Anand’s second world title was more satisfying than his triumph in 2000.“This time, there was no rival claimant,” he said after making sure of the title.
CONTROVERSIES have their own way of attracting the attention of even those who are indifferent to the subject. At least the curiosity factor ensures that the topic does become a talking point depending on the gravity or the longevity of the debate.
For generations, the World Chess Championship has been characterised by controversies and chaos. Several temperamental champions, wittingly or otherwise, have caught global attention for courting or creating controversies. As a result, this “non-action” sport has never ceased to provide off-the-board action involving some of its leading practitioners.
On the roll of honour of world champions, the name of Viswanathan Anand stands out. In the past two decades, this genial genius from Chennai has proved that humility can be an asset even in the highly competitive world of chess. Unlike some of his predecessors, this articulate 37-year-old has repeatedly demonstrated that hard work over the board is a very effective substitute for harsh words away from it.
When Anand, world champion in 2000, regained the title in Mexico City on September 29, more people felt happy for him than for most winners in the past. Besides the millions in the country starved of individual success in the sporting arena, Anand’s followers around the world, mainly in Spain, were ecstatic. For over a decade, Anand has lived near Madrid, with wife Aruna, after choosing to have a base in Europe to facilitate his chess career.
What makes Anand such a lovable champion is his gracious demeanour. In triumph, he is quick to remember those who offered him a helping hand on the way. Even in adversity, Anand maintains grace and dignity. He has dealt with fans and critics with equal attention. Though at the top of the chess world, Anand remains grounded. Indeed, after a long time, chess has a worthy “undisputed champion” of the world.
In fact, from 1993 to 2006, the chess world was without an undisputed champion. Once Garry Kasparov, arguably the strongest player to have played the game, accused the World Chess Federation (FIDE) of corruption and decided to give up his official world title, confusion reigned.
In 1993, Kasparov organised a parallel and richer “World Championship match” against Briton Nigel Short and won by a five-point margin. Thereafter it took 14 years for chess to get back an undisputed champion. In this period, Kasparov also defeated Anand in their battle for the 1995 world title at the World Trade Centre in New York.
Kasparov, who eventually surrendered the “world title” to compatriot Vladimir Kramnik after a match between the two top-ranked players was organised in 2000, tipped Anand to take over the mantle in 2005 while announcing his retirement from competitive chess to pursue his political ambitions in Russia.
However, it was Bulgarian Veselin Topalov who went on to win the 2005 edition of the World Championship, held at San Luis, Argentina, with Anand finishing second, in a select eight-player field. Kramnik, who has been deemed to be the “Classical Chess Champion” since 2000, retained the “title” against Hungarian challenger Peter Leko in 2004 after their match was drawn.
Last year, the FIDE succeeded in holding a 12-game match between Kramnik and Topalov to “unify” the world title. Kramnik won this controversial match to become the first “undisputed” world champion in 14 years.
Kramnik was part of the eight-player field that Anand topped to become the first non-Russian to hold the title of “undisputed” world champion and the world’s top-ranked player at the same time. For the record, Anand scored nine points from 14 rounds and remained the only undefeated player. Each player faced the other twice, once with each colour. Anand finished a point ahead of the dethroned champion, Kramnik, and Israel’s Boris Gelfand. According to the new rules, Kramnik holds a one-time right to challenge Anand for the 2008 World Championship title.
For obvious reasons, Anand’s second world title was more satisfying than his triumph in 2000. “This time, there is no rival claimant,” said a jubilant Anand soon after making sure of the world title, revealing that his latest conquest was indeed very special.
A day later, the new world rankings came into force, making Anand the only player in the game today to have a rating in excess of 2,800. This scientifically computed way of rating points is based on every performance and reflects the playing strength of an individual. This is only the second time that Anand has crossed the magic figure. The first time was in April 2006 when he joined Kasparov, Kramnik and Topalov as the only players in chess history to breach the 2,800-point barrier.
Anand’s consistency in the chess elite is unmatched. He has been among the top three players of the world for a decade now. Very few sportspersons, such as the golfer Tiger Woods, can match Anand’s consistency of performance in their chosen individual sport.
Anand’s preparations for different challenges have been sound, to say the least. It is amazing how a man can stay motivated enough to train silently for hours together for years. From time to time, he engages friends who double as trainers, or “seconds” as they are called in chess parlance. These seconds are players of reasonable playing strength who, ahead of important competitions, study various openings and select positions aimed at preparing the one who would engage them.
Anand remains solid with white pieces and seldom loses. In recent years, what has helped him grow stronger is his improved strike-rate with black pieces. Once dubbed as the man who lacked the firepower to fight back, Anand has repeatedly hit back when it is needed, silencing those who questioned his abilities.
In fact, Anand’s ability to calculate complicated continuation faster than his peers has remained a strong point. The chess clock, used to monitor the thinking time of each player, has been Anand’s friend right through his career and contributed in spelling the doom of many challengers.
What makes Anand different from his competitors is his ability to excel in all variants of the game. Much before becoming the world champion and the game’s top-ranked player, Anand established himself as the indomitable king of rapid chess. Unlike the classical format, where players get a minimum of 90 minutes of thinking time plus increment time for every move made, rapid chess is played with each player getting 25 minutes plus increment time for moves. In this shorter version, Anand has won many more games and titles than anyone else in history.
Consider this. Anand has claimed the prestigious Mainz Chess Classic, an annual rapid event held in the German town of Mainz, all seven times since it moved from nearby Frankfurt in 2000. In all, Anand has won the title 10 times.
Though the official World Rapid Chess Championship was last held in 2003, with Anand emerging as the champion at the expense of Kramnik, Anand’s repeated success at Mainz has truly underlined his skills in quick play. In addition, Anand, like none other, has dominated the annual rapid events in Leon, Corsica and Monaco.
With regard to the more conventional, longer-duration games, Anand has won all the major titles at least once. He holds the record of winning the coveted Corus chess title, for which 14 select players participate in an all-play-all format, a record five times. In another prestigious event, played traditionally in Linares, Spain, but now shared by Morelia, Mexico, Anand is the defending champion, having regained the title he won in 1998.
One of the high points of Anand’s career is his victory in the Eurotel World Chess Trophy in Prague, the Czech Republic, in 2002. In a very strong field, Anand knocked out veteran Jan Timman (2-0), former world champion Alexander Khalifman (2-0), Ivan Sokolov ( 1.5-0.5), Vassily Ivanchuk (2.5-1.5) and another ex-world champion Anatoly Karpov (1.5-0.5) in that order to raise the trophy.
This victory was significant in more ways than one. Anand, by his own standards, had a poor 2001 as the world champion. He failed to defend the title in the World Championship in Moscow. In Prague, when the Unity Plan was formulated to find a unified world champion, Anand was unfairly kept out. Later, Anand’s performance made a mockery of the proposed Unity Plan, which eventually never took off.
Anand participated in the World Cup twice, in Shenyang, China, in 2000 and in Hyderabad in 2002, and won both times. In fact, in 2000, Anand created a record by winning the World Blitz Championship (where each player gets just five minutes of thinking time plus two seconds increment for every move made), the World Rapid Chess Championship and the World Championship. No player in the history of the game has proven this kind of ability in all variants of the game in such an authoritative manner.
Having won almost everything the game has to offer, Anand retains the appetite for more success. He still has a few goals to achieve before he decides to call it a day. Currently rated at 2,801, Anand can chase Kasparov’s all-time high rating and on the way take his game to a new level. Winner of the World Championship title in knockout and round-robin formats, Anand has a chance to prove that he is equally good in match-play when the challenge from Kramnik comes up next year.
For now, it is time to enjoy the fruits of success.
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