R Srinivasa Raghavan
First Published : 09 Nov 2008 11:06:00 PM IST
Last Updated : 06 Nov 2008 12:35:08 AM IST
Viswanathan Anand keeps raising the bar. The bigger the challenge, the better he does. The way he beat Vladimir Kramnik to retain his world title in Bonn shows that he is the best in any format of chess. By winning the 12-game match against Kramnik 6.5-4.5, Anand has completed the missing link in his CV. While he is now in the company of Willhelm Steinitz, Emmanuel Lasker, Jose Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine, Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov, who have all won the world title in the traditional format, Anand is now the first chess player to win in three different formats: knockout (2000), tournament (2007) and match (2008).
Moreover, Anand’s dominant performance against Kramnik has put an end to doubts over his ability in match-play. Chess experts had not rated his earlier titles as highly because he had not won in the traditional format of the game.
Anand did to Kramnik in 2008 what Kramnik had done to Kasparov in 2000. Then, Kramnik had taken Kasparov to dry positions and won the match without losing a single game. Similarly, Anand took Kramnik to complicated positions and outwitted him. Kramnik’s preparation played a big part in his victory over Kasparov in 2000. Likewise, Anand’s superior preparation undid the Russian in 2008. Kasparov, one of the most dominant chess champions ever, hailed Anand’s win, saying he outprepared and outplayed Kramnik.
The Anand-Kramnik match created a lot of excitement and was played in the right spirit. Spectators thronged the hall and the match was covered widely on the Internet with leading GMs providing live commentary.
During the match, Anand uncorked novelty after novelty and revelled in complicated positions. His strategy of playing the queen pawn opening proved to be a masterstroke as he was able to push for victory without taking risks. His victory in the third game set the tone for the 12-game match. Anand played a novelty in a Semi-Slav opening and went for his opponent’s throat. Kramnik took up the challenge and tried to exploit the uncastled king, but Anand’s judgment of hair-rising complications helped him draw first blood. It was one of the best games of the match.
Anand won two more games to lead 4.5-1.5 at the halfway point. Kramnik performed better in the second half and won the 10th game. However, Anand held his nerve in the next game to end Kramnik’s eight-year reign as the best match player in the world.
Anand’s seconds — Peter Heine Nielsen, Rustam Kasimdzhanov, Surya Sekhar Ganguly and Radoslaw Wojtaszek — deserve pats on the back for working tirelessly and helping Anand defend his title.
Anand’s magical journey started when he learned chess from his mother, Susheela, at the age of six. His interest was further strengthened when, during his father’s stint in the Philippines, he solved chess puzzles on TV easily. From the time he qualified for the National ‘A’ championship at the age of 13, Anand has not turned back. It has been one success after another. His first major win came in Baguio in 1987, when he became the first Indian and Asian to win the world junior title. He followed this up by becoming India’s first GM in 1988.
Anand’s first shot at the world title came in 1995, against Kasparov in New York. He played well but lost to the more experienced Russian. But unlike Nigel Short, who lost his motivation after losing the title fight to Kasparov, Anand worked harder and become a complete player.
After winning big tournaments like Linares, Wijk aan Zee, Regio Emilia, Anand fulfilled his life-long dream by winning the world title in 2000, defeating Alexei Shirov 3.5-0.5 in the final at Tehran. It took him another seven years to regain his world title, which he did in Mexico last year. That title had more value because he became undisputed champion. Between 1993 and 2006, chess had two world champions; this situation was simplified when Kramnik beat Veselin Topalov in a reunification match in 2006. Despite being undisputed champion, Anand did not enjoy the privileges that Karpov, Kasparov and Kramnik did. However, Anand enjoys competing and likes the challenge of showing his skills in any format. And he has proved himself time and again at the highest level.
The most amazing aspect of Anand’s game is his ability to keep improving. In the initial parts of his career, he used to outwit opponents with his fast moves and aggressive game. He once beat leading American GM Nick De Firmian using just eight minutes for the whole game! Once, in a rapid game, Anand beat former world championship semifinalist Valery Salov taking just two minutes and 55 seconds! Salov, who was Alexei Shirov’s second during the 2000 World Chess Championship in New Delhi, called Vishy “a chess genius’’.
After 15 years at the top, Anand can attack and defend with equal felicity. After Karpov and Kasparov, he has been the most consistent player in the last decade, winning every big tournament. His hunger for the game remains undiminished despite the fact that he has achieved everything.
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