact, illness is probably the most likely way that Carlsen could lose the match from this point, having just completed game 8). It's no secret that I am rooting for Carlsen in this match, but that's only because I think it's good for chess in general to have a world champion who is also #1 on the rankings.

  • 3 years ago


    Great game of chess today...excellent from start to finish. 


    interestingly on the betting, you can now get 5/1 on Anand......

  • 3 years ago


    "the Caro-Kann was an excellent choice; it's highly unlikely that Anand's team had prepared for it."

    I doubt that. When you plan on playing 1. e4, how can you not prepare for the Caro-Kann?

  • 3 years ago


    Concerning your trip to New Delhi, one has to question whether you drank unbottled water, which travellers not from the region are advised strongly against.  It is sad, though, that you would use the story as sympathetic to Carlsen as simple precautions will prevent that from being an issue.  There is huge business in Chennai and Bengaluru and many western visitors every year go there without issue.  Many of those visitors are executives, and if it were as perilous as the portrayal here attempts, the situation would be quite different.

    The rest of the considerations presented are equally odd.  You at one point in one sentence argue that Anand's preparation skill is great and is why the first games will be better suited to Anand, and then in the very next sentence explain that was why Carlsen playing Caro-Kann was so great, as Anand wouldn't have prepared for it.  So somehow preparation was important for something not prepared for, something something hand-waving something Carlsen!  This is considered thoughtful commentary these days??

    Clearly, this article is just reaching around to justify a conclusion it already supports.  The first 2 games were draws because white, in both games, chose the drawish path.  The next 2 games were hard-fought draws, with Anand showing the advantage through much of 3 and Carlsen showing the advantage through much of 4.  Both have prepared tremendously, and either one of them could take advantage in the coming games.  If you must choose to prognosticate, spend your time looking at the content of the games and the variety of tactical, positional, and other combinatorial skills each of the players have demonstrated proficiency in to make your predictions.  When, like this article, you are simply reaching to a foregone conclusion, you appear to lose rational thought and end up grasping excuses that border on cultural insensitivity and irrationality.

  • 3 years ago


    It seems that in this age of 24/7 news cycles, everyone is in a hurry to analyze every event before the results are in or the facts are known.

    While the speculation is sometimes interesting or perhaps even correct, it is almost always controversial with partisans from various sides. Still, it is just that, speculation (albiet informed speculation on occasion).

    So, sit back, enjoy the ride, and find out who wins.  Otherwise you will be suffering from something akin to what the sex therapists try to treat: "premature evaluation".....LOL.

  • 3 years ago


    firstly carlsen is the fav and will be throughout the the match,so you think anand sits and do nothing just the team am surprised a GM thunks like this.......

  • 3 years ago


    Why two utimately boring draws equal death of the game we used to call chess

  • 3 years ago


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    A very thoughtful article and your reasoning seems very sound. I think the biggest concern for a Carlsen fan is the shortness of the classical game match. As others have stated the shorter the match the higher the probability the "weaker" player will win. If the match was 24 games instead of 12 Carlsen would be a huge favorite.

  • 3 years ago


    Apropos your comment on playing in India being 'perilous' for a westerners, i wud say that by all accounts, including those of the western press present there, Carlsen is having a great time existentially at Chennai. Moreover, he said this himself- in unusually categorical terms - in the press meet after match 3, much to the disappointment of many who were expecting an ambivalent response from Carlsen :)

  • 3 years ago


    Thanks for the article.

  • 3 years ago


    Obviously Carlsen will win. Is just matter of time to become the best player ever, far beyond from other dinosaurs like Kasparov or Capablanca. Better he wins, or I will lose my 10 grand! At least game 3 is almost granted he will get it.

  • 3 years ago

    GM smurfo

    Nice comments, guys. First I should clarify that I mean that Anand has a comparative advantage in opening preparation, and Carlsen has a comparative advantage in playing 'normal' positions. Sometimes I tend to talk like an economist in my day-to-day conversations by mistake ;) Of course, both Carlsen and Anand are incredibly strong and better than 99.9999% of chessplayers when given a non-prepared position (say, a Chess960 game), but I think Carlsen is slightly stronger than Anand.

    Second, while I believe the first two game results were good for Carlsen, I should repeat that I have always maintained that most commentators have been overestimating Carlsen's chances of winning. At the current official betting odds, I would put money on Anand without question; Vishy's chances of winning are much higher than the odds suggest. Carlsen is still the favourite in my mind, but all of these factors, including the home-ground advantage in India, means that the advantage is pretty slight in my opinion.

  • 3 years ago


    Why do I get the feeling a lot of pro-Carlsen people will be backtracking on what they said very soon. If Anand wins, there should be a large number of people saying they knew it would happen!

  • 3 years ago


    I like your reasoning in this article.  I have a question for you however.  If Anand was preparing 1.e4 openings, why would he not be prepared for the Caro?  Sicilian, French, Spanish, Caro; these are all solid defenses that Anand should be expecting if he plays 1.e4.   Why would he be terribly surprised by a Caro and not be ready for it?

  • 3 years ago


    Thanks GM smurfo. I agree with your thoughts about Carlsen's odds. I think the fact Anand could not win as white in the second game was a big 1/2  point in Carlsen's favor. As you already mentioned, being a westerner in India is not easy. Also it is well known that teams tend to perform better in their home countries, so Carlsen has a lot of factors going against him, yet he has managed to break even. I am very eager to see what happens in the third match ....

  • 3 years ago


    anand is scared of carlsen. he wants to draw a lot to get carlsen frustrated and carlsen will overpress and make mistakes.

              GO ANAND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 3 years ago


    Good analysis.  I agree that Carlsen's priority should be to try and avoid any lines (and novelties in particular) that Anand has prepared in advance; and I think his current play is demonstrating that aspect of his preparations.  At the same time, Anand has to prevent going too far into the unknown without a clear exit strategy (i.e., forcing a draw) to avoid Carlsen's strengths.

    Folks tend to not like draws (player's don't either I suspect); but in the early stages of such a high profile match, it should not be a surprise.  Both players are playing safe; for now ....

  • 3 years ago


    @balachandar I think what he is saying is that is where anand excels. Keep in mind we are talking about 2 of the top players in the world. Not many things seperate the two so where you have an advantage you have to press it hard and you have to cover up your weaknesses. Usually whoever knows their opponent and themselves the best will win. So in that limited way of looking at it, anand and his seconds/computers are focusing hard on their task as it is one thing that anand can boast as an advantage, and at some point, Magnus is going to have to stop running and face Vishys resources head on

  • 3 years ago


    Good article, I liked it. Why was it such a big surprise that Carlsen used the Caro-Kann in the second game. In my knowledge it isa fine defense, right? I was watching the live-game also and the commentator seemed also pretty excited about that oppening. Could someone explain me that? Thanks!

  • 3 years ago


    Maybe you are right, but this article portrays Anand as someone who just sits with his team and computer and prepares long opening lines. Obviously, he's much more than that. 

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