Viswanathan Anand survived a few anxious moments, including a checkmate attempt by his rival, before prevailing over Maxim Matlakov in the first round of Tata Steel Masters Chess tournament here.
Coming into the event after his title-win at the World Rapid Chess Championship, Anand conjured some fine manoeuvres before dodging the checkmate attempt by the Russian.
The Indian ace, playing in this 80th edition after a gap of four years, proved once again that it remains his favourite hunting ground.
Having won here five times, a record that he shares with World Champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway, Anand went for complications right from the beginning when he allowed Matlakov to break through on the queenside in a closed Ruy Lopez.
The Russian managed to weaken white’s kingside and threatened a beautiful checkmate. However, Anand came out of that but not without an error that could have left him a pawn less.
That said, Matlakov missed his chance and then was subjected to a lesson in a major piece endgame. Anand’s queen and rook dominated the proceedings once the Indian won a pawn and though the technicalities remained, it was all over in 53 moves.
“I was not able to breakthroughs,” said Anand in the post-game chat adding that it would have been a huge technical task to convert if his opponent had not blundered.
Asked about his possible sixth title victory here Anand said, “If I win now, I’m winning after 12 years, so it’s not like I’ve been blazing but, well, I’ll try for sure.”
Grandmaster B Adhiban, the other Indian in the 14-player 13-round field, started off with a draw against Peter Svidler of Russia. In the last edition, Adhiban had caused a sensation here when he finished third ahead of many stalwarts.
Besides Anand, Vladimir Kramnik of Russia and local hero Anish Giri were the other winners in the opening round.
Kramnik ground down Wei Yi of China while Giri scored against highest-ranked woman Yifan Hou of China.
Carlsen was held to a draw by Fabiano Caruana of United States. It was a usually long game arising out of a Petroff defence that the world champion could not break.
In the Challengers section, top seed Vidit Gujrathi was held to a draw by World Junior champion Aryan Tari of Norway.
It was a Ruy Lopez where Gujrathi played black and sacrificed his rook to force perpetual checks.
D Harika played out a creditable draw with Amin Bassem of Egypt.