Vinastradamus

Anyway, back to prognosticating. I’ll go out on a limb and say: Anand will win the match (possibly in tiebreaks), he will use both 1.e4 and 1.d4 as white, and will largely use a Nimzo move order of 1…Nf6 and 2…e6 as Black against 1.d4.

– Vinay Bhat, before the Anand-Gelfand World Championship Match in 2012

Not a bad prediction, if I may say so myself. The Nimzo move order didn’t quite come true for much of the match, as he only played it twice as opposed to the Semi-Slav four times in the regular portion. However, Anand did win in tiebreaks, so that’s not so bad.

In that post, I also wrote “Either way, I think this [the Gelfand one] is the last World Championship that Anand can win, so if he has to pass the baton, I’d rather it go to one of those two (Carlsen or Aronian) than to anybody else.”

Some time has passed since then and Anand definitely has been making some improvements in late 2012 and through much of 2013, but I don’t think it’ll be enough to offset Magnus’s simply better form now. So my brain says +2 for Magnus (6.5 – 4.5, over in 11 games), and I have some worries that it’ll be a bit like the Kasparov – Kramnik match from 2000 in that Kasparov made no headway really and was never in the driver’s seat. In fact, Kasparov was somewhat lucky that the score only ended as +2 for Kramnik and didn’t even seem to be fighting in some of the games.

That said, I’ve always been an Anand fan and I’m hoping for a great match. I think there’s a pretty short list of people who – at the height of their powers – could play with Magnus when Magnus is in best form (or whatever 2870 buys you these days). Anand is one of them, and if he can get himself back into physical and mental shape, then who knows.

Some of my colleagues have been asking me more about chess recently  some even showing up to the USCL games at the Mechanics Institute which is just a few blocks from our office. One analogy that I tried to make was that this is a bit like LeBron and Kobe going at it one-on-one now, with Magnus as the younger, stronger, and better player, but Kobe as the aging and wounded “Lion in Winter” who can still put together a brilliant performance but can also turn in a real clunker from the field as well.

Some might complain about the Kobe comparison, but as Aronian has said, every top player knows just how strong Anand is, it’s just a question of whether the ICC fans know it as well. Grischuk has said that besides Kasparov, Anand is the strongest player he’s ever faced. And by computer move matching (there are flaws with this of course, and feel free to design a better study instead), Anand doesn’t compare too badly at all with the giants of chess history.

As for openings this time around … predicting Magnus’s openings will likely be an effort in futility. I could easily see Magnus playing all of 1.c4, 1.d4, 1.e4, and 1.Nf3. In fact, of those moves, it’s 1.d4 that I see as being least likely and 1.e4 the most likely, with 1.Nf3 and 1.c4 following in likelihood. With 1.Nf3, I could see the Reti/English playing a role (something like 1.Nf3 d5 2.g3 c6 3.c4 and so on).

On the Black side, I think Magnus will stick with the Berlin as Black against 1.e4, and the Nimzo/QGD as Black. Besides that, I’ll guess at the …a6 (Chebanenko) Slav.

For Anand, I think the openings will be of utmost importance. Somehow, he’ll have to try and get Magnus out of his comfort zone. In my view, that means playing in the style of what I’ve heard described as the “nuclear option” as Black.

So against 1.e4, I’d suggest the French (!). That’s not because I play it myself, but because the French often leads to somewhat irrational positions where I think concrete preparation might make more of a difference. Thus, the Winawer against 3.Nc3 and either 3…c5 or 3…Nf6 against the Tarrasch. Magnus also hasn’t shown much against the French in my view, or at least less than he’s shown elsewhere.

The Najdorf can also be very sharp, but the sharpness factor seems to largely be in White’s court without necessarily a huge tradeoff in ambition – whereas in the French, many quieter sidelines don’t lead to any whiff of an edge in my view, the Najdorf offers White more pathways to a strategic game with some promise. The Winawer French might hang by much more of a tactical thread, but with plenty of time to prepare, I don’t see that being an issue. And like Magnus, Anand has played virtually every opening during his career (even beating the likes of Kasparov with the French in a slow game – see this game from Reggio Emilia in 1991).

Probably the Sicilian is more likely though in reality, and there I’d say that the 2…e6 Sicilian is a better option than the 2…d6 Najdorf.  Meanwhile, 1…e5 is probably also more likely than the French in reality, but with some different lines back in play for Anand. The Closed Lopez and Berlin aren’t great ideas for this match in my view, but the more concrete Archangel lines that he used to play are what I’d guess at.

Against 1.d4/1.c4/1.Nf3, I see Slav and Semi-Slav like setups with 1…d5 (or 1…c6 if need be) being pretty likely. Once again, the name of the game is to try and steer things into more forcing lines or openings where Black’s path to equality seems clear against the sidelines.

As White, I don’t think Anand can play 1.e4 and hope to make headway versus the Berlin. What does that leave? I don’t 1.c4 will be a good option for him, so 1.d4 is what I’d expect to see. Meanwhile, if he plays 1.e4, I would say the Scotch is where he’ll turn. After all, he already beat one of Magnus’s seconds in the Scotch earlier this year.

Of these predictions, I’d say the French is the most out there. We’ll see, starting tonight!

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