In the early 1980s, the biggest challenge for people playing against Viswanathan Anand, who claimed the world chess title for the fourth time on Tuesday, was to make him ponder over his moves.
As early as 1983 he established himself as a chess phenomenon, when, playing at lightning speed, he won the Indian sub-junior (under 15) championship, winning all nine games in the tournament.
Hear Aniek Paul talk about Viswanathan Anand’s victory and what’s next for the world chess champion
Anand, 40, has slowed with strength and maturity, but the speed at which he can still play is mesmerizing, says Surya Sekhar Ganguly, a chess Grandmaster and one of the key back-room boys in Anand’s team.
“He is a killer in rapid chess,” says Ganguly from Sofia, Bulgaria. That’s what forced Veselin Topalov, the Bulgarian challenger to Anand’s world chess title, to try and force a win on Tuesday in the final game of the 12-game World Chess Championship in Sofia.
Checkmate: Anand planning his next move in the championship match against Topalov. Reuters
After 11 games, the match was tied, both players having won two games each. A draw in the last game would have meant Anand and Topalov would have played four rapid games—a quicker variant of the sport, in which each player gets 25 minutes for the whole game. Unless decided on the board, whoever runs out of time first loses the game. If scores had remained level even after the four rapid games, they would have played two blitz games, in which each player gets only 5 minutes to make all his moves.
“It was surprising that Topalov pushed for a win when there was nothing in the game,” says Ganguly. “We had returned to our hotel to prepare for the tiebreakers when, suddenly, news came (that) Anand was winning.” Topalov said at the post-match press conference on Tuesday that he didn’t want to take the match into tiebreakers.
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“It was obvious that Topalov wanted to avoid the tiebreakers… He had lost the last few rapid games against Anand,” says Ganguly. “But we didn’t expect him to be so desperate.”
“In my view, this was Anand’s best performance ever,” says Ganguly, who has been working closely with Anand for the past two and a half years. “I think this is the first time someone has won a match after losing the first game.”
Topalov has always been an aggressive player, but the wrong move that he made in his bid to force a win was unbelievable, says Dibyendu Barua, a chess Grandmaster who followed the match closely.
Tough fight: Topalov put Anand under pressure in games 7-11. Reuters
Anand started his defence of the world title with a loss, after a 40-hour journey in a car from Frankfurt to Sofia. Stuck in Germany because of flight disruptions, he had requested the organizers to postpone the first game by three days, but they agreed to defer the start by only one day.
Anand drew level in the next game and went one up, winning the fourth game, but squandered his lead in the eighth game.
“It was my toughest match ever,” Anand said over the phone from Sofia. “It could have gone either way.” He dominated games 2-5, but was under tremendous pressure in games 7-11. “I could have won the ninth game, and that would have been the decider, but missed the opportunity.”
Notwithstanding six months of homework, which included threadbare analysis of Topalov’s playing style, Anand says he realized “Topalov wasn’t walking into (my) homework”. Throughout the match, Topalov improvised and did not follow the pattern Anand had expected of him. “My previous matches were easier…(Vladimir) Kramnik, for instance, walked into my homework (a) couple of times, giving me a huge advantage right at the beginning of the game.”
He was referring to his world championship match versus Kramnik, which was held in Bonn, Germany, in October 2008. He won that 12-game match by a margin of two wins in 11 games.
Anand established himself as one of the most promising chess players in the world when he won the World Junior Championship in 1987. The world of chess was then dominated by Russians such as Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov. Anand played against both in world chess title matches, in 1995 and 1998, respectively, but lost.
Having beaten Topalov, who in terms of international chess ratings is still ahead by three points at 2,803, Anand has firmly proved he has broken the stranglehold players from the Russian federation had over the sport. In his prime, his only regret perhaps is that he can’t take on Kasparov or Karpov any more—they have retired.
The victory in Sofia gave Anand his fourth world chess title. In 2000, he became world champion for the first time, but lost the title in 2002. He regained the title in 2007 and has successfully defended it since. He will have to defend the title again in 2012.
For now, though, that’s far from his mind. “I desperately need a break,” Anand says.