One of the most highly anticipated chess events in decades began on Saturday with defending champion Viswanathan Anand holding Norwegian challenger Magnus Carlsen to a quick draw with the black pieces in the first game of their world championship match.
The matchup has been seen as Carlsen's chance to cement his status as the game's biggest star since Bobby Fischer but it started with a bit of an anti-climax as the Norwegian slightly misplayed his opening and the game fizzled out into an uneventful draw after just 16 moves.
Playing in Chennai close to where Anand was born, the 43-year-old Indian grandmaster forced Carlsen to repeat a position by chasing the Norwegian's queen back and forth with a knight. A game is automatically drawn if the exact same position is reached three times.
"I wasn't too thrilled about the way the game went."
- Magnus Carlsen
The result gives Anand a slight early advantage, as he now gets the white pieces in six of the remaining 11 games.
"I wasn't too thrilled about the way the game went," Carlsen said. "It didn't seem like any of my options were particularly promising. I just had to pull the emergency break and go for a draw."
The 22-year-old Carlsen is a former child prodigy who became a grandmaster at 13 and the game's top-ranked player at 18 -- the youngest No. 1 in history. However, this is his first world championship match and he's taking on the far more experienced Anand, who has held the world title since 2007 and has defended it against three previous opponents. Anand played his first world championship match in 1995 when he unsuccessfully challenged Garry Kasparov.
Anand also has the advantage of playing at home in India, where he is treated as a super star and the media frenzy surrounding the match has been huge.
"After months and months of thinking about it, it was almost a relief to finally get the chance to play," Anand said. "A comfortable draw like this (with black) is of course very satisfactory."
Carlsen is the top Western player since Fischer in a game that has traditionally been dominated by Russians, and chess enthusiasts hope his mass-market appeal can win over new fans and help boost interest worldwide. Before the game, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg sent him a good-luck message on Twitter.
True to his style, Carlsen played a modest opening system trying to steer clear of theoretical lines and aiming to nullify his opponent's prepared responses. But he acknowledged that he missed a resource for Anand and was forced to put his queen in a position where it could be chased by the knight.
"Hopefully there will be some more exciting games to follow," Carlsen said.