At Black's 34th move in Game 2 of the Carlsen-Anand match, Anand blundered with 34...h5??. What were his chances for salvaging the draw if he had defended actively via, say, 34...Qd2 or 34...Qd4, counterattacking the f2 pawn?

[fen "5rk1/4R1pp/3q1p2/p1p2P2/P3Q2P/5p2/2P2PPK/8 w - - 0 1"]
[Event "WCC"]
[Site "Sochi"]
[Date "2014.11.09"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Magnus Carlsen"]
[Black "Viswanathan Anand"]
[Result "1-0"]

1.g3 h5?? 
    ( 1...Qd2 )
        ( 1...Qd4 )
2.Qb7 1-0

I'm looking for explanations of how White should then push for victory, and how Black should best respond, backed up with concrete analysis. Please note that I'm not at all interested in pure engine evaluations, but rather verbal, human annotations of the possibilities (though engine-checked analysis is certainly encouraged).

  • Queen+Rook versus Queen+Rook is a middlegame. – Rauan Sagit Nov 9 '14 at 21:12
  • 3
    @RauanSagit, "a rose by any other name ..." If someone chooses to refer to this as a middlegame rather than an endgame, I take no issue. But I think my choice of tags is also not unreasonable. – ETD Nov 9 '14 at 21:47
  • Endgame = when the King can actively participate without risking becoming checkmated. I think it is important to point out that Q+R is a middlegame and not an endgame, since otherwise chess players tend to forget this fact and underestimate the importance of King safety in such positions. Yes, I would prefer to put a middlegame tag on this position. But I don't mind a different tag. Just wanted to point out that Q+R is a middlegame, that's all. – Rauan Sagit Nov 9 '14 at 21:51
  • 2
    @RauanSagit, I would still call this an endgame, and would note that the line between middlegame and endgame is an often muddy one, about which two well-informed parties can reasonably disagree. I propose we move to meta for any further discussion of this and affected tagging conventions. – ETD Nov 9 '14 at 21:59
  • Sounds good! :) – Rauan Sagit Nov 9 '14 at 22:00

In my analysis, I found Black's kingside position to be more solid than it seems at first glance. After Kh8 and Rg8, Black defends g7 very well. Black should play 34...Qd2, after which his Black's strategy is simple - push h6 to create a flight square for the king. Keep the queen active and target White's c-pawn and a-pawn. In some situations, Black can even go for a queen exchange and enter into a drawn rook endgame.

35. Qxf3 is drawn, as per what I analyzed. Black grabs the c-pawn and it's impossible to break Black's kingside without advancing the kingside pawns. But if White advances the kingside pawns, then his own king is opened to to checks by the Black Queen. I played this position in a Blitz game with Houdini 1.5 and Stockfish 4 and was able to draw both. Here's the sample game with Houdini and Stockfish.

  [FEN "5rk1/4R1pp/3q1p2/p1p2P2/P3Q2P/5pP1/2P2P1K/8 b - - 0 34"]
  [White "Houdini 1.5/Stockfish 4"]
  [Black "Wes"]

  1... Qd2 2. Qxf3 Qxc2 3. Ra7 (3. Kg2 Kh8) 3... Qd2 4. Kg2 Kh8 5. Qc6 Qb4 
  6. Rc7 Rg8  7. Qd5 Qxa4  8. Rxc5  h6  9. Rxa5  Qb4  10. Ra7  Re8  11. Rd7  Qe4+  
  12. Qxe4  Rxe4  13. h5  (13. Rd8+ Kh7  14. h5  Ra4  15. Rf8  Rb4=) 13... Kg8  
  14. Kf3  Ra4  15. g4  Rb4 16. Kg3 Rb3+  17. f3  Rb4  18. Rc7  Ra4  19. Rb7  Rc4 
  20. Ra7  Rb4  21. Rd7  Ra4  22. Re7  Rb4 23. Kg2  Ra4 24. Rd7  Rb4  25. Rc7  Ra4  
  26. Kf2  Ra3  27. Rb7  Rc3 28. Rd7  Rb3  29. Re7  Ra3 30. Rc7  Rb3  31. Kg2  Ra3
  32. Rb7=

White can also try the tricky idea of 35. Qe6+!? followed by 36. Qe3, hoping to go into a slightly better rook endgame, which by no means is easy to win and probably drawn. Black doesn't have to go into this endgame and can choose to simply follow the former plan of keeping the queen active and targeting White's queenside pawns.

   [FEN "5rk1/4R1pp/3q1p2/p1p2P2/P3Q2P/5p2/2P2PPK/8 w - - 0 34"]
   [White "Carlsen"]
   [Black "Anand"]

    1. g3 Qd2 2. Qe6+!? Kh8 3. Qe3 (3. Re8 Qxf2+ 4. Kh3 Qf1+ 5. Kg4 h5+! 6. Kxh5 Rxe8
    7. Qxe8+ Kh7=) (3. Qf7 Qxf2+ 4. Kh3 Qf1+ 5. Kg4 h5+! 6. Qxh5+ Kg8 7. Qg6 Qc4+ 
    8. Kxf3 Qf1+ 9. Kg4 Qd1+ 10. Kh3 Qh1+ 11. Kg4 Qd1+=) 3...Qd5 (3...Qxc2 4. Re8+-) 
    (3... Qxe3 4. fxe3 Rb8 5. Kg1 g5 6. fxg6 hxg6 7. Ra7 Rb2 8. Kf2 Rxc2+ 
    9. Kxf3 c4 10. Rxa5 Ra2 (43... f5) 11. Ra7 Kg8  
    12. e4 (12. Ke4 c3 13. Kd3 c2 14. Kd2 f5 15. a5=) 12...c3 13. Ke3 Rg2 
    14. Rc7 Rxg3+ 15. Kd4 Rg1 16. Rxc3 Ra1 17. Rc4 Kf7 
    18. Kd5 g5 19. hxg5 (19. h5 Rd1+ 20. Kc6 g4 21. a5 g3 22. Rc2 Ra1 
    23. Kb6 Rb1+ $11) 19...fxg5 20. e5 Rd1+ 21. Rd4 Rb1+=)
    4. Re8 (4. Rc7 Rg8 5. Rxc5 Qd1 6. Rc3 h6 7. Qxf3 Qxf3 8. Rxf3 Rc8=)
    4... Kg8 5. Qe7 Qf7 6. Rxf8+ Qxf8 7. Qc7 h6 8. Qxa5 Kh7 9. Qb6 c4 10. a5
    Qa3 11. a6 Qc1 12. g4 Qxc2 13. a7 Qe4 14. Kg3 c3 15. Qc5 c2=

A successful strategy for White therefore would involve keeping the a-pawn and c-pawn alive and also try to push g4-g5 to break Black's kingside. Black can still counter this approach with the strategy of active play.

A good try for White is 35. Qc4+!?, grabbing the c-pawn and creating a passed pawn. White will try to break Black's kingside with g4-g5. The drawback of this line is Black's pawn on f3 remains alive and therefore Black is able to set up a counter attack against White's f2 pawn (White's king cannot defend it) and also set up mate threats on g2. Black can also counter the threat of g4-g5 with the incredible idea of Kh7 followed by Rh8! in some variations.

I believe 35. Qc4+!? is the most interesting line, but Black can still hold with active play. Here's some analysis -

   [FEN "5rk1/4R1pp/3q1p2/p1p2P2/P3Q2P/5p2/2P2PPK/8 w - - 0 34"]
   [White "Carlsen"]
   [Black "Anand"]

    1. g3 Qd2 2. Qc4+!? Kh8 3. Qxc5 h6 4. Rc7 (4. c4 Rd8 5. Qa7 (5. Qe3 Qd1 6. Qe1 Qd4  
    7. Re3 Qxc4 8. Qxa5 Rd1 9. Qa8+ Kh7 10. Qxf3 Ra1 11. Re2 Rxa4) 5... Rd4!! 
    6. Qa8+ Kh7 7. Qxf3 Rxh4+ 8. gxh4 Qd6+ 9. Kh3 Qxe7) (4. Ra7 Re8 5. Rxa5 Qe1 
    6. Ra7 Qf1) 4... Re8 5. Qa7 Rg8 (5... Re2 6. Rc8+ Kh7 7. Qf7 Rxf2+ 8. Kh3 Rh2+ 
    9. Kg4 h5+ 10. Qxh5+) 6. Qe3 (6. c4?? Qe2 7. Qe3 Re8!) 6... Qd6 (6... Qxe3 
    7. fxe3 Re8 8. Kg1 (8. Rc3 Re4 9. Kg1 Rxa4 10. Kf2 Kh7 11. Kxf3 Ra1 12. Rc7 h5 
    13. c4 a4 14. Ra7 a3 15. e4 a2 16. Kg2 Kg8 17. c5 Rc1 18. Rxa2 Rxc5 19. Ra8+ Kh7
    20. Kf3 g6 21. Ra7+ Kh6 22. Ra6 Kg7) 8... Rxe3 9. Rc5 Re2 (9.. Re5 
    10. Rxe5 fxe5 11. c4 Kg8 12. c5 Kf7 13. g4 Ke7 14. g5 hxg5 15. hxg5 Kd7 
    16. f6 gxf6 17. g6) 10. c4 Rg2+ 11. Kf1 Rxg3 12. Rxa5 Rg4 13. Rc5 Rxh4 14. Kf2 h5
    15. a5 (15. Kxf3 Kh7 16. a5 Rh3+ 17. Ke4 Ra3 18. Rb5 h4=) 15... Kh7 
    16. Rc7 Rh2+ 17. Kxf3 Ra2 18. Ra7) 7. Rc4 Qa6 8. Qc5 Kh7 9. g4 (9. Qc6 Qxc6 
    10. Rxc6 Re8 11. Rc5 Re2 12. g4 Re4 13. Rxa5 Rxg4 14. Kh3 h5 15. Ra7 Rg2 
    16. Rc7 Rxf2 17. Kg3 Rf1 18. a5 f2 19. Kg2 Ra1 20. Kxf2 Rxa5=) (9. Qc7 Qa8 
    10. Kh3 Qe8) (9. Kh3 Re8 10. Qb5 Qxb5 11. axb5 Rb8 12. Rc5 a4 13. c4 a3 
    14. Rd5 a2 15. Rd1 Rc8 16. Ra1 Rxc4 17. Rxa2 Rb4 18. b6 Rxb6 19. Kg4 Rb4+  
    20. Kxf3 Rc4=) 9... Qb7 10. Qc6 Qb8+ 11. Qc7 (11. Kh3 Qb1 12. Kg3 Qg1+ 
    13. Kxf3 Rd8=) 11... Qe8 12. Qg3 Qe2 13. Rc7 Rh8! 14. Rc3 Qe4 15. Qxf3 Qxa4 
    16. Rc7 Rd8=
  • 1
    I'm probably playing for tricks too much, but in the 2.Qe6+!? Kh8 line, what does black do against a direct mating attempt like 3.Re8 (or even 3.Qf7)? I can't quite manage to find a perpetual or mate for black after 3...Qxf2+ 4.Kh3. – RemcoGerlich Nov 10 '14 at 9:08
  • @RemcoGerlich 4. Kh3 Qf1+ 5. Kg4 h5+! creates a flight square for the king on h7 and then Black's passed f-pawn should force white to go for a perpetual. – Wes Nov 10 '14 at 14:45
  • I will include this line later today. – Wes Nov 10 '14 at 14:55
  • 1
    Nice: 1...Qd2 2.Qe6+ Kh8 3.Qf7 Qxf2+ 4.Kh3 Qf1+ 5.Kg4 h5+ 6.Qxh5+ Kg8 (=) – Rauan Sagit Nov 10 '14 at 17:10
  • 1
    I guess we who find it afterwards have the advantage of not being exhausted as well as in the middle of an adrenaline rush. Still, h7-h5 instead of Qd6-d2 was a terrible blunder. Carlsen applied a lot of pressure and got the best possible result. Yet, Anand can come back strong. This match has had a great start, although I hoped to see a Sicilian in Game 2. Looking forward to Game 3! – Rauan Sagit Nov 10 '14 at 19:30

Anand could have chosen

[fen "5rk1/4R1pp/3q1p2/p1p2P2/P3Q2P/5p2/2P2PPK/8 w - - 0 1"]
[Event "WCC"]
[Site "Sochi"]
[Date "2014.11.09"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Magnus Carlsen"]
[Black "Viswanathan Anand"]
[Result "1-0"]

1.g3 Qd2 2.Qxf3 Qxc2 3.Kg2

After which we reach a Queen+Rook middlegame. In such middlegames, the following factors are critical:

  1. King safety
  2. Piece harmony (coordination and collaboration between the Queen and Rook)

My evaluation of the position above is as follows. Black's King is less safe, since the f-pawn is on f6, exposing the seventh rank for the white Re7 and making it possible for white to attack the g7-square. Further, the white Re7 is better placed than the black Rf8. The white Qf3 is controlling the h1-a8 diagonal, safe guarding the white Kg2 as well as threatening Qf3-g4, Qf3-d5 and Qf3-b7.

White can have the following strategy: use the better King safety and harmony to attack the enemy King and checkmate and/or win material along the way.

Black can have the following strategy: keep the pieces active, try to make them collaborate better, seek a counter attack on the enemy King, try to exchange queens.

I think the position is better for white yet black can still fight. For example

[fen "5rk1/4R1pp/3q1p2/p1p2P2/P3Q2P/5p2/2P2PPK/8 w - - 0 1"]
[Event "WCC"]
[Site "Sochi"]
[Date "2014.11.09"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Magnus Carlsen"]
[Black "Viswanathan Anand"]
[Result "1-0"]

1.g3 Qd2 2.Qxf3 (2.Qe6+ Kh8 3.Qf7 Qxf2+ 4.Kh3 Qf1+ 5.Kg4 h5+ 6.Qxh5+ Kg8=) Qxc2 3.Kg2 Kh8 4.Qg4 (4.Qb7 Qxf5 5.Rxg7 Rd8) Rg8

Conclusion from the position after 1...Qd2:

[fen "5rk1/4R1pp/3q1p2/p1p2P2/P3Q2P/5p2/2P2PPK/8 w - - 0 1"]
[Event "WCC"]
[Site "Sochi"]
[Date "2014.11.09"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Magnus Carlsen"]
[Black "Viswanathan Anand"]
[Result "1-0"]

1.g3 Qd2
  1. Black should play Kg8-h8, Rf8-g8 and h7-h6 to secure the kingside.
  2. Black should trade all the pawns on the queenside and play 3 against 4 on the kingside.
  3. White should try to prevent this from happening.

As a small contribution, I would like to quote GM Dejan Bojkov from his analysis and commentary of the game, where he mentions a line similar to one already thoroughly analysed by Wes:

[FEN "5rk1/4R1pp/3q1p2/p1p2P2/P3Q2P/5pP1/2P2P1K/8 b - - 0 1"]
[White "Carlsen, Magnus"]
[Black "Anand, Viswanathan"]

1...Qd2 2.Qxf3 Qxc2 3.Ra7 Re8 4.Rxa5

Magnus would still need to show good technique to deserve the full point. - GM Dejan Bojkov


I'll make the answer clearer later, but for now, yes Anand had perfect drawing chances, for several reasons:

  • Rook and Queen endgames tend to be harsh and fighting, they are like semi-endgames semi-middlegames, but still drawish. Constant checks and the long range pieces make it easy to cover all bases, sometimes even 2 pawns down.
  • If a piece was exchanged, the situation would be even more drawish than it was before.
  • Usually in endgames, engines can't see a draw, because they have to search really deep. That's why we have tablebases. While the engine gave carlsen a plus, it was a fake advantage. With correct play from both sides, draw would probably ensue.
  • The game was a technical one. After the time trouble, Anand would probably find the draw. It is a technical endgame, so I'd have no fear on it.

I'll add some examples, and engine analysis.

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