The wheel has turned a full circle for Anand

By V. Krishnaswamy, IANS

When the television screens flashed pictures of Viswanathan Anand stretching out to shake hands with Peter Leko to signal a draw that completed his ultimate ascension to the top of the chess world in Mexico City, it was hard not to go back in time.

Support TwoCircles

A dozen years ago, almost to the day, the same young man from Chennai had got up to shake hands with the then giant in world chess, Garry Kasparov, to admit defeat after a blunder in the 11th game of the PCA World Championships at the World Trade Centre.

A few days later Anand had been crushed 10.5-7.5 by Kasparov.

A few years later, the New York landmark that WTC was had been wiped away from the face of earth by terrorists Sep 11, 2001.

Now, on Sep 29, 2007, Anand pulled off a bloodless draw and became the undisputed world chess champion besides being the globe’s top elo rated player.

The wheel had turned a full circle.

In between, Anand won countless titles, he even won a world title in 2000 – but it did not have the same authoritative ring about as this one does. Kasparov had skipped it; Vladimir Kramnik had stayed away as well.

Anand nevertheless quietly went about winning the title – winning the early stages in New Delhi and the final in the Iranian capital Tehran.

Yes, the chess world was split. Anand, admittedly the nicest guy who ever sat down to pour his intelligence over a chess board, never seemed to get a decent deal.

When the would-be peacemakers met to unify the chess world to decide on a championship to find a candidate to challenge the world’s strongest player, Anand strangely did not figure in the scheme of things.

Kramnik took over by beating Kasparov and when they started looking for a challenger to Kramnik, Anand once again seemed to have been forgotten. Veselin Topalov was the one they decided upon, albeit through a tournament, which was conspicuous by Anand’s absence.

Kramnik beat Topalov to keep the ‘title’ but, meanwhile, another attempt at unifying the chess world saw the world’s top eight players – now minus Topalov – gather in Mexico City this month.

Anand outplayed the entire lot to win by a full point, and remain unbeaten to boot in the 14-round championships.

Now, there hangs another rider – Anand may have to play the ‘previous’ world champion Kramnik, who some believe has the right to a re-match.

This, despite Kramnik having been bested in Mexico…

Truly, few things are as complex as the world of chess.

Worthy of being counted alongside the very best this game has ever seen, Anand has taken every chance he has been given over a chessboard and suffered in silence at every slight hurled at him and simply shrugged at every attempt to keep him away from taking a shot at being called the ‘BEST’ player in the world.

Going back in time, it was in 1995 that Anand, then 25 years of age, got his first shot at the world title against Kasparov.

After a string of eight draws, he drew blood with a pawn avalanche that drowned Kasparov and gave the Indian genius the lead. But Kasparov struck back in the very next game to level the match at 5-5.

The 11th game may well have been the turning point.

Kasparov offered Anand a draw, which the Indian turned down only to blunder and lose eventually. The Indian was heart-broken and Kasparov won two more games and cruised to a 10.5-7.5 win as the scheduled 20-game match ended in just 18 games.

Pundits predicted that Anand would find it difficult to recover from that crushing defeat. In the past Bobby Fischer had crushed Mark Taimanov 6-0 and forced the latter to take solace in music; Anatoly Karpov had forever kept the maverick Viktor Korchnoi at bay in highly publicised and controversy-ridden clashes; and Kasparov himself had crushed Nigel Short in 1993, and Short was never the same again.

No, Anand did not crumble nor shrivel nor disappear. He stayed afloat and continued to gather titles around the world. He also won Chess Oscars in 1997 and 1998.

In late 1997, he won in the Dutch city of Groningen in what was the qualifier for the world championship finals. He beat three of the strongest players of the time – Alexei Shirov, Boris Gelfand (who finished second here in Mexico) and Michael Adams.

But after emerging victor from a championship that by itself should have been enough for a player to accord the title of being the best in the world, Anand was unfairly treated by a ‘gift clause’ that gave Anatoly Karpov a direct seeding into the final.

He ended in a 3-3 tie with Karpov and then lost in the tiebreak. But by then he was staggering in the manner of a boxer made to fight full 15 rounds before being allowed a clash with an opponent, who was fresh and totally rested.

Anand had played 31 high-voltage games in 30 days but Karpov was anointed the world champion.

Make no mistake, the world knew who the best player was – Anand – but he was not accorded the status of a world champion. That went to Karpov.

In 2000, Anand finally won a FIDE world title – Kasparov was then fighting his battles against FIDE, as was Kramnik – scoring 3.5-.5 win against Alexei Shirov in their final match in Tehran, after the duo had emerged at the top of the heap after another super strong knockout tournament in New Delhi.

Anand skipped the 2002 and 2004 knockout events, but turned up at the World Championship in classical format in 2005 in San Luis, Argentina. He finished tied for second with Peter Svidler but Topalov ran away with the honours.

In 2007, Anand left nothing to chance at Mexico City.

Well rested, well prepared and smiling as ever with that wonderful wife of his, Aruna, by his side, he demolished them all. He sliced some and the rest he kept at bay. He never lost a game nor did he forget to smile.

He finished with four wins and no losses and the title was his – finally the undisputed world champion.

When asked what he thought of the chance given to Kramnik for a re-match, Anand smiled and said: “Today let me celebrate. Let other things wait.”

Yes, other things can wait.

Ian Rogers, the Australian Grandmaster, who recently retired had once said, “As and when Anand becomes a world champion, he will be the nicest world chess champion in history.”

How true!

A dozen years ago, when he lost to Kasparov in New York, Yasser Seirawan, a top-notch GM and commentator had said: “Anand must forget this and simply go home and have a stiff whisky.”

One does not know what the teetotaler Anand did then. But we do know, that tonight he deserves a bubbly as the rest of the world raises a toast to the World Chess Champion.

(V. Krishnaswamy is a veteran sports commentator who has followed Vishwanathan Anand’s exploits around the world. He can be contacted at [email protected])