AN UNSTOPPABLE INDIAN
The word “Anand” means joy, and certainly one Anand has consistently brought joy to the Indians. Viswanathan Anand has done it again by winning the World Chess Championship crown for the fifth time overall and fourth in a row by defeating Israeli Boris Gelfand.
The victory also means that the “King of Chess” will keep the crown till 2014, when the next World Championship will be held. Anand has won the World Chess Championship five times (2000, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012), and has been the undisputed World Champion since 2007.
He held the World Chess Championship from 2000 to 2002; at a time when the world title was split between FIDE (the World Chess Federation) and Gary Kasparov’s faction. He became the undisputed World Champion in 2007 and defended his title against Vladimir Kramnik in 2008. He then successfully defended his title in the World Chess Championship 2010 against Veselin Topalov and now against Boris Gelfand.
Indomitable spirit In 1998, FIDE granted the then champion Anatoly Karpov direct seeding into the final against the winner of the seven-round single elimination “Candidates Tournament”.
The psychological and physical advantage gained by Karpov from that decision caused significant controversy, leading to the withdrawal of the future World Champion Vladimir Kramnik from the “Candidates Tournament”.
However, a determined Anand faced a well-rested Karpov for the championship and despite all odds was able to draw the regular matches 3-3, forcing a rapid playoff. However, in the rapid playoff, he lost 0-2 against Karpov.
Back in 2010, prior to the World Chess Championship match with Veselin Topalov, Anand was stranded on the way to Sofia (Bulgaria) due to the cancellation of all flights following a sudden eruption of the volcano ash cloud from Eyjafjallajökull (Iceland).
Subsequently, Anand had to take an exhausting 40-hour road journey to reach Sofia and play the game. He lost the first game but came back strongly and after 12 games, the scores were tied at 6-6.
Anand won game 12 and retained the World Championship. In game 12, after Topalov’s dubious 31st and 32nd moves, Anand was able to achieve a strong attack against Topalov’s relatively exposed king. Topalov subsequently resigned.
Mental strength and speed
Contrary to the popular perception that Chess doesn’t require much physical fitness, it requires tremendous mental and physical strength. In 2008, against Kramnik, Anand played 390 moves in 12 games, averaging over 35 moves a game. While against Topalov, it was substantially higher at over 60 moves per game in 12 games, lasting 627 moves.
Though this year Anand played fewer moves compared to 2008 and 2010 (only 351 moves in 12 classical games, before they headed for Rapid Chess), the matches were still very grueling.
The intensity of the matches was no less than the previous two occasions. After six drawn games where, in some games, Anand held an advantageous position to win but squandered the opportunity and vice versa, in the seventh game he lost after the 38th move.
Notwithstanding the demoralizing defeat, Anand came back strongly in the 8th game and defeated Gelfand in only 17 moves, winning the shortest World Championship game in history. Later, he conceded that the 7th game was a dark day and he couldn’t sleep after that game. However, known to be a friend with the clock when it comes to rapid chess, Anand held on to his nerve in the tie-breaker even though Gelfand enjoyed favorable positions in as many as three matches but failed to push through the defenses of Anand.
Undoubtedly, mental strength and speed under pressure make Anand the most feared player in the Chess world.
An Indian amidst Russians
Like contemporary women’s tennis where out of the top thirty female tennis players in the world, almost one-third of them are Russian, Chess, too, is traditionally dominated by the Russians.
From Nikolai Krylenko (The Father of Soviet Chess) to Gary Kasparov, Russians have always excelled in this sport so much so that since 1948, the world individual championship has been held exclusively by Soviet players, except for the years 1972-1975, when Bobby Fischer, an American, won the championship.
In Russia, they used to say that the qualities that make a good chess player are the same qualities that make a good Communist.
Russians are still producing good chess players, if not good communists, but the Chess world order changed dramatically after the arrival of an Indian, the break down of the Soviet Union, and the retirement of Gary Kasparov.
While the Russians had dozens of chess clubs almost in every city and boasted of excellent infrastructure, Viswanathan Anand had to fight alone. But it is the genius and consistency of Anand that he single-handedly took India to the pinnacle of Chess world, outsmarting the Russians. In the reckoning for Bharat Ratna?
A debate over honoring Anand with Bharat Ratna has already started. Some pundits are even saying he is ahead of Sachin Tendulkar in terms of sporting achievements. However, it is foolish to compare the two, as they played two completely different games. While Cricket is a visually appealing game, Chess requires the highest concentration and mind power.
Yet, Vishy has been the most consistent player for more than half a decade now. He has inspired so many talents to pursue Chess and has been a great ambassador for the game. Like Tendulkar, he too deserves the highest award, and the fifth World Chess Championship crown has definitely made him a strong contender for the highest civilian award in the country.