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.