WC 2014 Sochi: Anand vs Carlsen – the Grunfeld Defence

Today, we’ll have a look at the first game of the World Chess Championship Match 2014, Sochi between Vishy Anand and Magnus Carlsen. There are always quite a lot of things you can learn from top GMs games.

This article was prepared by IM Saravanan. Though it is quite a lengthy article (also the game is quite long), IM Saravanan has written it in a very nice manner. He explains about the pre-game preparation and studying of your opponent and I found it very interesting. :) Let’s go!

World Chess Championship 2014, Sochi
Anand – Carlsen

1.d4 The Queen Pawn opening. This was expected. Having failed to crack Carlsen in the previous match with 1.e4, (The King Pawn opening), it was almost sure that Anand would return back to 1.d4.

By the way, when Anand had risen up to the ranks in the early nineties, it was common that most of the strong players would open with only one of these first moves. But, nowadays, with computer help, it is common to see everyone play either of these two moves, or even other moves such as 1.Nf3 (Reti Opening) or 1.c4 (English Opening).

Anand himself started playing 1.d4 regularly starting with his match against Kramnik in 2008.

1…Nf6 2.c4 g6!? 3.Nc3 d5!? (in chess terms, the notation ‘!?’ stands for ‘interesting move’)
WC 2014 sochi
White to play

Supposedly, a surprise, as Carlsen chooses the ‘dynamic’ Grunfeld defence, named in honour of Ernst Grunfeld, an Austrian player.

Opening Nomenclature [Openings get their names from illustrious practitioners of the past (Alekhine defence, Keres Attack, Sicilian Najdorf etc), from the players of a particular city, region or country by whom the system of play was adopted frequently in the olden days (Italian Game, Volga Gambit, Sicilian Defence) etc. And please meditate on where the Mad Dog variation could have originated...]

The ‘attacker’ Anand is expected to play dynamically against the ‘solid’ Carlsen, as they have both been regularly branded. These are vague generalizations, and thus restrictive typically. It is impossible to rise through the levels of chess without being good in every way of playing, and it is too much of a cliche to generalize players with such labels.

But at the same time, it is a surprise in two ways:

  • This is not Carlsen’s mainstay defence against 1.d4 – he has dabbled with the opening only quite long ago.
  • Anand himself plays the Grunfeld regularly with Black. So, in a way, Carlsen’s choice is courageous and dangerous, to play an opening which his opponent has vast experience too.

4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bd2
WC 2014 sochi
Black to play

A mild surprise, as this move is not the most straight forward way to fight for an advantage. Also, the bishop doesn’t look really developed at d2 – maximum rapid development of the pieces to active squares is one of the important requirements of sound opening play. Typically, this is a ‘side-variation’ in the opening compared to the ‘mainline’.

A broad strategy of Grunfeld defence is, after striking at the centre with 3…d5, Black develops his dark bishop at g7 – a typical ‘fianchetto’ (method of play when any side develops his bishop at the corner: b2-b3 & Bc1-b2, g2-g3 & Bf1-g2, …b7-b6 & …Bc8-b7 etc.) The most straight-forward method for White would have been to expand on the centre with 5.e2-e4.

At the top levels of chess, playing with White pieces is always a considerable advantage, having the lead of moving first. It is regular that White pushes for an advantage and Black tries to equalize. But only at the highest levels.

5…Bg7 6.e4 Nxc3 7.Bxc3

And this was the idea behind the funny looking development 5.Bd2: generally this recapture is done with the pawn on b2, thus building a large centre. With the move in the game, being placed at c3, the White bishop stands almost ‘face to face’ with his counterpart at g7, thus reducing his influence. The move has its merits as well as demerits…

From the dimension of a match, what you see is a complex psychological clash – a game of cat and mouse. If they could talk freely, this is what the man and the boy would be talking over the board:

Carlsen: ‘Vishy! How is my Grunfeld surprise? They say I am solid, they say you are way too dynamic. Now, how is my choice for you?’

Anand: ‘Maggie! Even if I’m impressed, you very well know that I’m not gonna show it! But let’s see where you are trying to hit me with this…’

Carlsen: ‘Maybe I’m trying to show that I’m not averse to dynamic play! Maybe I’m courageous to show that I can meet you where the whole world says you are the strongest!’

WC 2014 sochi

Anand: ‘Go slow there – you are probably prepared in your mainlines, but I know many corners of this opening, which almost the whole world doesn’t know they even exist. So, I can be more slippery than you think – now, have my 5.Bd2!’

Carlsen: ‘Aha! So you’re showing me you can play anything against this particular opening?’

Anand: ‘And more, Boyo! And more…’

Gelfand surprised Anand with the same Grunfeld in the first game of their world championship in 2012 at Moscow, to which Anand responded with another sideline. So, this may probably be Anand’s typical way of responding to early surprises in matches: to resort to lines which are not direct in nature, but which he knows in detail.

Note: you can see the video “Gems from Anand-Gelfand WC Match” in our Youtube Channel. It is a four-part video series: Part-1Part-2Part-3, and Part-4.

7…0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6
WC 2014 sochi
White to play

The d4-pawn is attacked. A typical strategy when Black allows White’s pawns to occupy the centre initially – he attacks them later on – a style of play known as Hypermodernism.

Carlsen too played his moves quickly, which makes us be sure that, this position (along with thousands of others!) has been studied by both players thoroughly before the match, with the help of  their computers & seconds. But, really, it might not have been a surprise for Anand, and worse, he might even have anticipated it!

You see, 8…Nc6 has been played earlier, by one of Carlsen’s former seconds, Ian Nepomniachtchi. Got the connection?! The Penny dropped?! Yes, when you are studying an opponent for a match, you have to have a thorough investigation about his openings, seconds, breakfast, pets – it all helps…

9. Nf3 Bg4.Continuing his attack on the d4-pawn.10.d5 Bxf3 11.Bxg7
WC 2014 sochi
Black to play

Novelty! In chess terms, a move which has not been played before, in those millions and millions of chess games published in vast databases, which all chess players religiously collect and update. This, people, is what opening preparation about. You research a position, compile games which have been played in a particular position, find a way to deviate from them, and voila! you have a Novelty.

Preparing such surprises and new ways to play, is Anand’s specialty. At the top, everyone works hard – not only do they find Novelties in their play, they also anticipate and analyse opponents’ novelties too.

But this is an area where Anand is particularly respected, ever since he managed to blow away Kramnik off the board with Black in two games with the help of his fantastic preparation in their match in 2008. To quote GM Peter Svidler, ‘Vishy has been working hard on openings for the last 20 years‘.

Understandably, Carlsen started taking a long time hereon, whereas Anand was making moves fast and confident. A small psychological edge early in the match?

11…Kxg7 12.gxf3 Ne5 13.0-0-0
WC 2014 sochi
Black to play

A simple tactic to avoid here would be 13…Nxf3?? when White wins with a ‘Fork’ – checking the Black king at g7 and attacking the Black knight at f3 simultaneously. (?? is chess term for a ‘Horrible Move’ / ‘Blunder’). Strong players recognise such tactics in less than a second.

For a fan of Anand, this indeed looked like a good spectacle. Anand probably armed with his own home preparation; Carlsen taking much more time than his opponent; a probability of dynamic play, as the kings are lodged on opposite sides of the board which leads to sharp play most of the time. Now, White will try to push his pawns in the centre, and even the h-pawn, and thus use his space advantage or even cook up an attack against the Black king.


A theoretical ‘break’: attacking and opening up the centre. The best way of play is always directed towards the centre.

14.Qc3 f6 15.Bh3
WC 2014 sochi
Black to play

The complexities of chess are in action now. The White bishop at h3 eyes the c8 square, thus stopping Black’s rooks from being developed there, from where they can harass the White queen. White’s queen and rook on d1 seem to be quite actively placed, but he has a ‘doubled pawn’ at f2 & f3, which may turn out to be weaknesses later on.

But Black’s position is very solid. He somewhat controls the dark squares, and has no permanent pawn weaknesses – animportant basic, which almost always decides the strategic balance of a position, when there are no serious dynamics in play.

Analysing this with reference to the players, it is not surprising that Anand doesn’t mind pawn weaknesses in his play as long as he has dynamic play for his pieces, whereas Carlsen steers clear of any structural weaknesses.

Chess is a game where tastes and preferences decide the players’ styles of play, and they produce the best when they stick to their specialties.

For someone who probably had to think and solve his problems over the board more than preparation, Carlsen has definitely done well so far.

15…cxd5 16.exd5

A complex decision. Simply, though White ruins his pawn structure, his bishop is a strong piece now, he can now kick the Black knight away from e5, and maintain a good control over the centre. But his structural weaknesses will remain.
WC 2014 sochi
Black to play

16…Nf7 17.f4 (Keeping Black’s knight away from e5) 17…Qd6 18.Qd4 Rad8 19.Be6 Qb6![‘!’ denotes ‘A good move’]

20.Qd2?! [‘?!‘ denotes ‘A questionable move’ or ‘A dubious move’]
WC 2014 sochi
Black to play

Now, apart from the moves played, we have the players’ psychologies, shadow fights, and personalities participating in decisions. Judging that White’s queen is placed at the centre and thus dominates the board, Carlsen offered a queen exchange.

Logically speaking, exchanging the queens with 20.Qxb6 would have been the right decision: White can try to take advantage of his control of the c-file later on, after 20.Qxb6 axb6 21.Kb1 with the idea that white can play Rd1-c1-c7.

In any position, one has to find ways to activate his pieces to their maximum potential, thus increasing their influence and scope. And for rooks, planting them on the 7th rank (at the c7 square, at this instance) would be a dream placemen.

So what made Anand to reject it? He might not have wanted to enter an endgame against Carlsen, where he doesn’t have good memories from the previous World Championships. Or simply that he wanted to keep the queens on the board in a complex position. But, as a result, White now cedes a tiny bit of his advantage.

Personally, I feel this is the most important part of the game. If at all there is a single reason that Anand lost to Carlsen in the World Championship Match in 2013 in Chennai, it was due to mishandling such positions – Positions where there is no obvious dynamism.


Another important point, which required slight precision. Now, Black is threatening to play …Nf7-d8, attacking the White bishop on e6, and even to exchange it. After all, in open positions – like the one in front of you – the bishop is generally more powerful than a knight. (Knights are better off when the position is of a ‘closed’ nature, which more pawns on the board which are permanently ‘blocked’.)
WC 2014 sochi
White to play

It’s White’s turn now. How should White proceed here? You may think about it for a while as the game will be continued in the second part of this article. Stay tuned for that!

In the meanwhile, you can discuss the White’s next move, plans for both players and the evaluation of the position, with other students by writing in the comments below. Also, did you like reading this article by IM Saravanan? Feel free to share your thoughts about it. :)

P.S. As you came across about openings and opening preparation, you can check our opening courses!

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